Lil’ Suzy, Angel “The Original Cover Girl”
and Lisette Melendez… Aka S.A.L.
Have you ever seen an S.A.L. performance? If you haven’t, then contact your local club or concert promoter and tell them that you want to see S.A.L.
As far as I know, S.A.L. is the absolute “Newest” Freestyle concept to actually have any kind of success, except for O.C.G. of course, but that’s another blog.
You see, S.A.L. was actually created from my own Laziness. Doesn’t make sense? Then read on. I’ve been on the road working with the incredible Lil’ Suzy, since she was 5 years old (yes I will have another blog based on this). Anyway, for approximately 25 years (sorry Suzy, this might reveal your age) I have been traveling the United states as well as Canada and Mexico with Freestyle’s Lil’ Sister. Every single weekend, I would meet Suzy either at her house or at the airport and off we went, 98 percent of the time we were flying to the West Coast. Texas, California, Arizona… yea you get the idea!
I truly love what I do and am so grateful to God for giving me this glorious life I live. But as I was getting older, the traveling was taking it’s toll. getting to the events was great, the flight and more importantly, the preparation for the flight was becoming a tedious ritual. For most Managers or Road Managers who travel with their artist, it might be a bit easier, but for me as a Manager and Booking Agent who was about to meet another very important client, the way I presented myself, was just as important as the way my artist presented herself.
So as the artist prepared, so did I. Fresh haircut, new clothes, and of course a new pair of sneakers. Hey, my clients have to send me money so let me at least put them at ease and present myself in a professional manner.
So off we went, every single weekend, me and Lil’ Suzy at first with either one of her parents and later, just her and I.
Then, I got with Angel, the lead singer of the hit girl group “The Cover Girls” the actual voice of all your favorite Cover Girl songs. her and I started dating, and eventually got married. Angel, had a lot of drama going on with her career, forces behind her were basically trying to wipe her out of the market. This was a situation that I had no experience with and really didn’t know how to handle it. The only advice I was able to give her was to sit back and stop performing while I try and figure this out.
Angel sat back for a year and put everything in my hands…. You should know the rest of this story!
So now, here I had two very talented and yes Beautiful young ladies who’s careers I was basically now responsible for. they both had tremendous Freestyle Hits and great stage presence, but there was just one problem. They reached different Freestyle Markets. Never thought something like this ever even existed.
While I had Suzy performing in San Jose California, I had Angel performing in Los Angeles. While Suzy was in Dallas, I had Angel is Arizona. Not that they both couldn’t or didn’t do the other markets, they did, I just couldn’t get them on at the same time. First off the two are pretty pricey individually, so together, they were an investment many promoters could handle.
I was able to book their shows (note, no one books them but me) without anyone losing out. I would just alternate them. It worked for a while, about a year, but I was getting beat up, note to mention I was gaining weight and me being so busy kept me from doing any kind of exercise. What does that have to do with the story you might ask? When was the last time you sat in one of those airplane seats?
I kept saying to myself, “I need to figure out a way of getting these girls to perform the same markets without compromising their fee”.
Angel and I had bought a Brown Stone in the Bronx and I booked a show in Rhode Island with her and Lisette Melendez. Suzy had just done the area so I couldn’t get her back their so soon. I’ve met Lisette in the past, but never really got to know her. She arrived in the Limo with her Husband Robert and we had a pleasant 4 hour ride to the club.
We all got to know each other and it was kind of cool being with another couple in the business. We got to the club, did the show and were out. The trip home was just as enjoyable. We learned a lot about Lisette and Rob in that short time and really dug them both.
When Angel and I got home that morning around 5am, I was wired and had this great idea, but was reluctant to even bring it up to Angel. Finally I told her that I think I found the bridge between her and Suzy, and that would be Lisette Melendez.
Lil’ Suzy Angel (OCG) Lisette Melendez
Lisette didn’t do as much West Coast as we did, but she held a strong and loyal fan base whom I thought would love to see these three ladies together. I had a song that I wrote years back, that Angel found laying in my paperwork. The song was called “Me And The Girls”. This I felt was the absolute best song for them and it would give the clubs a reason to book them together.
Angel loved the idea (she’s always supportive of my ideas) and the next morning I presented it to Lisette. I actually sang the song for her over the phone and after she laughed at me, she agreed to try it out. I was excited, I presented it then to Suzy, who I knew wouldn’t have a problem doing it.
I right away started putting the buzz out there and the reaction was great, I knew we had something here. My promoters were already asking me when it would be done. I now had to find a producer excited enough about the project. A task that I found very difficult. You see, my ideas have always seemed outlandish to many people, but what the people need to see is, my ideas usually work.
I went through a handful of producers and even paid one, and I didn’t get what I was looking for. I personally have spent so many years in studios, that I don’t really enjoy it that much anymore. A little Latif trivia here, I am a graduate from CMA (Center For Media Arts) in New York City, who majored in Audio Engineering.
