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Family Affair

It's almost ten o'clock on a Saturday night, and 77-year-old Emilio Mario Valdez is planted firmly in front of the stage at Churchill's Hideaway, waiting for the set by I Don't Know to begin at the rough-and-tumble, turn-it-up-full-blast rock dive in Little Haiti. Watching intently as the first band of the evening sets up its gear, the elderly man has not wandered in off the street inadvertently, expecting bingo night or something.

As it turns out, I Don't Know won't go on for another four hours. But no matter. The band's popular frontman, Ferny Coipel, happens to be Se*or Valdez's grandson.

Mr. Valdez is just one of a number of individuals who take their parental (or in this case, grandparental) duties to the extreme, faithfully trudging from club to club and enduring countless moshers, stage divers, and assorted riff-raff simply for the pleasure of watching their progeny perform.

In the process, these senior hipsters lift the class quotient of local clubs considerably while proving that rock and roll, despite its reputation for fostering generational strife, can sometimes be a family affair.

Sue Camacho asks that her age not be mentioned. But the sixtyish mom of the Goods' brothers John and Jim is a staple on the scene, along with her daughter Susan. "Oh, I haven't counted," Mama Camacho says when asked how many shows she's been to during the six years the Goods have been playing. "I go every day that I don't have to go to work the next morning." Figuring a conservative estimate of 35 weekend and holiday shows per year, that would put Mrs. Camacho's tally somewhere in the 200-plus range. "I tried to [go on weeknights]," she adds, almost apologetically. "But I learned about two years ago that I can't do that any more." (Mrs. Camacho, who teaches advanced placement English at Miami Springs High School, gets up for work at 3:45 a.m.)

Similarly, Roz and Mike Wolpin (ages 58 and 63) are regulars at shows put on by the Broward band the Miles, for which their son Randy plays guitar. Their presence is fairly important: She's served as the Miles' manager for the past two years, while Dad takes care of the stage lighting. Mrs. Wolpin, a retired accountant, figures she's been to a hundred or so shows since the Miles got off the ground, and she says she'll continue to show up even though the band's business affairs recently were turned over to Mystique Management. "I love it," she claims. "My husband, too. He stands and taps to the music. We listen to 88.5 [WKPX] all day. We're young parents."

There are plenty more examples past and present. Kay Kramer, the mother of Matt of Saigon Kick fame, has been a local scene devotee for several years and has taught vocal lessons to many local rockers; Norma Malo, whose son Raul fronts the now-platinum-selling country-western act the Mavericks, routinely danced up a storm at local joints before the Mavs moved to Nashville; and long ago shows by the now-defunct Chant were blessed with the presence of the parents of front man Walter Czachowski.

If only through repeated exposure to their children's bands and the acts that sandwich them, Valdez, Camacho, and the Wolpins possess an impressive wealth of knowledge about the local music scene and can reel off the names of bands and clubs with the same ease they recite their kids' ages. "I love Black Janet," says Wolpin. "I love Muse. 23 is a good band. The Goods. Off the top of my head, these are the bands I would listen to and enjoy." Mrs. Camacho cites I Don't Know, A.J. and the Stick People, and Tampa-based Clang as her favorites, and recently became a fan of the Robbie Gennet Band after seeing them for the first time during a benefit at the Button South.

Mr. Valdez, who religiously scours Jam magazine seeking out photos of familiar faces, lists I Don't Know, the Baboons, and los Buenos (the Goods) as his favorite local bands, and laments the passing of such landmarks as the Cactus Cantina and Washington Square. "He says he enjoys coming to all the shows," relays bilingual grandson Coipel. "Not only when we play, but when other bands play he'll stick around. When he used to drive himself, he would sit there and watch all the bands."

Not that these older-than-average rockers are homers. Mrs. Camacho is not afraid to say some local bands still need a little work, though she declines to name names. "Well, some [bands] are better than others," she says diplomatically.

Even the Goods are not beyond Mrs. Camacho's reproach. Although she lauds their performances on a musical level, there have been times when she's expressed her disapproval of other aspects of their show. The most notable example came a few years ago during a gig at Washington Square, when the Goods invited the entire audience on stage and then encouraged them to take off their clothes. No sooner had twenty or so fans begun stripping than Mama Camacho was immediately stageside, trying to get her boys to cease and desist. "Now, I got upset with that," she remembers. "I spoke out, if you recall. I tried to stop it. I didn't make a scene about it, but I definitely made an attempt to stop them. I went up close to the stage as I recall, and got their attention. Which they...well...they ignored me."

 

Mrs. Camacho is quick to point out the episode was an exception. "The only time I give advice is when I think they're hurting themselves," she explains. And do they ever listen? "Ah, a little bit," she says with a chuckle.

