The Rocks Off 100: Walter Suhr, the Straw That Stirs Mango Punch!
Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.
photos courtesy of Walter Suhr/Mango Punch
With his signature panama hat and a wide smile, Walter Suhr adds rhythm and joy to any venue that is lucky enough to host his multifaceted band Mango Punch! Equal parts Latin rock, pop, and tropical, the lovely sounds of this band are as diverse as Houston itself.
Who? Suhr is originally from Guatemala, and came to Houston to study music. He graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in Music and Computer Science.
"Although I started to study music relatively late in life (when I was 20), my love of music started at an early age," Suhr says. "I've heard a story that on my first Christmas -- when I was 11 months old -- my grandmother gave me three 45 rpm records as a present. They say that I completely forgot all the other toys and presents and even went to sleep holding my the records."
Around that time, Suhr says he began getting to exposed to Afro-Cuban artists that his dad was listening to: Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Orquesta Aragón, Bola de Nieve, etc.
"In my teenage years I listened almost exclusively to American and British pop and rock: Elton John, James Taylor, etc.," says Suhr. "When artists like Juan Luis Guerra and Gloria Estefán exploded into the music scene, I was once again fully drawn to Latin music."
When he formed Mango Punch!, "I was certain that I wanted a band that would integrate the influences that I had been exposed to," he adds. "My record collection can be labeled as 'eclectic' or 'schizophrenic.' I'm OK with either label."
Home Base: "Houston!"
Why Do You Stay In Houston? "Although it may sound cliché, Houston has been the land of opportunity for me," explains Suhr. "I was able to carve out a niche for Mango Punch! because we developed a personality that celebrates many of the diverse backgrounds and cultures of the people living in the city.
"In return, this city has kept me consistently employed for over 21 years!" he adds.
Also, although Suhr says he's proud of his Guatemalan heritage, "I now consider Houston my home."
Good War Story: "The night when Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston we were scheduled to perform at a club downtown (no names will be mentioned)," Suhr begins. "When I heard the warnings on TV of Allison approaching, I called the manager of the club four times to suggest we should cancel, and I have never cancelled a show in 21 years!
He absolutely refused and claimed we had a contract to honor. So I agreed to go with the condition that if we suffered any damage to our equipment they would be responsible. We performed for almost nobody, and by the time we stopped playing all of downtown was flooded.
Our truck got stuck in the flood waters at 2 a.m. and suffered $8,000 worth of damage (transmission, water in the motor and more). I had to "sleep" in my car in a parking lot that was slightly above flood level until 10 the next morning, when the water level made it possible to drive again!
When we confronted the club with the bills not only did they refuse to pay, but they cancelled our next shows! And the insurance also refused to pay for the repairs of the truck.
Shortly after our truck had been repaired, we had a gig in Brownsville at a club. The truck must not have been repaired properly because it died in the middle of the highway. We had to rent another truck, unload all our instruments and load them unto the rental truck to make it to the gig on time.
We barely made it. We performed two separate nights and the club in Brownsville didn't pay us our balance either!!!
Music Scene Pet Peeve: "Dwindling sales of CDs," says Suhr. "It takes a lot of time and resources to produce a CD with great quality and people don't realize how much they hurt the artists they love by not purchasing the CD and downloading their music for free or illegally."
5 Records You Can't Live Without: "Only 5? That's REALLY tough," he says. "I'll tell you five artists whose every record I like:
- Juan Luis Guerra
- Carlos Vives
- James Taylor
- Elton John
- The Beatles
Best Show Ever: "Performing at the pregame show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004," he says.
Next Show/Project: Cinco de Mango at El Pueblito on Saturday, May 4, Suhr says, adding "We're also in the process of recording a new CD so we will have a CD release party later on this year."
See who else has joined The Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.
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