There are times when the best revenge can be revenge that goes unknown. Richard Bean was so in love with a girl in his high school algebra class that he spent more time writing poems about her than he did on his homework. He flunked the class. The girl broke his heart and never looked back.
Then Bean become a founding member of a Bay Area band named Malo, wrote a melody to go with his poetry and, with a little help from two friends, created “Suavecito,” one of the great hits of the 1970s.
Bean’s revenge? To this day the girl who broke his heart doesn’t know she was the inspiration for “Suavecito.”
“I was young. You think it’s gonna last forever,” Bean recalled July 28, taking a call in his Bay Area home. “She ended up breaking my heart, but to this day she doesn’t know I wrote the song for her. I saw her years later but I never told her. We talked, but I decided to keep that to myself and I just left it that way.”
Imagine the reflected glory that would come with being able to say that “Suavecito” was written about you! Oh well!
THE ’70s NIGHTCLUB REUNION REVISITED
With special guests Malo and Greenwood
>> Where: Hibiscus Ballroom, Ala Moana Hotel
>> When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
>> Cost: $45; $55 reserved seating
>> Info: 944-4330, 70snightclubreunion.com
“Suavecito” — the title translates from Spanish as “smooth” or “soft” — was the first and biggest hit single for Malo, and the hit song off the group’s first and biggest album. Released in 1972, “Suavecito” was huge in Hawaii. It got high-rotation play on Honolulu’s Top 40 radio stations and quickly became popular in the nightclubs of Waikiki, but Malo never performed in Hawaii.
Now Bean is in town to sing “Suavecito” with Greenwood as his backing band on Saturday at the Ala Moana Hotel. The performance takes place as part of Greenwood leader Robin Kimura’s recurring series, “The ’70s Nightclub Reunion Revisited.”
Also re-creating the sound of the Waikiki nightclubs of the 1970s and early 1980s are Aura, the Deltones featuring Mike Lundy, Odyssey and Phase VII. The evening is the latest in a popular and almost always sold-out series that started in 2005, when Kimura persuaded several other groups to join Greenwood in what was envisioned as a one-time event.
Public response was so strong that the “Nightclub Reunion” became a yearly event — a couple of years there were even two reunion shows. All were subject to Kimura’s strict format policy, presenting only groups that had played in Waikiki nightclubs in the mid-’70s and early ’80s. From the beginning he required participating groups to reunite and perform with their original members, and he refused to book remnants of old groups — like, say, with one original member and everyone else new recruits — or with contemporary “oldies” bands who sincerely loved the music but hadn’t played in Waikiki “back in the day.”
Some old-timers, and some young “oldies” bands, said Kimura shouldn’t be so rigid about working only with original members of ’70s-era groups, but he accepted no substitutions. If the original members of a group were alive and still able to play their instruments, he expected them to make the effort. Almost all did. Starting in 2005 and continuing to the present, ’70s Nightclub Reunion shows have included performances by Glass Candle, Natural High, Ashberry/Sage, New Experience, Asian Blend, Rock Candy, Phase VII, White Light, Power Point, the Kasuals, Tino & the Rhythm Klub and Beowulf.
In some cases Kimura was able to persuade guys who hadn’t spoken to each other for decades to let bygones be bygones — at least for an evening. For a couple of groups the challenge was scheduling and the time it took to travel from Guam or the far reaches of the U.S. Eventually, Kimura reached the point where every eligible group but one had played the Nightclub Reunion at least once — and the leader of that one remaining group said once and for all, fans’ requests or no, his group would never, ever get back together.
Kimura kept things fresh while responding to requests for more shows by including a band or two that had been big on the high school dance circuit. In 2016 he welcomed a special guest, John Gilleran, guitarist and founding member of the Jamestown Massacre, whose guitar playing had helped make that group’s one big hit, “Summer Sun,” huge here in 1972. Having Gilleran sit in on guitar created a link with the original hit.
When Bean sits in with Greenwood at this year’s “Reunion,” Hawaii will hear “Suavecito” sung by the man who wrote it and sang it on the original recording.
“We were signed to Warner Bros. at the time (when we recorded it), and they thought it was a great song,” Bean said. “The only song I wrote was the big hit from the first Malo album. I’ve heard (Greenwood’s) rendition of ‘Suavecito,’ and it’s pretty much identical to the way I recorded it, so I think it’s going to come off really nice.”
“Suavecito” was “it” for Bean and Malo in terms of pop chart success — but the song is only one chapter in Bean’s career as a working musician. He got started in his early teens, worked with Carlos Santana before Santana founded his original namesake group, then worked with Santana’s younger brother, Jorge Santana, in another group before record producer David Rubinson invited him and Jorge Santana, Abel Zarate, Arcelio Garcia and several other young veterans to form Malo.
Bean and Santana were among the first to leave the group for other opportunities.
With his brother Joe, Bean formed a new group, Sapo, that recorded throughout the 1970s. Bean subsequently recorded again with Jorge Santana and then enjoyed a second round of fame when Sapo was discovered by a new generation of Chicano/Latino music fans. These days he is working with Sapo, performing as a special guest at “all-star” shows with artists such as Jorge Santana, Tierra and El Chicano, and — from time to time — singing “Suavecito” for pop oldies fans.
“You’d be surprised how many people have recorded it,” Bean said. If artists “do it the right way” and get the legally required license to record the song, he gets the composer’s royalty that he’s legally entitled to, he said, though he’s aware that some unlicensed versions were made, as well.
“There are a lot of versions, but when people ask me to sing it with them, it’s basically the same (as the original) every time,” Bean said. “I’m really looking forward to coming out.”