Sam Villela admits (and his fans would most certainly attest) that onstage he’s intense and brooding singing behind his bank of vintage keyboards — a battered arsenal that includes a Hammond B3 organ and Leslie tone cabinet, electric piano and clavichord.
On his own, he is wild. On stage with the strength of Sexto Sol behind him, he is incredible.
With its members doing a bit of everything, from playing Afro-pop to spinning classic soul and more in nightspots, Sexto Sol gigs are always special occasions. And Sexto Sol’s “Puro San Antonio” sound draws from R&B, soul, rock, cumbia, conjunto and whatever spice is called for at any given moment.
Their music has been described as “Chicano Rock Soul”, but anyone who has heard them knows there is more to the music than one description will permit. Reminiscent of the work of music icon Santana, Hernandez said the band modeled itself under its influences, including Latin Breed, Malo, El Chicano and early Chicago. “The music speaks for itself. It makes people feel good.”
“Simultaneously sensual and hard-edged, the music can be as cool as a surprise breeze through a cotton shirt or as hot as the South Texas pavement beneath worn chanclas, with a rhythm that draws the motion of hips before the feet.”
Kirsten Crow, Laredo Morning Times
The band has seen lots of changes over the years. When singer-keyboardist Sam Villela left San Antonio for a stint in Iraq at the end of 2003, neither he nor his bandmates knew if their band had a future. As an active-duty member of the U.S. Army Reserves, Villela was assigned to assist in road-construction work in Iraq.
At the time, the band posted: “As an army reservist, he has been called to serve our country and go to Iraq … We realize that what he is doing is a testament to his loyalty towards protecting all of us, but it certainly doesn’t make it easier for us not to have him safe at home with his family.”
Considering the band was working on an album at the time made the planned departure even more difficult. Villela says he wrote at least a dozen songs while in Iraq, and found that he couldn’t turn off his musical thoughts, no matter how inconvenient the circumstances in which they came to him. The album didn’t get finished for a few years.
Just a small trivia point — most people don’t know that Sexto Sol opened for Aerosmith in concert. On the morning of January 25, 2006, the boys got a call, asking if they would like to perform with Aerosmith THAT SAME NIGHT! According to the promoter, “Sexto Sol’s percussive Latino soul might have sounded like a quirky match for the hard-rock titans from Boston, but it worked. The crowd response was overwhelmingly positive …!” According to the published report, “Local heroes Sexto Sol filled in admirably, doing their Santana thing that earned a shout out from Tyler.”
The band has continued to suffer losses and experience changes that would defeat most bands. But not these guys. Villela announced a move to Seattle precipitated by his father’s cancer-radiation treatments. The band understood and sent their thoughts and prayers with Villela as he packed up and moved once again.
While in Seattle, Villela missed his home-town roots. “It definitely has made me appreciate what I had in San Antonio, just the authenticity of how we do music in San Antonio,” he said. “I have a bag of tools that I sharpened here in San Antonio that they really appreciate. It’s my résumé up there. They recognize it’s not a Seattle sound. They don’t know what to make of me.”
It wasn’t long before he was back from Seattle. That the band was back and back in force, was evident at Saluté’s emotional closing night.
“So many legends played there, sometimes for very little money,” says owner Azeneth Dominguez. “There’s a very rich culture and history.” Latin rock and soul band Sexto Sol played the venue’s last live concert on July 21.
The band’s guitarist Eduardo “Eddie” Hernandez, who played vinyl as DJ Plata every Thursday at Saluté, says the club gave Sexto Sol both its inspiration and its first gig.
“It’s just the epitome of what the S.A. sound and music scene is about, is what rolled through Saluté. … It’s so cool that this little tiny place on St. Mary’s has housed such great music,” he says. Saluté’s final live show was planned to be “… just a party,” says Hernandez, promising at least two full sets. “We love that room.”