Beyond the Bombshell
BEAVER CREEK – Leave it to America to reduce an accomplished female flamenco guitarist to a blond bombshell entertainer earning more money shaking her sexy Spanish body and saying “cuchi cuchi” than she ever would have picking a six string.But then again, if it weren’t for her cuchi-cuchi fame, Charo may have never gotten the opportunity to share her musical passion with the world. And the naturally funny, bubbly Charo certainly has no regrets. “I wanted so badly to make it in this country,” Charo said in a thick Spanish accent from Los Angeles during a short a break from her tour to shoot a Geico commercial. “I was very young, pretending to be older, wearing too much makeup with super bleached hair. I said ‘cuchi cuchi’ on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and all my guitar training went out of the window.”
Most people remember Charo from the hit 1970s TV show “The Love Boat,” where she made more cameos than any other star. Johnny Carson loved her, too, as she racked up 45 appearances on “The Tonight Show.” Charo showed off her comedienne chops on “The Carol Burnett Show,” which wasn’t hard to do, she admits. “People have a tendency to laugh when I talk,” she said.Few, however, realize Charo has had a music career this whole time. She had caught the attention of Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat, who she married, after appearing on a children’s television show in her teens. She joined Cugat’s band and traveled to Las Vegas where they played Ceasar’s Palace, The Flamingo and The Tropicana. She was soon performing solo in the famous Congo Room at the Sahara Hotel, and began recording her disco albums “La Salsa” and “Flamenco Salsa.” Her album “Cuchi-Cuchi,” released in 1977, went platinum and could be heard in nightclubs around the world. She continued releasing dance albums and established her own bilingual salsa style singing in what she calls “Spanglish.”
It wasn’t until 1994, after marrying second husband Kjell Rasten and giving birth to her son, that she re-invented herself as a serious musician with the release of “Guitar Passion,” on which she played flamenco-style pop songs. It was named Pop Album of the Year by Billboard, and she was twice voted Best Classical Flamenco Guitarist in the World in Guitar Player Magazine’s readers’ poll. “I couldn’t wait for the day when I could say, ‘Hello, my name is Charo.’ Not cuchi-cuchi,” she said.It wasn’t easy convincing critics and fans alike to take her seriously as a guitarist. In her live shows, she began performing more guitar and less jiggle-jiggle cuchi-cuchi, despite the vocal pleas from fans for the latter. “When you are a woman – it doesn’t matter if you are a politician or a lawyer – if your hair is blond and you make it fluffy and you have a good shape, a good body, they are never going to take you seriously unless you get pissed off and say, ‘That’s it!,'” Charo said.Her “That’s It!” period continued with the release of “Gusto” in 1997, which was more on the pop side but still showcased her guitar work. Her latest album is 2005’s “Charo and Guitar,” on which she combines her flamenco pop with classical guitar pieces – a nod to her southern Spanish roots.
Born in Murcia, Spain, as Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza, Charo first learned to play guitar from a caravan of gypsies who would camp on her grandparents farm every summer. “They loved my grandmother because she treated them with respect,” Charo said. “She would let them camp on one part of the land, let them eat the food, as long as they wouldn’t touch the chickens.”Every night the gypsies would build a huge fire and celebrate with music and dancing, Charo said.”Nobody can play flamenco like a gypsy,” she said. “I wish someone had recorded them because it’s the best music, the purist music.”When Charo was about 5 years old, one of the gypsies taught her how to play and gave her his guitar before moving on at the end of summer. She spent hours and hours practicing, and then auditioned to study under classical guitar master Andres Segovia, who started a school with the mission to expand classical guitar from the symphonies into the mainstream.”They were very impressed,” Charo said. “They wanted to know where I learned to play because you don’t teach flamenco, you teach classical.”
Now, she combines the two genres in her live performances. Charo travels to Beaver Creek to play a show at the Vilar Center Sunday. She will perform a two-part show. The first part incorporates salsa, costumes, a little cuchi-cuchi and some of her more popular dance music. The second part is serious guitar work, and both sets will feature her charismatic personality.”I try to find a balance,” Charo said. “Music is my escape and my passion.”Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado