Home Read Albums Of The Week: Cruzados | She’s Automatic

Albums Of The Week: Cruzados | She’s Automatic

Reconvened & reconfigured, the rootsy L.A. rockers deliver a blast from the past.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “The Cruzados, L.A.’s forceful rock band of the 1980s, make a phoenix-like return this summer with the release of She’s Automatic, the group’s first set of recordings in more than three decades.

A no-nonsense collection of hard-hitting rockers, the album features 11 songs written or co-written by bassist Tony Marsico, joined by members of his ’80s L.A. contemporaries Little Caesar and a who’s who of noted L.A. punk vets, including John Doe (X), Dave Alvin (The Blasters), David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), and Melanie Vannem (The Muffs, The Pandoras).

The Cruzados attracted national attention in the ’80s with their stormy, Latin-inflected brand of post-punk hard rock. Signed to Clive Davis’s Arista Records, the quartet issued two albums, Cruzados (1985) and After Dark (1987). They also made a high-profile screen appearance in the 1989 cult classic Road House. However, familiar rock ‘n’ roll pressures capsized the band in 1991; guitarist Marshall Rohner died in 2005, and drummer Chalo “Charlie” Quintana died in 2018.

In the intervening years, Marsico worked on the debut album from his former Plugz and Cruzados singer-guitarist Tito Larriva’s band Tarantula, today based in Austin. He also carved out a notable career as a top session musician and touring sideman with such artists as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull, and Willie Nelson. The bassist’s studio and road stories are collected in two books, Late Nights With Bob Dylan (2009) and I’m Just Here for the Gig! (2020).

With the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and the enforced solitude that followed, Marsico began to contemplate a new project under the Cruzados handle. “Being penned up with the pandemic at home for a year, I started questioning my mortality,” he says. “I felt like I got shortchanged with The Cruzados. We never got to put out a third album, due to a lot of crazy circumstances that cropped up. I wanted to do the band justice and go out on a high note. That was my goal, and to pay tribute to Chalo and Marshall.”

Material for a new Cruzados release came quickly. “I wrote a batch of new songs during the pandemic at home,” Marsico recalls. “I had a lot of frustration and anger that I had to get out of me. Before I knew it I had an album. There wasn’t any big plan. I just felt motivated to do something more constructive than sit around being miserable about the state of the world.”

Songs co-written with former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Rick Vito (Long Black Car) and veteran blues keyboardist Barry Goldberg (Son of the Blues) were also brought to the table. “I’d always wanted to get those out, because we’d never properly released them,” Marsico says.

It didn’t take long for Marsico to decide on the right musicians to carry on The Cruzados’ legacy in the studio: He turned to singer Ron Young and guitarists Loren Molinare and Mark Tremalgia of Little Caesar, who were also active on the L.A. scene in the late ’80s. The core lineup was completed by drummer Ron Klonel, who has collaborated with Little Caesar in recent years.

“The Little Caesar guys were Chalo’s best friends — they were pals from back in the day,” Marsico says. “I had to find the best guy to be the lead singer. My tastes have changed a little — the influences are blues and rock ‘n’ roll. I knew that Ron Young from Little Caesar loved blues, and we got to talking and we hit it off with the same style of music. I knew that he could pull this off and get behind it. Loren Molinare was in the great ’70s L.A. band The Dogs, of course, and I loved The Dogs, and Mark Tremaglia is an excellent slide guitarist I’ve been working with for a couple of years now. Rob Klonel is a great, solid rock ‘n’ roll drummer. It was really important for me to get someone who hit ’em hard like Chalo. They were a perfect combination of guys, and they had a lot of enthusiasm.”

With Bruce Witkin engineering and producing, the new Cruzados set up shop at Unison Studios in L.A. Marsico recalls, “We did it old style — we just set up in a room all together, like we used to do records before they started putting everybody in isolation booths and all that crap. We got the band together and rehearsed, and we went into the studio a week later. Before we knew it, we had the album. All live, no click tracks. We all played in our own little area, with our masks on. Set up, play, cut the songs, boom. It felt great to rock with a bunch of like-minded guys. With our special guests, half of them came to the studio, and half recorded their parts at home.”

She’s Automatic is both a forceful continuation of The Cruzados’ sound and an ardent homage to the work they began more than three decades ago. Marsico says, “I didn’t like the way The Cruzados went out. We were really great friends. It was never a band that was at odds with one another. Yes, there were problems that tore us apart, but we were like family. Why not do it now? Life’s too short, man. You’ve only got so much time you can rock ‘n’ roll.”