The Last Bandoleros' Emilio and Diego Navaira turn their attention to rock band Ready Revolution

After nearly a decade in The Last Bandoleros, the sons of Tejano superstar Emilio Navaira are stepping aside to pursue a harder rocking sound.

click to enlarge The Last Bandoleros play the Stagecoach Festival, one of the band’s final gigs before its hiatus. - Scott Enright
Scott Enright
The Last Bandoleros play the Stagecoach Festival, one of the band’s final gigs before its hiatus.

The Last Bandoleros had a hell of a run.

After touring with Sting, collaborating with Shaggy, landing a deal with Warner Music, gigging extensively in Europe and appearing twice on Good Morning America, the critically acclaimed band is on hiatus.

Known for a signature blend of country, rock, Tejano and pop, the Nashville-based group has strong San Antonio ties thanks to brothers Emilio Navaira IV and Diego Navaira, sons of the late Tejano legend Emilio Navaira III. After nearly a decade in The Last Bandoleros, the pair are stepping aside to focus on another musical project, the more rock-focused Ready Revolution.

"I may want to come back in two years, but right now, in my heart, I have no interest in making a Bandos record or going out on the road with the Bandos," said Diego, 31. "That's not to say it's not gonna happen again. But I'm not even thinking about it right now."

Emilio, 33, agreed. "Right now, I'm doing Ready Rev."

Even so, the switch will require a complete reboot for the Navaira brothers, whose record deal with Warner won't carry over. Even though they already have a track record in the music industry, they face the daunting challenge of jumping genres and will need to build interest in Ready Revolution nearly from the ground up.

Born out of 2014 writing session with Emilio on drums, Diego on bass, and Jerry Fuentes and Derek James handling guitar duties, The Last Bandoleros brought together an array of influences, and all four members shared vocal duties.

Though signed to Warner's Nashville operation and marketed as a country act with a Tex-Mex flair, the members loved the Beatles and what they stood for — tight songwriting and a unique collection of personalities.

The Bandos released three full-length albums, including 2020's outstanding Live from Texas. Last year's fraternal twins, Tex Flex and Tex Flex Folkórico, both showcased the band as a trio after James' departure and shone a light on the members' deep South Texas roots.

Understandable, considering the Navaira brothers started their careers in their dad's band — something that provided a formative deep dive into both the Tejano scene and the music biz. Guitarist Fuentes was a studio intern in his youth, present for sessions with Tex-Mex legends Augie Meyers and Doug Sahm.

"On our last two records, the Bandos really embraced the culture," Emilio said. "I wanted to see if we could make a Tejano record, but in our own way. I think it's our best work."

Even so, the brothers agree it's time to get back to their true love: rock 'n' roll.

Secret plans

The Last Bandoleros' hiatus has been pending for a while, though kept under wraps, the brothers said.

"That was all a band decision," Diego explained. "I approached our team a couple of months ago, asking, 'How should we announce our hiatus?' The Bandoleros work like a democracy, you know? Out of respect and love, me and Emilio didn't say anything. I personally wish we would have."

The group appeared in Los Angeles for a Cinco de Mayo event earlier this month. To the outside world, it was just another gig for the road warriors. But for the members, it was a milestone: their last gig for the foreseeable future. Maybe ever.

"I want to preserve how special the Bandos is, you know?" Emilio said. "When there's a time to get back and do it, we'll get back and do it."

During several lengthy conversations with the Current, the brothers reflected on their time in the group, their late father and the resurrection of Ready Revolution, an outfit they put on the back burner while they focused on The Last Bandoleros. Our discussions took place across multiple locations, from gigs and hangouts to Zoom meetings.

Even though the Navaira brothers are turning over a new musical chapter, their commitment to each other seems as strong as ever.

"My aunt showed me some home movies," Emilio said. "They had the moment we met. I crawled into the crib with [Diego] and started playing."

He paused. "I don't know a life without Diego."

Rocking reunion

The Ready Revolution reunion show at San Antonio's 502 Bar on March 25 probably should have been a sign that things were winding down for The Last Bandoleros. The gig played out like band reunions often do, offering a chance to revisit triumphs of the past and for old friends to get reacquainted.

