Shine On, Crescent Moon

Love him or hate him, Miami Sound Machine architect and Crescent Moon Records visionary Emilio Estefan is a major force in contemporary Latin music

"The Jerks were definitely responsible for designing the sound," Galdo says during a phone interview from his office at South Beach Studios. "We put them [Miami Sound Machine] on the map. It's there in black and white. All you have to do is go and buy the albums they did before Primitive Love and compare them. It's the difference between night and day."

"Joe thinks he has the Miami sound," Estefan counters calmly. "But what about all of our number-one hits that came after he left?"

The producers were paid flat fees and a tiny percentage of total record sales for their work on the Miami Sound Machine albums, according to Galdo. Estefan owned the publishing rights. Any discontent that may have been simmering in the studio erupted when Estefan offered the Jerks an exclusive contract a few days before the 1988 Grammys; Estefan and the trio had been nominated jointly for a producer of the year award for Let It Loose.

"He wanted to sign us to a five-year deal that was very one-sided," Galdo claims. "He wanted us to marry him, but he didn't want to marry us. We didn't want to become just another production team in his stable." So the Jerks turned down the offer. Estefan responded by indicating that it was all or nothing. "We called his bluff and he called ours," Galdo remembers. "We went to the Grammy Awards without speaking to each other. It was pretty weird."

Galdo is not the only person to depart the Estefan camp over the years. Most of the original Miami Sound Machine members have not stuck around to share in the fame and fortune with Emilio and Gloria; gradually they've been replaced by music-school graduates from the University of Miami.

"Emilio doesn't give people the credit they deserve," says one local studio engineer, who asked to remain anonymous. "In the music circles in Miami, Emilio is not well-liked. But he is not in business to be well-liked. He is in business to make money."

"Sometimes people need to grow," Estefan asserts diplomatically. "If they work with me for two or three years and then they want to go, well, then, that's fine, go."

The producer most frequently describes his organization as "a very family-oriented thing. Most of the people working here have been here for ten years or more, so they grow with the company."

It is true that Estefan Enterprises-Crescent Moon has a casual ambiance that would be difficult to find within the bureaucratic structure of most other record company headquarters. And despite several defections from the Estefan camp, Lawrence Dermer, another of the Three Jerks, still works closely with Emilio -- he coproduced five of the twelve songs on The Specialist soundtrack. The third "Jerk," Rafael Vigil, also recently has come back to the fold, with plans to work on future Estefan projects.

"Those problems were really never my problems, they were problems between Joe and Emilio," Dermer stresses. "If I felt [as Galdo does], I wouldn't be working with him [Estefan]. He surrounds himself with topnotch people, he has a lot of foresight, and he's very persistent. If he believes in something, it doesn't matter if the president of the United States tells him he's wrong."

Estefan excitedly pulls a video from a shelf in his office and cues it up to footage from Gloria's 1991 concert in Bogota. The video shows thousands of fans awaiting her arrival at the airport and cars blocking the street in front of the couple's hotel at 3:00 a.m. During the actual concert, girls who've fainted are carried out of the crush on stretchers.

"Gloria did a lot for the music in Miami," Estefan says proudly, watching as his wife bounds around on stage in black stretch pants and a fishnet top. "But Crescent Moon represents the changing image of Miami. What we're trying to represent now is a more across-the-board sound. We're trying to cross every sort of base. It's about what all these cultures have to offer us as far as music is concerned.

"Miami's the best place in the world right now. People always think the grass is greener on the other side, but the good place to be seen right now is Miami. We have Latin music, we have black music, we have dance, we have pop. I think Crescent Moon represents the city where we come from. I think our label's going to be very much Miami."

Suddenly for the first time during the afternoon, Estefan's cheerful expression darkens. He mentions a recent Miami Herald article he read in which Rosco Martinez, a local singer with an album out on BMG's Zoo Entertainment label, criticized Estefan's concepts.

"This is a Cuban coming from another place," Martinez was quoted as saying about Estefan. "I have nothing to do with Emilio and that kind of thing."

Estefan shakes his head, obviously disappointed. "What's wrong with it?" he asks in disbelief. "What's wrong with the Miami thing? It's sold millions of albums."

Then he returns to gazing at the video monitor. On the screen the audience at the Bogota concert is transfixed by Gloria's performance. Even the squadron of special personal bodyguards flown in from London to ensure security at the show have turned around to watch her instead of tending to their duties. Emilio just smiles.

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