• Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Santana’s José “Chepito” Areas

    By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on August 5, 2017

    HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  José Octavio “Chepito” Areas (born July 25, 1946) is a Nicaraguan percussionist best known for having played timbales in the Latin rock group Santana from 1969-1977 and 1987-1989. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his work in Santana.

    Chepito is considered to be one the most famous and celebrated musicians to ever come to global prominence from the country of Nicaragua, where in many circles he is considered a national hero. He is the first Timbale/ Conga player along with bandmate Michael Caraballo to be inducted into the Rock on Roll Hall of Fame.

    In 1997, he performed on Abraxas Pool with other members of the early 1970’s iteration of Santana, including Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Michael Carabello and Michael Shrieve. Previously, he released an eponymous solo album on Columbia/CBS Records in 1974. La Gigantona, a 1976 collaboration with Nicaraguan singer-songwriter and childhood friend Alfonso Noel Lovo, was reissued by Numero Group in 2012. Featured along with Richard Bean in The Sounds of Santana CD by Mike Roman & The Tellstars (2003). He was also featured along with Michael Shrieve in Cha Cha Time! CD by Mike Roman & The Tellstars (2007).

    “They used to call me Gene Krupa from Nicaragua!” Jose Chepito Areas said. A multi-instrumentalist, Chepito had a smoking hot Latin band in San Francisco called The Aliens. Members of the then, Santana Blues Band, came by the club after hearing sensational reports of Chepito killing the timbales every night, driving dancers berserk on the dance floor. He was already a local legend.

    A twenty-year-old Carlos Santana approached Chepito to come sit in with his band, Carlos communicated with Chepito who was monolingual Spanish. The suited and booted Areas was skeptical about the t-shirt wearing, long haired hippies who wanted to learn the authentic rudiments of Latin Rhythms. Chepito was the master, the rest of the band his students.

    Areas was enlisted by Carlos Santana in the late ’60s to play timbales for his signed-but-undefined rock group, where he quickly rose through the ranks to the role of musical director. Chepito would go on to spend a decade flanking the indulgent guitarist, fusing the group’s rock compositions with patchwork polyrhythms from Latin America.

    Despite individual talents and accomplishments, no member of Santana would ever successfully step out of the immense shadow cast by the group’s namesake front man.

    This was perhaps the greatest injustice to Chepito, who did manage to prove his individual worth to attentive rock connoisseurs with 1974’s Jose “Chepito” Areas album. Whether emboldened by his sturdy solo debut for CBS, or embittered by his stateside employer, when a childhood acquaintance named Alfonso Lovo suggested that Chepito come back to Nicaragua and track a record amongst their native country’s most musical, he booked a ticket for Managua. He stayed in Managua for a while but returned to the Bay Area many years ago and continues to make music to this very day.

    There are myths and legends about the arcane and audacious procession master. He was known to drive his Rolls Royce and white on white Cadillac El Dorado around the Mission district in San Francisco, often parking on the lawn at Mission Dolores Park to hang out audaciously with friends and fans.

    Chepito has had a complicated life, wrought with illness and an occasional legal problem and for the sake of this interview, my only concern was talking to him about his musical career, I have decided to keep his personal life off of the table. Chepito has hinted of a tell-all book he is working on, I’ll leave it to him to tell his complete story in his own way and no doubt with eloquence and a certain flamboyance.

    Chepito is complicated and reclusive, I’ve known him socially and have been trying to get a sit down interview with him since my radio days at KFRC in the early 70tys.

    In order to make this interview happen I enlisted the help of musician and educator Ray Cepeda who is Chepito’s best friend and bandmate. This interview would be impossible without Ray’s facilitation.

    Ray Cepeda sat down with Chepito on July 7th, 2017, Chepito’s birthday. He had a list of Herald de Paris (HDP) interview questions, Chepito had the gracious confidence to answer them in-kind. Ray was able to transcribe much of the conversation from Spanish to English.

    HDP: You are probably the most famous person who ever came from Nicaragua. Your country idolizes you, how do you feel about that and your country?

    CA: (Chepito broke out in tears answering the first question)  Beautiful and it’s great.

    HDP: Tell us about coming to San Francisco and the band The Aliens. What kind of musical training have you had? What instruments do you play? Do you also compose?

    CA: I wanted to go back home, to Nicaragua, I didn’t know what I was doing here in San Francisco. I was a famous musician back home. I came from a long line of accomplished musicians. My great grandfather, Jose de la Cruz Mena, was a famous composer of the waltz. I was mostly self-taught percussionist and trumpet player.

