Home Articles August 2011 The Boys of Mark Keppel High School
The Boys of Mark Keppel High School
Written by J. Ledesma   


The Boys of Mark Keppel High School

Centered in the heart of the SGV is Monterey Park, home to Mark Keppel High School.   As a young kid I feared Mark Keppel High School as they were the rival school in my district.  San Gabriel and Monterey Park were arch rivals on and off the athletic fields.  In the 70’s rival schools, and rival neighborhood gangs created a huge separation for young neighboring teens. This didn't seem to affect a select group of Boys from Mark Keppel High School who unknowingly found unity though music rather than separation through the local culture.  These guys carved their way through teenage angst armed with an instrument and a passion to play music whenever and wear ever they could.   Meet the boys of Mark Keppel High.  Sam Avila, John Avila, Sammy Sanchez and Mike Albert.  The names may not ring a bell but their accomplishments surely will. 


Meet MKHS Alumni: "Hammond" Sam Avila    

                                                          (Photo: "Unison" 1972, H. Ledesma, D. Lopez, J. Avila), S. Avila

Unison_Band_1972Sam Avila grew up on Emerson street in South San Gabriel along with his younger brother John Avila. They grew up in a house filled with music from both parents who sang and played guitar.  Music was commonly present in family celebrations for the Avila household. This  lay-ed a solid foundation for the brothers to become musically inclined. Sam fell in love with the Hammond B3 organ at a young age  and began playing in various backyard parties and cover bands.  He quickly developed a strong presence among local musicians who admired him for his bluesy techniques that were  reminiscent of Gregg Allman at that time. After MKHS Sam went off to the Military. Upon his return he collaborated with three other MKHS musicians, younger brother and bassist John Avila, Drummer Dave Lopez, and Guitarist Harvey Ledesma.  Together they formed the group  UNISON which was very popular in the neighboring area of MKHS.  They did several gigs in the SGV including a battle of the Bands competition in the early 70's  at East Los Angeles College. They played against two other SGV bands who are still around today; The Delgado Brothers and Cold Duck. Although they were considered musical rivals at that time, there was no rivalry.  These musicians still jam whenever possible and consider each other to be close friends and family.  

2-18-WT-Doheny-2011-0522-005e_1_webFast forward to 2011.  Sam is currently one of the best known Hammond B3 Blues Organ player in the world.  He has been touring globally for more than a decade playing with legendary blues guitarist Walter Trout playing the B3 organ and singing the blues. Walter Trout  has recorded 6 Billboard chart topping blues albums and is deeply rooted in Rock & Roll history along side with Canned Heat and John Mayall. Sam is currently touring with his son Danny Avila, who is Walter's guitar technician. Danny Avila is also a phenomenal guitarist in his own right and in addition to working with dad, he gets to Jam with Walter on few songs.  You can actually experience the show this month! If you act fast, you can see Walter Trout live with w MKHS alumni Sam Avila  BB King August 14th  at the Pacific Amphitheater in Orange County.  (Photo: Sam Avila & Walter Trout at the Doheny Blues Festival)

John_Availa_HS_pic  John_Avila_web

          (MKHS Class of 76)'                (John Avila today at recording Studio in San Gabriel)

Meet MKHS Alumni:  John Avila                                        

Like big brother to Sam, John is also an incredible stand out musician. John walked the halls of MKHS thinking and dreaming about music night and day.  Like brother Sam, he too found his calling for music by listening to the music of their parents.  John started on acoustic guitar but  soon after learned that the bass would be his pride and joy.  He too joined cover bands in the mid 70's singing and playing bass all over the SGV.  John was discovered early on in his career by local legends El Chicano.  He gained a lot of experience and notoriety  playing live shows to thousands worldwide with El Chicano, but that was just the start.  He returned from touring continued gigging as much as possible and writing his own music along with the support of his wife Angie Espinoza who is also his high school sweetheart. He started hanging out with neighboring San Gabriel High School alumni and drummer, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez.  Vatos suggested he audition for a Band that he was in with Danny Elfman. That band was just breaking out onto radio in the early 80's and they were called Oingo Boingo.  John Landed the gig and the rest is history. 


Once, John became comfortable touring and recording with Oingo Boingo, he started taking deep interest in writing and co-producing music with Elfman.  That's when John began to hone is production and writing skills.  John continued to play with Grammy Nominated Oingo Boingo for several years.  During the late 8o's John squeezed it time to play in a trio with Vatos and local guitarist Michael Tovar.  They had been friends for years and this gave John an outlet to create and conduct  his own music crafting.  The band was called Food For Feet and did well on national radio.  

Oingo Boingo finally said farewell in 1995, but by that time John had mastered skills in production, composition, sound reinforcement, engineering and recording technology.  That's when John decided to build his own studio in San Gabriel called Brando's Paradise.  Besides being a highly celebrated bassist, he is a well known record producer and music composer.  He produced the highly acclaimed Break out albums of Reel Big Fish and Voo Doo Glow Skulls.  John's credits include bassist for Steve Vai's album Fire Garden, Producer for two of  Robbie Krieger's (the Doors) albums, and several soundtracks like Collateral, Shallow Hal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica.  John played bass along side Willie Nelson in last years 2010 Farm Aid.  He is currently recording and producing one of America's hottest alternative bands called Mariachi El Bronx.

