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- Centennial High School
ALUMNI ROLL CALL: CARL LUCERO BRINGS A LIFETIME OF MUSICAL EXPERIENCE BACK HOME
By the time Carl Lucero entered Centennial High School and earned a spot in the Jazz and Concert bands, he was already a seasoned touring musician, performing behind the drum kit on stages throughout the state and country.
“My mom played piano and organ in church so I started playing drums in church when I was 6 or 7,” Mr. Lucero said. “I have an older brother and sister who sing, so we would do trio songs in church. By the age of 12, I was traveling out of state with a band to various churches.
“It was all adults: I was the only kid in the band.”
From those beginnings in worship music sprung a calling that saw Mr. Lucero establish himself as a top-shelf songwriter, arranger, producer and engineer in Nashville and Los Angeles, which continue to be the epicenters of the industry solar system.
As a performer, he toured the nation and the globe as a lead vocalist and drummer, garnering the attention of major record labels who came bearing promises of multi-million dollar contracts.
Now, after a successful and rewarding career that included stints in West Coast mega-churches and on stages from Korea to Florida, Mr. Lucero is back where it all started.
Through his 2,100-square-foot and state-of-the-art Perfect World studio facility in the Historic Union Avenue District, Mr. Lucero continues his run as a shining star in the ever-changing music industry.
From production to instruction, management to branding, Mr. Lucero passionately imparts his decades of experience to both the next generation of music makers as well as those seasoned professionals who demand the high caliber of excellence he is known for.
“Music is a passion that you have to love: it’s basically a lifestyle and expression of who you are,” Mr. Lucero said. “You can’t turn it on and turn it off. It’s something that’s built within you.”
In between his studies and athletic pursuits at Centennial, a 16-year-old Mr. Lucero joined a popular R & B group -- which included members with a national reputation -- as a lead vocalist and drummer. The opportunity allowed him to progress into songwriting and honing his craft on other instruments, including the keyboard.
“We recorded up in Denver,” Mr. Lucero said. “That was my first major recording project.”
With chops honed on performance stages across the country, Mr. Lucero’s talents anchored the Concert and Jazz bands at Centennial.
“My attention was always on getting out and touring, but I loved my time at Centennial. It was a real fun time” he said. “My music teacher, Mr. Olivieri, was a very cool guy and helped me a lot. He also gave me a lot of freedom. When I was supposed to be at a Friday night game marching, I was gigging in Denver, and he would credit those times toward my diploma.”
With networking being a key component of the industry, Mr. Lucero’s talents soon came to the attention of a recording artist signed to the Los Angeles-based Sparrow Records.
“He really liked my band’s rhythm section,” Mr. Lucero said. “So me and the bass player, Barney Johnston, were asked to go on the road with him. I was getting ready to graduate, so two weeks after that, we moved to Texas and took off on the road.”
For two years, Mr. Lucero, now 17 and a member of the Centennial Class of 1984, lived and worked out of Waco, with the group touring from coast to coast.
“It was a lot of fun,” Mr. Lucero said. “But I also learned a lot of lessons. The first month, I got my first check, and couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do music. It was just a wonderful thing for a 17-year-old kid, right out of high school.
“So I went to the mall and spent it all on clothes for the stage. And then I realized, ‘Oh no! I have to eat tonight, tomorrow and for 2 more weeks.’ So I ate sunflower seeds and pickles for 2 weeks. And that made me realize I had to learn how to budget.
“That was a big lesson.”
Of course, the lessons extended into Mr. Lucero’s chosen profession.
“We played Disney World and a lot of other big shows with a lot of big acts: really talented professionals who had been doing it all their lives,” he explained. “When you’re a young kid settling in, it’s kind of intimidating, but you learn to find your musical voice and be confident in it.”
After two years and a wealth of experience culled from the road, Mr. Lucero returned to Pueblo with a goal of forming a new band and beginning work on a college degree.
“I went for one semester and then the bass player I was touring with, who had moved to Nashville, began calling me,” Mr. Lucero said. “He told me, ‘Carl, you need to get out here. Everybody’s in Nashville: all the major labels, the songwriters, singers, and musicians. Everyone, from all over the world, and it’s a hotspot.’”
With the call of Music City and the abundance of opportunities it offered too strong to resist, Mr. Lucero put his Pueblo-based academic pursuits on hold and relocated to Nashville in 1990.
“It was intimidating. The first 6 months I didn’t even unpack a guitar, keyboard or drum set,” he said. “There were so many good musicians.”
As he continued to work on earning a bachelor’s degree, Mr. Lucero slowly immersed himself in the star-studded Nashville scene. As part of an assignment for a Music Production class, he was tasked with composing and producing a song, with the end result providing a much needed “break” into the industry.
“The professor of the class told me that her husband was a big producer in Los Angeles, and that she wanted to give him the song and introduce me,” Mr. Lucero said.
That led to a call from Word Records, at the time one of the biggest Contemporary Christian Music labels.
“So I started recording for them,” Mr. Lucero said. “And within half a year, I was looking to sign with Benson Records, Warner Alliance and a number of other labels. So I hooked up with a couple of producers and we wrote some songs together, with a goal of getting a pop music deal.”
