Walter Suhr and Mango Punch! mark a quarter of a century in the music business with a showcase concert. “Basically, it’s 25 years of Mango Punch! in two hours,” Suhr laughs.
The winner of multiple Houston Press Music Awards, Suhr is keeping specifics about the set list under wraps. “There will be a few surprises, for sure. All of it will be original music, of course, and people can expect at least one tune from each CD to be featured in the show.”
Suhr, a University of St. Thomas graduate who studied music and computer science, had a very short career as a sideman before starting Mango Punch! He spent a quick five months with an established band. “I learned a lot of good things from them," he says. "And a lot of bad things. I learned how to keep a mailing list, how to stay in touch with my fans, how to work with clubs. I also saw the drawbacks alcohol and drugs had for that group.”
After that Suhr set out on his own, landing a restaurant gig as a solo performer. “I was making $100 a gig and I would have to take two trips to Almeda Mall with all of this equipment, a computer and a piano. But doing that gave me the opportunity to start anew.”
Suhr launched Mango Punch! in 1991 as a duo, eventually adding more musicians and establishing the group as a genre-blending party band performing salsa, merengue, pop, rock and R&B, with forays into swing, Top 40 and cumbia.
Highlights for the group include the pregame show for Super Bowl XXXVIII (with Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Aerosmith and Beyoncé). Mango Punch! has shared the stage with Elvis Crespo, Kumbia Kings and Gloria Trevi and performed in a private gathering for Latin superstar Luis Miguel. The group's signature tune, “Qué me pongo," became known internationally through heavy rotation on MTV and VH Uno.
From the beginning, Suhr wanted Mango Punch! to be more than just a cover band, and knew the key to that was writing original music. While most fans know Suhr as a performer, he’s been equally successful as a songwriter, taking top honors in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Billboard Songwriting Contest and the USA Songwriting Competition, among others over the years.
There have also been a few disappointments. A music exec once told Suhr that Mango Punch!'s music was fine but what he was really looking for was porno-merengue. An A&R person in California turned Suhr down, saying salsa music from a Houston artist wouldn’t sell.
“You get doors that are closed based on the idea that a Houston artist can’t sell salsa," he says. "Okay. There’s great music being produced in Houston; there are world-class musicians in this city that are producing excellent work. And there are people that are blind to that, thinking that because someone comes from a certain city, they won't sell a certain type of music.
"I’m really thankful to this city and I’m very happy as to how my career developed," continues Suhr. "I was always ready to move to Miami or New York if the career had called for it, but I developed such a strong following in Houston, [that didn’t happen]. I was always doing what I loved. I was always happy to represent Houston and have a national audience pay attention to what we were doing in this city.
Looking back over the past 25 years, Suhr is aware, he says, that he had help from a variety of people.
“I’m arriving at this milestone with a thankful heart," he says. "There are many, many people that I would thank, but I especially want to mention that I’m thankful to [manager] Susana [Trimmer]. More than anything, from the very beginning, even when I myself had doubts that I was going to make it in this industry and that I was going to make a living at it, she believed. She decided to be a manager when neither of us had any idea of what a manager would be and has given me steadfast support over the years.
"The band that I’m surrounded with right now, the musicians, they are really at the top of their game," finishes Suhr. "I think that we have stayed relevant and current. I’m very proud of that. And thankfully, the phone is very much still ringing.”
Walter Suhr & Mango Punch! celebrate the group's 25th anniversary with a showcase concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 8 at MATCH (3400 Main). Afterparty follows the show. For information, call 281-493-5991 or visit mangopunch.com. Tickets are $30 to $35.
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