Gabe’s songwriting gift shines on this collection and his singing voice rings with the authenticity of his Texas upbringing. His country roots run deep and they probably would have kept him planted in his native soil if it hadn’t been for the unconditional support of his late father, Juan Garcia.
“He was always trying to show me off because he was so proud of what I do,” says Gabe. “My dad was the type who was always saying, ‘My son sings,’ while I’d be hanging back, too embarrassed.”
Sing it, he does. On his Gabe Garcia CD, he reveals himself to be a remarkably self-assured vocalist for a debut artist. Throughout the album, Gabe displays stunningly mature tone and phrasing. These are the vocals of a man who was born to sing.
He glides confidently along to the open-highway rhythms of the toe-tapping “One More Memory for the Road.” He is lilting, soft and gently seductive on the insistently rhythmic “Love That.” There’s a smile in his voice as he delivers the relaxed bopper “Country Sure Looks Good on You.” He gives the bi-lingual “Rosa Del Mar” a warm, burnished-bronze delivery while swaying to its vacation-hammock vibe. He is drawling and good natured on the country rocker “Turn on the Texas.” Gabe Garcia co-wrote all of these songs for his record.
The other half of the CD shows him to be every bit as fine an interpreter of others’ compositions as he is of his own. “Missin’” is jaunty and effortlessly countrified with Gabe’s light Texas accent deployed perfectly for its escapist lyric. On the throbbing, romantic pounder “Stuck in My Head,” he reaches for extra energy in his muscular tenor upper range. Only an artist totally committed to country music can deliver a song like “Cowboys and Soldiers,” and Gabe gives it ultimate backwoods believability. The broken-hearted drawl in “Three Minutes” reveals him as a first-class honky-tonk vocal stylist. The power ballad of regret “I Had to Be Me” illustrates how dramatic Gabe can be as a singer. He uses the full dynamic range of his remarkable voice as he dips into his baritone range in the verses, then soars into his tenor on the choruses.
His father’s pride in Gabe’s talent must have been mixed with a little surprise because there was little in the family background to suggest that it would give rise to a singer-songwriter so accomplished.
“Nobody in my immediate family had ever done anything musically,” Gabe recalls. “I’ve heard that my great-grandparents might have played accordion or some kind of musical instrument and had music in the fields when they were migrant workers. The only person I can think of who ever did anything with music was my grandma’s first cousin, Rosita Fernandez.”
There is a Rosita Bridge in San Antonio that is named for her. Lady Bird Johnson called the Tejano performer, “San Antonio’s First Lady of Song.” Rosita Fernandez (1919-2006) was a local legend who sang in mariachi bands, had her own radio show and eventually made her way to Hollywood to sing in Disney films and John Wayne features.
She isn’t the only family member with a landmark named in her honor. Gabe’s father, Juan Garcia, was a city councilman in Lytle, TX for 16 years and the grateful community named its park pavilion after him. He was also Gabe’s biggest booster.
Gabe doesn’t know where his musical gifts came from but does remember realizing that he could sing while he was still in grade school. No one else knew it, however, because the boy was too shy to utter a note in public. Papa Juan bought a karaoke machine when Gabe was 13. Older brother Juan Jr. kept it in his room and practiced singing and playing his guitar to it.
“When everybody would leave the house I’d go in there and sing with the blinds closed,” Gabe recalls. “I made sure nobody was coming. And when they did, I’d put everything up and go in the living room.”
Eventually, Juan heard his boy’s voice. At Juan’s urging, Gabe Garcia made his public singing debut at age 14 performing at his father’s 50th birthday party. Older brother Juan Jr. had a friend in the Nashville music business who produced a two-song demo tape on the youngster. Then it was back to singing at church and community functions at home. Gabe’s karaoke repertoire consisted of hits by John Michael Montgomery, Brooks & Dunn and, of course, area mega-hero George Strait, who lives just a few miles from Lytle.
“When my brother left for college, he left his guitar behind. I picked that up when I was 16 and taught myself to play with a Mel Bay instruction book. That’s what I did every day. Practice. After school, all the time. I started singing in a band when I was 17.”
Gabe’s proud papa bought him electric drums, audio equipment and anything else he thought might help his son’s progress. The family was on vacation at South Padre Island when his father read that Nashville songwriter Clint Bullard was performing at a local hotel. He took Gabe to the show and talked Clint into letting the youngster sing a few songs.
“Dad was always looking stuff up in the paper about music so he wanted to take me down there. Clint let me get up and sing a few songs. He invited me to come back the next day and sing some more.”
With recordings of his songs by Highway 101, Linda Davis and Tracy Byrd, Clint was no stranger to Music City. He invited Gabe to come to Nashville to record a 1996 10-song CD. By this time, the high-school student was opening shows for Johnny Rodriguez, Ray Price, Kitty Wells, Blackhawk and other country stars. He also sang at the district, state and national levels in FFA music competitions. In 2005, Gabe Garcia won the Texas first-place title in the Colgate Country Showdown.
Following high school, Gabe often sang with Tommy Calame’s locally popular country band. Tommy introduced him to Nashville songwriter/producer Bart Butler (Bobby Pinson’s “Don’t Ask Me How I Know,” etc.). Bart co-wrote songs with Gabe and introduced him to dozens of Nashville music folks. He also produced Gabe’s 2006 CD Shot Glass and used the album as a promotional device to attract record labels on Music Row. Two major labels expressed interest. Both of them strongly urged Gabe to leave Texas and move to Nashville.
“I had a great job,” Gabe reports. “I’d been 10 years with the electric company as a substation electrician working at high-voltage jobs. All the guys there wanted me to make the move, while I was young, especially because I had label interest.
“My dad was saying, ‘You need to make [Shot Glass] into a real album so we have something to sell to the people. He’d been pushing me to do that. I kept putting it off but I finally made the decision.
“Then my dad passed away from a heart attack in October of 2007. I think I got the finished albums all pressed and in boxes two weeks after he passed. I wanted to do something for my dad, because he’d always been so supportive. He died in October, I quit my job in November and moved to Nashville in January of 2008.
“The first two years I was in Nashville were right after my dad had passed. It was hard. It was tough. I’d cry over every little thing.”
Still, the wheels turned quickly. One of the people Bart Butler had introduced Gabe to was country star John Rich. Three months after the move to Music City, Gabe Garcia won a slot on the national television competition Nashville Star, judged by John. Gabe finished second and eventually signed with John Rich for song publishing, management and production.
In 2011, John hosted a small showcase at his home where Gabe sang his original songs with just his own guitar accompaniment. That same night, Average Joe’s Entertainment offered Gabe Garcia a recording contract. John Rich and Charlie Pennachio co-produced his highly accomplished, debut album for the label.
“It’s pretty exciting,” says Gabe Garcia, who is bi-lingual in English and Spanish. “I’m proud to be part of a tradition that includes Johnny Rodriguez, Freddy Fender, Emilio, Rick Trevino and John Arthur Martinez. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had someone like me. So I think this whole thing is pretty cool.”