Tony Alicea

The Stokes were inducted into the 'Puerto Rico Rock and Roll Hall of Fame' in 2014


YES! I was born in the house my father built... NOT! The rest is hysteria, I mean history!…well, you know... When I was four years old, somebody gave me a toy piano and soon I started imitating tunes from the radio and TV without much effort. But I also loved to listen to the radio. "Twistin' The Night Away" by Sam Cooke was the theme of a nightly radio pop music program which title translated to English means "Here With The Youth" (Aquí Con La Juventud). Of course, everybody was young then! Except parents!

So while still of age 12, my father, upon recommendation from our neighbor the psychologist, made me take (of all instruments) accordion lessons! (Hey, it looked like a piano right? But more affordable!) So I went along for a year until I couldn't take it anymore. What I didn't realize then was that the music theory that I was learning would come in especially handy a couple of years later for an unforgettable experience in music that lasts to this day!

Yes, the Beatles came into the world! I loved their music and would have loved to get a guitar except that my previous 'hobbies' had cost my parents a lot of money that they didn't have. We were the only family in this neighborhood in which the wife had to work to make it possible to live there. I found (not to my surprise though) that I could play the Beatles songs on a guitar with relative ease. After all, I understood the relationships between the chords and stuff since I had studied music before... (remember the 'forced' accordion lessons? With its left hand moves?) During that time (1964) many guys in the neighborhood (except me, by choice) were getting guitars (although they didn't know how to play them).

One day I went to the local music store, paid all of $1 for a song book which had the guitar chords to a few Beatles songs, and I just learned them 'on paper' by reading it. I asked a neighbor if I could borrow his guitar and he said no problem (this was near my 15th birthday.) I practiced what I had read in the song book and it was easy. I kept his guitar for a week since I knew I would never ask for one. By Friday of that week I was playing tunes that the other teens in our neighborhood enjoyed and my father came in from work and noticed all of us, who were having a great time playing and singing music in the porch of our home. The next Monday he came from work with a used guitar he bought somewhere...

This was a turn of events. Suddenly I had a guitar that I could keep for an indefinite period of time (hey, it was mine!) and practice... Soon after, I decided that I was better off with an electric guitar. I had no amplifier so I used someone else's for the time being.

I started a group (The Wildcats), played in a few school dances and that was it. I found this band to be 'limiting' (except for the drummer, Raúl Paonessa) and then I got together with a guy who had a 'Ludwig' drum set (that was the drum set to have then; expensive) and we looked for other musicians to form a band. This band was the first "incarnation" (out of four, more or less) of THE STOKES, my main band.

This must have happened in early-to-mid 1965. (The last incarnation of The Stokes was in 1969-70 with José Nogueras as lead singer, before he formed Bandolero). The drummer of The Stokes, Adrian Buxeda, said that he knew this guy who played lead real well. After listening to tales about how good this guy was, I had no problem accepting to play rhythm guitar. He was older than any of us (me and the drummer were barely 15 years old) and we arranged the first practice session. I was all excited that I was going to meet and play with a 'great' lead guitarist! So what actually happened was that he said that I should play lead and he would play rhythm! I admit he was good, but not as I expected. At any rate he knew more chords than I did, making him perfect for rhythm guitar.

The band evolved to exclude him and suddenly I had a band (all members 14- 15 years old) with 6 people in it and we started playing Army and Navy bases in Puerto Rico, and the "Teen Clubs" of these Armed Services. It was a lot of fun! We felt like if we were playing in the Continental US without having to leave home! The military installations we played more often were Ft. Buchanan and San Patricio base (now defunct).

Before I turned 16 years old we recorded an album as a background band to a female singer (then also 15 years old) who is now well known in Puerto Rico (Gloryvee). It was a bare bones production. In all the cuts it's just me (guitar), bass, and drums (plus voice). A few years ago I received a tape from the drummer with that album on it... What a trip!

We were arguably the best band in Puerto Rico of that age group, according to the local TV Guide and most everyone else. Our big competition came from guys in their 20s, like The Teen Sounds (later renamed to Sound, Inc.), Los Sonset, The Telstars and The Living End (great band!). The Challengers were the other significant band of our age group.

