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From the Beach Boys to Corazon Pacifico, Bobby Figueroa Keeps the Beat Going

Glendora’s musical favorite son returns to his heritage for latest project.

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

Iliana Chavez April 16, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I love what your doing Mr. Figueroa. I grew up with music all my life, my uncles were musicians & singers. Getting together in Navidad & family gatherings were some of the best times of my childhood . We also grew up with a great music program in our elementary. It was the only school in lausd in the east side of los angeles to have an Estudiantina. Our Orchestra wad children from 2nd grade to 6th grade & we performed all over the place Mrs. Cain was a very strict Jewish music teacher. We practice before school, recess, lunch recess & after school. She prepared us for solos & for big events. Because of her dedication & discipline to the students we learned about ourselves. She pushed us everytime & that taught us to work hard . Because of her we also learned about our own culture we sang Spanish songs like Adelita & we learned about Posadas, Hannuka, & Japanese dance. Percussion was a big section too & every instrument you can have in a Orchestra. So I wish % pray
Iliana Chavez April 16, 2011 at 04:07 PM
That we have more great people like you for our future our children.
Jo April 17, 2011 at 07:51 PM
I see Bobby play every Sunday and whenever he plays in nearby areas. His band is so full and healthy when they perform that people can't help dancing whenever they play! I also plan on going to see him perform with Ricci Martin when they play the San Gabriel Valley late in July!
Bobby Figueroa April 17, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Illiana , It's a great pleasure to hear from you and to know that growing up you must have had many experiences with your familia as I did . Good experiences and ones that stay in your heart through all the years . I have high hopes for my project that I can reach out to the Latino community and some how make it a kind of learning tool for the children . I think using the Beach Boys music is a perfect way to do that , especially here in So Cal . I appreciate your kind words and support and wish nothing but the very for you and yours . Amor Y Paz , Bobby Figueroa
Linda Sigmon April 18, 2011 at 12:21 AM
As the mom of a former high school and college drummer, as well as a former Band Booster President, I can't express enough appreciation for what you are doing Bobby! This is so vital!! And I am a huge Beach Boys fan...though we haven't met, I look forward to meeting you in July, here in North Carolina!! Thank you so much for keeping the beat alive!! Linda Sigmon
Bobby Figueroa April 18, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Thanks so much Linda and make sure you come say hello in NC !!
Tina July 14, 2011 at 12:38 AM
I go and see my Uncle Bobby play with Corazon Pacifico all the time where ever he's at. Their band is great and has wonderful dancing music. Our familia is so proud of our Uncle Bobby. God Bless, your niece, Rosebud
Tina July 14, 2011 at 12:41 AM
See Corazon Pacifico play this Friday, July 15, 2011 at Clubhouse 66!!!!
Bobby Figueroa July 26, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Thank you Vivian and Christina . It's so nice to see you out there enjoying my band Corazon Pacifico . I only hope I can meet a whole lot more people in the weeks to come . Keeping the summer alive !!
Tom Brenner February 19, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Bobby, A blast from a distant past. I remember you turning the trash cans up side down in the Glendora little league dug out and playing them like giant bongo-kettle drums. We were on the Pirates together. We all knew you had "IT" way back then. Glad to hear you are still groovin. Mucho Mahalo for all the Good Vibrations. Aloha, Tom Brenner Glendor High class of 1968.
Bobby Figueroa February 19, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Tom , So nice to hear from you my old team mate ! Were you our catcher ? Your name sure sounds familiar . Thanks for keeping in touch and I sure hope you're enjoying Hawaii !!
JO March 26, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Is that the Bobby Zarate who was once a part of a group calle "Rye" Played with Alex Salazar (bassist)? Jo Perez
JO March 31, 2012 at 08:29 AM
I'd like to know where Bobby Performs....many years ago, he was in a band with my brother in Hawaii, my brother has since passed away. I would very much enjoy seeing Bobby again. Jo perez
Richard Herried April 05, 2013 at 01:03 PM
Yeah, I remember seeing Bobby play at the Crystal Closet in Pasadena. I used to hang around with Jimmy McGrew and I met Bobby there. That was in the early-mid 70's. I haven't seen him since then, but my sister Patti has. She sees Jimmy regularly and talked to Bobby recently. I always thought he was a pretty nice guy. I'm glad he's doing so well. God bless him ( and Jimmy ). Rich Herried.
Bobby Figueroa April 05, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Thanks for your kind words Richard . Always good to hear from friends of long ago . Hope you're doing well and say hi to Patti for me ! Bobby
Claudia Ashdown August 28, 2013 at 12:04 AM
Hi Bobby, Remembering the good old days at Glendora High in the late 60's and 70's with you playing in the GYM at our pep rallies... Hope this finds you doing well. Loved seeing you play with the Beach Boys... Will come and see you one day soon in Glendora at your store. Best to you always, Claudia Wenzel class of 70'...

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