A Jack of All Trades

Charlie Molina plays with Roper Cansino

Thirty years after founding his first band, Charlie Molina is still fully devoted to music as leader of Roper Cansino. However, behind his rock-soul star manners and his charisma onstage, a father of three and a private eye hide.

Apologizing for being late, he quickly says hi as his legs keep moving. 53-year-old Charlie heads down to his garage, going over his day. “I keep getting calls. I’m so sorry I had to push back the meeting time. I’m always running around.” He looks at his motorcycle with pride. “It’s from the ‘60s.” It has a cool Triumph-style shape and an undeniable bad boy vibe. He hops into his van and he’s off.  Soft jazz plays in the background as the car jerks from the gear shifts. “I’ve just got to make a quick stop before I head over to meet the band.”

“What are you up to?” Charlie chats on the phone with a friend about his schedule, clients, and how life is going. As he slows down at a red light, he says, “I’d make a U-turn here but…” as he points at a cop across the street. Once the policeman is out of sight, he turns down the other side of the street and slows to a stop in front of a café. Parallel parked alongside other cars on the street, his little van sticks out like a sore thumb. He takes out his reading glasses and then proceeds to pull out this little black case.

“The woman in the pink jacket,” he says. He leans over the passenger seat, video camera in hand, and starts recording. She walks slightly out of frame, and Charlie moves his car up the street a bit. He fixes his glasses over his nose; he has to be able to see the subject he is capturing. Who would’ve thought that the man we’ve come to interview as the lead singer of a rock band is also a private eye?

He decides that is enough footage, closes his camera, and smiles. The reporter can only reciprocate a nervous smile as a million thoughts run through his head. As his phone rings over speakerphone, a man answers and he answers some of the reporter’s questions too.

– Was she there?
– Yes, at the cafe.
– Oh really…what was she drinking? Was she drinking?
– Yeah, she had a beer.
– And she was with the kid?
– Yup. Have it all here.
– Alright. Thanks again, Charlie.
– Yup, no worries. Talk soon. 

A few twists and turns later, we arrive at another garage. A group of men whose ages must range from forty something to fifty something surrounds the car. “Hey! How are you all doing?!” He gives a warm hug to Goyo, Loren, Mondrígon, and Javi. Peluso is sporting a roughed-up Santa look with his white, scruffy beard and white poofy and mangled hair. With a casual tee, jeans and his raspy “hello,” it is easy to tell that he’s lived a wild life. 

Charlie Molina sings accompanied by Javier Durá and Loren Cortés / LEO TRINH

Mondrígon sits in the back with all of the band equipment, and Javi is next to Charlie. As they chat away, no one seems to notice all of Peluso’s swerves here and there. At least one person is watching the road… somewhat. They’ve driven with him before, right?

Javi is from California, but his parents are from Spain. With his life in two different countries, he has made connections in both places. He met Charlie and The Vagos in the early 2000s, and the rest is history. His daughter lives in Madrid. He leans over and says while glancing at Peluso, “We usually hire someone else. But this is all we could afford… ”, as he gets cut off by a sharp turn.

Charlie talks to his son on the phone: “Hi, Bruno. Bruno, listen. Dad isn’t coming home tonight, okay? I have a gig with the band. Yes, you can stay over at your friends.” He then turns to the reporter and says: “They’re just getting to that age, you know?”

Javi joins the conversation: “Yep. They are just going to do things whether you like it or not…it’s a part of being a teenager”.

Bruno is eleven years-old and Maya thirteen. Their mother is Olivia, from whom Charlie is now separated. Charlie also has a 32 year-old son, from a previous relationship. “Maya’s going to be home alone, so you can only expect so much. We were all teens at one point. You can only hope that they are safe, whatever they do,” Charlie says wryly.

It’s one thing to look back and see the artist once known as Super Tony Luz performing on stage for a wild crowd, but it’s another thing to see a dad worry about his kids.

Charlie Molina mixes with the audience while performing at Pub Donegan’s / LEO TRINH

We have arrived at Donegan’s Pub in Alcalá de Guadaíra, a mere 15 kilometers south of Seville. As he strolls into the bar, his tired smile is a warm greeting to all. “Hey, how have you been?” Everyone knows him. The rest of the band, also known as Roper Casino follows behind him. They prepare all of the equipment, including a tablet of all the frequencies in different colors.  As the buzzing crowd continues to grow, the band heads downstairs for a quick costume change. When they return, you cannot miss a slender figure making his way through the crowd with a red and black striped blazer and just a bit of eyeliner. Before they start their set, the group make their way outside, beers in hand, passing around a funny-smelling cigarette.

