A family affair

Keri Carr’s new Spanish music project rediscovers a lost art

Keri Carr looking va-voom good.

Keri Carr looking va-voom good.

Photo By Jon C. Wilhelmsen

Keri Carr will play at Jammin’ in the Park this Saturday, May 22, at Cesar Chavez Plaza, 10th and J streets; noon; $10.

Cesar Chavez Plaza

10th And J Streets
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 529-5299

To understand Keri Carr’s latest musical endeavor, it helps to go back in time to November, when her band Rowdy Kate decided to call it quits after three years of playing local gigs, touring Europe and recording CDs.

The Americana band, powered by Carr’s clear, twangy voice and husband Larry Carr’s drumming, had become bigger than they’d expected. And the schedule and pressure was starting to take its toll.

So when the band’s guitarist Geoff Miller quit, the Carrs realized they were relieved to let Rowdy Kate end its run.

Then, in the spring, a promoter called asking if the band was interested in reuniting to open for Malo at La Raza Galería Posada’s Jammin’ in the Park festival.

Not a chance, Carr said. But she did have something else in mind. She and Larry had just watched a documentary on Chicano rock, and they thought it would be fun to put together a one-off project featuring local guitarist Steve Randall and blues bassist R.W. Grigsby.

The ensemble, for which Carr sings in Spanish, also features her mother Teri Lamade on harmonies and her uncle Arturo Vertiz on trumpet and back-up vocals.

“It’s going to be interesting. My uncle came over to practice, and he was joking about how we pulled a bunch of songs out of the box, songs you don’t hear very often anymore,” Carr said.

That was, at least in part, the point.

All those old songs, the ballads and the raucous party numbers, she said, are quickly becoming a lost musical art form.

“When we were trying to find a rhythm guitarist to play with us, we would stop guys in mariachi bands or friends of uncles who played in bands, but it really made me sad because none of them wanted to do this project,” Carr said. “They know these songs, but they told us they didn’t want to do them anymore—they only wanted to modern Mexican music.”

Carr shook her head. This old-fashioned music, she said, is at the root of some of her happiest childhood memories. “These are songs my grandma used to sing to my grandfather at parties when they were drunk.”

They’re uptempo numbers—party anthems and dance-floor scorchers—but they’re tear-jerkers, too.

“There’s one that I picked that’s about having fun, but I didn’t really listen to the lyrics, and when I started learning it I realized it’s actually a very sad song about a drunk guy who meets a bartender and [they] end up shooting each other and dying in the end,” Carr said with a laugh. It’s a strong, clear and loud laugh, and the sound makes it easy to imagine her voice belting out numbers in Spanish.

Carr laughed about that, too.

“I don’t speak Mexican Spanish, I speak Castilian Spanish,” she explained a little ruefully.

The dialect, she says, is a little “prissy.”

“When my grandmother was alive, she’d say, ‘Oh, you’re so proper.’ I’m glad my mom and uncle are going to be onstage with me, because they both speak Mexican Spanish—they can do most of the talking.”

Carr, who grew up singing backup for her mother’s music gigs, is excited that their artistic paths have now come full circle.

“She has an amazing voice, and she taught me how to sing,” Carr said.

So far, the La Raza show is the only gig Carr’s booked. For now, the singer, who owns a hair salon in Midtown, says she’s content to let music remain a casual hobby.

“I’ve never wanted [anything more],” she said. “I don’t want the pressure—Larry and I have been getting along so well since Rowdy Kate broke up!”

She’s only partly kidding.

“Being in a marriage, being in a band and owning a business—those are three full-time jobs. The band became such a source of stress.

“If we like doing this and have fun and we get another call [to play], then great,” Carr said.

“But if we never do this again, that’s fine, too. I’m just going to live in the moment; I have no expectations.”