I was intrigued when I was contacted by Jesse from Blonde Toledo for the interview opportunity, expecting that some of the members would be blonde and/or from Toledo (Ohio or Spain). Neither is the case, I discovered (band, correct me if I’m wrong on the origin part). Blonde Toledo took its name from a misunderstood answer given by one of its band members about a forthcoming massage. (The explanation is in the interview below.)

Blonde Toledo is a mambo rock band with a klezmer twist. While I was familiar with the sounds of mambo, I was unfamiliar with klezmer music prior to the interview. Klezmer is a genre of music derived from and built upon eastern European music in the Jewish tradition (source: Encyclopedia Brittannica). Blonde Toledo combines mambo rock with klezmer, for a unique and eclectic sound of danceable rhythms.

Blonde Toledo consists of guitarist, saxophonist, percussionist, drummer, and bass player (this show also featured a trombone player). My interview with Connie Walker, saxophonist from Blonde Toledo, follows below.

Connie plays alto, tenor, and soprano sax and regularly plays two saxes at once during a show (alternating between two within one song), while stepping off stage and circulating amongst the audience for a closer-to-the band feel.

Blonde Toledo was fun to listen to and had the crowd moving on its feet. I’m looking forward to their travels to San Jose venues sometime, where I can enjoy their live music closer to home.

To listen to Blonde Toledo, check them out on Bandcamp. To see them live, check out their next show at Ireland’s 32 in San Francisco on Feb 8 at 9PM.

SC=Spotlight Chronicles

CW=Connie Walker

SC: What genre of music do you most identify with?

CW: Mambo rock with a klezmer twist.

SC: Describe your style of music.

CW: Traditional song forms, but with klezmer and other world-wide elements, which gives us a Middle Eastern and Eastern European tilt, as the sounds and scales are different. When I was a kid, I used to play flute in my dad’s Middle Eastern band, providing music for belly dancers. Then I learned to play the sax when I started playing in punk bands, as the flute was not loud enough to compete with electric guitar and drums. At that point, I was really taken with local SF bands such as Tuxedo Moon and Indoor Life. It was art music you could dance to.

For the mambo part, we started listening to all sorts of music, and I found this great mambo record from the 50’s called Speak Up Mambo by Al Castellanos at a garage sale in the Mission. Jesse and I must have played that old record to death, and it brought the latin flavor into our early work. We always had, what in jazz is referred to as “the Spanish Tinge”, but when we really got into New York mid 60’s Boogaloo, we pivoted more in that direction.

We always want people to dance, so we brought in Joe on latin percussion and that influence gets people moving. But it’s all synthesized together. We are not influenced by just one thing, more by everything, so different audiences pick up on different things.

SC: What’s your role in the band?

CW: I play sax, alto, tenor, and soprano. During the course of a set, I play two saxes at the same time. I also sing lead on a few songs, and lots of harmonies.

SC: Do you write your own music and lyrics?

CW: We only play one cover, and most of our gigs are three sets, so yes. I write the melodies for all the instrumentals, and all the melodic instrumental hooks in Jesse’s songs. Sometimes Jesse gives me a groove to work from, and he writes the words, and many of the melodies of our songs with lyrics.

SC: How long has the band been together, what brought you together?

CW: Jesse and I have been playing for 30 years together. The current iteration of the band has been together for 2 years (guitarist), the drummer has been with the band 3.5 years, and the percussionist has been with the band for 10 years.

SC: Where are you based out of, where do you play, and in what type of venues?

CW: We are based out of SF. We play Revolution Cafe, Ireland’s 32, Riptide in SF. We play in Petaluma, Marin, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Boulder Creek, so up and down the coast. We like venues where people are looser, where people dance, small-ish type clubs. We like dancing crowds.

SC: If you had to identify with a famous musician or band, who would it be?

CW: Favorite sax player to listen to is John Coltrane. Favorite band to see live is Balkan Beatbox (from NYC). They have two amazing balkan style sax players. When they start really going for it, it’s the most amazing sound.

SC: What inspires you as a band?

CW: Watching the audience dance. The 7000 songs on my music device. We are inspired by a good beat, we love music with melody, lots of melody, the synthesis of everything.

Blonde Toledo is a high energy band. The name comes from a time when we were playing the ‘name the band’ game. Our drummer had to leave because he said “I have a massage with Juan Toledo”. The rest of the band misunderstood this as “Blonde Toledo”, and the name stuck. There’s a whimsical nature about the name that is a good fit for the band.

SC: When people leave your show, what is it that you hope they will say about you?

CW: “That was such an awesome band, really enjoyed that band.” We always try to focus on the audience and talk to them.

Thank you, Connie for the interview, and Jesse, Connie, and the rest of Blonde Toledo for inviting me to the show. I really enjoyed your music!


SC: When people leave your show, what is it that you hope they will say about you?

KL: “Why aren’t they playing the Shoreline [in Mountain View]!” We want them to walk out of our shows and tell everyone how much fun they had. We often treat the shows as a party, a themed event with a name, and invite other artists such as a body painter to collaborate. We did that at Madrone Art bar and brought in blacklights, everyone was painted and showing lots of skin, painted like glow-in-the-dark cheetahs, everyone had fun as whatever animal they chose. At the end of the day you want everyone to have fun. Someone said to me after the body painting show that it reminded him of ‘old San Francisco’.

Thanks Kirby, for the interview and to the rest of the band for a great set at Amnesia. I hope to be able to see you all live again soon!

Spotlight Chronicles is a blog publication of zipgig.io, a music booking platform for independent venues and performers to book gigs instantly. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

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Published by Andrea Harding

Live music lover, Founder @Zipgig

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