The sounds of guitar riffs being shredded and vintage rock ’n’ roll rang throughout San Quentin’s Lower Yard for the prison’s annual Rock Concert.
The lively personality of Mad Mama Lopez set the stage ablaze with her bubbly demeanor and sharp wit. Mad Mama’s airy high-pitched vocals, similar to Minnie Mouse, the iconic Disney character, blended perfectly with the impressive play of the Bona Fide Few.
The band’s musical vibe was a mixture of ’50s and ’60s rock ’n’ roll with a modern twist and a country twang, known as Whisky Soaked Americana.
“I’m here to shed a little light in a dark place,” said Mad Mama. “You are not alone. We all make mistakes. We’re meant to be loved.
“We all are struggling,” she added, encouragingly.
After a few moments of technical difficulties with microphones and equipment, Mad Mama led the band in a sizzling 45-minute show. The group performed “Texan Boy” a spicy relationship song.
“I didn’t tell my mama I was coming to sing in prison—not because I was coming into a dangerous place, but because Mama knows I love a bad boy!” yelled Mad Mama as she started the song.
Tony Velour’s magical fingers danced around the large upright bass, Paul Monteiro provided the masterful rhythm on the drums, and Steve Egelman rounded out the band with superb guitar riffs and vocals.
“It’s a blessing to bring in this music,” said Egelman. “Good or bad, we’re still people. Music is only going to be a good thing.”
Armed with an array of original songs, the band performed “Trouble,” “Mercy Me,”
“Honey Tonight” and “God, What’s Your Plan for Me?” The mid-size crowd of 60 to 70 men showed the band appreciation with loud ovations and whistling to each chorus of the songs.
Mad Mama worked the crowd into a frenzy with the cover song “Mojo”—with a call-and-response on the song hook: “I got my mojo working.” She yelled it and the men responded.
Mad Mama showed her vocal range as she performed Janis Joplin’s hit “Me and Bobby McGee,” generating a sing-along fest by older prisoners. Mad Mama and the Bona Fide Few left the audience with huge smiles, as the band enchanted the men with something old mixed with the new rhythms.
“I loved it,” said Chris Thomas. “This bought me back to my childhood. Music makes me feel good. I love this,” Thomas added, bringing his hand to his heart.
Mad Mama Lopez (right) with the Mad Mama The Bangers kicked off the
show with their heavy metal-in-spired and punk rock flavored set, inspiring a lot of
head banging by the crowd. The band entertained with songs such as “Break- ing the Law,” “Lost,” “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll” and a crowd favorite, “Mistreated.”
As the band’s lead singer and guitarist, Bill Heston’s gravely vocals complement- ed the frantic tempo played by group members: Brian Young, drummer; Zoran The odorovic, bass; and Guy Jone, on guitar. All the members provided background vocals.
Heston, the self-proclaimed “Crank Sinatra” and “Lord Banger” teased the groups of entertainers signed autographs and mingled with the audience before driving off the yard. The prisoners and guests all waved goodbye, ending a totally satisfying concert..
“I’m into rock music— I heard they were coming. I figured I’d come take a listen,” said Glenn R. “It’s nice to hear a live band. It’s been 15 years since my last concert, Iron Maiden. It was awesome and a great experience.”
—Anthony Faulk contributed to this article