As I interviewed "El Leon" Leon Reyes, we touched on many topics-home, threads of musical influence, journeys. His journey with music has lasted a lifetime. At KVMR, he has completed 10 years as a Latin music disc jockey and host. As with many of us, his first stint at KVMR was as Red Eye Radio host. There were not many broadcasters for the midnight-4 a.m. slot. For nine years he faithfully made the drive from Sacramento, played music here, then returned to Sacramento to work the next day. He then signed up to be one of the original hosts of South of the Border, which aired on Sundays and has since moved to Monday mornings. Leon now hosts his own program called Salsa & Latin Jazz con Sabor Latino every other Wednesday from 10 p.m.-12 a.m. He concentrates on Salsa and Latin Jazz plus those other Latin musical surprizes but is open to R&B, Soul, Jazz, Classical, Big Band Swing and Country Western.
Leon always begins his show with his favorite inspiration, Gloria Estefan, whom he affectionately refers to as "La Muñeca de Muñecas" (the doll of all dolls)." "When I started my show, I knew I would always open with Gloria. Maybe someday she'll hear about it. What a thrill that would be."
I was impressed to see his new listing in Latin Beat, a magazine featuring stations with Spanish-speaking and Latin influence programs on public and alternative radio. Go Leon! He hopes this will expand his contacts with independent producers of music, as well as with major producers." I want to reach everybody, not just a Latin audience," and he invites his audience to comment and "add a little spice to your music listening life." Leon grew up in an older section of Sacramento in a traditional family listening to the music his parents liked-rancheras, corridos and mariachi music, which can still bring him to his feet. He credits his sister and cousin with breaking the mold and introducing him to big band music of the 40s and the evolving pop scene of the 50s. "I caught the radio bug in the 50s and became a 'radio-oholic' and began to listen to all kinds of music." He remembers treks to the original Tower Records at 16th and Broadway in Sacramento in the late 50s. The building is still there. He and his friends would look for all kinds of styles-the Beatles, jazz, beat scene artists, DooWop and others. "My first jazz record was by the late conguero Sabu Martinez titled Jazz Espanole. Wow! I was so thrilled." He still has that original vinyl album at home. He still has some of his original Miles Davis LPs. He says his parents had no jazz in the house. "Que paso con mijo?" "They thought I was going crazy..." especially when he brought home Dave Brubeck's Take Five album and played "Blue Rondo a La Turk." He can also remember first listening to Sarah Vaughn's "Broken-Hearted Melody" and Della Reese sing "Don't You Know?" back in the late 50s.
Leon served in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, where he says a potpourri of races allowed him to make friends with different tastes such as Country Western, and he learned to like artists in many genres. "I like all kinds of music now, although I can't handle too much hard rap or opera..." He took a radio course while attending Los Angeles City College with the intention of being a television producer. Now he is a photobug when he isn't involved with warehouse work, or time with his family. Newer artists he enjoys are 3D, Craig Russo, Layla Angulo, Alexa Weber Morales, John Santos and others. All time favorites include Pete Escovedo, Poncho Sanchez, Francisco Aguabella, Eddie Palmieri, the Estrada Brothers and others. On a summer trip traveling down highway 99 in 1996, Leon remembered good times in childhood listening to salsa. As he listened to the music on the radio, and later read about KVMR in the Sacramento News & Review, he said to himself, "why not?" He applied for a broadcaster class and immediately was assigned a program. He has a smooth, sophisticated style and likes to give some history of the artists or about the songs played. "Except for the first thirty seconds of my first show! That has been the only hesitation in ten years!...I come out of my shell when I'm here, usually I'm very quiet." Now he is the self-styled "Mayor of Salsamento."
He is proud of an interview aired in 1996 on KCRA channel 3 during the program De Colores. He interviewed Latin jazz band leader Poncho Sanchez when he was performing in Lathrop, south of Stockton, and was very excited, "it was my first biggie- I felt stupendous!" The video segment was seen as far south as San Diego.
Leon says "KVMR is known in South America and Mexico now because of my program-I want to make it known even more." Apparently he is succeeding; he has received music and requests from as far away as Canada, Italy and the Netherlands. His goal is to make people happy with music. His loyality to KVMR stems from the ability to play what he wants. "People tell me that I'm crazy because I still do this just for me..." His blend of Latin pop, ballads, salsa, Latin jazz, and standards has a growing bilingual audience, those who like his "march to a different conguero (drummer)." He hopes to make his play lists available by email soon. Stay tuned for more juicy, upbeat music. Gracias para toda la musica, Leon!