The roads of rock are unsuspected. The person who knows this the most is Diego Avello nicknamed Bull, an Asturian musician who is 6’6¨ and who has traveled on trails that have taken him from a village in Asturias to Hollywood. He has lived unusual adventures in Mexico and the United States. We talked to him on a bright night in Austin, Texas, with a taste of Bourbon and rock & roll. Showmoon novels his words inaugurating our Night Talks section.
Asturias, First Stage
I was born in a small town in Asturias called Cangas de Narcea. I came into the world between two rivers in a land never conquered. That shaped my character and my history. In those mountains, populated by working people and a unique beauty, nothing foreshadowed who I was to going to be or that I was going to fall in love with such a distant lifestyle.
In Cangas we didn´t have music stores or Internet. My contact with music was limited until I was 11,. My brother and I won a cassette of the band Ilegales, Agotados de esperar el fin, in a costume contest. That tape led me to see the reality that I wanted to mold. It was my rocker awakening.
The first time I heard Long Tall Sally by Little Richard in his greatest hits tape, he charmed me. I got hooked on rock and roll. My doses expanded little by little with the sounds of the music of the 50s. At that time, I had no fucking idea what it meant, but I was blown away by the sound of those guys, their look and their rebellious attitude.
I dressed like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Elvis Presley. Some laughed at my hairstyle, others feared the spurs I was wearing, but females liked my style. We had no idea to play. But who the fuck cared? We were rockers!, The rest would fall under its own weight. Meanwhile, we bought albums through Discoplay magazine, the only way to get American rock in Cangas.
Together with two friends from school, Javier and Emilio, formed the band Phantom Sharks without having played an instrument. To alleviate our alarming lack of them, we decided to save our weekly payments. The money wasn´t enough so we hatched a plan to achieve the goal without eternalizing.
We would sell chorizo buns door to door, an activity that our high school used to organize for fundraisers for end-of-year trips. A year later we had enough money to face the investment. Eddie, a musician friend, endorsed us at the musical store Arévalo in Oviedo. We returned from the Asturian capital with our new brides wrapped in illusion, cardboard boxes and a huge debt.
First rehearsal was a nightmare. We realized that the rock road had not even begun. Eddie showed me a couple of chords. I tried to learn the Chuck Berry style, hearing his music. I supported my guitar in the closet to create a vault to make sounds in the absence of an amp.
We learned that there was a guitarist in the town, Adolfo “Fito”. We visited him with our attitude of being the fucking Rolling Stones. This is how we felt. It was in our hearts. Who could tell us that we were not the fucking Stones wearing spurs and a voluptuous hairstyle? We completed the training and became the Dalton Rockers. Like any good band we started playing in the garage. Absorbed in the trials, we did not go to class for months.
Without access to the garage, due to my expulsion from the institute, a relative welcomed us into his basement and therre we gave a private concert. We performed for two and a half hours. My brother Ivan recorded it on video.
Two girls from the Rockabilly Magazine came to the event. We got out of control and the harem ended up waking my uncle who, faced with such a mismatch, only managed to say: This is a house of whores! After that, my uncle threw us out.
The Convent of Rock
Near my house is a huge cloistered convent. They had plenty of space because they only accommodated about 20 nuns. It occurred to me to offer them a good deal for one of their free places. At first everything went well, we rehearsed hard with little complaint from the Mother Superior.
It was time to play our first concert in public. We performed in La Criolla bar, the home of every teenager in the area. It was a milestone. The place got packed. There were people even outside the windows. I still remember the heat of my fringed shirt maded by my mother, who used curtains to make it. The success of that live show opened the doors to other places in the area. We paid our debt in just a few months.
But something unusual was going to change the course of things. To spread a campaign in search of new members for the convent among the young women of Cangas, the nuns offered for us to play in a special mass. At the time, we were not very happy to play during a mass but we agreed for fear of losing the rehearsal room. The mass did not come out as they expected. We had no idea that several journalists were in the audience.
The next day, a page in the newspaper La Voz de Asturias brought us to light: The Rock of the Convent. The headline felt like a shot to the mother superior. We meanwhile met the press in the rehearsal room.
The newspaper, El Comercio, was the next media to be interested in us. Its interview coincided with a visit to the lathe of the nuns, where we communicated with them without ever seeing them. There, the Mother Superior was waiting, anguished by the calls of the bishop and the media pressure. The newspaper photographer threw an unwelcome photo of us in that moment. The Mother Superior was clear about it. We had come too far. She threw us out and the bishop prevented the report from being published.
We went back to our R4 van without rear seats. Timeless trips sitting on beach chairs to play around and even in Oviedo, Gijón and León, but those romantic adventures were coming to an end. The members of the band took other paths and I decided to go live in Oviedo when I turned 19.
