If you’ve ever felt like ‘cuttin’ the rug,’ in or around Colorado’s San Luis Valley, there’s a very good chance that you may have ‘thrown chancla’ to the sounds of Indian Nickel. It’s one of the best-known and popular bands in the region and may well be the longest performing Latino band in the state. It’s been playing together since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon---1969!
The group is made up of five musicians including Leroy Casias, Jeffrey Jacques, Floyd Martinez, Johnny Overton and Vernin Padilla. Overton is the group’s drummer, Jacques plays keyboard, the rest share bass, lead and rhythm guitar responsibilities.
Like baseball’s Yankees or famous musical groups like The Platters, Temptations or Delphonics, players and performers come and go. Some tire of the road, others sometimes die. If you’re the Yankees, you lose Derek Jeter, you find yourself another shortstop. If you’re a band and you lose a drummer or backup singer, you scour the landscape, search gin joints and hash houses---anywhere music’s played---until you find the right musician or voice that’ll keep the group going. And that’s the story of Indian Nickel, though Casias and Martinez have been around since the beginning.
“We play everything,” said Padilla. Working the register at his family’s convenience store and gas station in San Luis, Padilla spins the tale of the band in between customers. “Hold on,” he asks as he answers a customer. “You want ten dollars’ worth of gas?” A voice on the speaker confirms the amount. Transaction complete, Padilla returns to the interview.
“Last week we played in Alamosa at Cinco de Mayo,” he recalled. The night before Indian Nickel played a gig in Taos. Padilla said the Taos job even had people who drove up from Las Cruces. “We play for all ages, young, old, rock’n’roll,’ Spanish, country. Everything.” The group has a CD that it’s releasing next month. Its liner notes will tell its story.
Casias and Martinez were there for the first note, first song, first performance. “Jeffrey and Johnny joined more than twenty years ago. I’ve been playing since 2005,” said Padilla. “We pretty much play every weekend, especially in the summer.” The band plays graduations, wedding; It plays wherever its asked. “Rocky Ford, La Junta; we’re booked the whole summer,” said Padilla.
The band’s big thing now is getting ready to roll out its CD, “Celebrating 50 Years of Indian Nickel.” There won’t be anything original on the CD, just cover songs but with their own personal touch. “We do everything in our own style.” Fans can look forward to an eclectic mix that includes “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Cariño Nuevo,” “Corazon Pequeño,” and more.
After half a century of gigs, a lot of things change, though not the group’s name. It, incidentally, came via the logo on the ‘Indian Nickel’ drum set the band used. The group liked it and it stuck. It may be old, but being in the band, said Padilla, doesn’t get old. “When everybody’s clapping and screaming and enjoying itself, it just gives us more motivation to keep playing. It’s crazy how the crowd can make us play. We enjoy it.”
Casillas was living the small-town life before the band came together. His only ‘gigs’ were around the holidays when he and his uncle would go house to house singing and performing. Friends who took note of his ability would always ask him to play.
He first hooked up with Martinez, “then I found me a drummer.” The first gig---a wedding in Ignacio---quickly followed. They’ve been playing ever since. And friendships have only grown stronger.
“We’re very tight; we communicate well with each other; we just do our own stuff and we enjoy it,” he said from his home in Taos that he shares with his second wife. His first passed away a few years ago.
There are no plans for the band---one he jokingly calls ‘the Mexican Rolling Stones’---to ‘call it a day. But if and when that day does arrive, Martinez, after some thought said, ‘We’ll probably open with ‘La Bamba,’ and close with ‘Ayúdeme.’