Joey Trujillo was what his cousin described as “a guitarist’s guitarist.”
And Carlos Trujillo Marquez, who heads the guitar department at the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics, should know.
He spent much of his life doing whatever he could to become the musician his cousin was pretty much “on the doorstep,” as he puts it.
Trujillo, a native of Phoenix whose life in music included sessional work in Los Angeles, a Michael Jackson tribute act, and tours with Sister Sledge, died on May 13 of complications from cancer.
He was 69 years old.
Debbie Sledge of Sister Sledge, remembers Trujillo, who appeared on the 1998 album “African Eyes”, as very friendly, laid back and good-natured but also very talented.
“It was a pleasure to work with him,” she says.
“And during the time he was with us he was very happy doing something he loved and being with friends. She missed him sorely because of his kindness and kindness. His talent will always be missed.
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How Trujillo got his first guitar
Trujillo was 9 or 10 when he got his first guitar.
An aunt who lived across the street, Lily Flores, also played the instrument and asked the young boys in Trujillo – Joey, Johnny and Danny – if they wanted an acoustic guitar she offered.
As Flores remembers, Johnny looked at it first and then handed it to Joey. The rest was family history.
Loretta Trujillo, says her brother was not inspired by any particular band.
“He was more interested in what he could make the guitar sound like,” she says.
“We didn’t have a radio back then. Joey would go to the record store and get records, then he would listen to the records over and over again until he could play the guitar to make it sound like the guitar on the record. ”
Marquez remembers her cousin like a natural, fine-tuning her chops on an electric Silvertone her mother picked up from Sears, where she worked.
“Right out of the door he got the touch,” he says.
“ Joey really stood out from the pack immediately ”
In 1964 the Beatles struck.
“So we all started playing in our neighborhood,” Marquez recalls.
“And Joey really stood out from the pack immediately. He just had a real gift. And the rest of us were always trying to catch up with him. He was such a great player, you couldn’t help but be in. I think he trained a lot. But he was like, ‘Oh, I just practice an hour a day.’ “
Johnny Trujillo remembers his brother’s elementary school band The Honey Pot covering “Gloria,” a garage-rock classic written by Van Morrison of Them, at Edison Elementary. In his early teens he knew many Ventures songs by heart.
David Lomeli, another cousin, said that when it came to playing music, “Joey was a monster. I come from a family of musicians. And Joey was by far the best at what he did. “
Marquez did all he could to imitate his cousin.
“Joey has been such an inspiration to me since we were kids,” he says. “And part of my love for the guitar is my love for Joey.”
At 17, Trujillo was invited to play at President Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969.
Loretta Trujillo says, “I don’t know how it went except he left and when he got home my mom was excited about it and Joey said, ‘Yeah, I hugged him the hand. So what? man ‘or something like that. ”
A former altar boy and a graduate of Phoenix North High School, Trujillo learned to play guitar and read music.
His sister said, “He went to ASU to study music and the teacher told him that he knew more about music than the teacher and that he could not teach him anything that he did not already know. “
Trujillo’s time as a Los Angeles-based session musician
Trujillo moved to Hollywood in the late 1970s.
It wasn’t long before he started playing with a group of other Phoenix transplanters known as Pages.
At that point, Marquez said, “We all thought, ‘Oh, he’s destined to be world famous.’
Two Pages members, Richard Page and Steve George, rose to world renown in a band called Mr. Mister in the 1980s. But by then, Trujillo had already parted ways with them, although he appeared on “Future Street”, a 1979 Pages album on Epic Records.
He stayed in Los Angeles for about a decade, picking up any session work he could while trying to promote his own original material. There he learned to make guitars at DeVry University.
“He played with a lot of musicians who would play with Michael Jackson and those kinds of concerts,” he says.
“He was in that crowd, but commercial success never came to him on a global scale. Yet he was always highly respected by everyone who knew his game.”
“ Whatever he heard he would pursue ”
Although he cut his teeth on rock ‘n’ roll, Trujillo was adept at many styles of music, from pop and R&B to jazz and blues.
“He played them all,” Lomeli says.
“He loved the blues, but I think his real passion was jazz because it allowed more freedom of expression and innovation.”
Marquez remembers once hearing Trujillo play “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King.
“When he played a BB King song, it sounded like BB King,” he says. “Even if he didn’t take it note for note, it was like it was note for note.”
Some of the local artists Trujillo has performed with over the years have included the Diana Lee Band, Tony Flores, Alice Tatum, Cold Shott and the Hurricane Horns, and Soul Persuasion.
Freddie Duran, another member of the local music scene with whom the guitarist has shared many stages, says playing with Trujillo has always been a pleasure.
“Anyone you talk to, you mention Joey Trujillo’s name, they’ll say one of the best guitarists they’ve ever heard,” says Duran.
“When I walked into a place and saw him on stage, I planned to stay awhile because I just had to listen to Joey and talk to him, man. She was one of the most spiritual people I have ever met. A crazy sense of humor. And musically? The way he played the guitar was so sweet, it was like butter, man. “
Marquez remembers what his guitar teacher at ASU had to say about Trujillo chops.
“When I was studying with him, he told me that when someone came into town and asked him if he would play on this gig where they wanted someone with a really good R&B feel but with jazz chops,” he was like, ‘Oh well, so Joey is your man. “
At one point, Marquez says, Trujillo told him he was releasing music.
“He said he was going to electronics school,” Marquez says.
“He was going to take a little truck, and he was going to drive and fix things. I thought, ‘God, how can you do that? You are such a good player. You should just play music your whole life. “And he said, ‘I just want something stable and calm.’ “
He tried this for a while, Marquez says.
“But eventually he started playing again. I was pretty happy.”
Trujillo never stopped pushing himself to improve on the guitar.
“He was always looking for knowledge, he was always playing,” Marquez says. “Whatever he heard, he would pursue, explore, seek.”
‘Playing the guitar was essential for him’
Lomeli remembers a recent visit with her cousin.
“A few months before his death, I went to visit him,” he says.
“And he was showing me a new picking arrangement that he had come up with. He was so proud of it, he couldn’t wait to present it. Of course, he died before he had that chance.”
The toughest days, Lomeli says, were when Trujillo couldn’t play the guitar.
“There, towards the end, when the radiation and chemotherapy were really starting to take their toll, he once said to me, ‘Do you know how sick I am? I didn’t even pick up my guitar today. ‘ For him, I think, music was something he had to do in life to make it through the day. The art he called playing the guitar was essential to him. “
The family are hosting a celebration of the event of the life of Trujillo at American Legion Station 41, 715 S. Second Ave., Phoenix, from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 24.
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