Dos Culturas: The Last Bandoleros may have left San Antonio, but their Tex-Mex roots still shine through

The innovative pop-rock-Latin music trio dropped a new album called Tex Flex early this year and has a second LP due out later this month.

click to enlarge The group will perform a Día de los Muertos-themed outdoor gig at the Tobin Center on Oct. 28. - Courtesy Photo / The Last Bandoleros
Courtesy Photo / The Last Bandoleros
The group will perform a Día de los Muertos-themed outdoor gig at the Tobin Center on Oct. 28.

Any way you look at it, San Antonio-bred band The Last Bandoleros is having a bang-up 2022.

The innovative pop-rock-Latin music trio dropped a new album called Tex Flex early this year and has a second LP due out later this month. Beyond that, it toured Europe, opened for Sting and is scheduled to appear Thursday, Oct. 6 on Good Morning America, its second appearance on the long-running ABC show.

The Last Bandoleros' forthcoming album Tex Flex Folklórico, due out Friday, Oct. 28, explores the band's roots and influences and features three songs from Tex Flex re-recorded in Spanish. The group, now based in Nashville, will celebrate the release with a Día de los Muertos-themed outdoor gig that same night at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Given this relationship between the two albums, why not release both at the same, maybe as a package?

"It started with a backing track of what we thought would be an extended version of our song 'In Between' on Tex Flex. And it turned into a new song," said drummer-vocalist Emilio Navaira IV, the son of the late Tejano star Emilio Navaira III. "Then we started digging on playing 'Mi Amor' and all that mariachi stuff live."

After that, things snowballed and the band members found themselves committed to releasing a second album this year — just in time for Día de los Muertos.

Tex Flex, on the other hand, was comprised of preexisting ideas the members worked on during downtime in hotel rooms during their two months in Europe last summer.

Aside from having time to fine-tune material on the tour, bassist-vocalist Diego Navaira — drummer Emilio's brother — said the band was happy with the response it got from European audiences. Particularly since many of the dates were opening for The BossHoss, a country act big in Germany but unknown Stateside.

"We're three dudes who walk on stage in mariachi suits, and our first song is 'Maldita,' so it's Spanglish," Diego Navaira said. "At first, [audiences] are like, 'What is going on?' And that's not a bad thing. We just want to make people feel good and dance, you know?"

The Last Bandoleros' upcoming Tobin show will mark the San Antonio debut for its stripped-down trio format. The band weathered the departure of guitarist-vocalist Derek James early this year and came out on the other side swinging.

Of course, losing a musician required the remaining members to step up, taking on more vocal and instrumental duties. For drummer Emilio, that meant relying on some prerecorded tracks and electronic flourishes.

But those are only window dressing, he stressed — something to "beef up" the sound. The band proudly remains a live act and doesn't rely on backing tracks to prop up a show. If there's a technical glitch, it can ditch the electronics and keep on playing, he added.

Rise and shine

While it's not quite as monumental as releasing a new album, The Last Bandoleros are excited about the upcoming Good Morning America performance.

"I grew up getting ready for school and Good Morning America would just be on in the background. I think ... there's not a lot of Spanish-oriented acts [featured on the show]," Emilio said. "It's gonna be cool for some Mexican kids getting ready for school to say, 'Hey, I know that!'"

During the appearance, the band will play "Vamos a Bailar (Bilingual Version)," a retooled version of the Tex Flex single "Every Time We Dance."

"This showcases what we do," Diego said. "When you listen to Tex Flex, it weaves in and out of English and Spanish. 'Vamos a Bailar' is one of the highlights of our show right now."

Both the Spanish version and bilingual take will appear on Folklórico.

National platform

Guitarist-vocalist Jerry Fuentes, the only non-Navaira in The Last Bandoleros, said he fully understood the vitality of having influences from both sides of the border after working as a studio intern with Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers.

The two San Antonio legends broke ground in the 1960s by weaving together rock, Mexican music and myriad regional influences. That approach was also on display during the pair's time with the '90s supergroup Texas Tornados.

"I remember seeing the first time the Texas Tornados played on [Late Night With David Letterman]," Fuentes said. "I said, 'That's so crazy that they got a New York national platform. And it's Spanglish. It's Hispanic, you know?"

The Last Bandoleros is still finalizing the setlist for the Tobin show, but the members are leaning toward including a cover of an Emilio Navaira III song. Both Navaira brothers got their start in his band as teens, meaning that their father's influence carries through their current work.

Whatever ends up in the setlist, the band's varied South Texas influences are bound to be on full display.

"We are excited and have a lot to say and share," Emilio said.

$25, 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Will Naylor Smith Riverwalk Plaza, 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624, tobincenter.org.

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