A south side thrift store is not a bad place to spend July in Tucson. Shelter from a relentless mid summer sun. The funk of used clothes, poverty and a dying a swamp cooler not withstanding. Outside, a punishing heat. Inside, novelty and treasure hunting. And you get used to the smell. So it was that I found myself blissfully stoned and partaking in the amusements of said thrift store’s electronics aisle when I spotted a mid 1980’s Sanyo cassette player. Nothing fancy or worthy of my attention except for the powerful pull of nostalgia that came over me from the moment I saw this rank ghetto blaster. It was a weirdly romantic moment and I felt compelled to buy this time traveling tape player. To take it home with me.
Back home in the Old Barrio the creaky boombox was dusted off and plugged in for power. I was kicking the tires on the thing and trying to remember where I had put my box of Dead tapes when I pressed eject. There was a cassette inside. I hadn’t noticed the cassette until then. It was a generic white tape and written with black marker on one side was this:
Imagine, Star Nation
The name pulled me in. Sent me into an avant guarde day dream. The tape looked badly damaged though. Like ten or fifteen years of dust and sun. I closed my eyes. I imagined Star Nation. I opened my eyes. I turned the tape over and written on the other side in red marker was this: Sonny Santos
The music on this album was compiled from that original cassette. Little more than a third of the original recording was salvageable. The tape was mangled for the wear of the road. What you will find here was all we were able to save from this lo-fidelity gem. It’s noisy and there are some spots where the tape cuts out but that’s the price of time travel and magnetic tape. All attempts at locating the elusive Sonny Santos were fruitless. No search engine could find him and little was known of him around Tucson proper. The few who remembered him seemed to agree that he had drifted in and out of town periodically in the late 90’s and was last seen sometime in the early oughts (the last confirmed sighting places him and a plate of cheese tots at the now defunct Grill in the spring of 2003.) The general consensus read loner. I couldn’t find anyone who actually knew him.
Stephen Siegel (longtime music editor at the now defunct Tucson Weekly) claims to have stumbled randomly into a poorly attended but highly compelling Sonny Santos solo performance at the now defunct Red Room in the summer of 1999. He had wanted to talk to Sonny after the set but the slippery Santos slid out the back before anyone knew he was missing. The only other nugget Stephen Siegel dished: “I don’t remember where I heard it but I seem to remember there being a rumor floating around some years back that Sonny had taken up with the Native American Church and was living with some NAC members on the outskirts of town, tending Peyote…”
This record is as close as I have come to finding Sonny Santos. I present it in the spirit of discovery and with the hope that you too will find him here, singing under a hissy moon. And I am going to keep looking. Keep asking around. Keep checking the listings. You never know who you are going to find out here.
Library of the New, Weird West