Tag Archives: late night

cleto and the cletones

Cleto and the Cletones: Late Night Family Demands Respect

cleto and the cletones
Photo: ABC/Randy Holmes

When Cleto and the Cletones band leader Cleto Escobedo, III, says that his team on Jimmy Kimmel Live! is like a family, it’s no exaggeration. His bandmates have been a part of his life for 25 years, since his early days in Los Angeles. His father, Cleto Escobedo, Jr., is a part of the band. Plus, he’s known Kimmel since childhood, as nine-year-olds in Las Vegas.

In their teens, Escobedo and Kimmel were big fans of late night television in the early ’80s, especially Late Night with David Letterman. But the friends never dreamed they’d one day occupy the coveted time slot.

While Escobedo showed early talent and interest in music, Kimmel was drawn to comedy. “That [late night television] really wasn’t an aspiration, though I would have loved to be a rock star guest on a show,” Escobedo laughs, adding, “but I’ll take the gig!”

He was in Atlanta on tour with Marc Anthony when he got the call. “Jimmy told me he got the show with ABC and asked me if I wanted to be the band leader,” says Escobedo. “Of course I said, ‘Hell, yes!’”

Escobedo set to work building his band. “I knew it had to be very versatile—able to play every kind of music and play things on the fly,” he says. That’s why Escobedo chose musicians he’d worked with off and on for years. “I started playing with my guitar player, Toshi Yanagi, the year I got to town and the other guys I’d played with in different bands. And, of course, my dad I’ve known my whole life!” he laughs.

Extended Family

The full Cleto and the Cletones lineup, all members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), is: Cleto Escobedo III (band leader, sax, vocals); Cleto Escobedo, Jr. (sax); Jeff Babko (keyboards, trombone); Jimmy Earl (bass); Jonathan Dresel (drums); and Toshi Yanagi (guitar).

“Musically they are very versatile, excellent musicians—all of them. They play everything from rock to funk to straight-ahead jazz. And, they are all my best friends, so I’ve known these guys forever. It’s a win on both ends,” says Cleto. “We can shoot each other looks and we know what to do, what to play. Our show is very much like a family, literally and figuratively.”

It was actually Kimmel’s idea to include Escobedo’s dad, Cleto, Jr. “That was amazing! He asked me who I wanted in the band and he already knew most of the guys. Then, he said, ‘How about your dad?’” recalls Escobedo.

By then, the senior Escobedo had been working as a butler at Caesars Palace for more than 30 years and his son knew he’d be reluctant to leave. Together, Kimmel and Escobedo III hatched a plan.

Before officially hiring the band, then-president of ABC, Lloyd Braun, wanted to see them perform. Escobedo booked a gig and invited his dad to come to town to watch the gig and possibly “sit in” with the band for a set.

“I didn’t tell him he was auditioning as well,” says Escobedo. “After the first set, Braun came over and said, ‘That’s great! Welcome to ABC.’ My dad comes up and shakes his hand and says, ‘Thank you for hiring my son; it will be fun to watch him.’ And Braun says, ‘Your son? You’re in the band too.’”

One More Time From the Top

cleto and the cletones
Leo Nocentelli (guitar, center) of the New Orleans funk band The Meters sits in with Cleto and the Cletones on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

The gig was a return to music for his father, who had been a professional musician and member of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) before going to work at Caesars. His band, Del Kings, which later became Los Blues, arrived in Vegas in 1965. They landed a steady 3:00 a.m. gig at the Sahara Hotel for about six years during the heydays of the Rat Pack. “Everyone would go to see them, from Sammy Davis to Elvis to Johnny Carson,” says Escobedo, III.

“He was on the road a lot and quit playing professionally in 1972 so he could watch me grow up,” Escobedo continues. “He gave up something he loved dearly for me, so it was a beautiful thing that Jimmy and I were able to give him the gift of playing professionally again.”

From years of watching late night television, Escobedo says he kind of knew what the job entailed—bumpers and walking people on with music. “But there is a lot of other stuff we do that people don’t know is even us—spontaneous stuff like singing fake jingles,” he says. The band also performs during commercial breaks and brings an all-important energy to the show.

One of the perks of being in a late night show band is getting to play with some legendary musicians who sometimes need backup or who occasionally sit in the band. The Cletones have played with Leo Nocentelli, George Benson, Michael McDonald, Billy Gibbons, and Dave Grohl.

Respect the Band

(L to R) Jimmy Earl; Toshi Yanagi; Cleto Escobedo Jr.; Cleto Escobedo, III; Jeff Babko; and Jonathan Dresel ask the networks to respect the band and pay them for their clips streamed online.

Musicians working on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, other late-night programs, and award shows are currently negotiating a new contract. The chief sticking point is the networks’ refusal to pay band members when they appear on YouTube and network websites. Other performers are all paid residuals when television shows stream on ad-supported platforms, but musicians do not receive residuals for this type of work. That’s why Cleto and the Cletones have joined with other musicians working in television to demand the networks respect the band and negotiate a fair contract.

Escobedo says he was surprised to learn that musicians were not being paid residuals for ad-supported streaming like other performers. “Musicians are part of the team and should be treated the same as everyone else,” says Escobedo. “From the guy who carries the cable to the camera operator, everyone on the show is needed and we should all be treated fairly.”

“Whatever work we do, we should be compensated in a fair way. We aren’t asking for anything over the top. We do the work—pay us for the work,” says Escobedo.

Fighting for the Future

Looking to the next generation of musicians, the importance of being paid for streaming is amplified. In crafting today’s contracts we have to consider how tomorrow’s musicians will be able to earn a living wage in a digital world.

