It’s not often that a band creates a vital, crackling new sound while being so deeply rooted in tradition, but that’s exactly what the San Antonio three-piece the Last Bandoleros has accomplished with its signature “Tex-Flex” style, which they describe as a blend of Tex-Mex and Latin music with modern sonics. You can add in a healthy dose of Beatles and Eagles-style tight vocal melodies, and some bar-shaking Texas rock and blues. Grounding the unit, recently heralded by Rolling Stone as “the most important new Country band,” is bassist Diego Navaira, whose penchant for fat-toned, land-locked bass lines with a melodic flair is the foundation of all things Tex-Flex. Also sharing lead vocal duties, he joins his brother Emilio on drums and vocals, and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Fuentes.
Diego, the son of the late Tejano superstar Emilio Navaira, grew up playing in his father’s band from the age of 8. He started messing around with a Squier P-Bass as a teen, but truly fell in love with the instrument when he heard the Beatles and “began studying every album.” In addition to Paul McCartney, he cites Benjamin Orr and Sting as key influences. He laughs, “I didn’t feel like a bassist until we formed the Last Bandoleros. There was never a discussion about who was going to play bass in the band. I kind of just took the job.” Although he mostly plays with a pick, for the band’s Bolero-style ballads, Diego will often use a fingerstyle Spanish guitar technique called Apoyando that he picked up from Sting when the band toured with him in 2017. He can also be heard using standard finger plucking throughout Samatha Fish’s latest album, Faster [Rounder Records, 2021], at the urging of producer (and Bandoleros manager) Martin Kierszenbaum, who provided his Rickenbacker 4003.
Whatever position his right hand is in, Diego describes his Bandoleros bass approach as locking in with brother Emilio’s kick and snare drum. “I play off of what he’s doing. That’s where it starts, and from there I’m mostly playing the root and fifth of each chord, with some passing tones and the occasional counterpoint. I keep it classy to always serve the song.” Tone-wise, he likes a little dirt on his basses, calling it a signature part of the band’s Tex-Flex sound. “My gain is probably turned to the right a little more than most people. Even on the slower, softer tunes I want the bass to growl.” A fan of short-scale basses, his main instrument is a 2012 Gibson SG Standard Bass, and his backup is a Gibson Les Paul Junior Tribute DC. Both sport old GHS Flatwound Boomers. Onstage he plugs into an Ampeg SVT-CL head with an SVT-410HLF cabinet. His pedals are a Boss Bass Driver and a Boss Super Octave. Diego, who is eager to get back on the road, can be heard on the Last Bandoleros' two latest singles, “Maldita” and “Mas Dinero.”
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