Senior Profile: Las Vegas' music man

-A A +A
By Lupita Gonzales

Leroy Lucero, or “Pato,” as he is known to many, is seated at his Yamaha electric keyboard, making music, practicing for an upcoming collaboration with his compadre, Joe Franco’s group, “Dulce.” Sweet!

A multi-talented, lifetime musician, Lucero has followed many paths, but always, accompanied by music.

Born in Las Vegas, Nov. 10, 1946, Pato, 63, is the son of the late Ben Lucero and Carmen Garduño Lucero. Leroy’s siblings are Lonnie and Jeanette.

The Optic’s initial intention was to have profiled Ben and Leroy, but the elder Lucero died March 22. On the day of the interview with Leroy, May 18, Ben would have celebrated his 90th birthday.

Leroy reflects on his father.

“My dad was, like, my best friend. He taught me a lot; he took me to his gigs — to watch and listen. I was a little kid, but I didn’t fall asleep while they (“The Simpaticos”) played.”

“Dad had a liking for the big bands. He played by ear. The first song he taught me was ‘Tea for Two,’ which he played skillfully.” Pato then brings out a document — the lyrics to the Chinese National Anthem — which Ben learned during his tour of duty in China.

“He would sing it to us children; eventually, he recorded it.”

On this day, Pato played the recording for us; a fitting tribute to Ben Lucero.

 As Pato plays the CD, part of what we heard was:


Buyuanzuo nulide renmen!

Bawomende xierou!    

The fragment is rendered in alphabetical characters, but the original is in Chinese.

Pato relates that the Luceros have manifested a history of music for a number of generations. Hailing from Anton Chico, Ben Lucero had three brothers, Lonnie, who owned University Shoe Shop, Lloyd, of Lloyd’s Taxi, who played piano, and Manuel.

Leroy has two sons, Leroy Jr., a civil engineer in Portland, Ore., and Christopher, currently a media arts student at New Mexico State University, aspiring to advanced studies in film arts. Both sons participated in band at West Las Vegas middle and high schools.

Now, to Pato, the man of the hour. Asked to explain his nickname, he relates its genesis. Apparently, in the junior high years, one of Leroy’s peers, Manuel Saiz, said to him, “You walk like a duck.”

Admitting he was a bit gangly, Pato says he became self-conscious and subsequently worked on changing his gait.

“Pato en el agua,” he quips, adding, “the duck that just don’t give a quack.”

More on Pato’s humor later.

Pato relates that he has been playing music for pay since he was 12. His father bought him a drum set so he could accompany him at the piano.

Apparently, at that time there was no problem in having minors play at liquor establishments; he recalls having played at Neddie’s Frontier Club, the Skyline Club, the Bottle Shop. The only negative after-effect — his eyes burning from the smoke.

Leroy’s freshman year was at Robertson High School, but he transferred to West Las Vegas High School his sophomore year, graduating in 1965. During high school, he played the saxophone in the band.

Armed with a music scholarship to Highlands University, Leroy followed up on his talent, enrolling in 1965 and completing his degree in music, graduating in 1969. Then he was drafted in July of that year. He took his music background to the Army.

Offered the opportunity to audition for the military band, Leroy took this chance, qualified and spent his tour of duty for the next 2-1/2 years as a percussionist in military bands through 1969 to 1972. He was stationed in Norfolk, Va.; Fort Irwin, Calif.; and Fort Huachuca, Ariz. He recalls that the average size of these bands was 25 to 30.

After his discharge in 1972, Lucero remained in Arizona — Tucson, for four years, playing high-level music at major hotels and other establishments. The styles included jazz and soul, among others.

Returning to New Mexico, Leroy found plenty of opportunities to apply his talent and experience. He worked for the activities coordinator at the Highlands University for two years, then as a music therapist for the state for 12 years. He taught music at Española, Mora and West Las Vegas over the years, eventually completing 27-1/2 years in educational or state institutional service.

Pato admits, “I wanted to be a performer, not necessarily a teacher, but performing takes its toll on families. This music business is tough. It can be good, but the economy has taken its toll on musicians. Clubs are closing, or they don’t want music or don’t have enough work for musicians,” he said.

“An outlet for musicians is the recording industry, e.g., CDs, but since people download, or pirate music, there is a problem. There has to be a way for the recording industry to stop this.”

Nevertheless, Leroy has had his satisfactions as a music educator. He echoes the sentiment of retired music educator Louise Drilik, who said in a previous Senior Profile, “It has to be about the students.”

Regarding pride in his students’ accomplishments, Lucero cites some highlights: “Students received ‘superior’ ratings in San Antonio, a trophy in Las Vegas, Nev., and placed in Anaheim, Calif., as well as having performed at various functions — the state Legislature, playing for Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and trying out for all-state honors in music.”

These days, Leroy Lucero spends his time composing music and performing, notably, with Los Tropicales, as well as collaborating with other artists, such as Diego Sanchez, Nick Branchal, Martin Martinez, and “Dulce.” He prefers the “Latin genre.” He says, “I want the public to support music and the arts and to support live performances.”

Back to Pato’s humor now. He says that three days before the millennium, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, telling him that he was too handsome. Poof! In 2000, Leroy says, his hair started to fall out and wrinkles appeared. Then, three days after the millennium, the angel reappeared in his dreams, telling him, “Don’t worry. You’re ugly now and ugly is in style.”

Thus, we have the present Leroy “Pato” Lucero, laughing at us and with us in his inimitable style.