Legendary artist manager John Tovar has built a reputation for discovering and nurturing talent out of Miami during his three-decade career. But if you ask him to name his favorite of all the bands he's worked with throughout the years, he spits one out without hesitation.
"To me, Nuclear Valdez is the best rock band that ever came out of Miami."
That's a hefty statement coming from the man who is best known for managing and developing Marilyn Manson and the Mavericks. "Nobody knows the Nukes like I know the Nukes," he says. "I've been there from the beginning, through thick and thin."
Almost two decades after they parted ways as a band, the members of Nuclear Valdez have returned with a vinyl collection of previously unreleased demos, Present From the Past (think about it for a second). The album was made available to South Florida record stores — including Sweat, Radio-Active Records, Museo del Disco, and Yesterday and Today — for Record Store Day and is now available on Amazon.
The demos were recorded after Nuclear Valdez split from its former label, Sony. "They went into the studio very angry and recorded some kick-ass songs," Tovar says.
Putting together the compilation was a labor of love for the band and a tedious task for lead singer Froilan Sosa, who took the time to convert about 50 DATs (digital audio tapes) to an electronic format.
"I've been wanting to archive [the songs] in a digital format in a computer on a hard drive, because I know that it's a matter of time before the tapes deteriorate. As a matter of fact, the tapes had been deteriorating, and a few of them broke in the process," Sosa says.
"It was painstaking," he says. "You've got to run it in real time, so if the DAT has two hours of music, it takes two hours for that DAT to finish, and I had 50 DATs. Not all of them are two hours, but all of them are at least over an hour."
For many of the musicians and fans who frequented Miami rock shows in the late '80s and throughout the '90s, Nuclear Valdez remains one of the city's greatest "what if?" stories. But aside from creating the compilation for their still-loyal fan base, the band is not too preoccupied with rehashing the past, Sosa suggests.
"Like everybody, we wanted to be successful," he says. "I'm not going to throw the word 'rock star' out, but we definitely wanted to be musicians who were able to make a living at it, and in our minds we were hoping to do this for years to come. I think that our timing was really lousy."
Tovar agrees. "Timing in the music business is everything," he says. "Nuclear Valdez is not a hair band; they're not Cinderella. They're not Poison or Ratt or any of those bands from the '80s. At the same time, they are not a classic-rock act like Tom Petty or Bryan Adams or Neil Young or any of those people who are big today from the '80s."
Tovar believes Sony had difficulty categorizing Nuclear Valdez in an increasingly changing rock-music market. Adding to their troubles, a seismic shift was on the horizon.
"All of a sudden, the world changed when Nirvana came onboard. It changed radio; it changed music. Everything changed. Nirvana opened the door for Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and all these people who came from Seattle, and that whole grunge thing came about, and the Nukes were caught between a rock and a hard place."
Sosa adds that technological shifts from a preference for vinyl and cassettes to CDs only exacerbated existing problems.
While Sosa is soft-spoken and positively Zen as he reflects on Nuclear Valdez's story, the loss still appears to sting Tovar. It's clear he views it not as a personal loss, but one for the masses.
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"MTV loved Nuclear Valdez," he says, elongating the word "loved" for emphasis. "We even did an early version of Nuclear Valdez doing Unplugged. They loved the band."
In its influential, taste-making heyday, the network supported music videos from the band's first two albums, including a video for the song "Summer," which was partly shot at Churchill's Pub. This summer, the Nukes will reunite there for their first show in four years, where they'll play songs they never got to perform live. It's a rare event: They've played only three shows in the past 15 years.
After all this time, Sosa is far enough removed from the emotional roller coaster of his time in the music industry to have let go of animosity or feelings of regret, and he sounds genuinely grateful for the opportunities the band was afforded during its time in the spotlight.
"It's hard to look back and actually say, 'I wish' [or] 'What would have happened if...?' We tried our best, and it is what it is. I think we're very happy that we were able to tour in Europe and all over the United States, and we had pretty good local success here — videos on MTV and worldwide exposure — so for that, I think we're very happy."