I was discouraged and refused to put out any inferior product whatsoever. These three ladies have release incredible music and I would never put out anything below that, ever! I was forced to put the who recording on the back burner for a moment while I figured this thing out.
Shortly, all the promoters began calling me about the status of the song because they were ready to book them. One of the clients were one of my biggest, Mike K from Low-Rider Magazine. I was booking all his car show entertainment. I went to sleep that night with this on my mind and the determination of having a solution in the morning. This is something I do often.
Sure enough I woke up with this incredible idea. Instead of focusing on the song, I would focus on having the girls perform together on stage. I went back to the drawing board and put together this really cool concept that I thought would benefit “Everyone”!
The artist, the fans, the promoters and yes, me too! I chose 3 of the girls biggest hits. For Suzy, I chose Real Love, Promise Me and Take Me In Your Arms. For Angel My Heart Skips A Beat, Because Of You and Show Me. And for Lisette, A day In My Life, Goody Goody and Together Forever… Hey, but Goody Goody isn’t a Freestyle song! In my opinion, anything a Freestyle singer sings, is a Freestyle song. Besides, Goody Goody is a great change to the flow, very effective in my opinion, even though Lisette has challenged me on it many times.
I had to get all nine of these incredible songs into a 30 minute show tape, without losing the meat. I decided to alternate the songs from Angel to Suzy, to Lisette, then back to Angel etc… I hired a great DJ to put the show tape together for me. I directed him as to how I wanted it edited and he did a great job. So good that I never wanted to change it. We were able to keep “All” the meat in the show tape by editing out all the long intros, outros, breaks, hooks, bridges etc.
I wanted to close the show with Angel’s “Show Me”, not out of any kind of favoritism as some might thing, but more so, because I felt it was the “Only” song that was know to be performed by 3 girls, so this was a great ending where all three ladies can step up to the front of the stage. And to justify Angel closing, I made her also “OPEN” the show, so Angel is the S.A.L. Guinea Pig. She hates going out there alone, but you have to take the good with the bad.
The show tape came out great. I now had to name the group. HhmI slept on this for about a week. Got suggestions from everyone I knew. The Diva’s Of Freestyle, The 3 Diva’s, Girls of Freestyle, Ladies Of Freestyle… it went on and on. I hated them all. I though about using their initials, I though L.S.A. because it sounded like the drink Alize’, but it wasn’t smacking me in the face. I needed something very catchy.
I woke up around 3am and woke up Angel saying “I got it”. “That’s great baby, now go back to sleep” was Angel’s reply. No! I got the name for the group. S.A.L. (Suzy, Angel, Lisette) Angel sat up as said. Do you realize it spells Sal? Of course I do! “But people are going to think that Sal is associated with this” Angel said. That’s the beauty of it, I responded.
As always, Angel, look at me as if I were crazy, shrugged her shoulders and went back to sleep. The next morning I called Suzy and told her the fantastic name I came up with. Thinking back now, she too thought I was nuts. She even had her father Tony call me. By the way, he was the one who suggested “The Diva’s Of Freestyle” Lol.. I love Tony, that’s my brother, but I didn’t feel that the Diva’s Of Freestyle would work.
Then I called Lisette, and told her what I wanted to call the group. Now this was tricky, because Lisette still had and I think still has a sort working relationship with Sal (oh, for those who don’t know what Sal I am talking about, it’s Sal Abbatiello from Fever Records). You see the subliminal beauty behind it was that Sal has had working relations with all 3 of these ladies in one capacity or another. Suzy’s first label where she recorded “Randy” was on Fever, Lisette was Managed by Sal at one point and we all know the story behind Sal and The Cover Girls or should we say Angel “The Original Cover Girl”. Sal has made a nice living off the names of these and many others, and that’s cool, we basically do that. But now for once, artist, mine in particular can make money off Sal’s name. Okay, Sal, that’s it’s I gave you your 15 minutes of Freestyle Blog fame, no more!!!
So anyway, I fought it and yes, I won… Sorry girls. S.A.L. is the name of this group and just as I had thought. It’s very catchy, very controversial, very memorable and right to the point. These days, put any kind of group or collaboration is difficult. Artist now have different lives, kids, homes, spouses etc, have all made having a continued and successful career in this business even more of a challenge. At this time, Angel and I were in The Bronx, Suzy in Staten Island and Lisette in New Jersey. Everyone had shows and getting the girls together for anything was a task.
I booked the group for their first performance for Low-Rider in two weeks and for a great price. I priced the group so that the promoters save money and the girls actually walk away with more more than they would individually. I kept just myself on as Road Manager and of course shared a room with Angel. So it was the fee, 4 flights and 3 rooms. Low-Rider does their shows a bit differently. They don’t like to book hotels so basically you are in, do the show and then you’re out!