(See Video below  John Avila on Stage with Willie Nelson and Steven Tyler at FARM AID 2010)



Meet MKHS Alumni:  Sammy Sanchez    

If you have ever been to a concert with  Carlos Santana, James Taylor, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Toto, The Black Crowes, Keb Mo, Ben Harper, ZZ-Top, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt,  Stephen Stills, Ted Nudgent, Slash, Motley Crue, Morrisey, Crosby-Stills-Nash, then chances are good that you may have actually seen Sammy Sanchez.  He is a legendary Luthier and guitar technician who has toured and tech'ed for all these artists and more!  Repairing, maintaining, tuning and stage hand-offs during sets is what Sammy does best!

Rex_Bogue_Double_Rainbow_guitar__for_John_mclaughlinWhile at MKHS, he hung out with fellow classmates, John Avila (Oingo Boingo) and Mike Albert (Megadeth) who are still jammin buddies to this day.  Just out of high school, Sammy began working with San Gabriel Resident Rex Bogue who was a well known guitar Luthier.  One of Rex Bogue's most famous guitars is the 'Double Rainbow" played by John Mclaughlin.  This peaked Sammy's interest in guitar building and he began to learn all that he could from Rex.  In the early 80's Sammy started working for Nadines music store in Hollywood where he under-studied with the head luthier thier and later replaced him upon retirement.  That's were Sammy Met Ted Nugent who ended up taking him on tour.  Later Sammy started his own guitar shop and created his own line of boutique guitars and lap steel instruments.

  (Photo above : Mclaughlins Double Rainbow by Rex Bougue)

(Slash's Black Sanchez Guitar,     Sanchez Headstock,    Sanchez Lap Steel)

slash-played-sanchez-guitarSanchez_Headstock  Sanchez_Custom_Lap_Steel

Sammy continued to build guitars and tour for a few years.  He stopped building guitars when touring became just as lucritive but with  less overhead.  From that point on Sammy has been touring and performing custom repair and modifications for the industries finest. In addition to technician skills, Sammy is also an amazing musician.  He has performed with Ben Harper, Keb Mo and many of the other celebrity artists he has worked with.  Most recently he has been working with Hall of Fame guitarist and singer Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Keb Mo. He is the industries go to guy when it comes to  repairs, modifications, product reviews and maintianence.  


(photo above: Sanchez performing on his lap steel with Keb Mo)

(photo below: Sammy working out a tune with Oscar Amaro and Jackson Browne)


mike_albert MAP

Meet MKHS Alumni: Mike Albert                            (Photo: Mike Albert Project)

Mike Albert began playing the guitar at the age of 9 in Monterey Park. He to hung out with musican classmates John Avila & Sammy Sanchez.  Through out high school his ability on the instrument was well known and most parties he played at were packed or broken up because of the masses of people. By the age of 18 Mike began teaching the guitar professionally at Johnny Thompson’s Music Store in Monterey Park California. Being their youngest teacher ever. While teaching he developed a large clientele of students. After a year and a half Mike received a better offer from Berry & Grassmueks in Pasadena CA. that was frequented by guitar great Eddie Van Halen who soon became a friend of Mikes, being 1975 it was years before the first Van Halen album. At the time they developed a mutual admiration of each others playing ability but unfortunately never got involved with each other’s projects. At that time nobody was using the tremolo bar at all, since Hendrix and Blackmore from years before and recommended it to Edward who was using a Flying V through a 50-watt Marshall. Eddie thanked Mike for the advice and was soon using his tremolo armed Charvel, the rest is history  In 1978 the word was out that Frank Zappas “Reuben and the Jets” band was looking for a lead guitarist. Mike got the audition and soon was performing and recording with the group. Although the album never did anything, the professional atmosphere was a great learning experience.  During that time Mike did quite a few movie sound tracks including Cheech and Chongs’ “Nice Dreams” and performed live with Cheech and Chong as their lead guitarist. Cheech on vocal and Tommy Chong on rhythm guitar. Later Mike kept busy touring globally with SGV hometown heroes El Chicano for several years.

Mike_Albert_in_Megadeth_1983 In the early 80's , Dave Mustaine the leader of “Megadeth” had heard about Mike through Megadeth’s manager Jay Jones, because he was looking for another lead guitarist (Chris Poland had just left due to personal reasons). Dave’s reaction to Mike’s playing was (It was like) “blowing the top of my head off”. Mike was given the lead guitarist spot in Megadeth. Within 2 months of intense rehearsals Mike and his new band “Megadeth” were off on the bands first U.S. tour “KILLINGS MY BUSINESS TOUR”. The tour took them through over 40 cities. Co-headlining with them was “ANTHRAX”, “EXODOUS”, and “SLAYER”.  Needing a break from all the touring and endless rehearsals Mike began an intense “wood shedding” and writing period. At the time Mike wrote over 100 original songs, in somewhat the same vain of his Megadeth experience. He also returned to doing recording sessions and sound tracks and had placements in “Tia Carreras” “Hostile Intensions”, a “Budwieser Light” commercial, and a “Paul Rodriguez” TV special. Mike even has performed at the Los Angeles “Greek Theatre” and at the “Los Angeles Coliseum” with his own band.  The Original songs Mike has written took years to develop and finding the right musicians to interpret them was just as long. Mike released a few albums of his own  under the band name The Mike Albert Project" and his most recent release "Afterlife" on Big Deal Records is still in heavy rotation world wide.  He is currently a hired gun working on  numorus film and tv projects, recording a new album and working with world artist and violin player Shenkar (Shenkar credits: John Mclaughlin & "Shokti", Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen).

"To the boys of Mark Keppel High School, San Gabriel Valley Music Magazine Salutes your accomplishments.  You will forever be a part of our rich music history! "                                                                                                  editor: J. Ledesma