Saxophonist Marco Palos is known throughout Southern California and beyond as a dynamic and energetic performer. Having modeled himself after great showmen from Louis Prima to Elvis and Michael Jackson, his goal on stage is simple: “If people aren’t raving by the end of a show, then we didn’t do our job right.” He is the cofounder and leader of Phat Cat Swinger, a 10-piece group that carries the torch of the West Coast Swing tradition ignited by bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Royal Crown Revue. He also performs with multiple groups at Disneyland, as well as national and international touring acts such as The Rip ‘Em Ups and Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses.
Marco was born in the heart of Los Angeles and did most of his growing up in Hesperia, CA. Music was an integral part of his life from the start. Some of his earliest memories are of listening to his grandmother play guitar and sing, while he played along on toy instruments. In 4th grade, he became infatuated with the saxophone, mostly because of his infatuation with Vivian, the 5th-grader who played it. By the time they reached high school, he had achieved his goal of sitting next to her in the sax section, and laid the groundwork for his life in music. He played in jazz band, marching band, and symphonic band, and also began forming his own groups outside of school. In addition to the thrill of performing, Marco recalls, “I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie and family atmosphere that came with being in a band,” and he continues to enjoy it in the groups he is part of today.
After graduating from Sultana High School in 2000, Marco began pursuing a degree in Music Education at Victor Valley Community College. He also began teaching lessons at John Barnes Music Studio. Barnes became a business mentor, encouraging Marco to get savvy in the non-musical aspects of the music business. The college’s financial aid matching program presented an opportunity to work at a real estate firm. Marco started answering phones, but was quickly learning about finance, contracts, and anything else he felt he could apply to his future as a professional musician.
In 2002, he attended a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert with his high school friend, Will Pattinson, and they got to meet the band afterwards. Marco and Will knew instantly that they wanted to be in a band like that. So began the genesis of Phat Cat Swinger, as well as Marco’s relationships with two more mentors, Voodoo Daddy’s bassist/vocalist Dirk Shumaker and saxophonist Karl Hunter. In the following years, Dirk became a trusted friend and advisor to Marco in the ways of the music business, and Karl helped him find his voice on the sax. “Each lesson with Karl was great! He pushed me out of my musical comfort zone, often giving me things that just didn't click. But when they did, it was like a door to another room opened up with space that I could fill with all sorts of ideas and techniques. I used to want to sound like Charlie Parker but quickly realized so did every other sax player. I wanted to find the greats that weren't in the mainstream anymore and make it work today.” He immersed himself in the playing of lesser-known masters like Sam Butera, Earl Bostic and Lee Allen, whose styles of playing go by multiple names including “dirty sax,” “gut-bucket,” and “honking.” “That’s where I found my niche, with those guys. I pulled all of my favorite things those guys did and made my own sound with it.”
The untimely death of Marco’s sister in 2004 served as a wake-up call. He realized he hadn’t pursued his goals as aggressively as he could have, and had wasted time he could have spent with his sister. He vowed not to waste any more, and began working almost constantly—at the real estate firm during the day, with Phat Cat Swinger at night, and arranging music for the band into the early morning hours. These efforts resulted in TV and film spots for the band, including a Christina Aguilera video, and a gig at The House of Blues opening for their friends and mentors, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
In 2007, Marco was faced with a choice: Assume a top-level position for which he was being groomed at the real estate firm, or commit to a full-time career as a performer. Ironically, it was an inspirational poster in the real estate office that helped him decide. “It was one of those cheesy posters you see in offices…there was a picture of a little boat in a harbor and it said ‘A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.’ I knew I had to sail.” He turned down the job, withdrew from college, and devoted himself to seeing and being seen in the clubs and venues of Los Angeles. “In the same way a student invests in an education, I invested in networking.” Constantly appearing to see other bands play and being invited to sit in with them increased Marco’s visibility and reputation on the L.A. scene, as well as Phat Cat Swinger’s. He became a regular member of multiple bands at the top of the West Coast Swing and Rockabilly scenes, including Devil Doll, The Rip ‘Em Ups, and Vicky Tafoya & The Big Beat. Through Vicky’s guitarist Greg Erba, Marco also caught the attention of Louis Prima Jr. After three years, his hustle culminated in three separate European tours in 2010 with Colleen Duffy (Devil Doll), Phat Cat Swinger, and The Rip ‘Em Ups, and his promotion to lead sax man for Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses.
2012 brought another performance opportunity at Disney’s California Adventure. Although Marco didn’t find out about the audition until the night before and had no time to prepare, he figured he had nothing to lose except some gas money. He drove to Anaheim the next day, dressed to the nines and ready to show them what he could do. “I’ve always been influenced by the guys that put on a show,” and that was exactly what Disney was looking for. Marco was selected from over 40 candidates to join the Five & Dime Band, with whom he has performed multiple times per week ever since.
Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses continue to tour in support of their critically-acclaimed 2014 album, Blow. In addition to tenor sax duties on the album, Marco contributed as writer or co-writer on seven out of its eleven tracks. Phat Cat Swinger is busier than ever, performing in every corner of Southern California as they plan a followup tour to their successful "Swing Across America" Tour that took them from Las Vegas to New York and back in 14 days! The band just finished their 3rd album release, "Saturday Night!" and plan to start up a new series of performance videos on YouTube.
Regardless of where or with whom he performs, Marco’s greatest satisfaction always comes from connecting with his audience. It’s something he’s strived for since the early days of Phat Cat Swinger, when their first gigs were at elementary schools and retirement homes. He was surprised to find his performances inspire a kid to pick up an instrument, or snap an old woman out of a depression. He remembers fondly a woman named Hazel who, nearing the end of her life, made it a point to see the band as many times as she could. She even included Phat Cat Swinger in her will. Since then, Marco has known that “sometimes the music gives more than we realize to the people listening. So for me, beyond the paycheck, beyond the self-gratification, the drive comes from seeing what it gives and what it can do. That’s the standard I hold myself to for everything I do. When I get up there, I better mean every note. If it doesn’t change their life, I hope it at least it gives them a moment of happiness.”
Connect with Marco today, write a note on the contact page or visit him on Facebook. He'll be happy to hear from you!
Mouthpiece: Silver plated solid brass #7 Yanigasawa
Alto Saxophone: Selmer Reference 54 - Hummingbird Series
Mouthpiece: Claude Lakey hard rubber 5*3 AND 6*3 with a Rovner Dark Rubber Ligature
Vandoren Java "Filed - Red Cut" are Marco's reed of choice.