Farmington singer-songwriter hopes to make splash with first CD in 15 years

Gabriel Lucero was hoping to play new work at Montana festival

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Gabriel Lucero is a 1981 graduate of Farmington HIgh School.
  • His new CD "Juice" was produced by his longtime friend Joel Racheff of the Bar D Wranglers.
  • Lucero had been scheduled to perform in August at the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival in Montana.

FARMINGTON — It didn't take Gabriel Lucero long to figure out the value of being able to write a catchy tune.

In 10th grade, while just starting out as a musician, the Farmington native penned a funny little ditty called "Watch Me Pee." To his astonishment, the song became a bit of a sensation in local circles, and every time he performed, people started calling for it.

Lucero enjoyed seeing audience members react positively to the music he had created. Although he eventually settled into a career as an electrician, and got married and raised a family, he has spent the last 40-plus years chasing that feeling of validation he first experienced as a teenage songwriter. This summer, he has released his first new CD in 15 years, "Juice," a collection of eight original tunes that lean heavily on personal themes, most notably his affection for his family and his home state.

Gabriel Lucero focuses mostly on personal themes on his new eight-song CD "Juice."

The release of the recording was timed to coincide with Lucero's planned performance in June at the annual Red Lodge Songwriter Festival in Red Lodge, Montana, northeast of Yellowstone National Park. Lucero, who had taken part in a songwriting class at the event for the past two years, was selected to join a group of other "Rising Star" songwriters for three showcase performances this year over the festival's weekend-long run.

But the COVID-19 pandemic ruined those plans, causing the postponement of the festival in June and later the cancellation of its makeup dates in August.

That development was disappointing, Lucero said, but it hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for taking his new songs to the ears of listeners. He's still feeling an enormous amount of pride over just being invited to perform at the festival, an event that features such songwriters as Kostas — a fixture on the Nashville scene who has written dozens of songs that have been recorded by the likes of Dwight Yoakam, the Mavericks, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride — and Susan Gibson, the Texas songwriter who penned "Wide Open Spaces," which became a megahit for the Dixie Chicks, as they were known when the tune raced up the country charts in 1998, eventually landing at No. 1.

"I know what bittersweet means now — 100%," he said, referring to the alternating feelings of excitement and dismay he has experienced this summer as he watched his chance to perform at the festival come and go.

As the winner of several songwriting awards over the years, Farmington native Gabriel Lucero hopes to license some of his material to other performers.

It wasn't the first time Lucero has been recognized for his songwriting. Over the years, he has claimed four wins in the New Mexico Music Awards, including twice taking home the Country Song of the Year title.

But a showcase slot at the Red Lodge festival was special to him. Even though Lucero already has been invited to take part in the next festival in June 2021, he couldn't help but feel let down last weekend, when he would have been finalizing his plans to head north for the event.

"To get accepted into the songwriting group was more of an honor than the (New Mexico Music Awards) I've won, to be honest with you," Lucero said.

The 1981 Farmington High School graduate would like nothing more than to be able to showcase his new CD with some local gigs, but with the resurgence of the virus in recent weeks, there is no opportunity to do that, either.

Gabriel Lucero was scheduled to travel to Montana in August for a showcase at the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the event.

Instead, Lucero has to content himself with personally putting the disc in the hands of as many people as possible and hoping it sparks some interest. He recorded the disc this spring under the production of his longtime pal Joel Racheff, better known as the bassist for the Bar D Wranglers, at Eagle Sound in Durango, Colorado. Racheff also produced Lucero's first CD "Tears of the Lonely."

Lucero counted himself lucky to be able to land Racheff as the producer of the project, since he is usually booked all summer playing with the Wranglers.

"If the virus hadn't hit, I don't know if I would have gotten to use Joel," Lucero said.

Racheff characterized Lucero as his best friend and said he has grown considerably as an artist since they last worked together in 2005.

"He's 15 years older, so he's writing from a smarter perspective," Racheff said. He's also expanded his musical vocabulary. He has a real 50s background, because that's the music his father listened to, but he's expanded that and kept that at the same time."

Gabriel Lucero gestures as he talks about the dry-erase board he uses to compose the lyrics for his songs.

Racheff assembled an ace team of backing musicians to bring Lucero's songs to life, including Ted Hockenbury on steel guitar, a member of Chevel Shepherd's backing band. The group also included drummer Steve Dejka, who normally performs with the Kirk James Blues Band, and Racheff on bass and electric guitar.

"That little group I got, I would stack them up against anybody," Lucero said.

"Juice" is a deeply personal album, opening with "New Mexico," which is essentially an ode to Lucero's home state. He wrote it shortly after returning from last year's songwriter festival in Red Lodge, many of the lyrics coming to him after he left Cody, Wyoming, at 4:30 a.m. on the day after the festival ended and pointed his vehicle south.

"Breathe Away" was a tune he polished with the help of feedback he received from his associates at the festival's songwriting class that same year, giving the Red Lodge event a strong presence in his work.

"Dust on It" is a heartfelt rumination on the vintage Fender Jaguar guitar that Lucero inherited from his father, a onetime guitarist who contributed heavily to his son's love of music, along with the youngster's uncles. Lucero's eyes shone as he held the guitar and described how his father took him to see the Eagles at the Pit in Albuquerque in 1980, an event that left an indelible impression on him.

The disc also features the pure cowboy sensibilities of "Dog-gone Shame." Lucero said the tune's most important line — "Can't cowboy no more" — was actually a lyric he had scribbled for another song he was writing on a dry-erase board in the home office where he does his composing. Lucero found himself staring at the line and realized it was the perfect launching point for its own tune.

"I said, 'That's a song right there,'" he said.

Gabriel Lucero strums the vintage Fender Jaguar electric guitar he inherited from his father, the subject of his song "Dust on It" from his new CD "Juice."

Racheff said Lucero's greatest strength is that he is a prolific songwriter.

"He's always working. He's always got something in the oven," Racheff said, also describing his friend as relentlessly upbeat when it comes to his craft. "I have a love-hate relationship with songwriting, but he's always optimistic about."

Lucero takes pride in his performing, but he makes no bones about the fact that he considers himself a songwriter first and foremost. He already has enough tunes for another new album, and writing is something he would feel compelled to do even if it never led to anything.

Gabriel Lucero called upon his old friend, Bar D Wranglers bassist Joel Racheff, when it came time to find a producer for his new CD "Juice."

But nothing would give him greater pleasure, he said, than to see some of his material licensed to other artists who can take it to another level — and a much-larger audience.

"I want a miracle," he said, smiling sheepishly and acknowledging he still dreams of making a splash in the music industry. He understands that's not likely to happen, but if it does, he's already thought about how it would feel.

"I'll be the happiest guy in Farmington," he said.

Racheff long ago took note of Lucero's devotion to writing and said it largely has come to define him.

"He's not a musician's musician," Racheff said. "But he's a songwriter's songwriter."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.