The Northside music venue was packed, setting a club record for both attendance and bar receipts. The full house was evidence that despite their Nashville base, San Antonio remains the brothers' second home and a primary market for their music.

Before showtime, Emilio went over basslines backstage, making sure he knew the material of the opening band, Pasenger, with whom he'd agreed to fill in a couple weeks prior.

"I want to make sure I remember everything," he said, no hint of nerves showing.

During Pasenger's set, Emilio's presence highlighted the melodies of its strongest material. Just as in The Last Bandoleros and Ready Rev, his vocals ended up being the band's secret weapon. He's heard the "secret weapon" stuff before from his mom — a very mom comment.

By the time Ready Revolution took the stage with opener "Love Disaster," the place was so packed that attendees on the side of the stage couldn't squeeze their way to the bar. Diego owned the frontman role, his gaze, his movements, his hand gestures all making the band seem larger than life, as if it could pull off the same commanding show from a coliseum stage.

In contrast to the rootsy Bandos, Ready Rev plays driving alt-rock in the vein of Foo Fighters or Paramore. It's an arena-sized sound with big guitars and bigger hooks.

With only a brief pause, the band ripped into the anthemic "Good Love Yeah!" capably nailing the song's harmonies. The chorus evoked the hard-edged but hooky sound of vintage Cheap Trick.

In Ready Rev, both brothers play guitar while Diego holds down lead vocals. Bassist Shane Gamboa, drummer Kevin Diaz de Leon and third guitarist — yes, the three-guitar attack sounds huge — Matt Zavala round out the band. Zavala, a longtime family friend, also played in Emilio III's band as a youngster and even lived with the family when he was 19.

Near the end of the blistering set, Diego reminded the crowd of the value of family by dedicating a cover of Hillary Duff's "Come Clean" to his younger sister, Emely, whose birthday was the next day. The band set the date of the gig so Diego could be in town for the family celebration.

Ready Rev shut things down with the appropriately titled original "We All Got Fucked Up," the epic rock finale. The crowd whooped it up as the sweat-drenched band took a collective bow.

click to enlarge The Navairas’ Ready Revolution brings the rock during the band’s reunion show at 502 Bar. - Mike McMahan
Mike McMahan
The Navairas’ Ready Revolution brings the rock during the band’s reunion show at 502 Bar.

Looming challenge

Grammy-winning producer Mack Damon, who's done studio work for Ready Rev, praises the brothers' musical ability as "supernatural."

"They can hear something one time, then pick up a guitar, sing it in three-part harmony and play it with each other," the San Antonio-based producer said. "No one decides who's going to play what instrument."

Despite that raw talent — not to mention Ready Rev's deftly written material and ability to move a crowd — the brothers know the challenges ahead as they relaunch the band. They're looking to capture lightning twice. They're also doing it in an era where pop and hip-hop have relegated guitar rock to the fringes.

Sure, Ready Rev has catchy songs, but so do plenty of other rock outfits in an already crowded market. And the resurrected act will need to secure a foothold without Warner's backing.

The Navaira brothers are the first to admit that taking Ready Rev to the Bandos' level — or, better yet, surpassing it — will be an uphill battle.

They've surrounded themselves with supportive friends and family, but nothing will take the place of hard work in front of audiences. Diego and Emilio also agree that a major label deal isn't the obvious path it once was.

"We want to get out there and build a following on the road," Diego said. "The old-fashioned way."

Even though they grew up surrounded by Tejano, it's clear that rock 'n' roll is in their blood. To be sure, their reunited band isn't just some new fixation. Ready Rev was their first serious musical project after leaving their dad's band, and it put in five years' worth of serious gigging.

Although Ready Rev self-issued its LP Let It Out in February, the recording was completed in 2016. The brothers decided not to release it then so they could focus on The Last Bandoleros.

During its original run, Ready Rev also racked up high-profile gigs including an opening slot with Cheap Trick at the Majestic Theatre. The headliners were so impressed by the young band that they invited Diego to join them for a performance of their 1979 hit "Dream Police."

"I cried when I got off stage," Diego said, the emotion still apparent on his face as he recalls the show.