    I moved to the States, then I started playing salsa music in San Jose. I nearly got married to a Mexican girl but I was saved by joining up with the band The Aliens who were a big act in The Bay Area.

    HDP: Tell us about the first time a few of the guys from Santana came in to see you. What did they think of you, what did you think of them?

    CA: Carlos heard of the Aliens playing at The Night Life in San Francisco. It was David Brown, Carlos Santana, and Gregg Rolie who came down to check me out. They liked what they heard and said that they wanted to change the sound of Santana Blues Band to Latin Rock. They asked if I could teach them the Latin stuff and I said yes. They liked my playing and enthusiasm.

    HDP: What did you think of the band members?

    CA: I was well dressed in a suit and they were a bunch of dirty hippies. I thought, what am I going to do with these guys, they sleep at Golden Gate Park, have holes in their pants, and wear tie die t-shirts.

    HDP: I am told that Carlos was the only one who could communicate with you because he was the only one who could speak Spanish?

    CA: Carlos was embarrassed to me Mexican at the time so he avoided talking Spanish

    HDP: Tell us about the first time you sat in with Carlos, Gregg, Mike, and Dave. It has been said that you were a consummate professional musician and they were not at your level, it this true?

    CA: Yes it’s true. They were a bunch of rockers and I was a Mambo and Latin Rock player. They needed training and so I started training them to play Latin. The rehearsals were on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.

    HDP: How did they approach you to join Santana, what was the offer that they made and why did you accept? What did your former Alien band members, friends and family think of this move?

    CA: They told me they wanted to record an album in a Latin Rock style and wanted me to join up with them. They wanted me to teach them. My friends, the members of The Aliens, were wondering what these heavy rock guys were doing talking to me, Chepito?

    HDP: What was the first gig Santana like? How did you get along with the guys in the band? I’m told Carlos communicated with you in Spanish.

    CA: The first gig I remember was at a college somewhere. I came dressed in a suit and tie, they were wearing tie die T shirts, holes in their jeans, long hair, etc. I threw away my shirt and tie and started being like them. I started growing my hair out, I adopted a rocker style.

    HDP: How did being in the band influence you? Growing your hair long, playing rock instead of Latin. Did you ever think that the band would get so big?

    CA: I was a rocker and started acting like one. I grew out my hair, started wearing different clothes and riding fancy cars. But I managed to stay pretty straight most of the time considering all the drugs being pushed around.

    HDP: Tell us about Woodstock. You said in an interview that although you were not high or drinking, you saw God during the performance?

    CA: Five hundred thousand naked girls dancing in front of you. (He laughs). Bill Graham was an enthusiast when it came to Latin Music. He liked the new Santana Latin Rock sound and sent us to Woodstock. During the performance, I felt God’s energy and presence there. The energy told me to play, I said I will play for God. I was straight.

    HDP: How did you feel the first time you saw the movie Woodstock?

    CA: I felt the film crew didn’t know much about Latin Music because during my solos they would show Gregg or Carlos playing maracas instead of my solo. Either way I liked the movie.

    HDP: I have a picture of you driving your Rolls Royce and white El Dorado around the Mission back then. How did the money change you, did you buy lots of extravagant things?

    CA: The money didn’t change me much because it was left to the accountants and money people. To this day I do not feel we were given or payed the proper amounts.

    HDP: How much influence did you have over the first three Santana albums? I am told that you had to teach them how to play Latin Rhythms.

    CA: It was my sound, my playing and teaching that gave those first three records that original Classic Latin Rock style. At Woodstock and all over the world they were dancing to that new sound.

    HDP: What is your favorite Santana album and why?

    CA: None of them. Wait, I will say, Abraxas followed by Borboleta, then Caravanserai.

    HDP: What is the greatest Santana gig you ever played? Tell us a little bit about it.

    CA: Altamont then Woodstock. At Altamont, I was with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones. At Woodstock I was with Jimi Hendrix.

    HDP: Who has helped your career along the way, your greatest supporter?

    CA: Bill Graham. He led the way. Without Bill Graham I don’t think we would have made it. Que Viva Bill Graham!

    HDP: Of all the conga players you ever worked with, who do you think is the best?

    CA: Tata Guines he was king of the congas in Cuba. Also, Changito and Wilfredo de los Reyes.

    HDP: Near the ending of the classic Santana line up, the band started to break up but you kept working with Carlos, why?