A New Way
In 1995, two kind British students were very interested in having breakfast with me. In El Plaza, an Oviedo nightclub, I met Jorge Martínez, from Ilegales, the guy whose musical tape I won in a contest when I was younger and which started my love for rock. I left the girls aside and introduced myself with my leather jacket and a lot of enthusiasm. We started talking and drinking some Jack Daniel’s creating a good friendship.
I called him from time to time and at times we would meet up. At Christmas, the Daltons were no more than a memory but we met to record a demo entitled: Tú eres así (You’re like that). I left the cassette in Jorge’s mailbox.
The next day he called me. In the call, he confessed that he wanted to dedicate himself to producing groups together with his brother Juan, in his new studio, and that he wanted to set up one with me.
With Jorge as a guitarist, we went to rehearse in the local of Ilegales. I changed my old amplifier and the equipment I used with the Daltons for a 79´ Pontiac Sunbird whose engine sounded like a legion of guitarists.
Meanwhile, Jorge baptized the band with the name of Profetas, (Prophets). We rehearsed a year and a half relentlessly. We composed and recorded an LP with 12 songs that never came to light.
A gig in Madrid was to be our last. Things had not flowed for a while and everything exploded in the legendary Gruta 77 in Madrid. After the concert, Jorge and I left for Oviedo during a heated discussion and I made a drastic decision. Without going to the house, I picked up my guitar from the rehearsal room and left the band. I felt empty. It had been very intense for two and a half years. Oviedo was too small for me and I started to visualize my next destination.
Bull y los Búfalos Are Born
I arrived in Madrid with my guitar, 35,000 pesetas and my old 79′ Pontiac. A friend had told me that in El Templo del Gato, a famous rock joint, I could meet musicians. I drove directly to the bar without even going to the house to leave the suitcase.
Antonio Berdiales, Berdi, guitarist of Kashmir, was working as a bartender. In between drinks we decided to create a band in Madrid. On the counter, rested a National Geographic magazine with a buffalo on the cover through a snowstorm claiming that they did not flee from the storms. On the contrary, they went straight to them to cross them as soon as possible.
It seemed very much like my character and the kind of attitude I was looking for in the new musicians. This is how Bull y los Búfalos were born in the first hour after arriving in Madrid.
Jorge Martínez decided to re-record and publish all the songs of Profetas with his band Ilegales in the album Si la muerte me mira de frente me pongo de lado. I was left with a couple of songs for the first album by Bull y Los Búfalos. ¿Quién dijo miedo?
Money wasn´t enough. Clubs paid little or nothing for our performances and Madrid was a very compicated city to live in. I sold encyclopedias, insurance, vacation packages, cars….. anything to make extra money.
We did not succeed in finding a record company due to the difficulty of pigeon-holing us in one of its labels. It is very common in Spain. Labels are created with little margin for inspiration. At that time, I opened an adventure travel company in 4×4. Combining this activity with recurring expeditions to North Africa and keeping the band active became a very complicated task.
The formation underwent several changes, being the last with Rául Bustillo as guitarist and Jaime Ortueta as Manager with which we rotated the most. After playing in several cities in Spain, we recorded the second album Más tiempo que vida with Miguel A. Varela as co-producer. The idea was to go to the USA with new material.
The record was mixed by Alberto Sánchez. In New York, Alberto worked with Vlado Meller who mastered the LP. Vlado had mastered with the greats, Metallica, Kid Rock, Beatles and the Stones. I was ready for new adventures.
Welcome to Los Angeles
I decided to follow my dreams and direct all my efforts towards Los Angeles, California. Before the trip, I hadn´t searched places to visit, networking nor accommodation.
People told me that the Californian dream was dead. But, if you ignore your dreams, they only die inside of you. My determination would take me far, I sensed it. I landed at the Economy Hollywood Hostel, one of the cheapest places to stay in Hollywood. It was a hellish den, but it had a movie aesthetic.
I moved fast. Life in LA is totally impossible if you do not have a car, so I got a ´77 Ford LTD for $ 900, relatively in good condition. I bought it from a harmonica player who had soldered his old harmonica to his hood. I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway with the mountain on one side and the ocean on the other. Creedence Clearwater Revival played on the radio. I was so happy that I couldn´t stop smiling. This was my Californian dream.
I visited rock venues like the Rainbow, the Viper Room and the Whiskey a Go-Go but my tourist visa was over. Every night I met musicians from the vibrant Los Angeles scene. Everyone recommended me to go to Mexico to create a better resume. Back to Spain was not an option, so in the absence of a few days to finish my visa, I took a flight to Mexico City. When I was flying over Los Angeles, I told myself: I would be back.
