For a while it seemed like every time you switched on late-night TV, tuned into the radio, or went to a show, there was Charlie “Chalo” Quintana on the drums.
Bob Dylan, Cracker, Joan Osborne, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, Soul Asylum, Social Distortion, the Cruzados, Agent Orange, and the Havalinas comprise just some of the artists Quintana worked with over the years.
And then one day, the Charlie sightings became less frequent. Eventually it seemed like this great drummer had vanished altogether. Following his death this past March 12 at the age of fifty-six, we got a hint as to why. Quintana had been struggling in recent years with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his sister Elizabeth Montoya told the Los AngelesTimes. He also suffered from arthritis, which she said made it very difficult for him to continue playing drums.
Health wasn’t the only issue for Quintana, who had been living in Mexico. Social media posts from earlier this year indicated he’d been the victim of a robbery and was having trouble paying for medicine. Friends were assisting with fundraising efforts.
Quintana first made a name for himself as a teenager in the late ’70s with the pioneering L.A. Latino punk rock band the Plugz. Even at such a tender age, you could hear a song-first savvy in Quintana’s playing on tracks like “Achin’,” as he snaps off Hal Blaine–like snare rolls while anchoring the infectious tune with the kind of big, smashy beats that next-gen alt-punk drummers such as Dave Grohl and Tré Cool would take to the bank.
Bob Dylan took notice of the Plugz and Quintana during their late-’70s/early-’80s run, using Quintana in his “Sweetheart Like You” video, which led to the drummer and other Plugz members famously backing Dylan during a ramshackle three-song performance on Late Night with David Letterman in 1984. Quintana toured in Dylan’s band for a spell in the early ’90s.
Shortly after the Dylan gig ended, Quintana joined Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, whose self-titled debut album was an unapologetically Stones-y, absolutely kick-ass affair that didn’t gain much traction. Sadly, the world at large never got to hear Quintana’s furious work on an amped-up cover of Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop.” Drumming that is at once totally off the chain and remarkably precise doesn’t get any better than this.
Quintana knew his way around a slow song too. Upon his passing, Cracker singer David Lowery commented about the drummer on Twitter with a link to the band’s dreamy 1996 ballad, “Big Dipper,” saying, “A true test of a drummer’s ability is a slow song. No one could ever match [Charlie] on this.”
Amen. Quintana puts on a definite slow-jam clinic in “Big Dipper,” with a hypnotic pulse that never wavers, tasty fills in just the right spots, and a spooky cymbal sizzle that fills in the wide-open spaces beautifully.
It’s a high point in a career that was sadly cut way too short.