Oldies For the Soul

web mikeIt all started back in the 50’s, “Little Mike” Saenz lived next door to where “The Blue Kings” would play their music. He would listen to them practice until one day he asked “Kiko” if he could join them and just listen. Little Mike started watching them and learned to play the piano just by observing, a month later he was asked to join them- he was only 17 years old. Fifty years later “Little Mike and The Blue Kings” still bring oldies but goodies, and cumbias to their audience.

“That is what I learned to play in the 50’s so I stuck with it.” said Little Mike.

Born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Little Mike came to El Paso when he was 14 years old, he attended AOY Elementary School, and Bowie High School. He then moved to California when he married Alicia in 1961, they have been married for 54 years and have three children, David, Armida, and Vivian. While living in East L.A. he started a band but returned to El Paso in 1977 and started another band with his old friends becoming “Little Mike and The Night Drifters”.

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“We met at her sister’s friend wedding, I was playing but I knew that I wanted to dance with her.” Little Mike said looking at his wife.

Little Mike’s nickname originated from his good friend and drummer Robert Roa who decided to give him that name because he used to sing a lot of Little Richard songs. Then the band’s name had to be changed because someone else registered that name so they changed it to “Little Mike and The Blue Kings”.

The band plays every Friday and supports the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). They participated in a benefit dance with two other bands to help wounded warriors. The money collected went to United Service Organizations (USO) for veterans who do not have much money.

“He’s always helping others no matter what.” Veteran Armando Padilla said.

Music is his passion but Little Mike likes to play golf to relax and is a golf course marshal at Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course.

“He’s not just a musician, he’s a great golfer!” said Joe Quesada member of the Pan American Golf Association. “Everyone follows him everywhere because he is a good man and we all enjoy his music.”

The band members include drummer Robert Roa who has been with Little Mike for over 50 years, lead guitar player Mike Ybarra, tenor saxophone player Richard Acosta, saxophone player Mauro Hernandez, temporary bass guitar player Martin Olguin, and sound manager Javier Pedroza. Chuy Sanchez sang in the band but unfortunately passed away two years ago. The originals who have passed away included Tury Castañon and Gilbert Medrano who played the saxophone, Pancho Garay and Yogi Robles who played the bass.

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“He treats his musicians good so they stay with him,” wife Alicia Saenz said. “The ones who have left us is because they have passed away. We all keep in touch so we’re like family.” Little Mike added.

They practice two to three times a month at a friend’s house. At events they have a list of songs they will play but it constantly changes due to song requests from the audience. Not only does Little Mike sing and plays the piano, he also plays the harmonica when the audience request “Fannie Mae”.

“He is always alert and making sure everything blends,” sound manager Javier Pedroza said. “He’ll close his eyes, listen, and make sure everything is good, I know the sound is wrong if he looks at me.”

Lead guitar Mike Ybarra recalls his time with Little Mike, they went to school together in the Segundo Barrio and would listen to oldies. Originally from East L.A., when Ybarra returned from war he knew that he wanted to stay in El Paso and play for a band like Little Mike’s.

“Everybody gets up and starts to dance with his music,” Ybarra said. “I wanted to play in a band like that, he’s a nice guy to work with.”

Creating a band that everyone receives with open arms and respects takes work, passion and dedication. Little Mike received an award from EPCC honoring him as “One of EL Paso’s Music Legends.

“He’s very loyal to his music and his players,” daughter Vivian Saenz said. “He enjoys it and is great at it.”

Band members described Little Mike as a great man with great style and who treats them as family, he even helps other bands if they need help.

“He’s a wonderful man, always good with us” saxophone player Mauro Hernandez said. “He will go out of his way to make sure we are ok, there aren’t many bands like this one.”

The talent that Little Mike owns has been passed on to his grandchildren; granddaughter Shannon Clark, 18, plays for Mariachi Paso Del Norte, she received a scholarship for music and is currently attending UTEP. Even the smallest members of the family; Vivian, 8, and Jacob, 7, already play the piano.

People often ask Little Mike what is going to happen when he can no longer play, he just smiles and responds “I’m going to keep doing what I do until I possibly can, the music is what is keeping me alive.”

 

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