Interview with Wendy Haas-Mull, August 17th.2007
Questions compiled and edited by Jose Sierra and G.Vera
From Jose Sierra on behalf of Moonflower Café:
We’d like to extend a warm welcome to Wendy Haas-Mull, the singer/pianist who thrilled us in the 1970’s with her memorable work on Santana’s “Welcome” album and the two albums by the band Azteca, their self-titled debut and the follow-up “Pyramid of the Moon,” as well as in her live performances with Azteca!
Wendy, we are very grateful to you for offering to answer some questions from your fans at Moonflower Café. We’ve put together a list of questions for you, along with the name of the person asking each question. If multiple Café-goers had the same question, we will indicate that the question was “from M.C.” (meaning Moonflower Café in general). Here goes!
It's been many, many years. Please help us get reacquainted. Who is Wendy Haas today?
[Wendy] A very loaded question, to say the least! Wendy Haas today is quite different from the one who started performing in bands when she was fifteen—why am I talking in second person! Did loads of “on-the-road” and studio work for many years…the music business ended for me in about 1983---then I took composition classes at UCLA and did some composing for tv and film…then I became a mother…that was my full-time job…My beautiful daughter is now almost 22 and somehow an angel in the form of Daniel Meza pried me out from under a rock in order to do this reunion…should be a really good time….is this too long of an answer?
Some years ago my sister gave me a an old copy of “LIFE” magazine, from around 1964. There was a story about suburban kids buying electric musical instruments and forming rock'n’roll bands. One of the featured groups was an all-girl band from the Bay Area, their leader was a young electric piano player named Wendy Hass. Was that you, Wendy?
[Wendy] Wow, you’ve done your homework! Yes, that’s me on the bass guitar---that was my first paying gig—and you know what? We were not that good—but because we were somewhat a novelty act, we kept getting work and played with all the big bands in the bay area…
From Jose Sierra:
Assuming that –was- you in the 60’s, Wendy, rehearsing with your band The Freudian Slips in a garage in Atherton, CA, can you describe the path that took you to San Francisco and ultimately into the same musical circles as Santana?
[Wendy] Jose, I knew Michael Shrieve when we were both playing in “battle of the bands” ( do you even remember those?) His band was much better than ours! We were both about 14 or 15—Then I started playing in R&B Bands and well, you know who Michael was playing with…we were involved as a couple for years— I played on his album Michael Carabello’s album, Giants, etc….he told me Azteca was looking for a singer….you can figure the rest…
From “Hermano” Scott E.:
Wendy; I fell in love with your voice right after hearing your vocal on Santana's Welcome album song "Love Devotion & Surrender"…I hear and feel a close similarity in your singing voice and style to that of the late Laura Nyro. Has anyone ever mentioned that to you before? Was she an inspiration to you and did you listen to any of her music?
[Wendy] Wow Scott,. you have truly got some amazing ears! Being compared to Laura Nyro is quite a compliment..No one has ever mentioned that, but she was a favorite of mine—I had all her albums ( yes, they were albums back then!)
From M.C. / Leo:
Were there other singers and musicians who inspired or influenced you? Was there anyone you tried to emulate?
[Wendy] The list of singers and musicians who are inspirational to me is endless---I was too unhinged and undisciplined to emulate anyone…if I could have emulated the great singers, believe me, I would have, but…no way possible…—so I guess I just sang the best I could…it has been years!
On the Welcome and Azteca recordings your voice has a clear, controlled, gorgeous tone. Were you classically trained? If you have formal training, can you elaborate i.e. where you attended school, to what extent, and what instruments if any?
[Wendy] Oscar, Oscar—that is, honestly the nicest thing anyone has ever said! I can’t believe you think my voice sounds controlled…no formal training here….two years of piano lessons, but I couldn’t sit still…my grandmother was a voice teacher, but I never had enough drive to pay any attention…now, in the years that have passed, I would give anything to train…
Do you personally have a preferred style of music to sing?
[Wendy] Leo, I honestly don’t have a preferred style—there are so many that I love and cannot begin to do—the fact that Daniel Meza has resurrected me, I am continuing to dust off the cobwebs and hopefully get some of my voice back—should be interesting—thanks for asking…
How you were invited to perform on the “Caravanserai” and “Welcome” albums? What was this time period like for you and what were your impressions of the changes that were taking place in the Santana band and Santana sound at the time? Can you compare the “Caravanserai” and “Welcome” sessions, from a participant’s standpoint?
[Wendy] M.C.—I always feel that it was a privilege to be asked to participate in any of Santana’s work…I honestly cannot remember how it came about—I played piano on one tune and then was fortunate enough to sing…Carlos has never stopped evolving---his music is in a constant search for the truth---
While you were recording “Caravanserai” did you realize what an ethereal- sounding work it would turn out to be?
[Wendy] Xaman—you ask very intriguing questions…I absolutely love the way that album “feels”—what a great sound and I am privileged to be playing on it..
