Get to Know the Last Bandoleros

Meet Sting's New Favorite Band

For those who haven’t seen the Last Bandoleros perform live, they deliver one helluva hot hola.

On Wednesday (June 22), Nashville’s 95-degree summer heat was no match for the band from Texas and New York as they lit into a fiery rooftop show at Warner Music Nashville. The event was as part of the label’s free Pickin’ on the Patio concert series and drew a packed (and sweaty) crowd of Music Row pros including rising star William Michael Morgan, Dan + Shay’s Dan Smyers and a host of studio musicians in shades on break between sessions.

In his opening remarks, WMN Chairman/CEO John Esposito shared the short version of story of how the group signed with the label. Scott Hendricks, WMN’s executive vice president of A&R, played him one Bandoleros song, and that’s pretty much all she wrote.

“I had never done that,” Esposito recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to Austin to see them on Saturday. Let’s find out if they can actually play and whether or not they’re [jerks].’”

And jerks they are not. In a Q&A earlier that day, they were complete gentlemen who followed every compliment with humble thank you’s. Bassist Diego Navaira refilled my empty water glass twice and held the door open for me as I exited our 30-minute chat.

Plus, they don’t just play. They shred.

“You’re about to see artists that will be playing Madison Square Garden,” Esposito said, “and I can actually say that with pretty good confidence because about five of our artists have already played there. … We just want to expose what we love and what we’re passionate about.”

He forgot to mention that the Last Bandoleros happen to be Sting’s favorite band at the moment.

Earlier this month when the National Music Publishers’ Association presented the rock legend with its Songwriter Icon Award in New York City, he had only one request: a performance by the Last Bandoleros. “Needless to say, I love this band,” Sting said when he joined them onstage at the NMPA event.

Back at Pickin’ on the Patio, a hot summer sun pierced through the cottonwood and hackberry trees as the band’s Jerry Fuentes, Derek James and Navaira kicked off their eight-song set of explosive Tex-Mex, country, rock and pop that nearly blew the speakers.

Onstage, their vocals were reminiscent of classic harmonies by the Beatles and when the moment was right, Navaira would wail like a young Paul McCartney. Accordionist Percy Cardona gave some rock head-banging as he squeezed his instrument for solos. James was all smiles as he sang lead on the incendiary “Take Me To It” about a pretty city girl with a pair of long legs in short shorts.

Midway through, Fuentes explained they find musical inspiration everywhere, mentioning their dark ballad “I Don’t Want to Know” was loosely inspired by the Dia De Los Muertos décor at his mom’s house in San Antonio. The song is actually about a mysterious woman who is so bad to the bone, you don’t want to know how her story ends. Then, a radio rep covered for drummer Emilio Navaira IV for a cover of “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” by the Cars. By the time they wrapped with their infectious lead single “Where Do You Go?” everyone on the patio was dripping in sweat.

“I have a band crush,” Esposito said onstage as the crowd erupted in applause.

That afternoon, the band sat down to chat about the genesis of the group, their creative process and Brooklyn’s best bar for live country music. Here’s what we learned.

Music Runs in the Family
Bassist Diego and drummer Emilio Navaira IV were born into music as sons of the late great Tejano star Emilio Navaira. Fuentes got his first guitar before age 10 and his earliest gigs were on the San Antonio Riverwalk playing in a duo with his father called Fountain of Youth (Fuentes is Spanish for fountain. Get it?). New York native James picked up the guitar as a teenager and cut his teeth performing open mic nights while studying at Syracuse University. Fuentes connected with James through New York City’s singer-songwriter circuit and met Diego through work at San Antonio’s Studio M.

They Were Almost The Federales
“Finding a band name is so hard,” Navaira explains. “It’s almost silly, too. We found out someone somewhere was the Federales. Then we were just the Bandoleros, but there was a band in Chicago that had the Bandoleros trademarked. We’re not the first Bandoleros so we might as well be the last.”

James is Secretly a Cowboy
They think it’s wild the lone Yankee in the group boasts the most country-cred. While at Syracuse, James fell in love with riding horses and has done several cattle drives. “I learned all these great country songs at night around the campfire with real cowboys,” James recalled. “That’s how a Yankee ended up in a Tex-Mex country band.” And he probably knows all the words to a Travis Tritt smash. “In college, my roommate used to wake me up to ‘It’s a Great Day to Be Alive’ on repeat in the dorms,” James said. “It was like Groundhog Day, but it was Travis Tritt.”

Fuentes Produced Their Major Label Debut
Due later this year, the full length collection was recorded in San Antonio, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. “We wrote all the songs together in a matter of weeks,” James said. “Then having Fuentes as the producer in the band, we were able to save on money and time. … What makes him so good is his attention to detail and the refined taste he’s cultivated over the years.”

They Prefer Performing in a Band Over Going Solo
Fuentes, James and Navaira are each phenomenal lead singers who love the collaborative experience of being in a band. James said, “It’s nice to be up there with an acoustic guitar by yourself in the spotlight, but I love looking over to my left and seeing a big smile on Diego’s face or looking to my right and seeing Jerry falling.” “It’s very special because we all admired and respected what each other was doing before the Last Bandoleros,” Navaira added. “So, when we get into a writing room, you let go of your ego, and I think everyone should do that.”

They Recommend Skinny Dennis on Your Next Trip to Brooklyn
“It has live honky-tonk country music every night and it’s packed,” Fuentes said. “They serve Shiner Bock and Lone Star beer and pride themselves on being a true Texas bar.”

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.