Bobby Figueroa has gone from drumming for Glendora High School’s Tartan Marching Band to touring worldwide with the Beach Boys. Quite a leap for the musician who was born, raised in and still calls Glendora home.
He readily shares his gratitude for music classes in Glendora schools when he was growing up. Today, he volunteers after-school drum lessons for students in schools that have cut music from curriculums. (And he leads drum circles open to the public for free at Strings Music in Glendora every other Thursday night at 6, the next on April 21).
“The only reason I’m doing this is that I had music education here and it allowed me to get better and better. Now music is going away everywhere. So I went to the principals at these schools to offer this, and the first thing they wanted were my fingerprints and that it would take a couple weeks before I could be approved,” he recalled.
Actually, it took only a few days, because “the FBI knows me, since I’ve performed for three different presidents,” Figueroa said. That includes President Gerald Ford in 1974 when his daughter Susan invited the Beach Boys to perform at the White House. (See the photo taken by a White House security guard of the band and their families that accompanies this article).
In 1967, Figueroa was asked to audition to fill in for Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson who had injured his hand. The young drummer was the first of 15 to audition, and his performance sent the rest of the contenders home. The next day he was on his way with the Beach Boys to Seattle.
He still tours with the Endless Summer Beach Band, Beach Boy member Al Jardine’s group. There are two other groups that keep him busy – his own Corazon Pacifico and Ricci Martin and The Pack, a tribute band to Martin’s father, Dean Martin. Figueroa trades in a Hawaiian shirt and surf sounds for a snazzy tuxedo to play music made famous by “the coolest man on Earth” who was affectionately called “Dino.”
We can enjoy the sounds of Corazon Pacifico on Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Route 66 landmark restaurant, The Gold Spur.
That’s where you’ll see a trimmed down version of the band to fit the Spur’s lounge stage. There’s Figueroa on drums and singing, Bobby Zarate (keyboards, vocals), Jimi Seville (keyboards, vocals) and Bill Islas (percussion). At larger venues guitarist/singer (and Glendora High School art department director) Chris Burgan and bass player Jerry Vilicich join in. Zarate, Seville and Vilicich perform with The Pack, too.
“Corazon Pacifico” is Spanish for “Pacific Heart” and there’s one particular project that’s close to Figueroa’s heart – recording Canciones de Verano (Songs of Summer), a CD of Beach Boys songs translated into Spanish.
Figueroa had to get permission from songwriter Brian Wilson before he could translate Beach Boys songs into Spanish for the CD.
“Brian listened to the demos very patiently, and then asked me to play them again,” Figueroa remembered. “Then he said, ‘Wow that’s great, but Bobby why do you want to do this?’ I answered ‘Because there’s a whole multitude of people who hear your music all the time in every country…they just don’t know what you’re singing about.’
“So you’re gonna tell them?” Wilson asked, and Figueroa replied an emphatic “Yes!”
Working on Canciones has put Figueroa back in touch with his heritage.
“When you’re young you don’t want to have anything to do with your heritage, you rebel,” he said. “When you calm the heck down, you regain your rightful mind. The people you know and love are passing away, and you know it was great to have them in your life. For me to embrace it is only right, and it makes me feel good and whole to do that.
“It’s helping me figure out who I am and to say ‘thank you’ to that organization for taking me in and for being a part of it for so long,” he continued.
Figueroa’s whole family is helping on the translation project, he said. “We sit around the table translating in so many words so we don’t lose the meaning and flavor of the song. It’s really bringing us together as a family.”
For example, here is the translation of the opening lines of one of the Beach Boys’ most beloved love songs, God Only Knows:
God Only Knows / Solo Dios Sabe
By Brian Wilson
I may not always love you / Mi amor sera para ti
But long as there are stars above you / Mientras brillen las estrellas sobre ti
You'll never need to doubt it / No te dare rason para dudar
I'll make you so sure about it / Y lo voy a tratar de demostrar
God only knows what I'd be without you / Solo Dios sabe lo que seria yo sin ti