I rushed my DJ to finish the show tape which I received the final cut the day before the show. I brought with me 4 copies of the show tape and 3 CD Walkmans that I bought, (Hey Lisette, I just realized, I never got my CD player back!). I made sure all three girls sat together on the plane. I handed each of them a CD Player and a copy of the show tape and told them “You have 2 hours to put together a routine”
They gave me a crazy look in unison then I took a seat behind them and prayed….
The show was in Indiana Indianapolis for Low-Rider Magazine in a venue that sat 8500 people. A limo picked us up at the airport, took us directly to the venue and escorted us to a huge dressing room and said we are on in an hour.
I didn’t say much to the girls the whole trip but rather watched them closely as they got to know each other. I was hoping that I would see some magical chemistry between them, I did. I stepped out of the dressing room so they could change and walked around the venue. I went backstage where I could see the audience. The place was packed. I was a nervous wreck. Not because I was worried about how the crowd would react, but more importantly, how the girls will work out.
It’s show time! I escort the girls who by the way looked incredible, but more interesting was that even though they tried to match somehow, they expressed their individuality.
For anyone who has ever run music for an act performing, can attest to the fact that it can be a pretty intense job. Having your music malfunction in anyway during a performance is bad enough with one act. But here I have three. The girls have their mics, I stationed on stage to the right. The announcer comes out and introduces as such, “For the first time ever! give it up for Lil’ Suzy, Angel “The Original Cover Girl and Lisette Melendez as S.A.L.”…
The crowd went bananas as the show tape began. S.A.L.’s performance was the longest 30 minutes I ever experienced. But we did it! The girls were thrilled and confident. I felt relieved, yet ready to do it again.
We rushed back to the dressing room, then back to the airport and home. It wasn’t long before I had booked us another gig. The girls got together at my our house and tried to work out a sort of routine. I had mixed feelings about this. I kept trying to visualize it and I just couldn’t. I was with Suzy a long time and new her ways, movements etc.. And with Angel long enough to also know her capacity. But I had to learn Lisette’s.
The girls got together and tried rehearsing some steps and ideas. I stood in the next room where my office was with one eye on them the whole time. I heard the girls talk about everything from new photos to outfits, but something wasn’t right for me. I didn’t speak on anything until it was crystal to me and sure enough, after nights of thought, I figured out that these ladies have been stars in their own right for many years. Their individuality is what made them stars. Their music represented their personalities perfectly, which of course carried with it, their own looks and styles.
So there it was all along. S.A.L. would not survive as a group, but as the concept they were initially pulled together for. As a sampler of their own individual entity. Now I had to make them understand. The first thing I did was to take each of their individual photos. Photos that the fans were already use to, and add their three photos together as one. Of course since each of their photo sessions were at different times, different lighting etc.. I needed to somehow put them on a common setting. The idea I had, was a consistant sketch of the three photos as one. I didn’t have time to fine an artist, not was it really necessary. I paid a friend of mine to create it on his computer.
The ladies all wanted to take my head off because they all hated their picture. But you see, if I would’ve consulted with them, this would never had gotten done.
The next thing now was to get across to them, and everyone else that S.A.L. is NOT a group! I attempted to bring them into the studio to record a song, but I wasn’t happy with what was coming out, so I canned it. Many other producers approached me about producing songs for S.A.L. All I could tell them was. Let me hear it.
The next thing was their outfits. I explained to the girls that they dress the way they do because it works for them and that I wanted them to express their individuality. Little by little I tried discouraging them from sharing their clothing ideas for the next show. This was turning out great, almost like a game that everyone wins. It seemed as though they were trying to predict what the others would wear. What was happening here is, they were really learning each other and their reasons as to why they would wear this and that. Sort of like knowing how the engine works rather than just knowing how to drive the car. I personally felt this was important.
Now their routine. Till now you can still see traces of their attempted choreography. What we had to put it to rest. Say I don’t know what I am talking about, and you might be right. But if it ain’t broke, why fix it? These ladies had their own unique routine on stage that I didn’t want to touch. I felt that by them performing enough together that they would eventually mesh in all aspects and that would end up being the real beauty of S.A.L.
S.A.L. has performed over two dozen shows at the asking price. Which I am proud to say was market value. Those who know me know that when I set a price, I first make sure that it is the fairest price for all parties, then I stick to it. My theory is, if I lower the price for you, then I just screwed one of my other important clients. So my price is firm.
After a couple of dozen shows, our girl Lisette became pregnant and gave birth to baby boy. She came back into the market, did a couple of S.A.L. shows, until our girl Lil’ Suzy became pregnant and also gave birth, but for her it was a beautiful baby girl.
The girls are back now and ready to perform as S.A.L. once again. Individually, I keep them busy,but they are always ready for an S.A.L. show.
Latif Mercado and S.A.L. (Suzy, Angel, Lisette)