Grammy Whammy
by Jessica Novak - Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Ex-Los Blancos veteran Jose Alvarez thanks Syracuse’s music scene for his award-winning night

Amid the red carpet fashion statements and big wins of pop culture icons like Daft Punk and Lorde during the Jan. 26 Grammy Awards, Syracuse was also represented at the biggest night in music. Salt City native Joey Belladonna and his group Anthrax were nominated for Best Metal Performance, although they lost to Black Sabbath. Belladonna often performs local gigs as part of the Chief Big Way hard rock trio, covering chord-crushing earworms from the 1970s and 1980s.

Taking home some Grammy hardware, however, was blues guitarist Jose Alvarez. The former Syracusan won his second Grammy Award with Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience. He and the band walked away with the Best Regional Roots award for their album, Dockside Sessions. They won in 2007 in the category of Best Cajun/Zydeco.

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Alvarez came to Syracuse in 1995 at age 17, thanks to an invitation from Colin Aberdeen and a guitarist position in Roosevelt Dean’s band. Alvarez performed with Dean and went on to form Los Blancos with Aberdeen, Steve Winston and Paul Roehrig. Later formations of the band would feature Garnet Grimm, Mark Nanni and Mark Tiffault. They still perform today.

Alvarez first saw Simien perform when he was 14, but met Simien later when they were on the same festival bill in the late 1990s. “{Simien} offered me a gig on the spot,” Alvarez says from Los Angeles. “I politely declined. I was in a comfortable spot in Syracuse.”

Alvarez left for Mexico in 2000, then moved to San Antonio in 2001 to pursue his piloting career. In 2004, he was looking to get back into music and called up Simien, wondering if the gig he was offered almost a decade earlier was still available–and it was. Alvarez performed with Simien for eight years, although he is currently pursuing other interests.

“It’s been a privilege being allowed to share this honor with them {Simien},” Alvarez says. “It’s a huge deal that they took me into their family.” Alvarez also thinks warmly of his first guitar teacher, Jeff Powers, for being instrumental in his double-Grammy journey.

Jose Alvarez and Colin Aberdeen (1997) Michael Davis photo

Jose Alvarez and Colin Aberdeen (1997) Michael Davis photo

Yet even after more than a decade outside of Central New York, Alvarez also credits his Grammy nods to his start in the Salt City. “Colin was the first guy to say, ‘Look, dude. You sound good,” Alvarez recalls. “He took me under his wing. If it wasn’t for Colin, none of this would have happened.

“And Syracuse provided an incredible place for learning, an incredible learning curve,” Alvarez continues. “All these people. . .  killer bands. You definitely had to have your ears wide open. There was a lot going on. I remember many musical nights of nirvana moments, when you first heard what it should sound like. You’ve never heard a pocket so deep in the groove than with Mark Tiffault and Paul LaRonde. It was almost a spiritual experience. What a great place to be around all these great players, talk with them, play with them, and they were happy to teach you what they knew. And it’s still there. As far as the Grammy goes, it’s a great experience, and it’s in a huge way a result of my time spent in Syracuse.”

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