One of the more interesting aspects of pop culture is when a musician or band whose songs have not graced the charts in years (sometimes decades), suddenly has an unexpected resurgence. It could be from a song well-placed on a movie, TV, or video game soundtrack. Or a remake. Or some namechecking by/collaboration with a younger artist.
For ‘70s rockers Pablo Cruise, though, the zeitgeist came in the form of a garment. As in the band T-shirt that Will Ferrell’s lead character wears for a chunk of screen time in the 2008 comedy Stepbrothers. And no one was more pleasantly surprised than the band themselves.
“We had to sign off on it, but had no idea how much it would be in the movie! And that gave us some great publicity. It got our phones ringing again,” says keyboardist/vocalist Cory Lerios. “They wanted us to walk the red carpet at the premiere, and I didn’t want to. We didn’t have anything to talk about! But we did and when reporters asked us what we were doing there, we said ‘We have a T-shirt in the movie!’”
Guitarist/vocalist David Jenkins adds that the band got to play the after-screening premiere party, joined on stage by Ferrell and co-star John C. Reilly. But there was an even bigger benefit for him. “For six to ten hours, my son thought I was the coolest guy in the planet!” he laughs. “He was 12 years old, and his dad knew Will Ferrell!”
Today, Pablo Cruise is in the midst of its busiest touring schedule in nearly 20 years. And while part of that is due to the continued appeal of classic rock among fans middle aged and older, Lerios says their audiences are made up increasingly of multiple generations and younger faces.
“I always make jokes to some of the audience that they’re too young to be there!” he laughs. “But now, we can have a lot of and fun interplay with the audience. Our [original] fans are older and not screaming all the time, so they come to hear the music. We joke with them that we want them to get up, but slowly!”
“It’s interesting and encouraging when parents bring their kids to the show,” Jenkins adds. “Afterward, I love seeing the look in their faces when they realize that people our age can still rock, and they get fired up over classic rock.”
Pablo Cruise first formed in 1973 in San Francisco when some members of the bands Stoneground and It’s a Wonderful Day joined forces. The original lineup included Lerios, Jenkins, Steve Price (drums), and Bud Cockrell (bass), with Jenkins and Cockrell sharing lead vocals.
The party line is that their name came from the idea that “Pablo” represented a down-to-earth person ,and “Cruise” a fun and laid back attitude toward life (in a TV interview for the show “Through the Decades,” Jenkins would admit that, um, there also might have been some LSD involved).
Their self-titled debut came out two years later, but it would be their third record A Place in the Sun and the single “Whatcha Gonna Do?” that launched their career, hitting #6 on the charts. The lyric was inspired by Jenkins’ troubled romantic relationship at the time, with Lerios asking his bandmate he was going to do when she left him. But despite having “hit” written all over it, it was not the album’s first single release.
“I thought it should have been the first single, but it came out after ‘A Place in the Sun,’ because that’s what the record company wanted. When it did come out and was a big hit, I felt vindicated!” Jenkins says. “And the sort of duet part with me and Bud made it something special. I wish I had tapped into that more.”
Cockrell abruptly left the group, replaced by former Santana bassist Bruce Day. The next album, Worlds Away, offered the equally big hit “Love Will Find a Way” (also peaking at #6), and equally inspired by the same woman as “Whatcha Gonna Do?”
“It took me a whole frickin’ year to get over that relationship! But at least I got two great songs out of it!” Jenkins laughs. Other minor hits like “Don’t Want to Live Without It,” “I Want You Tonight,” and “Cool Love” would follow, with more albums and lineup changes, but Pablo Cruise would call it quits in 1986.
Lerios would go on to score a lot of TV shows and movies (including “Baywatch”), while Jenkins would form country rockers Southern Pacific, work as a sideman to some big names, and occasionally fly the Pablo Cruise flag. That was sometimes with Price, whose “day gig” was heading a successful e-learning company. Bruce Day passed in 1999.
Flash forward to 2004 and the four original members regrouped to play Price’s wedding. The groom, Jenkins, and Lerios reformed Pablo Cruise the next year. The current lineup also includes Larry Antonio (bass/vocals) and newer addition Robbie Wyckoff, now handling the majority of lead vocals. Cockrell died in 2010.
Still, having 75% of the original lineup together for a band inching toward 50 years is pretty damn good. “We’ve been a three-legged dog for most of the time. If we didn’t have that kind of camaraderie, we would be doing this,” Lerios offers.
“When we were out on the road and had hit songs on the radio all the time and playing to a young audience, it’s almost surreal to look back on it. If we did anything wrong, it’s we just stopped touring as a band. But our show today is way better because we took that time off. We are really appreciating it now.”
Jenkins adds “Having Steve and Cory and me together playing the songs…there’s a reason that it works. The songs are one thing, but the lineup is the element that makes it happen.” When asked what one piece of advice the David of today would give his younger version, it’s this.
“I would tell him to dig in deeper to the writing and just do more. And stay focused on that. Don’t tire out and don’t get lazy. We have a nice body of work, but I wish I had written more songs.”
The music of Pablo Cruise – and in particular their two big singles – are essential components of any Yacht Rock playlist, a throwback genre simply getting more and more popular today.
“We were a Yacht Rock band before there were Yacht Rock bands! I mean, we’re Pablo Cruise,” Lerios laughs. “And so many of our songs were about the islands and the beach and the water. We were always moving in that ‘escape’ direction.”
For his part, Jenkins is happy to be lumped in with the same company as Michael McDonald, Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins, and his friend Steve Lukather of Toto. Pablo Cruise has even sat in one gig with the Yacht Rock Revue – the country’s premier Yacht Rock cover band.
“Pete [Olson, Revue co-founder] is always telling me where they’re playing and asking if I want to sit in. And they learn the songs!” Jenkins says. “And they sell out shows! But it cracks me up. People show up, wear this silly captain’s hats, and have a good time.”
The current version of Pablo Cruise put out a live CD/DVD package in 2017, and is working on a new song, but expectations are modest. “It’s not like we’re going release the song and radio is going to jump on it and fans are going to buy it. Things don’t work like that anymore,” Jenkins says, noting that they’ve also signed to new management.
As for Lerios – whose sons are also songwriters/producers and spearhead the band Fox Wilde – he’s excited that Pablo Cruise is sailing smoothly, and excited about the waters ahead. “There’s a lot of good energy around us now,” he says. “If we had the guys in the band then that we do now, we never would have stopped!”
This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com