In Atlanta, there was a meeting with a Columbia Records representative responsible for signing Whitney Houston, Arrested Development and Mariah Carey, among others.
“That was wild, because they were very interested,” Mr. Lucero said.
As the saying goes, money -- especially big money -- changes everything. So with the promise of a lucrative deal on the table, the production team’s priorities began to shift away from the music.
“The business component between me and the production guys got a little skewed, a little sideways,” Mr. Lucero said. “A lot of things they agreed to they changed once they saw the interest from the labels.
“With the Christian labels, we were talking anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 a record. When we met with Columbia, there was a $2.4 million dollar offer for one record.”
Almost overnight, Mr. Lucero found himself thrown to the money-savvy sharks.
“Here I was, a little kid from Centennial in District 60 in Pueblo dealing with all these major sharks and not having the money to really pay to get a manager or attorney,” he said. “So I had to ask my teachers at the university, as a favor, to look at contracts and help me navigate through what was basically a world of sharks so that I wouldn’t end up like a lot of the others who were taken advantage of.”
On a more positive note, Nashville afforded Mr. Lucero the chance to work with some of the notables of the Christian and popular music industries, including Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Petra, Baby Bash, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the legendary Quincy Jones. For his engineering work on the Jones-produced “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration,” Mr. Lucero was acknowledged with a share of a 1993 GRAMMY Award.
To distance himself from the stress-filled situation that evolved from a potential big-money record deal, Mr. Lucero left Nashville to indulge his passion for live performance. For 3 weeks, he was part of a group that played throughout Korea, with music, not contracts and negotiations, the focus.
Then in 1996, to further clear his mind, Mr. Lucero returned home to Pueblo.
“And that’s when I met my wife,” he said. “I was just in the Pueblo Mall one day to get a shirt and there she was. So thing’s changed, and I knew my life would be going in a different direction.”
After a year of dating, the couple married and then moved to Denver.
“I was offered a position of doing music at a church,” Mr. Lucero said. “We were there for a couple of years and then we moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, to a larger church, and then onto Las Vegas, to a larger church.
“And then we moved to California to a mega-church of more than 20,000 members. We did a lot of production, a lot of recording, TV stuff as well.”
When his father began a battle with prostate cancer in 2010, Mr. Lucero and his wife began making frequent trips to Pueblo from their Southern California home.
“We were going back and forth and he was getting worse and needed some stability,” Mr. Lucero. “So we came back and had a great year with him before he passed away.”
And as it turned out, the Luceros never left.
With his passion for music and performance still burning bright, Mr. Lucero made the decision to bring the Industry to Pueblo rather than venture back into the Big City to seek it out.
“When we moved back, one of the things we wanted to be able to do is build a state-of-the-art facility that could support the clients that I was working with: professionals from New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, Chicago and all the major cities,” Mr. Lucero said.
“Secondly, we wanted to build a facility that we could pour into the next generation. When I went to school and to the college here, there was no recording studio. The tech class was in our classroom, with a bunch of old equipment. So I wanted a place where I could start training the younger generation and teach them all the things I had learned from touring, recording in the studios of Nashville, and from my Audio Recording studies at Middle Tennessee State University.”
The process to bring that facility to fruition was time-consuming and costly.
“We found the building, gutted it and put in all new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, everything,” Mr. Lucero said.
The studio was acoustically designed by the Los Angeles-based Rains Engineering, with custom built rooms from the ground up. An impressively versatile arsenal of gear, both state-of-the-art and uniquely retro, are the tools by which Mr. Lucero plies his in-demand trade.
“We built this out of faith and decided to try it,” Mr. Lucero said of Perfect World. “My feeling was, ‘If we build it, I’m sure they will come.’”
And come they have.
“Fortunately, thank God, it’s worked really well,” Mr. Lucero continued.
In addition to the slate of out-of-state clients – recording artists, performers, voice over artists, producers – who regularly seek out his services, Mr. Lucero has recorded and produced albums for local artists such as Rory Huskin and Overton Road, for which he serves as drummer.
With his own written curriculum as the base, Mr. Lucero’s successful Music Academy continues to expose high schoolers to songwriting, performance and production. He also employs that curriculum in his duties as an instructor at Colorado State University Pueblo.
Having toured the world and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in music, including The Beach Boys, The Temptations and Glen Campbell, Mr. Lucero hardly could have imagined that more than 35 years after he set sail for the bright lights of the “biz,” he would find himself – happily at that – right back where he started.
“I never dreamed of it, and never wanted to come back,” he admitted. “But we were at a point in our lives when my parents needed us, and it was the natural thing to help them through the end of their lives after all the sacrifices they made for us.
“The plan was to get through that season and then move back to Nashville or Los Angeles. But things have gone so well here we’ve stayed.”
In Pueblo, Mr. Lucero has reconnected with old friends and family while forging new friendships and partnerships.
“There’s a great music scene here,” he said. “And we want to continue to be a resource for networking musicians, songwriters and producers. Our staff continues to grow and it’s funny, because now we are at the point of hiring some of the kids who actually went through our Music Academy.
“So now it’s come full circle.”
Perfect World studio is located at 301 South Main Street. For more on Mr. Lucero and the facility, visit www.perfectworldmusic.com.