From Pierrot in Switzerland:
What were your personal feelings about the “Welcome” album? How was the atmosphere during the “Welcome” recording sessions?
[Wendy] Dearest Pierrot—This album is where Carlos is really starting to stretch out—I was not part of the whole album, so that means I wasn’t privy to the whole process in the studio…But when invited, I certainly didn’t hesitate and was so glad to be a part of it…
Did the WELCOME studio experience differ in any sense from your other recording experiences? As you recall recording the WELCOME album, what recollections or thoughts rush into your mind?
[Wendy] I believe the Welcome album was a turning point for Carlos and all the band and I was very grateful to be part of it…I tried to respect the musicians and only show up when asked….they used to spend hours and hours and hours in the studio…….
Have you read Deborah Santana's book, Space Between The Stars?
[Wendy] I am embarrassed to say no---but I promise it will be part of my summer reading. She is quite a lady
From Jose Sierra:
Wendy, your poignantly beautiful vocals on Azteca songs like “Love Not Then,” “Non Pacem” and “Find Love Today” really transported us to a better place. Azteca was such a powerhouse band of great players playing great music. I loved the albums then and still do, and the memories of the three Azteca shows I attended in the 70’s rank very highly among my greatest concert experiences ever. You were a big part of that, and I have to thank you sincerely for the wonderful music you helped create! Can you share some of your favorite memories and anecdotes of the high points of your time with Azteca? What was it like being a part of a four-person vocal section with Pete Escovedo,Erroll Knowles and Rico Reyes?
[Wendy] Jose—what amazingly kind words you bestow upon Azteca—It was truly a privilege working with such amazing musicians---I loved singing with Pete, Erroll and Rico ( who will be so missed at this reunion—what a beautiful soul)…I wished I had paid more attention to the remarkable musicianship ( I was quite young and foolish and unhinged)---the reunion will give me an opportunity to appreciate all of them…
There’s an old story out there that Azteca was dropped in the middle of your tour with Stevie Wonder because you were too strong of an opening act (you were stealing the show from Stevie). Are you able to comment on that story?
[Wendy] There you go again Xamax—doing your homework—my memory is a bit hazy on this one…it could be we were dropped because of the size of our band—it would be incredibly difficult to upstage the Great Stevie Wonder!
From Joey Safari in San Francisco:
Hi Wendy! Having seen Azteca play at the old California Hall in SF, I have some questions concerning the live sound of the group. How hard was it to keep the sound manageable on stage with such a large band? Who did your live mix? Where was the best venue to play for sound (and vibe)? Finally, if you could pick one concert that stands out as the best gig that Azteca ever did, where was it? Take care and thank you for the music that lives on forever.
[Wendy] Dear Joey—such kinds words to the band, Azteca—live sound mixing the band was close to impossible…3 keyboards, guitar, 4 singers, 4 brass, percussion players galore…YIKES! We were always struggling to hear properly…
My favorite gig was at Madison Square Garden, where we shared the stage with so many amazing latin acts, including the late and always great Tito Puente.
Wendy, I saw you perform with Azteca at the Tijuana bullring (this was with a very young Sheila E. playing congas). I remember a particularly rude heckler in the audience. Is this the strangest/worst place you’ve performed?
[Wendy] I do remember that horrible gig---Shelia was all of 13 years old and already kickin’---not the best of nights as far as audience attendance…
From Jose Sierra:
Those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area remember an unreleased Azteca song featuring a fantastic vocal note from you, soaring into space. The song, “Sunrise (El Amanecer),” was heard as the theme for one of our local TV shows around 1974 or ‘75. “Latin NY” magazine reported that Azteca had recorded a third album for the TR label, and that the song “Linda Chicana” was about to be released as a single with “Sunrise (El Amanecer)” as the “B” side. We fans were eagerly waiting but that third album never came out. Can you tell us the story of that mysterious third album, the circumstances, players, what the other material was like, and whether it might ever be released?
[Wendy] Jose, during the recording of that third album (recorded in LA), things were starting to disintegrate…we got through about four songs ( as I recall—long time ago ) and I can’t believe “Sunrise” was used as a theme song…as far as that high note that you noticed? Gone—somewhere during the nineties and not working, my vocal chords atrophied a bit….I miss it…
It must have been tough to keep such a big group together, but Azteca kept going under Pete Escovedo’s leadership for a while even after Coke Escovedo, the original leader of the band, left. What finally caused Azteca to split up?
[Wendy] Honestly that is a tough question…I don’t want to speak out-of-turn---I was not part of some of the problems that were brewing between certain musicians…I was not privy to the heavy-duty stuff that was going down…but it was definitely going down.