    CA: Carlos knew I was doing less drugs and he couldn’t find anybody like me. He still hasn’t. He wanted that sound. So, we continued working.

    HDP: Tell us about your critically acclaimed album. Did you ever tour with your own band to support it, why or why not?

    CA: No never toured because somehow the album got shelved. It got no distribution.

    HDP: In your own words why did you leave the band? Do you have any regrets?

    CA: I didn’t leave the band. The band left me. And yes, I do have regrets but I’m keeping that to myself for now. You can read it in my upcoming book.

    HDP: Is there anyone you would have liked to work with, any other band you wanted to be in?

    CA: Yes, Earth Wind and Fire.

    HDP: You told me once you had a timbale shoot out contest with Tito Puente in New York and blew him away. What was that like?

    CA: Yeah I remember, Mario Rivera, the sax player for Tito Puente, called me and said come down and mess Tito up. Caco from El Grand Combo said nobody plays like you.

    HDP: Tell about being the first timbale player inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What did this mean to you? What was the night like?

    CA: Yes, I’m the first. It’s okay, it gives me something to brag about.

    HDP: Who were the musicians who inspired you? What kind of music informs your musical style, who do you listen to?

    CA: Gene Krupa and Joe Morelo from Dave Brubeck. I was early inspired to play Jazz.

    HDP: I was told by a former band member, that there is a rift between you and Carlos and the rift is about you and other band members wanting Carlos to approve one of your songs for a TV Commercial. You guys would have made a ton of money and he said no, is this true?

    CA: I don’t recall at the moment.

    HDP: There have been a few reunions shows back in the day and you sat in. How did it feel to play with the original guys again? Do they still have the chops like they used to, do you still have the chops?

    CA: Hell yeah, back in 1988, Carlos wanted me back in the band. I was feeling great. My playing was great. My chops.

    HDP: Last year the original guys got together and did the Santana IV album. Why weren’t you invited to play? All the fans wanted you to participate, is Carlos holding a grudge?

    CA: I feel he is. It’s been hard trying to get super close to Carlos throughout the years, even in the early days. I feel he has been somewhat distant even though he’s been there. We’ve had a love/hate relationship.

    HDP: You are one of the authors of the Santana sound. He is still doing it after 50 years. Do you think you ever got the credit you deserve? Why or why not?

    CA: I don’t think I’ll ever get credit for my accomplishments. Jealousy from others and those who have the power to control the news have downplayed my achievements.

    HDP: If you could tell Carlos Santana anything, what would it be?

    CA: That will be in my book.

    HDP: What do you think of the local SF Latin Rock scene nowadays and promoters like Dr. Rock and his Voices of Latino Rock shows?

    CA: I don’t really participate. I cannot comment.

    HDP: I know that you still like to play gigs once in a while and your work with guitar player Ray Cepeda. Any plans to record?

    CA: Yes, we’re recording right now. Even better we are recording at Hyde Street Studios, formerly known as Wally Heider Studios, in San Francisco. This is where we recorded Abraxas. Ray Cepeda writes great songs that gives us that classic that classic Latin Rock sound. My percussion work on top gives us that sound. I believe our work on “Green Eyed Lady” is proof of what I’m talking about. It’s an original Classic Latin Rock Sound.. I believe our work on “Green Eyed Lady” , from the “Angels over Avalon & Aztlan” CD is proof of what I’m talking about. It’s available on apple iTunes.

    HDP: Looking back on your impressive music career, do you have any regrets, anything you would do differently?

    CA: No comment for now. It will be in my book.

    HDP: If Carlos ever asked you to come back to Santana, would you consider it?

    CA: Getting back and involved with a bunch of guys that you helped and nobody’s got my back. It’s hard. But on the other hand there have been more good times than bad. It’s like a divorce. Should I go back to my ex? I always believed that hippies were about love and peace and spirituality. But Carlos has failed, with me at least, to display this hippie way of life. I’d have to really think about it.

    HDP: In the end when it is all said and done, how would you like history to remember you? What would you like your legacy to be?

    CA: As one of the best percussionist in the world. As one of the most influential and one of the greatest who introduced Latin Rock to the world. I wish to elaborate more on these questions in my upcoming book that reflects my memories and life in Rock and Roll. Thank you to all my fans.

    Ray Cepeda contributed to this story
    Copy edited by Mariam Salarian

    Linda D MCLAURIN August 5, 2017

    This was a very distinguished inteview,facts unveiled many thoughts fans have about such an icon,I respect his decision to no comment.Great journalism at the utmost top brillence,covered lots of eras of his musical career,AND some . The book will be a golden broach to a superstar. Congratulations to the fine journalism..

