Jorge Bermudez: When the giants roamed the mission
Jorge Bermudez saw the world behind his conga drums, working with musicians from Pete Escovedo and Shirley Bassey at Crowded House, although his passion, outside of music and his family, was the ball club that made him a fan for life.
âBack in the ’60s, the San Francisco Giants were the Latino pride of the big leagues,â Bermudez said. No other team at the time had so many Latino players in their roster, all stars: Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Jose Pagan and the Alous – Felipe, Matty and Jesus – “the first off-field entirely brother of the National League, âBermudez said.
It was the era of other great giants like Willie McCovey and Willie Mays – and he learned the basics of the sport from his stepfather. But for the Nicaraguan American Bermudez, who grew up in the Mission neighborhood, inside and out, the Spanish-speaking players were his guys. San Francisco being a small city then and today he was often near the team: Tito Fuentes lived next to his aunt.
âThey all shined their shoes at the Ultra Modern Barbershop and played pool a few doors down,â said Bermudez, the youngest of six. His older brother Ron was a barber there and he found a job for the kid as a shoe shiner.
âIt was quite exciting for a 9 year old who adored the Giants and was in total bliss to see his baseball heroes on a regular basis. Waxing their shoes, well, that was another matter, âsaid Bermudez, who has made his share of mistakes on the job. As he compiles his childhood memoirs at Mission, the chapter titled âThe Shoe Shineâ tells the story of Marichal’s personal phone number being entered into the boutique and the appointment log. impromptu call from the launcher.
“Hi Juan, it’s Jorge”
“Jorge, the shoe shine at the barbershop.”
“I was asleep,” Marichal moaned and hung up.
Later that day the pitcher lost his start on the mound and young Jorge felt personally responsible, although the story was not over: Marichal called the barber and Bermudez was put on the bench, although he is not yet 10 years old.
âWe lived in a two-story house near Army and Mission,â he said. âI was climbing on the roof and looking around the city wondering what my life would be like,â he said. Music hadn’t yet turned out to be his calling, but he was drawn to the beating of the drums.
âI was exposed to tropical music from a very young age,â he said. Again, it was thanks to his older brother Ron, a Latin DJ, who allowed him to follow dances sponsored by KOFY radio stations and later KBRG.
âI saw Armando Peraza playing a bongo solo when I was 9, everyone was screaming as he went on the drums,â he said, referring to the world famous Latin jazz percussionist originally from Cuba who made his home in San Francisco. .
âHe was like my dad for the last 20 years of his life,â Bermudez said. “We’ve been to over 100 Giants games together.”
Bermudez’s mother fled Nicaragua in 1955 with six children to escape a situation of violence and join her four sisters in San Francisco.
“He was a crazy alcoholic,” Bermudez said of the father he met on a trip to Managua as a teenager. “He was the equivalent of a city councilor in his area, I met him for the first time in my life and he took me to the Palacio Nacional to meet this creep,” he said, saying reference to the country’s dictator, President Anastasio Somoza. It’s a story best left in Bermudez’s memories, but let’s just say that his teenage rock ‘n’ roll attitude served him well in defending himself.
Back home, he had learned guitar at the Community Music Center on Capp Street, but he didn’t. At 13, he was playing congas in a Santana cover band, touring local Catholic high schools, and at 17, he was taken out of class at Balboa to play on the Chicano rockers’ second album, Malo.
âAnd that’s how it started,â he said, of a career that spanned 50 years and many styles of music. And the Bay Area has stayed home over the decades, whether it’s back to school, studying at CaÃ±ada College and San Jose State, or working with Top 40 hitmakers Pablo. Cruise or superstar producer Narada Michael Walden at sessions in LA.
At the start of tech, “someone from Silicon Valley signed me up and bought a state-of-the-art studio in San Bruno,” he said of a period in which he created musical signals for software. He has since written for television: âDesperate Housewives,â âJane the Virginâ and âDexter,â and also starred in a reality TV show: âI guess something a lot of people would know is the fast bongos atop Judge Wapner’s ‘The People’s Court,’ he said.
His project The Bermudez Triangle recorded the recording “Bongoland”, a tribute on the dance floor to Desi Arnaz, the Cuban conductor, actor and co-creator of “I Love Lucy” who popularized the conga line. in American nightclubs. Bermudez has toured the club circuit of his own, working with Swedish-born singer and dancer Ann-Margret (“best boss I’ve ever had”) and Puerto Rican singer-songwriter-guitarist JosÃ© Feliciano. He remembers the night they played John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Reno, his mother in the house. âI could see his aura of happiness from the stage,â he said.
He is currently working on a composition he calls “The Ultimate Mission District Song” for the comeback of “Nash Bridges”.
Over the past few years, Bermudez has survived 14 cycles of chemotherapy and cancer and several back and hand surgeries, correcting injuries from the drumming. In 2018, he appeared at the annual Carnival of Mission festival with Latin R&B group Tierra and celebrated his return with his children, grandchildren and friends from the neighborhood where he made his debut. (Bermudez is one of the musicians pictured on the Latin Rock House mural at the corner of 25th and York streets). However, a few months ago, he was sidelined again: feeling unwell, he drove down El Camino from San Mateo to Stanford Hospital, where he underwent heart surgery. open was practiced.
âAt one point I realized I should have called an ambulance,â he said.
By order of the doctor, he spends a few hours a day exercising while working as a crossing guard, “going up and down the sidewalk, one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon,” he said.
âThey are little ones and everyone is really grateful to have a crossing guard. The only difficulty is that I haven’t had to get up so early since my children were little and that was 25 years ago, âhe added.
He never stopped supporting the Giants, even when he lived in hostile Dodger territory. âYes, it can be dangerous,â he said.
While his recovery from heart surgery has limited his presence at Oracle Park a bit, he has reached five games and is happy that we are in the playoffs: “This is the only thing I did during the pandemic”, did he declare. He kept his lucky hat from the 2012 World Series, the faded fabric serving as his mask. âWe keep our fingers crossed,â he says. Go Gigantes!
Denise Sullivan, author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions”, can be reached at denisesullivan.com and @ 4DeniseSullivan. SF Lives / Live Talks airs live at 10 a.m. on the second Sunday of the month from birdbeckett.com. Guest on October 10 is Jennifer Beach from Prison Radio.
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