We The Stokes were selected in three different years (1966, 68 and 69) to play those summers in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. In those days, St. Thomas was the "Mecca" of any rock band in Puerto Rico. It is a well kept secret, since only three (maybe four) bands got to go. Three of them besides The Stokes were The Living End, Abram Shoo and The Telstars (in their 2nd incarnation).

On a different scale of course, St. Thomas was for us what the city of Hamburg was for The Beatles when they visited Germany. In both instances the visiting bands had what could be called a "License to do Everything"...

Puerto Rico showed then, and without a doubt, that it had rock bands as good as any that could be found in the mainland. The American public in St. Thomas thought so. Most of the people in St. Thomas that went to listen to us play at the club were from the mainland USA.

The Stokes - May, 1966

We, The Stokes, were playing at "A Place In The Sun" (formerly Duffy's). But back to 1966...
In 1966, when we were the second band from Puerto Rico to play in St. Thomas (the first band was The Living End), we children were off to an "overseas" engagement. It was a year after the Mamas and The Papas played in the same club/guest house, Duffy's, (see the VHS documentary "Straight Shooter, The Story Of The Mamas and The Papas", not the DVD). Duffy's was in Creque Alley, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. The Mamas and The Papas have a song by that name, "Creeque Alley", in which they tell their story. That was an adventure in itself…how could it not be!? We were all children! I was the oldest and I
was 16 years old!

Click for more pictures in St. Thomas

The Stokes playing at Duffy's at St Thomas
US Virgin Islands - Aug 1966

In 1968 the band had turned to 'psychedelia' so we were playing The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. I have to say that we did the best rendition of the long, complete version of "Light My Fire" by the Doors. I went through all the trouble of learning Robby Krieger's guitar solo note by note and our keyboardist, Vicente Rivera-Fuster, may he rest in peace, learned Ray Manzarek's organ solo also note by note. People would start dancing at the start of the song and when the guitar solo started (which was followed by the organ solo) most of them would stop dancing and move in front of the band to just listen. We also played a great rendition of "When The Music's Over". These 2 songs were a great hit at Duffy's in 1968.

Then (well, in 1967) came college... So when I finished high school (Colegio De La Salle, Bayamón), just turned 17 in 1967, I was given a 'lecture' by my parents to the effect that because I was going to college now (I never questioned this, I was ready for college...) the band days would be over. Needles to say I proceeded to ignore them since playing in the band was the only source of satisfaction that I had in life then. At any rate, I didn't know what I wanted to study so the first semester of my 2nd year at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, so I dropped out to be a full time hippie. I went back to St. Thomas to try to start a band but every one of my friends was 'back to school' and couldn't play.

One of them, Jorge Casas, musical director and bass player with Miami Sound Machine, then told me that he'd love to play in a band with me but he had just joined this band "New Zealand Trading Company", who was booked to play in all Playboy Clubs around the world! I couldn't compete with that! By the way, two other Puerto Rican musicians who joined that band at the same time were Alberto Carrión and Gonzalo (Gonchi) Sifre. Gonchi was later the drummer of the best (during that time, and who knows if of all time) Puerto Rican contemporary jazz band, RAICES.

So that semester I didn't do much and I registered at the UPR again this time as a (believe it or not) business major. I suddenly realized that I'd like to study human nature and it's motivations closer. So for the next semester (Sept. 1969) I decided to join the Psychology Dept. as a Psych major.

Then I decided to move to the mainland and I went to Long Island, NY, where for a short time I was a graduate student and Teaching Assistant at SUNY Stony Brook but never finished; had no intention from the beginning. It was just the stepping stone from Puerto Rico to the mainland that I was hoping for. Then I worked at General Instrument Corporation in Hicksville (LI, NY) programming RWRs (Radar Warning Receivers) for defense applications.

After Long Island, I have lived in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, Chicago, Annapolis, MD for the longest and best time (great sailing town, BTW!) and after some time back in Miami, I am now in another part of Florida.

As I had suggested, I am an early member of the Rock Music movement in Puerto Rico, and so are Adrian Buxeda, Raul Paonessa, Raymond Files (RPM), and Jorge Casas (for a long time musical director of Miami Sound Machine), and many, many other great guys and dolls, many of whom live in South Florida now.

Slightly over ten years after that great adventure, Raymond and I last played together in a public performance at a club in Long Island, New York, The Crow's Nest. Take a listen HERE.

"It was the best of times...", and it was the best of times!

Banda del K-Rajo story  (in Spanish)


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