"I saw [Cheap Trick guitarist] Rick Nielsen later, when the Bandos opened for Sting," he continues. "He recognized me from Ready Rev, but I don't think he liked the Bandos as much."

Big boots to fill

On Saturday, April 15, the Navaira brothers were back in San Antonio for a performance at the Poteet Strawberry Festival. Ahead of the gig — one where they and other musicians would take the stage as the Official Emilio Tribute — they were at a family barbecue at the home of their uncle Joe Casias, the gig's organizer.

The house was thick with relatives. Street tacos with homemade salsa and guacamole were arrayed on the kitchen's island. Multiple ice chests brimmed with beer. The brothers had just returned from the load-in and soundcheck.

"It was cool," Diego said. "People started to gather around and get excited because we played a couple of songs."

Emilio, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his late father's image, was excited about the kit he was using for the gig. "It's the size of, like, Alex Van Halen's," he said, laughing. "Even though I only need to hit, like, three of the drums."

As the party went on, the brothers and the other band members changed into matching button-up shirts patterned with Southwestern-style stripes — a signature of Emilio III's old group. Diego slipped on cowboy boots that belonged to his dad.

Despite the jovial atmosphere and the jokes between band members, it was apparent that both brothers took the show seriously. Voluminous gigging experience aside, the apprehension wasn't hard to read on their faces.

It was evident the two want to balance their own identities as musicians with honoring their father's legacy. Keeping the memories alive for his fans matters.

"My dad always took time for people," Emilio said, citing an important lesson he learned from his dad. "He loved his fans."

Eventually, the time arrived for both the band and family members to pile into the small flotilla of vans that would transport them to the nearby festival.

The brothers and a few others climbed into the van driven by Ready Rev's ever-present roadie Arnst. His Gregg Allman haircut and yellow-lensed aviator glasses exuded the vibe of a '70s rock star. For this occasion, he'd dressed in a cowboy hat and the same Tejano-style shirt the other guys were wearing.

"He just likes to be called Arnst," Emilio said, when asked about his friend's full name.

Ever the pro, Arnst ignored the backseat drivers as he maneuvered the van into the fenced-in area behind the festival's main stage. The band piled out and joined the family members, ice chests in tow.

Fitting since family remains at the forefront for the Navaira brothers.

"They went out of their way to do whatever they could for me," sister Emely Navaira said, citing the Hillary Duff cover the brothers played for her at the Ready Rev reunion.

"There's a video of me and Emilio at Christmas. I must be like 2 years old," she added. "No one's caring [that] it's taking me forever to open my presents. He's just sitting right there, trying to show off to everybody what I'm getting."

As the band waited to go on, a Ferris wheel turned lazily in the background. The carnival's lights and sounds only added to the jovial atmosphere.

Even so, Diego stood alone, pensive. The gravity of the performance, of his father's legacy, still weighed on him.

"I'm afraid I'll start crying," he said, voicing his biggest fear for the gig.

Larger than life

To Diego's point, the brothers' larger-than-life father has loomed over their entire musical careers. Emilio Navaira III rose to fame as lead vocalist for David Lee Garza y Los Musicales before venturing out on his own, backed by the band Grupo Rio.

By the '90s, Navaira's fame had eclipsed that of Garza, and he'd become one of the genre's iconic performers — famous enough that if you uttered his first name to a Tejano fan, they knew exactly who you were talking about.

The elder Navaira even turned to Nashville and made a successful breakthrough as a country artist. His tunes appeared on commercials for the likes of Coca-Cola and Wrangler, and he landed an endorsement from Miller Lite.

Emilio III would have turned 60 last August. He died suddenly in 2016 of a massive heart attack.

"The last words we said to each other were 'I love you and I'll see you later," Diego said of his final phone call with his father. "I will see you later. That's the positive I took from it. Later my phone rang, and Emilio told me. I remember just falling to my knees."

By the time of his passing, Emilio III had made such a mark on Tejano that his legend is arguably second only to that of Selena. Indeed, he was billed as co-headliner for Selena's lauded 1995 Astrodome show, which drew 67,000 fans and yielded her album Selena LIVE! The Last Concert.

