CERRITO: Interview "Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country"

If you have ever seen CERRITO, you already know you will experience a rare entertaining combination of country music, romance and a spice of international flavor. He shifts effortlessly between Spanish and English converting country fans to his unique muy caliente sound with a show that’s spicier than your Momma’s jalapeno corn bread. While American audiences are still discovering CERRITO, he has won fans internationally touring Mexico, Europe, Japan, Honduras and the United Kingdom.

A love of music and entertaining came naturally to William Thomas Cerrito, one of six growing up in Providence, Rhode Island in a tight knit, multilingual, Italian family. His journey in the music industry is a story in its own and now he is concentrating on a new chapter as he puts his focus on a new project. CERRITO invited me to share time with him to talk about this new project as well as his past and the future.

Bev: I have heard some of the new CD “Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country” and it is so original and refreshing and you have quite a line up of duet partners. How did this come to fruition?

CERRITO: I am so happy about “South of the Border.” My first single off the album, Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country (Cerrito and the Girls of Country) is “South of the Border.” (It) is one of the duets with Lane Brody. All of the songs on the album are bilingual duets. It’s never been done in the history of any genre of music. Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country is going to be a monumental album in country music. When you hear the girls sing Spanish, you’re not going to believe it. Most of the girls on the album I met during the course of my career; at the Academy of Country Awards and of course, the CMA’s. I approached the girls, but the girls - Las Chicas – actually picked the songs that they wanted. Being the title of the album is Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country, what a better way than to kick off the album with Ms. “The Yellow Rose of Texas” with “South of the Border. [Editor’s Note: “The Yellow Rose of Texas” is a reference to Lane’s 1984 hit single.] It’s very Mexi-Cali with trumpets, guitars – it’s just beautiful!

Bev: I know you’re doing a lot of promotions here for the song. What else have you got going on?

CERRITO: We have full promoters on the album. I just did a wonderful interview with “The Linnda Durre Show,” out of Orlando, Florida. I have been to the New England area to promote. I performed at the CMA Music Festival this year with another of my duet partners, Lynn Anderson. We’ve had tremendous press with it. It’s just amazing the press that is coming through! It’s a good summer song. You can see people driving and singing along. I am also doing a very special show with Lane Brody and Rodney Crowell, Emily West, John Anderson, Robin Meade to raise funds for Walden's Puddle Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center on August 21st.

Bev: For the readers who may have not seen you perform, can you elaborate on the sound that is you, because you are an original sound that is all your own.

CERRITO: I just thought it was a wonderful way to solidify that there is room for the Hispanic market in country music. People really need to realize that. Now, I’m talking Hispanic. I’m not talking about Tejano. I’m not talking about Latin. I’m talking country. I just came back from a show called Border Fest in Hidalgo, Texas, which is on the Rio Grande. There were 85,000 people. It’s a 4-day event. Tim McGraw was there; Lady Antebellum was there. Charo and I had the same stage. There were some of your biggest acts out of Mexico. I went out and I sang country music in front of a 99.9% Mexican-American audience that all speak English and when I sang traditional country songs, they gave me a standing ovation. When I came to Nashville, I never went after a major deal. I never crammed it in front of anybody’s face, because many people said to me, “We’re already done it.” I just said, “You’ll see.”

Bev: How long have you been here?

CERRITO: I’ve been in Nashville 17 years. My music career took me to Rhode Island, Las Vegas, and California. Then, I went to Hawaii for 16 months, and that’s where I got national exposure. I decided to come to Nashville to sing country music. I’ve always sung country music in English and Spanish and in Nashville people would look at me as if I was a space Martian. So anyway, I didn’t get a very positive response from people. It didn’t bother me, because first of all, I don’t sound like Randy Travis. I don’t sound like anybody else. When you put a CERRITO record on, you know its CERITO. I also think that Music Row was somewhat tainted with the Hispanic market. They had tried it with Rick Trevino, it didn’t work. They tried it with Emilio, and it certainly didn’t work, and the reason I believe it didn’t work is that people thought that the Hispanic market was ignorant. It’s not an ignorant market. You have to remember a hundred years ago, there wasn’t even a border between Texas and Mexico. When you watch a Roy Rogers movie, who do you see playing behind them? Mexican mariachis. Now, Emilio was a Tejano performer. The country audiences didn’t know Emilio, but worked with Alan Jackson; that was his biggest break. But once he wasn’t (singing with) Alan Jackson, Emilio went back to Tejano, so it killed that. Then, they tried with Rick Trevino. Mi amigo, I love Rick; he’s a great guy. They sent Rick to Mexico to learn how to speak Spanish. My record label and my executive producer, Felipe de la Rosa, from Spain; was the first one who recognized my talent and he said to me, “You will never record a syllable in Spanish unless it’s correct.”