One time that her sons did listen to her resulted in Mrs. Camacho's only on-stage appearance with the Goods, this past New Year's Eve, when she belted out the blues standard "I'm Going to Chicago." Mrs. Camacho, who briefly studied at the Cincinnatti Conservatory and once dreamed of being an opera singer, says the cameo resulted from a dare. "One night at the house I was trying to get them to enunciate, and I was showing them how to sing from the diaphragm. And then I started singing that and they just loved it. That's why they had to put me up on stage."

Mr. Valdez has never jammed with I Don't Know on stage, even though Coipel says his grandfather can shake a mean maraca. "I will try it, but I'm scared about not being able to get the rhythm," Mr. Valdez comments. "It's not easy for American music to have maracas."

For what it's worth, the chances of seeing Ma and Pa Wolpin up on stage with the Miles are virtually nonexistent, as Mrs. Wolpin says she and her husband have absolutely no feel for music. "My son plays piano, guitar, he just picks up and learns," she explains. "It's inbred I guess. My dad still plays piano and mandolin, and he's 94 years old. It bypassed the two of us -- went from his grandfather to him."

Not only are the elder kin knowledgeable about the local scene, they're also filled with all sorts of fun facts about their kids' bands, having been witnesses from the beginning. Mrs. Wolpin, for instance, recounts the Miles' humble origins: "He [Randy] met the drummer at a chiropractic office, believe it or not. We were in an auto accident. I had to go for treatment, and he was bored so he took his guitar into the chiropractic office with him. While he was siting in there, there was another young fellow in there that saw him with the guitar, and says, 'Hey, you play? I play drums.' He apparently was also in an accident. The two of them got together, they put in an ad for a bassist, they walked through the mall, going from place to place, 'Do you know how to sing? Do you know how to sing?' And they picked up a singer. And the keyboard player was a friend of the bassist. He came in about a year later." Biographers take note.

Mr. Valdez has twenty or so photo albums documenting his only grandchild's musical development. His habitual taping of Coipel's band rehearsals, going back to the days when I Don't Know was a cover band called Airborn, have earned him the nickname The Bootlegger. "He says he would try to record us as often as possible so he would be able to record the different levels that we would be reaching," explains Coipel. "Without us knowing, he would stick the tape recorder outside the window and leave it going. Or he'd put it in his pocket and he'd hang out in the kitchen.

So if we came out, we'd catch him. It was hilarious."
Equally hilarious is Mrs. Camacho's recollection of the first time she saw John and Jim play A when they were in the fourth and second grades, respectively. "They'd started a little band called Sunny Rainbow," she says. Were they good? "I thought so," Mrs. Camacho replies. "They were rock and roll." Even back then the young Camacho brothers were marching to the beat of their own drummer, singing such original ditties as "Again and Again," "Blue Sheri," "Have You Heard," and the band's theme song, "Sunny Rainbow." (When told of their mom's recollection, John and Jim break into a snippet of a tune which, if memory serves, went something like "Sunny Rainbow! Sunny Rainbow! Whoa whoa whoa!"

 

"We also did one cover, 'Magical Mystery Tour,'" says John, "but we didn't get the drug references.")

Mrs. Camacho recalls that her maternal instincts really kicked in when the Goods formed in 1989. "I was scared to death they were going to hurt themselves," she says, referring to the band's manic shows. "The head? Throwing the head up and down? I don't know what you call that, but that really scared me."

That's an aspect of the Goods that appeals to Mr. Valdez. "I like the Goods' stuff because it's lively," he says. "When I see them, they're energetic. They move the people."

Mr. Valdez is no stranger to danger. During the recent Wake Up Miami happening at Churchill's, for instance, he sat perched on a barstool just a few feet away from the stage as hardcore/ska band Against All Authority prepared for its set. A small but highly exuberant contingent of the band's followers milled about anxiously in front of the stage; seasoned and somewhat less-exuberant onlookers like New Times critics Greg Baker and Todd Anthony and author Jeff Lemlich nursed drinks toward the rear of the venue, perhaps fearing that mayhem was sure to ensue.

"He wasn't going anywhere, man," recalls Coipel of his grandpa's position near the stage. "When we used to play the Square, sometimes there'd be mosh pits and he'd sit right there. People would just go around him." As it turns out, the mosh action for Against All Authority was minimal, so Valdez was able to keep his prized seat without injury.

In fact, perhaps the biggest hazard Valdez faces comes from Coipel. Unable to speak more than a few words of English, the Havana-born Valdez has been the butt of more than a few jokes by his mischievous, skirt-wearing grandson. At one show, Mr. Valdez was dragged up on stage only to have audience members applaud the size of his penis. And during the interview for this story, with Mr. Valdez looking on expectantly, Coipel relates that his grandfather wants to jump in bed. With me. "Since he doesn't know the language, a lot of times we fuck with him and say things that he has no clue," Coipel later confesses.

Even so, the bond between Coipel and his grandfather is touching. "He says that he sees me as his grandson, his son, and the biggest part of his life," translates Coipel. "And also that he wants to grab [nearby friend] Karen's tits." Valdez, unaware of what Coipel is saying, laughs heartily and nods in agreement, visibly eager for the show to begin.


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