The boys of COKE (Opus) are back for a mega Open House with Mantrap on April 28 at the Elk’s Club in Miami.
I sat down with COKE lead singer Frankie B (Frank Batista) a few days ago to get the scoop, and the conversation turned into a nostalgic recollection of anecdotes going back to 1972-73.
At it’s inception, the bands’ name was not COKE. The original name of the group was “Instant Garage Band.” The name COKE emerged later during a rehearsal session when the original members decided they needed a catchier name. Those founding members were Ariel Hernandez (bass), Paul “Polito” Garcia (guitar), Ruben Perez (drums), Gary (lead vocal), and an Italian fellow by the name of Tony (keyboard) who was sipping a Coca-Cola during rehearsal and said “why don’t we call it COKE.” As they say, the rest is history. From that day on “Instant Garage Band” was COKE – short and sweet.
So sweet that the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., got a whiff of it when the band started getting noticed outside of Miami and didn’t like the idea. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute, but first I want to share with you how the group morphed into the COKE we remember as fans. By the way, I apologize for excluding the last names of some of the original members (Instant Garage Band,) but it’s been so long since the remaining members lost touch with them that memory escapes them. If you happen to know or have kept in contact with them, please feel free to leave your comments in the comment section below. (Please read comment policy first.)
When Gary (lead vocal) left the group to join a recognized band that was touring on the national scene, they brought in a Puerto Rican fellow by the name of Will to replace Gary as lead vocalist. The members that followed next – to either add instruments to the band or replace other members – were in this order; Joe “Tito” Rubio (keyboard), Victor Rodriguez (alias “Pink Panther” on trumpet), Cesar Godinez (trumpet) and Peter Fernandez as lead singer. These four members along with original members Ariel Hernandez (bass), Paul “Polito” Garcia (guitar), Ruben Perez (drums) became COKE as we knew them.
COKE Takes Miami By Storm
One of the most recognized local bands in Miami at the time were the Antiques. The Antiques were in high demand for Quinces, Open Houses and private events, but that was about to change. You see, in 1971 a “Battle of the Bands” event took place at Dinner Key Auditorium. Much to everyone’s surprise, including the Antiques, little known COKE played so well that day the crowning Antiques had their work cutout for them. Lead singer Frank Batista of the Antiques – who later went on to sing for COKE remembers this…
“It was surreal. These guys (COKE) came out of nowhere and where now challenging us for first place. At that moment I realized the big prize was up for grabs because these guys were playing like pros.”
The Battle of the Bands first prize winner (or winners I should say) turned out to be both COKE and The Antiques. It became a three way tie between COKE, The Antiques and 2 Plus 1 (if I’m not mistaken.) The award ceremony took place at Salon Sophia, and the trophies were presented to the bands by “La Gorda de Oro.” Do you remember “La Gorda de Oro?” She was Mirta Silva, the Puerto Rican singer, composer and television producer who was affectionately known as “La Gorda De Oro”.
That event put COKE on the local map and it set the stage for a recording opportunity that allowed the band to get recognized in other markets like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico. That’s when the Coca-Cola Bottling Company steps in and stops the boys dead on their tracks. In order to protect its brand, the company served them with a legal letter to cease and desist from using the Coke brand as their name. Ouch! This put a dampener on things for sure. By now the band had already established an identity and had carved a niche for itself with its fusion of Latin rock, psychedelia, and funk that was part of the Miami Sound.
In March of 1973, COKE was #14 in Chicago in the Latin Billboards and #12 in Los Angeles (see figure 1 on the right.) They were still climbing the charts and the record promoters had a lot of money at stake, so they replaced the K with Q (COKE to COQE) to stay under the radar of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Two months later in May of ’73, COKE had climbed to #2 in Miami with the Antiques trailing close behind at #4 (see figure 2.) The following month COKE had dropped to # 6 in Miami while the Antiques hit #1 with “Dias Como Hoy” sung by Eddy Diaz.