Musicians have been negotiating a new contact for more than two years, and are scheduled to resume negotiations in October. The contract not only covers those musicians with regular gigs—The Roots (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon), Stay Human (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), The Saturday Night Live Band, and American Idol musicians—it also covers hundreds of other musicians performing on live shows as guests or subs, on awards shows, or at sporting events.

If the musicians of the future can’t make a living, everyone loses. “Streaming is the future. It may be all streaming by the time I retire, and we need to fix this to ensure that, when the kids now in school get ‘television’ gigs, the money is there,” says Escobedo.

New International Representative, TV Negotiations Update

I am pleased to announce that Dave Shelton, former president of Local 554-635 (Lexington, KY), has become the newest member the Federation’s staff as an International Representative (IR), filling a field position that became vacant May 2017 with the departure of Barbara Owens.

International Representatives are the first line of help and assistance for local officers in matters pertaining to day-to-day operations and governance issues in running a local. They are readily available to assist local officers with onsite training, preparation of operating plans, budgeting, and compliance issues relative to AFM Bylaws and Department of Labor regulations. IRs are a resource for the development and application of local bylaws, mergers, membership rosters, newsletters, membership meetings, and elections.

New AFM International Representative for Midwest Territory Dave Shelton

Dave Shelton is uniquely qualified for service as an IR with his broad experience as a versatile professional musician and as a local officer, symphonic negotiator, orchestra committee chair, union steward, and AFM conference officer. An outstanding musician with many years of orchestral horn and jazz piano performance experience, Dave graduated summa cum laude in 2007 from one of the world’s most respected music schools, the University of North Texas (UNT), with a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies. At UNT, he served as a teaching fellow and a jazz lab band director. Prior to his study at UNT, Dave earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky. He has performed as fourth horn with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra for nearly two decades, and also serves as pianist and arranger for that orchestra’s pops series.   

During his years of service as a local officer with Lexington Local 554-635, Dave excelled in fundraising and development activities, public relations, collective bargaining, and contract negotiations. He was elected as an officer of the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in 2016, and currently serves as its vice president.

Dave now joins IRs Allistair Elliott (Canada), Wally Malone (Western Territory), Cass Acosta (Southeast Territory), and Eugene Tournour (Northeast Territory) who are each assigned a geographic territory of individual locals to maintain regular contact and visitation. The IRs’ activities are coordinated by Assistant to the President Ken Shirk, who is based in our West Coast Office, located in Burbank, California. We are delighted to welcome Dave as the newest member of the Federation’s staff. I know he will do an excellent job.

TV Negotiations Update—Respect the Band!

The Late Late Show band, members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), (L to R) Tim Young, Hagar Ben Ari, Guillermo Brown, Reggie Watts, and Steve Scalfati demand fair pay when their work is streamed online.

On December 15, 2017, the Federation resumed discussions in Los Angeles with representatives from CBS, NBC, and ABC toward a successor agreement covering the services of musicians engaged to perform on live television. Despite three rounds of negotiations, which began 18 months ago, the talks have been deadlocked over the networks’ refusal to bargain over the Federation’s proposals for progressive payment terms for advertiser-supported and subscriber-based streaming of live and on-demand TV. Our proposals for better terms for musicians engaged in the production of live television programs made for initial exhibition on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu were also rebuffed.

Despite the networks’ stonewalling, our team was determined to break the bottleneck and find ways to turn up the heat. At my request, AFM Organizing and Education Director Michael Manley, together with organizers from Local 802 (New York City) and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Recording Musicians Association President Marc Sazer, and player representative Jason Poss of Local 47 worked to develop a plan of action by arranging a series of meetings with musicians working on late night shows, award shows, and prime time variety shows. The musicians identified, discussed, and prioritized issues surrounding the producers’ lack of additional payment when their performances are free to watch online.

A concerted campaign with a catchy name, #respecttheband, emerged from those meetings and quickly gained traction. As the December negotiations got underway in Los Angeles, audience members waiting in line outside the studios on both coasts received leaflets outlining the issues. Musicians from the bands inside released statements to the press speaking out about producers’ lack of respect and fair treatment when their performances are streamed.

The Late Late Show with James Corden musicians released a photo from their green room displaying a #respecttheband banner.

“Other performers are all paid when Jimmy Kimmel Live! streams on YouTube or other online outlets, yet musicians are paid nothing. Musicians just want to be compensated for our likeness and our music,” says Cleto Escobedo III, musical director of Cleto and the Cletones. “I love Jimmy, the producers, and everyone we work with. We just need to make sure the networks treat us and all of our colleagues fairly.”

“This is about fairness. It’s a travesty that musicians are being treated this way. We are just asking the networks for a little respect—and the networks can certainly afford to treat musicians with the respect we deserve,” says Harold Wheeler, who is well known in the Broadway and recording scene and will be the Oscar’s music director in 2018 for the third consecutive year. He was also the original Dancing With the Stars music director.

Amen to brothers Cleto Escobedo III and Harold Wheeler, the Corden band, and our organizing team of highly motivated AFM staff, local officers and staff, and dedicated player representatives—bravo!

With a publicity push from AFM Communications Director Rose Ryan, the musicians’ concerted activities in support of their bargaining objectives received extensive coverage in Deadline Hollywood and Variety.

As a direct result, the networks have now agreed to engage and negotiate over the Federation’s proposals for fair and equitable compensation when musicians’ performances are streamed. Our next round of TV talks will occur this spring.