Mexico, A Stop Along the Way
I landed in Mexico City without a band, with less money and no contract. On my first night I went to Plaza Garibaldi where hundreds of mariachis played surrounded by people in tears. It blew me away.
I drank half a bottle of tequila in one of its colorful cantinas, El Tenampa, making good friends with some customers who invited me to try the real tequila. Later, we drove through some dangerous neighborhoods aboard a van. I did not know where we were going.
When I returned to the hotel they asked me at the reception about my night. I answered that I had been in a neighborhood called Tepito. Without knowing it, I found out through them that I had spent the night in the most dangerous neighborhood of Mexico.
Mexico City is also a city that is warm, very cozy, musical and addictive for its intensity. But, it is necessary to follow some rules.
I enjoyed Mexico very much. In the Spanish Center, I met Caleb Franco, the bassist of the famous and masked surf rock band Lost Acapulco. Most of the musicians that Caleb introduced to me were not at the level except Sergio, who after a ruinous test surprised me on a break playing a solid rhythm guitar.
He became the guitarist of the band. Caleb could not fully focus on the Buffalos so he sent me Leo as an occasional substitute. Blessed Leo! We connected right away and I decided to take him the position of official bassist of the band.
His parents offered me a room in his house. The room was unfurnished so for the first few weeks I slept on the floor, even though I had the rehearsal room in the same building. Also, Leo and his family were really good to me. There my adventures began for old Mexico. We rehearsed for four months. At that same time, we managed the hiring and promotion of the group.
The biker festival, Moto Week of Mazatlan, hired us to perform before 18,000 riders. They paid us the plane ticket and we landed in the heart of Sinaloa. After being escorted by the army and marveling at the machine guns of the security service, all the bands were received by the governor.
I went on stage with a bottle of tequila that I offered to the audience. They loved the gesture. The vibe was amazing and the show was overwhelming. It was a spectacular sensation that we repeated the following night.
Roberto Collado, harmonica of Ilegales and the first buffalo in Madrid, decided to join the Mexican adventure and leave Spain to play and seek new job opportunities. It was good to have someone from home nearby.
I met the businessman José Luis Soberón at a party in which I played along with some mariachis spontaneously. He liked my style and after a few months considering the possibility of sponsoring, he decided to support my musical career.
After getting media support, a press tour and publishing a record recorded in Madrid, we started a wild tour where we interspersed festivals before thousands of people with live performances in roadside bars and half-empty venues.
But, what happens on the road, stays on the road.
We got several contracts with Harley Davidson and participated in various festivals and events of the brand. We also played at other rock festivals. In one of these festivals we find ourselves in a surreal situation.The mayor of the area stopped and wanted money. If he didn´t get a good wad of bills, we couldn´t play.
We decided to shoot a video clip to promote the song Quiero in a natural environment at some abandoned train tracks. When we were finishing, a guy with a huge machete approached us.
He advised us to leave because they had seen us pass by in the town and came to steal from us. We loaded the equipment in a hurry, got inside the van and sped off.
There are very good people in Mexico but also dangerous people. However, it would not be fair not to emphasize the good times that I lived in that country. I was always attracted to Mexico and its culture.
The Day of the Dead is one of the most fascinating parties I had ever been to. Mexico was a very special journey, half of my left arm is tattooed with Mexican details.
Just like when I left Spain, leaving friends and comrades in arms behind is always the hardest part. In this profession sacrifices are a constant but Jose Luis and I were clear that I had to cross the border. The square of my plan was just around the corner.
On the Other Side of the Border
My best friend Gilberto lived in Austin and I saw it clearly. I talked to my sponsor and prepared the landing of the American dream. Texas motivated me a lot. I was always in love with their culture and hungry for rock.
My farewell to Mexico at the Moto Fiesta de León in front of 25,000 bikers, an attendance record for biker festivals in Latin America, was the perfect finishing touch. I soon felt a true passion for Austin, after living in places as aggressive as Madrid, Los Angeles and Mexico.
At the Dirty Dog, the C Boy’s, the Continental Club, the White Horse or the Giddy Ups hallucinated me with the quality of the bands. Austin has more monthly shows than cities like New York, London and Los Angeles. The first thing I focused on was to achieve the artist visa, a long and expensive process. When I finished my tourist visa, I had to leave the country twice, once to Mexico and the other to Spain. I worked hard to meet the requirements they asked for.
In my trip to Spain, we played two concerts with the Spanish band. One in Madrid, and another that I keep it in my soul. The celebrations of Carmen at Cangas del Narcea awaited me. We performed in the center of the town, before the same neighbors who bought chorizo buns to get my first guitar. I never felt so loved on a stage.