Bev: I think that’s where the confusion is. There are so many variances in that, that people bunch it all together.

CERRITO: You’re so correct. I’ve been called the King of Latin Country. Oh my gosh, Marco Antonio (Solis) – he’s the king of Latin! Tejano is Rick Trevino. I’m country. If you take my Spanish out of one of my songs, you’re listening to a traditional country song. It’s a huge difference! I’m very proud of what we do. I can’t wait for everybody to hear Elizabeth Cook singing Spanish! It’ll knock you out of the water!

Bev: How many duet partners do you have on your album?

CERRITO: We have Lane Brody. I invited Kathie Baillie from Baillie and the Boys. Kathie’s Italian and her Spanish is amazing. Lynn Anderson and my sister Sally Ann, who was just voted Rhode Island’s Female Vocalist. I also have Elizabeth Cook, Janie Fricke, Jett Williams, Moore and Moore, and we have one spot left. Actually, I approached Jeannie Sealy about a year ago. I have Lynn from 70s and Lane from the 80s. And, what I really wanted to do was get somebody from the 60s, which would be Jeannie or somebody of that caliber, because they really would represent country. So, I’m still pursuing that. So far, we have 10 girls on the album.

Bev: Now, did any of the female artists have to learn Spanish or did they already know Spanish?

CERRITO: Lynn Anderson’s Spanish was very good. Janie Fricke is from Texas; her Spanish is excellent! Elizabeth Cook is going to blow you out of the water with her Spanish! You know, radio’s been not so nice to some of those girls lately. But, it will be different with this album. You know what? I don’t want the stations that don’t want me. My goal is to go after the stations who do want to play my music.

Bev: What is the target date for the album release?

CERRITO: The album is one song away from complete. We hope to have an album release September 21. The artwork is all done; it’s beautiful.

Bev: Tell our readers a little about Charo and your relationship with her.

CERRITO: When I was living in Rhode Island, I had a beautiful hair salon. I had an opportunity to go to Las Vegas because the president of the National Cosmetology Association had offered me a job in either Hilton Head, South Carolina or Vegas. But, I was engaged to be married and I wasn’t really looking to move. He, being the president of the Association, he had tickets to anywhere. And of course, he was taking me around, because he really wanted me to work for him. But, I told him, “You know, Dave, I’ve got to tell you the truth; I just love my music.” He said, “Alright here’s what we’ll do. Who do you want to go see on the Strip?” I said I wanted to see Charo. When she came to Rhode Island, I bought the first two tickets to see her. We had a front row seat; she was at the Sahara. Her show was just fantastic! So, I go backstage, she was in her dressing room, and I’ll never forget, she said to me, “Hello. How are you? What is your name?” I said, “My name is CERRITO. I’m Italian, and I’m from Providence, Rhode Island.” She went, “You talk so funny!” And I said, “Well, you talk funny, too!” So of course, everybody laughs. And, the following day, we all get together, and Felipe, her guest, had a guitar. I picked up the guitar and started playing “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” They were all like, “What the heck is an Italian from Rhode Island doing country music?” Felipe was the contractor for her show, and two days later, she offered me a job in her show as a backup singer. I was 22 at the time. I called my mother and said, “Ma, you’re not going to believe this!” She said, “You remember one thing; you’re still very young. But this is a great opportunity.” I went home, sold my salon, called of my engagement and went to Las Vegas. I stood in the wings every night and I would learn her songs. I debuted with Charo in Atlantic City; I’ll never forget it, my whole family came up. I did The Tonight Show with her. After all that, Felipe told me it was time to go to Nashville. So I bought a house in Bellevue; I didn’t know one person. Felipe opened a label, and before you knew it, we have Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country.

Bev: What’s been the most exciting thing about your career?

CERRITO: The most exciting thing for me, at this point, is that my career now has definitely reached a new accolade. My last record went #1 in five nations in Europe. When we sat down to put together this album, I told everybody that I wanted this new album to be my accolade to the next level in my career. To me, Cerrito y Las Chicas de Country makes a statement in country music. It is the first ever bilingual collaboration of duets. You know, I’m very grateful. You work hard, but very few people make it to the height of Garth Brooks. But, what we did is put the cart before the horse. In other words, we built our audience first and then went to make our first record. Two years ago, I sang with Loretta Lynn at her ranch! It’s been a busy, productive year and I thank God every day.

Bev: You touched a little bit on your hairdressing. Are you still doing that at all?

CERRITO: Just for fun, yes. My band will come over, and I have a few friends whose hair I do. It was a career opportunity for me that when I came to Nashville. And you know, some of the people who sat in my chair opened doors for my music.

For more information on CERRITO visit www.CERRITOmusic.com

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