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David Adame /Caller-Times
Chris Perez plays with his band at Chaparral Station on March 23. After the death of his wife and musical partner Selena, the songwriter and guitarist made a move away from Tejano to lead a rock band.
Inspired by Selena, he has moved on, stepped out of the shadows


By Paige Ross
Caller-Times

   
Life has become hectic for Chris Perez since he won a Grammy last month.
   "It's one of those 'be careful what you wish for, you just might get it' things," he said of the award for Latin Rock/Alternative Performance won by his group, The Chris Perez Band.
   Since the ceremony he has been planning videos, enjoying his baby daughter, wrestling with a bout of writer's block, fielding film soundtrack offers and preparing a second album. The award and praise for the band has opened some doors.
   "It just feels like we have a little bit more freedom to experiment," Perez said.
   After the death of his wife and musical partner Selena, he began to write, pouring himself into new musical directions, influenced by his early love of rock.
   In 1997 he began working with longtime friend, singer and lyricist John Garza, on the new music. Joe Ojeda, who had played keyboards in Selena's band, Los Dinos, with Perez, joined them. The three men became the center of the new project, steering the group away from Tejano, working hard to establish themselves in a different market.
   It paid off. The Chris Perez Band toured as the opening act for Spanish-language rock stars Mana; played the Watcha Tour, a major, roving Latin rap, hip-hop and rock showcase; played Woodstock; and toured with The John Popper Band, led by the Blues Traveler frontman.
  
But while he has made a break from Tejano, Perez's new music has a strong link to Selena. His guitar is etched with a white rose, the flower that has become a symbol of Selena. His band won its Grammy for "Resurrection," its first album. The initial single from the album was "Best I Can," a song that flowed from Perez's sense of loss.
   "I sat down and the song poured out from the emotion I was feeling," Perez has said, noting that it was one of those rare compositions that emerge fully formed.
   "I do believe, up in heaven, Selena is a fan of the Chris Perez Band."

   Now, Perez is writing again, working on another album and happy with the results.
   "I was nervous and had writer's block. I didn't know what lane to go down. But I wrote five songs, and, like the ones on the album, they were all different from each other, but they had the sound. So there really is a common thread to it. I was so relieved."
   There are other joys in his life as well, including his 14-month-old daughter, Cassie, companion Venessa Villanueva and their home in San Antonio.
   After Selena died, he had to find a way both to honor her and step out of her shadow. To do that, he needed the support and understanding of the people around him.
   "Our families understand. The guys in the band understand. That's part of the reason I'm playing the music that I play, because I think it would be harder for me to be up on that bandstand (playing Tejano) without her."
   His public profile as Selena's surviving husband is a heavy weight that a new musical direction helped to ease.
   "It's a constant struggle. 'Me the widower.' I'm way more than that."
   "I still have knick-knacks, you know, not really memorabilia, but things that remind me of (Selena).
   "Sometimes I'll be sitting, going through the CDs and see ones that were hers and think, 'I better play that, she really liked it a lot.'
   "She was a huge Bonnie Raitt fan. (She also liked) Garth Brooks and, of course, Janet Jackson.
   "I remember, one day we were sitting around talking about music and she told me her very favorite, favorite singer was a traditional singer from Spain, Rocio Durcal."
   They spoke of music in many ways.
   "She'd give me her input, every now and again. I miss that. There are times I feel lost writing a tune and when I'm not sure which way to go, I miss being able to talk to her, to ask her."
   While pleased with the new direction he has taken, Perez stays attuned to Tejano music, proclaiming himself the biggest fan of the Kumbia Kings, the band led by Selena's brother, A.B. Quintanilla. And he talks of a return to Tejano.
   "In a perfect world I'd like to do this for a couple a years and maybe someday, maybe someday - I've learned to never say never - we could make an album, but do it an different way," Perez said. "We've got a great arranger in Joe, he's a great Tejano songwriter. Maybe we could release a (Tejano) album, take it out to just a few cities . . . and then just put it away."
   The Chris Perez Band recently played the Tejano Awards show in San Antonio.
   "That was us, showing our support. We didn't play Tejano, but we did do what we do. "Even though we don't play the music, we still like to go to those things and be seen as family. "I miss what I had. I miss being able to play with the people like we had before.
   "We are Los Dinos. The band is still around. We're just not playing or writing or working together."

  Staff writer Paige Ross can be reached at 886-3753 or by e-mail at rossp@caller.com

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