Like the title of his Lava debut album (due May 13), Franky Perez is a “Poor Man’s Son.” But he’s also his mother’s little boy.
After signing with Jasom Flom’s label, Perez came through on a promise he made to his mom: He would reunite her with her mother, who lives in Cuba.
“The first thing I did was pay to have my grandmother smuggled in through Mexico,” Perez said recently. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep her here. I wish she could’ve stayed forever, but she had family back home she didn’t want to leave.
“We got her healthy, got her to see doctors, loaded her up with things to take back home. It was an amazing reunion, just seeing my mother and grandmother together after so many years. It was so worth it.”
Waiting three years for his big-label debut to see the light of day was worth it, too, he says. The rock singer’s brand of storytelling, already mentioned in the same breath of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, floored Flom, who promptly signed him a few years ago.
“I have a very supportive team and label,” Perez said. “They gave me time to grow. Jason saw something in me and gave me time to grow as an artist and a songwriter. He let me produce the record myself, which is unheard of, really, for a new artist.
“There’s 17 songs on the record – actually, 18, if you count the hidden track. It’s called ‘Poor Man’s Son,’ but I call it my ‘Recession Special.’ We got to 18 songs from 43 songs that I had in the can, fully mixed and ready to go.”
From beginning to end, Perez touches on his blue-collar upbringing, with odes to Miami’s Little Havana (“Southwest Side”) and the bright lights of his native Las Vegas (“Forever 17” and “Angel Park”). He sprinkles the tracks with hints of Cuban rhythms, classic rock and soul.
Perez credits the diversity in his sound to his parents.
“They’re both Cuban exiles in Miami,” he said. “They fled communism. I was fortunate as a child when my parents bought three stacks of records from a garage sale. They really wanted to be part of America so they wanted all different sounds. I grew up with these records. They were the soundtrack of my life.
“The records were everything from country to rock ‘n’ roll and soul. I was influenced by so many different genres and different artists, so I can’t pinpoint one. My father has always been a huge fan of music and he loved all styles. My mother is a poet, and she used to sing a style called punto guajiro; it’s the Cuban equivalent of American blues. I woke up to that music every day as an alarm clock.”
Yes, Perez is a poor man’s son. His father waited tables in Las Vegas casinos for 26 years and recently retired. But the album title also symbolizes music that reaches the masses, he says.
“It’s a working-class record for working-class people,” he said.
That work ethic is resonating even in the oft-jaded world of radio. Perez recounts how he recently performed for the program director and his staff at a radio station as part of a nationwide promotional tour.
“I played a set of three songs, and the program director grabs me and says, ‘Come with me,’ ” Perez said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh shit, they’re kicking me out.’ He walked me into the DJ’s booth, handed the DJ my CD and said, ‘I think this song (titled ‘Something Crazy,’ the album’s first single) should be played.’
“I said, ‘You’re putting that on right now?’ The DJ said, ‘You make it sound like it’s your first time,’ and I said, ‘It is.’ I got to hear my song played on the air. I almost wept. You work so long, so hard for something and to see something like that, someone wanting to push good music, I couldn’t be happier.”
Granted, there’s still a lot of hard work ahead for Perez – more touring, more promo appearances, more interviews – but after waiting so long, he feels like he’s just getting started.
“Sometimes the payoff looks so far away, so dismal,” he said. “If you want to do this, you just have to commit a hundred percent. It’s going to get rough; that’s when you work harder.
“But I’m really proud of this record, genuinely. I don’t believe in album fillers; sometimes people put in songs because they didn’t have anything else to put on it. I believe in every song on this record; it’s the best I can do at this point in my life. I hope people get to hear it. If not, I’ll just keep on trying.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “In the fifth grade, I got N.W.A.’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ on cassette so I could play it on my Walkman in case my parents heard it. But luckily their English was still bad, they couldn’t tell what they were saying.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I can’t remember the first one, but the most memorable one was Paul McCartney in Vegas. I was 16, and we had seventh-row tickets. I remember watching everyone around me singing ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed.’ I was looking up in the sky; it was glowing from all the lights. I was thinking, ‘This is the gig. This man moves people with his music. These people, in times of need, go to his records.’ ”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I’ve had so many. I was a laborer on a construction site in Las Vegas, which means I was on the black-tar roof when it was 110 degrees. That was rough. I also delivered flowers for a summer. For me, that was the worst. One time, a guy delivered – what a jackass – flowers to his mistress but sent them by mistake to his wife. The wife sees the card and learns of the relationship and she goes nuts on me. I’m just the messenger. She follows me back to the flower van; as I’m getting to the door, I realized I locked the keys inside. While I’m calling my boss to bring me keys, she sat outside and yelled at me for 10, 15 minutes. Needless to say, that job lasted one more week.”
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ON THE WEB: www.franky-perez.com.