Charlie steps on stage for soundcheck and grabs the mic, as he has done for many years. The average Saturday night concertgoer could never guess what his day job is. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Charlie greets the crowd. Drinks are passed. The sound of the night is coming alive with excitement. A click-click-click sounds, as the drumsticks count the group in, and they are off.

Charlie sings passionately, throwing his hands up in the air, rocking the stage with Javi, Mondrígon, Loren, and Goyo. But, there’s something tame and nostalgic in him. Because it wasn’t always like this.

Charlie Molina grew up in Jerez de la Frontera, in a family, as would only be normal in that city, of great flamenco aficionados. His paternal grandfather was a born and bred gypsy, which makes Charlie “cuarterón”, or one-fourth gypsy, and his father “entreverao”, or half-gypsy. They would sing and dance the nights away at flamenco parties, but as the years went on, Charlie spent his teenage years listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones with his siblings. Under such British music influences, in 1987, he started his first band, along with his friends, and his music career took off. The Sevilla music scene was not too big back then, so everyone knew each other. “We performed in 1987 with 5 other bands at Fun Club. We were young and nervous, but it was our first performance. There was a heavy metal band, a punk band. It was beautiful.”

In 1989, they started to write music and then, the legendary group,The Vagos, came to life. “Our first songs were bad. We were young; those were our first lyrics, our first songs. We wrote together. But, with time we improved. The craziest performance we had was at the very Fun Club.” Recounting the time when going through his mom’s belongings he found a wig, Charlie explains how Super Tony Luz, his alter ago for years, was born. The Vagos aesthetic was wild makeup, flower power, and provocative ideas. Audiences enjoyed The Vagos because they were something out of the ordinary. With their no-cares given style, which included strip teasing, singing about sexuality, and partying until vomiting on the audience, The Vagos made a name for themselves in Seville. They were featured on television and news articles, and even a comic was written about them. They were known for their provocative performances, for their songs, and for being a just all-out wild group. “I was the only one who stayed throughout the years.” The band itself had seen many different talents over time, but this is something against which they never struggled. Charlie always knew someone who knew someone who could be in the band.

Javi, Loren, Charlie, Mondrigón and Goyo, components of Roper Cansino / LEO TRINH

Although being a rockstar might seem like a dream job, not everything was perfect. “I was too embarrassed to tell my family. Apart from them really liking flamenco, they were also a very formal family. The Vagos was already a wild group. I didn’t want them reading the articles, coming to shows. So, I hid it a bit.” In 1991, The Vagos appeared on an entertainment show on Canal Sur, the regional TV station. Although they didn’t get much air time, it was enough for his parents to recognize him. “¡Mira, el niño!” (“Look at the boy!”)

He was 22 at the time, studying Informatics, and it just wasn’t what they expected from him. But he did not finish the degree. Coincidentally, Charlie ran into somebody one day who needed a young person to do a job. Without a doubt in his mind, he just decided to do this one-off job and before he knew it, this man had given him a few jobs here and there under the table. One thing led to another, and he was taking an exam to become a detective. They enjoy each other’s company and he did a good job, so they decided to open up their own practice. Over the next few years, the deman for detectives’ services diminished, so now, he just works by himself. But, if need be, there are other people available with whom he collaborates. “People sometimes mention the juxtaposition between me being a detective and also a performer, but I’ve luckily never really had problems with that. Our bands haven’t reached the type of fame where people come up and ask you for an autograph, but I might have had one or two run-ins when I’m on the job,” says Charlie,

“It wasn’t until 2013 or 2014 that The Vagos had to retire. It just didn’t have the same feeling it used to. But I’m very happy with Roper Casino.” With his high spirits, it seems as though nothing can stop him. Once Charlie’s second band also dissolved, Charlie y los Gañafotes, Roper Cansino came into being. This group has been together for three years now, and he is very happy with them. It is the perfect mixture of British mod and rock and roll. Now that they are a more veteran group, it isn’t the same as when The Vagos would keep the all-night ravers going for hours, but a great display of energy is still the trademark of Roper Casino. This group of old school rockers who Charlie has assembled still gets the crowd alive and rowdy. The music is just hard-wired inside him.

Charlie, whose other passion is playing tennis, doesn’t get down by tiredness. “I still do music after all these years because it became a drug to me. I can’t live without it.” During his downtime as a detective, Charlie listens to music and studies it. “I can’t say I have too much work because I love what I do.” His kids Bruno and Maya have also been along for the ride. “My job as a detective is normal. So is performing with wigs. One time, The Vagos were performing at the beach, and we brought them along.”

“The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that life is an act. You’re communicating with people, and it’s like a stage. It’s the same for my detective job. I go to a location, extract information. It’s all a farce. Just like in the movies. It’s a little bit like acting.” Thanks to his undeniable charm, his music career took off; his life has been nothing short of an adventure. •