In the Cradle of Rock
My artist visa was approved and I started my trip to the USA. Upon my arrival in Austin, TX, I noticed the screen of my seat. It marked 5000 miles traveled. It inspired me to compose 5000 miles, which spoke about everything that I left behind and the new path I was about to embark on. Every day I met the best rock musicians in the world. In those moments is when the Asturian caste arises and the determination is necessary to overcome the challenges.
I gathered a series of extraordinary musicians and thought big. In the city, there is good raw material but the Austinite musician doesn´t like to leave his comfort zone and they repeat the same local route constantly. They live very well and Austin takes great care of the musicians so it is easy to fall into that trap.
We got hired in several key venues of Austin like the legendary Threadgill’s, headquarters of the mythical Armadillo Fest, in festivals such as the Rot Rally and the South By Southwest (SXSW). SXSW is the biggest independent music festival in the world that takes place every March here in Austin,
In addition, I reached the peak of my career by playing in the NBA playoffs in San Antonio for the Spurs. I was the first singer from Spain to achieve this. We played intensely, surrounded by beautiful cheerleaders, while the show was broadcasted live in America.
My first English album, Animal, finally arrived. It was clear that it was that bilingual crossover of Rock in Spanish and English and that it set me apart from the competition.
It knocked down many doors. This album has been the album where I have been the most involved. From the creation of lyrics in two languages to the music. I also recorded the rhythm guitars, sang and produced the album together with Rob Hinton at his studios at Mesa Studios.
We recorded with a great cast of Texan musicians and my drummer Óscar Varela, who traveled from Spain to participate in the album.
At that time, the project had several media professionals such as Raymond McGlamery, LA Lloyd and Wendy Bonn, a manager from Chicago. My 42nd birthday coincided with the release of the album and a concert on the famous Sixth Street at the Dirty Dog Bar.
I took full advantage of the training that the city offers. It is essential to understand the business, finances and the music market if you want to dedicate yourself professionally to music. The music industry in Austin moves millions of dollars and the city boasts at being the Live Music Capital of the World, with an enviable chain of live music venues.
Austin pampers the musicians a lot by means of rental assistance and free medical insurance, but there is no music industry as powerful like there is in Los Angeles, Nashville and New York. Lacking in this platform, many musicians despite their great talent never jump to major divisions.
The Big Jump
I visualized my next destination: Los Angeles. I did not want to focus solely on Austin or Texas. I took a week-long trip to LA to attend face-to-face interviews. I finally contacted a management company that offered me a representation contract and a publishing contract.
I did not doubt it. I signed both contracts and I still had one day left to relax in the jacuzzi. I had achieved it.
To close my happy Texas stage, I organized a farewell concert at the Come and Take It Live Room with the Texan Buffaloes. Great friends and guest artists such as Danny B Harvey and David Vincent, among others, joined the concert. It was a very special and emotional night.
Two days later I filled my Chevrolet Tahoe V8 with memories and left for the West Coast. In a day and a half, I traveled 1,400 miles across Texas, New Mexico, the Arizona desert and the state of California. My beginning with this management agency was not a healthy one. It was constantly confronted in different points of view about the direction to take in this new stage.
Given the impossibility and the frustration of not reaching an agreement, I broke my contract with them. I took control of the project again and imposed my own strategy.
To the Conquest of Hollywood
One of my dreams has always been to play at the Whiskey a Go-Go in Hollywood. I still remember a poster of The Doors performing in this musical venue on my teenage bed. Do not hesitate to follow your instincts, dream big and persist in what you believe.
With that attitude I appeared directly at the Whiskey. The place was full of energy and its corridors decorated with images of local myths such as Frank Zappa, The Doors, Motley Crue and Guns n’Roses. After a meeting there, I was offered to support the Guns and Roses keyboard player, Dizzy Reed, on a Saturday night. Obviously I accepted the invitation.
Reaching Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and seeing your name on the marquee of one of the most emblematic venues in the history of rock is synonymous with victory. To achieve this, I had to knock down many doors. Some opened with smiles and others opened with a hit. Actually, I’m pretty good at both.
From Cangas to Hollywood. My goals were never based on making economic fortune or personal fame. I wanted to mix with the musicians here, soak in this culture and live on Rock and Roll. There is still a lot to fight, many battles to win and many to lose.
It has been a difficult road: to learn to write songs in another language, to deal with the characteristics of the profession, with your own demons and against all the bureaucracy that represents being an immigrant in another country. It has been an exercise of passion for music and honesty with oneself that has led me to wonderful situations and other really hard ones.
Definitely, rock is for the brave.