Harken back 60 years to a time in Globe-Miami when music filled the air, and all the kids wanted to learn.
“People were on their porches dancing, and we’re out there playing our guitars,” Neto Vasquez, a Globe-Miami native, reminisces. “We had so much fun.”
He was twelve when his father gave him his first guitar, a squareneck.
Today, almost 60 years later, Neto Vasquez leads a band called Neto & Imagine, a five-man dance band that plays locally for family, fun and fundraising. They’ve been together as a group for less than six months, but between them have nearly 300 years of playing experience. Alongside Neto are Joe Sanchez on the keyboard, Luis Rodriguez on drums, Manny Gonzalez on bass, and Keith Gustafson on the saxophone.
Neto formed his first band in high school, Carbon Monoxide and the Exhaust Pipes. In the 1960s, he played Globe-Miami venues with the Valiants, in the 1970s, Oscar and the Rivieras.
He ‘retired’ from music for 25 years to work at the mine and raise a family with his wife, Sally. His music played on at family events and in 2005, he joined his son Ernie, and daughter, Tiffany, to perform as Neto & Family.
In 2008, Neto and Family played at a Relay for Life benefit themed Imagine There’s No Cancer. For the event, Sally rewrote the lyrics to John Lennon’s song, Imagine, and Neto, a cancer survivor, sang it. That day, the band became Neto & Imagine.
In 2012, his daughter left the band to have a baby, and Neto invited Joe Sanchez to play the keyboard.
At 82, Joe evokes the youth of his early days in Miami.
“My dad and mom came from Spain. We used to make wine in the cellar. My mom would dance and play the castanets while my dad strummed on a flamenco guitar, and my brothers and I, two in each tub, we would crush the grapes.”
“Music was always a part of our family growing up,” Joe continues. “My Dad had a barbershop, and he gave lessons there.”
Joe also learned music in grade school, where it was part of the curriculum.
In 1950s, Joe was a part of the George Sanchez Orchestra, playing mamba and cha cha at local dance clubs. Originally a percussionist, Joe took on the keyboards when his brother Tony left for dental school. He’s been playing ever since. Even while in the service.
“Almost everywhere I was stationed, we would find a piano and a couple of guys who knew how to sing and to play and we’d form a little group and entertain people.”
After the service, Joe played the big band sound with his brothers for many years. They played at the Bullion Plaza and other ballrooms from Superior to Safford and the Riverside in Phoenix.
A letter carrier for 20 years, postmaster in three districts, mayor of Miami, and county supervisor, Joe is amazed at what he’s doing now.
Neto & Imagine specialize in dance music, including classic rock, country, cumbias, corridos, boleros, and a bit of blues.Their inspiration, Joe says, comes from the people who dance to their music.
“If they’re having a good time, we’re having a good time,” Joe says, with a smile.
Luis Rodriguez, a drummer, swept into the music scene with the British Invasion in the 1960s.
“A group of us loved the sound of the Animals and the Rolling Stones,” he says.
In high school, Luis teamed up with two friends, who knew a few chords.
“I set up tin cans and I started playing,” Luis explains. “That’s how I picked up my drumming at that point.”
The group added a bass player and learned some songs. When they were sounding pretty good, Luis asked his father for a drum set.
“I’ll buy you that drum set,” he said to Luis, pointing to a Gretsch drum they found at Bernsteins in Miami, “but you gotta pay me back.”
Luis was in seventh heaven. His first band was called The Midnight Special, named after a song by Johnny Rivers. They played at school functions, then branched out into local venues.
After high school, the band split up. Luis moved to the Valley; he worked as a barber for 20 to 25 years and earned a teaching degree at ASU.
“It runs in my family,” Luis explains. “Everyone is an educator.”
He returned to Globe in 1995 to become a bilingual coordinator for Globe School District.
Luis listened to Neto & Imagine at a family reunion, and when Joe came by his table, he made an offer.
“If you ever need a drummer, I’m available,” Luis told him, and added, “I could play anything you guys just played.”
“A lot of the drummers don’t know how to play what he plays,” Neto says of Luis. “He’s got that good cumbia beat ”
It’s been almost three years since Luis joined Neto’s band.
