The Caliente Column

Liberacion: 20 Years
By Doug Shannon (

Liberacion returned to play for its hometown, Monterrey, on Saturday,
July 6, its first show there in 15 months. Playing for 25,000 people who
came from as far away as Dallas, they presented their new material from
their latest release "Enamorado de Un Fantasma" with a new sound-and-light
system valued at $400,000.

It was a historic show, too, as saxophonist Ricardo Guerrero, 50, announced
that this would be his final performance with the band.

EL PEGA PEGA and TORBELLINO NORTEN~O also played at the dance, held at Expo

Liberacion's success is a fortunate exception to the decline in sales of
"grupera" music, a style which relies on a strong rhythm section and romantic,
apolitical lyrics. Although many of Liberacion's contemporaries like LOS
BUKIS, LOS COUGAR'S, BAGDAD and SUPER BRUJO have either broken up or ceased
to function in the last two years, and Tejano is still hot at the Monterrey
rodeo clubs, (BOBBY PULIDO played for a packed house of 5,600 at the Far West
Rodeo in San Nicolas de los Garza, a city adjacent to Monterrey, on July 19)
Liberacion vocalist Juan Tavares, 31, said he believes that la onda grupera is
getting its second wind and is due for a comeback.

Tavares added that his recording of a solo album with mariachi doesn't mean
he's pursuing a solo career.

During the group's absence from performing live in Monterrey, it achieved
many milestones. It was nominated for group of the year and song of the year
("Enamorado de Un Fantasma") in the Premios Lo Nuestro. The governor of
Oklahoma, Frank Keating, and the mayor of Oklahoma City, Ronald Norick,
presented the group with the keys to the city. Finally, it added a second
keyboardist, Jose Juan Martinez, who is giving the group's rhythm section
a fuller, richer sound.

Liberacion's director and keyboardist, Virgilio Canales, said Martinez fits
well into the group.

"My goal is that he learns all our music and how I play the keyboards, so
when I retire from the group, no one notices a change in style," Canales

However, Canales predicted that someone besides Martinez would step in as
director once he retires, which he speculates will be in late 1997.

"To be a director, you need to be able to do more than just play well. You
need to know how things are going with the crowd. You have to be a
psychologist, watching the audience, how they react, and never letting their
enthusiasm subside," he said.

Canales said he thinks Martinez, 24, could be a good director with more
experience, but he believes a better choice at the moment would be someone
like guitarist Amador Alvarado, who helps Canales with the musical

The group gets all its songs from composers outside the group and Canales
said the song selection process isn't exactly a democracy; he selects 90%
of the songs himself and the other members of the group trust his judgement.
However, the others are free to tell him if they don't like a song. Normally
their criticisms are valid and he looks for another song, he said.

Canales' experience in the music industry goes back to the early 1960s.

"I started out playing the accordion, but if we were playing in a large hall
with an acoustic piano, I'd play that," he said. "Later they introduced the
electric pianos and I can almost assure you, because I've checked into it,
the first portable electric piano, a Wurlitzer, which I bought at San Antonio
Music in 1964 or 1965. I also had the first portable organ in Mexico, a
Lowry, because I had never seen one in Mexico or on any TV program," he said.

For 15 years before Liberacion came to be, Canales was a journeyman rock
keyboardist, influenced by Chicago, Blood Sweet and Tears, and early '70s
hard rock.

"In November 1976 I formed Liberacion, and it was created with a more
'grupero' concept. However, we also covered dance music, which at that time
meant the music of groups like the BEE GEES, whose music was played all the
time at discos," he said. "Later we started playing tropical music and Tejano
music, but in the orchestral style, with trumpets and sax, in the style of
SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS--not the kind of Tejano music they play today," he

"Finally we arrived at our current style, which we've had since 1990, with
the arrival of Juan Tavares," he said.

Canales' excellence is an inspiration to young keyboardists across the
continent, and he said that he believes an aspiring, ambitious keyboardist
shouldn't let a lack of money get in the way of purchasing a serviceable

"Keyboards are being discontinued by manufacturers all the time, and an 8-10
year-old keyboard will function perfectly well and you can buy one for
$200 to $300. There are plenty of instruments out there that will work fine
for a young person that doesn't have the money to buy a new keyboard," he said.

And that used keyboard might have been played at some point in its life by a
big-name group that traded it in for a fancier one after its career took off,
he said.

Canales, 52, is married and has four children.

Liberacion began work on its next album in August and is touring the United

(Many thanks to Leticia Garza for her help in preparing this article.)