The demand from the Coca-Cola Bottling Company to cease and desist came the following year in ’74. That very same year, the band officially changed their name to “Opus” upon the release of their second album entitled ‘Opus’ featuring Frankie B (Frank Batista) as lead singer. The album included popular hits such as “Beware”, “Marta” and “Get Yourself Up”. Shortly after, the band recruited saxophonist, Chester Rosas-Guyon. Months later Peter Fernandez joined the Antiques as lead singer and Joe “Tito” Rubio on keyboard and were part of the “Antiques Experience” – the album with the hit song “Cuando Vuelva a tu Lado.”
The Comeback of the Miami Open Houses.
In March of 2009 there was an event put together by Maria Martinez from Execumar at Alcazaba in Coral Gables called “Old School”. Performing that night were Carlos Oliva, Frankie Marcos, Peter Fernandez and Frank Batista with Luis Serrano. It was a great evening of Miami old school music. Then a month later Cindy Cutler organized a High School Alumni Dance at Immaculata-La Salle High School which set the stage for what was to come by the end of the year.
On December 11, 2009 the band Mantrap reunited to officially mark the comeback of the Open Houses in Miami. It was a memorable evening with a packed house at The Club at Renaissance. From that day on a number of band members have made an effort to reunite and take us back once again to that youthful era in Miami we loved so much.
There was a reunion concert in February of 2011 with World of Matter, Hemlock and The Warlocks. El Conjunto Universal reunited to perform with Mantrap at a huge Baile Cubano/Open House that was out of this world. Another great event was the August 14, 2010 Open House with COKE and Mantrap. Then the following year, COKE teams up with The Warlocks to what became known as the mother of Open Houses.
Manny Salas from the Antiques organized a concert event at Belen Roca Theater that ended with a grand finale of fellow musician coming on stage and jamming with the band like there was no tomorrow. Then COKE teamed up with Queen’s Kids for another great Open House benefiting Toys for Tots. And last but not least, the still popular Peter Fernandez organized and promoted his Open House event at Magic City Casino that left the crowd yearning for more.
It’s happening again on April 28, 2012 and this time it is Mantrap and Opus (COKE) at the Elk’s Club in Miami. Opus will feature four of it’s original members; Frank Batista (lead vocal, percussion) Ruben Perez (drums,) Ariel Hernandez is flying in from Houston (bass,) and renowned UM Jazz Band member Chester Rosas-Guyon (on saxophone.)
Joining the boys will be Chuchi Jorge (the talented trumpet player who’s played with Arturo Sandoval and Carlos Santana,) Luis Perez (formerly Miami Sound Machine on trombone,) Danny Peña (who’s played with Tito Puente Jr., on Congas,) Manny Miranda (who joined Tito Puente, Jr., in Puerto Rico for a USO tour on bass,) Carlos Valdes (who recorded with Jose Jose and toured with Roberto Jordan in Mexico on guitar,) and lastly Israel Diaz (founding member of MainStreet band and graduate of Amadeo Roldan music conservatory in Havana on keyboard.) Wow, that’s a mouthful!
If you want to enjoy an evening of nostalgic Miami sounds of the 70’s with the Opus songs you remember like, “Beware”, “Get Yourself Up”, “Marta”, “Bang Bang” and the all popular rendition of “Sabor A Mi” with Chuchi Jorge on trumpet, make it a point to join your contemporary party animals for a night you won’t forget. You’ll hate yourself if you miss this Open House.
So join your host Mike InTheNight and DJ Alex Gutierrez for an unforgettable evening of music and dancing. Mantrap’s Miguelito Martin and the charming Jackie Molinares will thrill you with romantic melodies of the 70’s. Your spouse or significant other will think you’ve fallen in love with them all over again when you hold them tight to the songs of Mantrap. These two bands play music for everybody – whether it’s a romantic tune or a funky beat, you’ll love an evening with Opus and Mantrap.
Save the date because on Saturday, April 28 there’s an Open House dance that just won’t be the same without YOU!
For more information on COKE/Opus and many other Miami Bands of the 70’s, please visit DJ Alex Gutierrez’s website.
Opus/Mantrap Open House
Here’s the review of the April 28th Open House in video form. It was a funky night full of energy and FUN, and the icing on the cake was meeting Facebook friends in real life who I only knew on Facebook. Enjoy!
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