“And… I’ve been having a ball,” he says.
The youngest of the five, still working full-time at the mines, Manny Gonzalez, bass player, wasn’t sure about joining another band. But he was drawn to Neto & Imagine, about a year ago, by the experience of the musicians and how quickly they learn a song.
“When Neto threw me 50 songs,” Manny recalls, “I said, ‘I’m in.’”
His bandmates appreciate what Manny brings to the group.
“We’re all good musicians in our own right,” says Luis, “but Manny makes us better.”
“It’s always getting better,” Manny muses humbly. “It’s amazing how the comradery, the lines and avenues of our thinking and playing come together. “
Manny remembers Saturday evenings, when the Gonzalez men would play guitar on the porch, sing passionately, drink beer, talk and sing some more. His father gave him a guitar and he played at their feet.
“At seven years old I was able to get right in there with them and mix in,” he says with warm pride. “And Mom said, ‘it’s ok.’”
In 11th grade, Manny changed instruments. Wowed by a banjo-player from Arkansas, Manny asked him to play guitar in his band, Joshua Still. He told his bass player to just be a singer, and Manny took over on bass.
In art class that day, Manny heard a message: play bass, and you will play your whole life.
“I’m almost 60,” Manny states with amazement, “and I’ve been playing my whole life.”
Manny’s been a member of more than a dozen bands, some for more than 15 years. For many years, he played in multiple bands, because he liked them all.
“This is it,” Manny says of his experience of Neto & Imagine. “I’ve come full circle.”
Keith Gustafson, the saxophonist, has also come full circle. The only classically trained musician in the band, Keith was born and raised in Chicago.
In the fourth grade, he fell in love the saxophone. His parents tried to get him to play viola, and then the drums. It didn’t work.
“I had the saxophone in my heart,” Keith says.
After two years, his parents relented. Keith played saxophone in a rehearsal band in Chicago.
“I got a real good education from some of the better players,” he acknowledges.
Keith also earned himself a scholarship to college playing classical music on the saxophone.
“Folks had never heard that before,” he says. “It worked out great.”
Keith went to North Central College in the suburbs of Chicago, where he studied music performance and teaching, and met his wife.
By 27, Keith was married with children, working as a technical writer, and facing an opportunity to travel the world selling GTE Telephony systems. He chose to return to teaching.
“I made the right decision,” Keith affirms, citing time spent with his family.
In 1978, Keith moved his family to Globe to teach music in Miami schools. He became principal at San Carlos High, and in 2000, was one of the founders of Cobre Valley Institute of Technology, a vocational school still serving students in the region.
Keith retired from education in 2001 and went back to playing sax. The newest member of Neto & Imagine, Keith joined the band last fall. He was invited to a rehearsal by Joe Sanchez, and according to Manny, “it just fit.”
The maturity of the players has its perks.
“We’ve all been in a group where someone walks out and won’t play anymore,” Joe explains. “This group here will listen and get better.”
“You know that song, Sugar Pie Honey?” Neto asks, referring to a new song they just practiced. “Everytime we play it, it’ll get better. It’ll smooth out and get better. “
The other members are quick to acknowledge the strength of Neto’s leadership.
“Neto is the leader,” Manny underscores. “We are Imagine.”
“You need a strong leader and organization,” Luis agrees. “That’s what Neto and Sally bring to the group.”
Sally Vasquez is Neto’s wife and affectionately carries titles of coach, manager and number one fan.
“I never get tired of it,” she demures, watching the band practice in her living room. For every dance, she makes the song list.
“She thinks of the crowd,” says Luis. “She thinks of what they will like.”
The band practices twice a month and performs for many family and charity events. Last month, they played a cancer benefit at the Train Depot. In May, they played a party at the Elks Lodge, to celebrate as Luis’ wife, Lori, retired after 31 years of teaching.
“If someone calls us about something, we’ll be there,” Neto says of his band.
They joke about playing for food. Sometimes for booze. But mostly, for the enjoyment.
“It’s just good for the soul,” says Neto. “I love music.”