While the Tejano family legacy likely will always hang over the Navaira brothers, they also credit their dad with fostering their love of rock 'n' roll.

After all, when the pair were junior-high age, he would wake them up in the middle of the night to play Beatles covers for his friends. He also took the pair to Arizona to see the 2004 Van Halen reunion.

"We bought the tickets because there weren't any San Antonio dates [announced yet]," Emilio said. "We begged him, of course."

To be sure, their love of classic rock makes them chips off the old block. When he was feeling it, their dad was known to perform Van Halen's "Jump" in front of Tejano crowds.

"If you watch videos of Emilio and Grupo Rio in the early '90s, he wanted to be David Lee Roth," Diego said. "They had pyro onstage, and he was doing the splits. No one was doing that in Tejano at the time."

Emilio the son thinks of Emilio the father frequently. Ultimately, it was the elder Navaira's encouragement that sent the brothers down their life path of performing music.

"I was 15 the first time I got on stage [officially] with my dad," Emilio said. "We were playing in Chicago, and there were like 10,000 people. It was nerve-wracking. My uncle and my dad may have given me a little liquid encouragement."

Once Emilio III knew his sons were eager to stake out their own legacy, he even went so far as to fire them from his band, the brothers recall. Their termination was a joke, but the inference was easy to read: It's time for you to chase your own dream.

Given their dedication and musicianship, Diego and Emilio are more than capable of picking up their father's mantle. But, despite their deep affection for their father and his music, their path lies elsewhere.

click to enlarge The Navaira brothers pose with their mother, Cynthia Navaira-Escobar, before their Poteet Strawberry Festival show. - Mike McMahan
Mike McMahan
The Navaira brothers pose with their mother, Cynthia Navaira-Escobar, before their Poteet Strawberry Festival show.

'I always pray for my boys'

At the Strawberry Festival grounds, the band huddled then gave Diego a moment of quiet reflection before they clambered onstage. The crowd was ready after a warmup set from David Lee Garza, the same Tejano heavyweight who gave Emilio III his start.

Perhaps as a reminder to that crowd of the Navaira brothers' rock 'n' roll credentials, ZZ Top's "Tush" blasted from the PA as they and the rest of the band strode onstage. Diego sang along at full volume as he paced just out of view. In true frontman fashion, he joined the others last.

Their mother, Cynthia Navaira-Escobar, was there too, cheering her sons on from backstage.

"I forgot to tell you earlier. I always pray for my boys," she said loud enough to be heard over the music.

The band opened with "Naciste Para Mi" and "Que Bonita Fuera" back-to-back, a one-two punch demonstrating a skill in jumping from song to song that would make the Ramones proud.

Around the set's mid-point, Diego joked to the crowd that his dad once told him, "Mijo, you need to dress Tejano."

"I told him we're rock 'n' rollers. But we did it tonight. What do you think?" he asked, showing off his threads.

The audience roared its approval.

Diego's fears came true during "It's Not the End of the World," as he choked up on the first verse. He turned it around, though, and Emilio gave him an encouraging shoutout. They continued the performance without losing a beat.

By the time the brothers and the rest of their capable band closed things down with encore "La Rama del Mesquite," they dripped with sweat.

After post-show beers, well wishes from family members and autographs, the band piled back into the van. It was late, and everyone was ready to hit the party house. Menudo and more cold beer awaited.

Arnst cranked the key, but the motor wouldn't start. He jumped out and popped the hood. Never a good sign, especially not at 2 a.m. Groans spread through the van.

Diego laughed, not even remotely rattled. "Arnst will probably jump start it himself," he said. "I'd trust that guy with my punk rock life."

Sure enough, Arnst pulled a portable jump box from the back of the van and connected it to the battery. Moments later, the engine cranked.

The van turned onto the darkened country road leading back to the their uncle's home. Metallica blasted over the sound system. In that moment, it was apparent that the Navairas don't quit easily — nor do the family and friends that make up their support system.

If Ready Revolution is the brothers' next challenge, they're ready to meet it head-on. Little surprise that Diego chalks up that courage to another life lesson from his dad.

"We were part of the band and had to be on our A-game," he said. "He didn't treat us like we were his kids and just there to fuck around."

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