As the bandleader of War tribute band Cisco Kid, Joey Flores is loyal to one vision: do it for the OGs. Though covering classics like “Low Rider” can be hit or miss, this eight-person band balances passion with the discipline and faith to pay good, honest tribute. With the support of original and current members, Cisco Kid honors War’s music through opportunities that have multiplied since they started in 2017—and it all started with a family business.
When Joey was in high school, his uncle Sonny Madrid started Lowrider Magazine, the ongoing publication that first came out in 1977. Uncle Sonny was a photographer, and he wanted to do something about the gang warfare accompanying lowrider culture in pockets of San Jose. “He would take his camera to the corner of King and Story,” Joey recalls, “where he would cruise and talk to some of the kids: ‘Hey man, if I was to take pictures of you and your cars, would that stop this madness?’ ”
Joey recalls that the magazine was not even 10 pages, black and white. “We were in Mom and Dad’s garage stapling—we had a little assembly line.” When Uncle Sonny showed those kids on the corner of King and Story the pages, their expressions said it all. Joey sensed the impact his uncle had made in his community. Put in charge of mail, Joey opened their first international subscription request: “I showed my aunt, like, what is that? She saw the address said Germany and another one that said Australia: ‘Oh shit, Sonny, we just went international!’ That’s when the whole Lowrider Magazine became a thing.”
Sonny, the visionary, and Rudy Madrid, former bandleader of the Cruisers, both mentored their nephew. By the time Joey started Cisco Kid, a ready fan base had gathered around their legacy. “We had over 425 paid attendance in the ballroom. They had never even heard us. All they knew was it was Joey Jam, the nephew of Lowrider Magazine, and he’s got the Cisco Kid
Though Cisco Kid began with six members, most of whom Joey met at his home church, Cathedral of Faith, vocalist Stefan Jones and guitarist Cory Clar make a total of eight. He credits his managers for keeping them focused, allowing one door to open after another. “Robert and Anita always tell me: stick to your vision,” he says. “When you start asking five or six other people for their opinions, you start getting sidetracked.”
A gush of pride animates his story about finding his youngest band member, harpist Ryan Walker. While Joey had known other band members through close connections, finding Ryan was a matchmaking game. A harp teacher recommended him to Joey. “He sent me a picture. I was like, oh, white dude in San Jose has a ’fro like that?! And plays harp,” he exclaims. “Every band has that signature sound. With War, it’s that harp, that Lee Oskar sound.” When Ryan joined the band, the remaining original member of War mailed the band his blessing in the form of nine hundred dollars worth of harps, reeds, and cases last summer.
But Cisco Kid is not limiting their repertoire to War’s hit singles. A lesser-known album released in 2014, Evolutionary, caught Joey by surprise. “I’m looking on Spotify going, War?! Wait a minute.” He anticipates similar reactions when he shows other fans the songs. “Oh man, is that Prince? No that’s War.” Joey tells the band, “Play it just like the album. Don’t rewrite the song. Listen to your parts.” But there are still moments during a performance to treat the audience to a solo. Like War, a “band’s band,” Cisco Kid’s musicianship is tight. “I invite musicians to come check us out.”
On stage, Joey still remembers the first supporter of Cisco Kid. “Right before my uncle passed away, we were playing Music in the Park, and I made sure he had a front row seat right at the rail so he could be there next to me…and he had this beautiful grinning smile.” With that reminder, Cisco Kid is on the right path.