2. What advice would you give me if I wanted to prepare to join a professional group?
A great deal of dedication, of course practice, but good quality practice, 1-2 hours would be great, as long as it is concentrated. But above all you must relinquish yourself to your instrument.
3. Who are your vocal influences/inspirations?
Living, I have to say Vicente Fernandez, I really admire him.
Passed on, Javier Solis, I really loved him.
4. When did you first start to sing?
Honestly the shower was my first teacher; the acoustics in the restroom are very encouraging. I don’t remember exactly when I started, but I was a young boy.
5. What was your first song that you learned to sing?
The great artist at the time was “Pedrito” Fernandez, and I learned all his songs. I believe the first one I learned was… (Singing)” Que te pasa Chiquita que te pasa…”yes “La de la Mochila Azul”.
6. When did you first start playing violin?
Actually, I started late in life, I was a stubborn boy that just wanted to play futbol (soccer). In fact I remembered one time I had come up with an idea. As I use to practice violin I would record myself practicing scales and exercises. So one day my friends invited me out to play but I had to sneak out. So I decided to leave the tape playing of me on the violin and snuck out with my friends. I thought it was a genius idea and had a great time with my friends. Upon my return I found my mom seated next to the tape player in my room, tape still playing, awaiting my return. I was scared she was going to hit me so I offered her my belt, so she would forgive me. She took my belt, but did not hit me. Instead she hurt me with her words; she looked at me and calmly said. “Steeven, I hope you don’t think I am stupid, because you cannot make me stupid. Only you can make yourself stupid. One day you will want to have a family, but how are you going to support them?” And she quietly walked out. That is when reality hit me and I knew selling hot dogs for $50 dollars a week was not going to sustain my future lifestyle. So I decided to truly dedicate myself to my instrument at the age of 14.
7. What was your inspiration to start Music?
Well of course my parents because they loved it, and I love them very much. And Mariachi Vargas. My father was a trumpet player and vocalist, not a solo vocalist, but he could sing. He owned a restaurant and every six months Mariachi Vargas would come to perform there. I remember him telling me “Mariachi Vargas will be coming tonight, however, if you are going to see them, you will stay up late. And you will have to go to school the next day.” I didn’t mind at all, I wanted so badly to see them. I remember approaching them on the bus and how magnificent they looked when they got off. They walked with such prestige in their uniforms. My father wanted to introduce me to them, but I was such a shy boy. He literally was dragging me across the floor so I could go say hi. I had to lie down on the floor on purpose so he would let me go. I was perfectly content from seeing them from afar. As they were leaving they passed by me, and Don Mario patted my head (then my hair was long and a bright red color, not so much now), and he said chuckling “You look like the top of a carrot!” My father looked over and said with a smile “That’s my son.” Don Mario smiled and formally introduced himself to me. After that experience, I knew where I wanted to end up. I truly believe that God blesses us in abundance, and if you truly ask sincerely with all your heart, he will grant you what you want. And I remember asking him “God, that is where I want to be, I want to play with them.” Years later never did I imagine when Don Mario retired, I would take his place.
8. What has been one of your fondest moments while being in Mariachi Vargas?
There have been many fond memories while I was in Vargas.
9. Is there one that stuck out the most, or stays with you?
Well there was the time that we went to go perform in Prague, Czech Republic. I thought to myself “Really? Who is going to come and see us play here?” As we were backstage before our show, I peered out from the curtain and saw only about five to ten people in the audience. I was a little sad to see such a population, but regardless if it is one person or thousands, we always give it our all. Moments later it was time to set up on stage. My jaw dropped as the curtains opened, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was not an empty seat in the house, as far as my eyes could see there were people. As they finished announcing us, the audience stood and clapped. We then proceeded to start playing our opener of the Popurri de Sones. The audience fell silent, so quiet; you could hear a pin drop. It was a total different experience and at the same time a little nerve wrecking. As soon as our last note sounded, they stood up again a clapped graciously. Women and men with high ranking positions, soldiers and many influential people acknowledged us with their applause. They did this after every single song; I had goose bumps the entire time. It was quite unforgettable.
10. Would there have been another group you would have played with had you not played with Vargas?
I would have liked to experience playing with some of the US groups like Los Camperos and Sol de Mexico, however the opportunity never presented itself. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have my Visa or perhaps because they didn’t know of me. However I did play with Mariachi Juvenil Tecalitlan for 7 years, then with Mariachi Azteca (which accompanies Vicente Fernandez on tour) for two years. Then I went back to Mariachi Juvenil Tecalitlan for a year, and then auditioned for Mariachi Vargas.
11. How much longer would you have stayed with Vargas?
I would have stayed all my life if I could, however I did want to enjoy my retirement. I wanted to enjoy time with my family instead of being on the road. And I didn’t want to be too old that I my retirement would consist of me being at home asleep the entire time.
12. Who is your favorite soccer team?
Well who do you like?
Me too, but they have let me down so much, that now I support Barcelona. I will always love my Chivas, but I am a Barcelona fan.
Steeven Sandoval will lead the 2nd Annual Mariachi Extravaganza Summer Vocal Camp June 24-28 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Call Sandra Guevara at 210-225-3353 to register.
Pictured in photo is Gabriela Fuentes with Steeven Sandoval and mariachi instructor Jerry Porras. Gabriela Fuentes is a graduate of the University of Texas Pan Am in Edinburg and lives and works in San Antonio.