Color Them Surprised: The Krayolas Reunite

There’s an adage in the music biz adapted from an H.L. Mencken quote that says, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach become critics.” However, sometimes those who can, do – and then become critics anyway.

Hector Saldaña is best known as a staff writer who most often covers entertainment for the San Antonio Express-News. But more than 30 years ago, Saldaña and his brother David – along with pals Van Baines and Barry Smith – combined a love of British Invasion rock ’n’ roll with their Texas roots to form The Krayolas.

“We started playing nightclubs in 1975,” Saldaña told Pollstar. “My brother was underage and we literally had to sneak him into clubs.”

Even during its heyday, the band was a little retro.

“The thing about The Krayolas was, we were always out of time,” Saldaña said. “When we first got together, The Beatles had already broken up.

“We were right in the middle of the cosmic cowboy thing, soon to be taken over by disco, punk, new wave and then the urban cowboy craze. We were always swimming upstream, but we stuck to our guns.”

Oddly enough, it was a contemporary film – one that’s now considered a comedy classic in many circles – that provided the band with a boost.

“When ‘Animal House’ hit, that gave us a lot of work. Fraternities and sororities started hiring rock ’n’ roll bands and we fit the bill.”

The band scored regionally with a series of double a-sided singles, including “All I Do Is Try/Sometime,” “Aw Tonight/Roadrunner” and “Gator Gator/Alamo Dragway” and began drawing large crowds to its live shows with air-tight harmonies and early Kinks-style songwriting, earning the nickname “The Tex-Mex Beatles.”

Through the late ’70s and much of the ’80s they continued performing and even released a pair of albums, but the quartet decided to call it quits in 1988 and most of them moved on to other careers, Saldaña to writing.

“I’ve always liked to write. I’d written a manuscript about the Mafia and music videos but nothing was really happening. Then the paper brought me on in late ’94.”

“They said, ‘We don’t need a music writer. You’re going to write about comedy.’ So I took the comedy beat, but within about two weeks, I was covering the pop and rock scene.”

Fast forward 30 years and Saldaña, now a senior writer at the Express-News, began thinking about the band again – but only in terms of how to preserve its legacy since all of The Krayolas’ releases are now out of print and the analog source tapes were in danger of self-destructing.

“The second coming of the band was unplanned. We put together a compilation ‘Best Riffs Only,’ which is a collection of our out-of-print 45s.

“We made two albums, but our 45s really capture us at our youngest and most enthusiastic.”

When Augie Meyers, a legend on the Texas music scene for his work with the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados, heard the collection, he approached the band about recording one of his Sir Douglas Quintet songs, “Little Fox,” that he thought was a perfect fit.

“I don’t know why he did it,” Saldaña said. “Augie could have taken that song to anyone, but he brought it to The Krayolas.

“We did an English version and a bilingual version, and the bilingual version took on a life of its own.”

The buzz generated by the track inspired the band to hit the studio to write songs for a new album, La Conquistadora, its first in 21 years.

The project has also been a hit in Texas and has garnered attention from notable fans outside the state, including former music critic Dave Marsh, who now hosts a Sirius radio show.

So why are The Krayolas suddenly finding the success that eluded them all those years ago? Saldaña has two answers to that question: timing and talent.

“When we were young, we were going for the dream that every band has, but we hit a wall and it wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe we were chasing the wrong thing.

“Now, there’s definitely a lot less angst about it. I don’t know if it gets any better for a rock ‘n’ roll band than it is for The Krayolas right now, because we’re presenting it the way we want and we made the record we want.

“We’re playing great shows. We played a showcase at SXSW that was a perfect storm – packed house, good sound system. We always do well in that situation.

“We’re not a bunch of old-fart bankers getting together for some hobby. We could always play. When we’re vibrating right, you can’t touch us. I think that’s why the name survived all those years.

“Then when it’s all over, we’re cool with the fans that like it. Everything else is out of your control. I guess that’s me as a 50-year-old musician seeing it for the second time around; I would never have expected it.”

The only challenge really facing the band now is how to play shows outside Texas and work around their day jobs.

“As we shake the rust off, we’d like to put some kind of a tour together. I can’t believe I’m even saying that, but there has been interest.”