    ROBERTO THUMAS August 5, 2017

    I have the uttmost respect for my brother chepito,he is a true latin rock and jazz ledgend,i have played with ray and chepito in the 80.s we did the bay area scene and did some recording with chepito,,,my son has learned alot from chepito ever since my son tito was 4 years old he hung out with us when we played at parks and partys all over the bay area,especialy in the north bay in marin county ,he is a ledgend ,here in nicaragua,he comes here every year and plays for his country and home i go see him perform at his gigs here and my son sits in with the bands that play with chepito,,i really want to see carlos and chepito together again, the hate must stop and peace shall prevail ,so the true fans can see and hear and feel the music that we all saw in the 60s 70s and 80s with the old ,young santana !!!! viva chepito !!! My name is roberto thumas I was born in san francisco lived there all my life in the mission…I went to most concerts in the fillmore west when the band was just starting out every tuesday was two dollars to get in and watch some of the best music all nite long..and I got to see the aliens perform at the nitelife on san bruno street in the late 60s..i was just 16 and I would get in to see and hear good music,,i have recordings that chepito’s brother gave me …….Not too many people have these recordings….. Thank you for helping chepito being heard !!!!! I will share this with all my facebook friends !!!

    Guillermo Zavala August 5, 2017

    Viva Leon jodido Chepito el mejor

    Ernesto August 5, 2017

    You are still the master, your right Carlos has not replaced you with anyone as good as you. Karl, he is good but in second place. Since Raul has passed, it’s never been the same at all. I haven’t and will not attend a Santana concert any more. It’s just not the same. Chepito, you are the master and will always be a legend..

    Carlos August 5, 2017

    A tremendous article which asks many intriguing questions, I really enjoyed reading it. Chepito has an incredible sense of humor which comes across in this article. No doubt hadn’t Chepito joined Santana as he had, there may have not been a Woodstock nor as successful an Abraxas album…Chepito added the hot sizzle with his timbales and cow bell playing. Just imagine “Oye Como Va” without Chepito performing in the Abraxas album? It would have fallen flat on its face rythmically. I can’t wait to read Chepe’s book. When I was a kid, Chepe used to visit my brother in his Rolls, it caused quite a sensation in the neighborhood. Que Viva Chepito Areas!

    Cornelia Benavidez August 7, 2017

    Hello Chepito! It’s Cornelia from the late 80’s. I am so happy that you are getting good interviews and think of you with a smile. My husband John and I are so happy you are still kicking and showing them how it is done. 🙂

    Scott E August 9, 2017

    Chepito was and still is the best. Thanks for all your music Chepie. Blessings.

    Scott R Enders August 9, 2017

    Chepito was and still is the best. Thanks for your music Chepie. Blessings.

    Madame A August 10, 2017

    Outstanding article on Jose Arenas. Crushed it!!

    Nancy Garcia August 10, 2017

    I guess when you look back and things weren’t always on the up and up you would be cautious.
    Age teaches us to be cautious, that’s why we are considered wise when we are older, that is why we teach our children, we try to inform them about things before they make the same mistakes we made, I’m very comfortable with his way of explaining its not outright mean but he lets you think about what he had gone through and make your own opinion after all it was suppose to be LOVE AND PEACE????
    Nice questions Dr.

    Arvid Edson August 10, 2017

    I remember going to hear “the aliens” in San Rafael’s Litchfields, Bermuda Palms. Chepito was great.
    My band mates and I drove him once to the gig and he had an album and it was Santana’s album. He showed it to us.
    Who knew then?

    marc anthony vidrio August 11, 2017

    in music and in life that’s how it goes I loved Chepito playing ViVa

    Anonymous August 11, 2017

    You are the man!

    Fabiana Parra December 1, 2017

    Hi Chipito
    Hope your doing well?. We always remember you when you first came from your country you stayed with us for awhile. I just wanted to say hello and hoping your doing well. Reyes. Josie and mama Rosa are doing well. Take care Chipito God bless.

    Anonymous February 19, 2018

    I come from a small Texas town way down south native American and Hispanic, the day I heard Santana band the sound that you gave to the band your timbale playing blew n me away I couldn’t wait to see you in person and Carlos but you gave the sound to the band with out you I don’t think Santana would have been as great I love your sound to me you are the greatest timbale player Santana doesn’t sound the same with out you it just doesn’t have it I’m glad your still doing time on earth ….Ron Arenal

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