From Roy Murray (professional horn player, formerly with Malo):
I arrived in S.F. in 1969, and your band (The Western Addition) was the very first band I ever joined in S.F. You're the very first girl singer I ever backed up on stage. wow...what an experience!! … We all did some wild gigs… You and I then briefly crossed paths in "mid-life" at the Lincoln Center, N.Y.C. We were both working with producer Don Costa (I hope you can remember all this!?) Now in older life, you and I both need wind and breath control and we were both very active performers on stage and need air. Wendy, I am 59 years old and I'm starting to need 1 1/4 breaths where I use to only need 1. I do moderate work-outs to keep my lungs flexible & powerful. Has the same started to happen to you yet or not? And if so, how do you handle it?? …Whether you remember me or not, I'm real curious to hear what you have to say about your breath control.
[Wendy] Of course I remember you Roy---I have a newspaper clipping of you and I posing with the other “Western Addition” members, that smokin’ R & B band…I stopped singing during the 90’s, so this reunion is going to kick my you-know-what---lots of the vocal cords have atrophied, but I am still going ahead with it….and yes, you are right…it is the lack of breath…what are you up to now?
From Jose Sierra:
Wendy, we’ve heard that you spent time singing in the band The Loading Zone, which included many excellent musicians (including some future Santana members). Who were some of the other Bay Area artists you gigged with during the 70’s? Were you part of any great, unknown groups and unreleased recording sessions we might not be aware of?
[Wendy] Ok Jose, now you are making me really stretch my brain…the Loading Zone was an amazing band—I got to back Linda Tillery ( great vocalist) and share keyboards with Tom Coster! Wow! I did some work with Boz Scaggs, Fanny, and lots of studio work…worked on some of Santana albums—I could go into the 80’s with Alice Cooper and Spencer Davis, but that’s enough!
Have you remained in touch with your Santana / Azteca friends over the years?
[Wendy] Sadly Leo, I really disappeared from the music scene…I’m not sure why—however, thanks to Daniel Meza who is attempting, against all odds to put this Azteca reunion together, I will be able to really appreciate my fellow musicians…
What are your views on the current industry as a whole compared to when you were working in the 70's?
[Wendy] Oscar…for me, the music industry during the 70’s was an amazing venture, with enthusiastic individuals just getting together to play and then bands would manifest—studio time was much more expensive, but the music companies would flip the bill…now the bands are very self-contained, everyone has their own private studio and the internet has really been the biggest change—so the idea of “let’s get together and play for the fun of it” has almost become obsolete…of course unless you are willing to pay!
Could Azteca succeed today?
[Wendy] Good question Leo—are you talking about the idea of Azteca or the actual original members of the Azteca band? It was so difficult attempting to keep so many folks together—so many different personalities…and if any drugs are involved, it is close to an impossible task-now, if you are talking about the original members…walkers may be necessary!
Your discography shows that you recorded with Fanny, one of the first all-woman rock bands, Kenny Rankin and Melissa Manchester, as well as several lesser-known artists. Other than the Azteca and Santana albums, are there any recordings that showcased your lead vocals?
[Wendy] I was usually a background singer---or a musician part of a group---I recorded for many artists, but never as a lead singer…lots of demos, but nothing came of it…then I just took a very long break!
We read once that when you were touring in Kenny Rankin’s band you would open shows with a solo set of your own. What kind of material were you singing & playing in your solo sets? Have you ever recorded a solo project or do you have any plans to do so?
[Wendy] I never opened for Kenny Rankin—I only participated as a keyboard player and studio singer…I recently came out from under a rock and made a demo with this amazing keyboard player/engineer, John Rangel—that’s it…perhaps it was when I was with Fanny and I think we opened for Kenny a few times….
From Jose Sierra:
Is it true that you tap-danced on a Dan Hicks album several years ago? Have you been dancing for a long time, and did you ever consider a career in that field?
[Wendy] Jose…I cannot believe you dug up that information…I had just started tapping, when a friend of mine called and asked if I would do some stuff on one of Dan Hick’s tracks…now, I would be able to do it more confidently…I love tap—I only wish I had started sooner…I’ve been doing it for about 11 years…
Aside from the Azteca reunion do you have any other performing plans?
[Wendy] Dear Oscar—this is such a surprise for me…Daniel Meza called me from out-of-the-blue and started this “Azteca reunion” ball rolling…I had just finished a demo about a year before…so who knows? If I can get some of my voice back, we shall see….thanks for asking…
Is there any chance that Azteca might play another reunion concert in the San Francisco Bay Area, the band’s original home base? You have lots of fans here!
[Wendy] It just may happen—let’s see how this goes and perhaps we can get enough steam to perform up in the Bay Area….I miss living there…
From Jose Sierra:
Wendy, as a former musician and a parent of two daughters, it is exciting to me that both of my girls are getting involved in creative career fields. Have you and Martin encouraged your daughter to get involved in the creative arts, and is there a chance that we’ll be hearing from her in the world of music, acting or comedy?
[Wendy] Jose, our daughter, Maggie is at NYU, involved in the creative writing program…she has got a great set of ears and is a great artist, but she really wants to do her own thing…
Anything else you feel we as fans would find of interest?
[Wendy] I feel as though I am boring you with this trivia about my past musical experience…I only hope that if you come to the reunion, Azteca will not disappoint you…take care…