Gecko Turner grew up in Spain, learning English from the blues artists he loved. After a long musical journey, he started composing in a style that combined jazz, blues, samba, reggae, hip-hop, Arab music, and more into something all his own. Journalists in Spain dubbed it Afromeño (rough translation: Afrobeatnik), but the sound owes as much to North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Arab continuum as it does to Africa.
Gecko Turner (born Fernando Gabriel Echave Pelaez) grew up in Badajoz, Spain, a small town about halfway between Lisbon and Madrid. As a teenager he fell in love with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, as well as soaking up the international and Spanish music he heard on the radio. Hearing the Stones sent him on a quest for the music that inspired Jagger and company, and he discovered Elmore James, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Big Joe Turner, and other blues artists. He taught himself guitar in his teens and formed a band to cover American and British pop from the Kinks to Bowie, Talking Heads to James Brown. In his late teens, Turner discovered jazz, finding a special affinity for the Afro-Cuban sounds of Dizzy Gillespie. He hitched all over Spain to follow Gillespie on tour, listening to bebop and reading Jack Kerouac. At 20 he moved to London and busked in tube stations with a borrowed guitar. He didn't make much money, but learned how to grab a crowd's attention. He also soaked up London's jazz scene. He returned to Badajoz for his mother's funeral, got married, and took a job in a bank, working nights so he didn't have to cut his hair or take out his earrings. When his wife died after a long illness, Turner quit the bank and went back to music full-time.
His first band as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter was called Animal Crackers, a Joy Division-meets-Sonic Youth aggregation that delighted in its own noise-making. They made two albums and Turner almost went deaf. He quit and started Reverendos with his boyhood friend Gene Garcia. They played acoustic guitars while Garcia would do his impressions of a Southern American Baptist preacher. In the mid-'90s, Turner moved to Merida and got a job in a 24-track, two-inch tape analog recording studio — the studio where the Animal Crackers albums were recorded. He learned how to produce records and started Perroflauta (Dog Flute) with Alvaro "Dr. Robelto" Fernandes, bass; Edú Nascimento, guitar; César González, drums, percussion; Irapoan Freire, trumpet; Rogerio Da Sousa, percussion; Alberto Guillot, percussion; Diego Antunez, flute and sax; Rodney d'Assis, percussion; and Markos Bayón, guitar and vocals. Half the band was Brazilian, and they played a blend of samba and reggae. They made several CDs and toured all over Spain. When he went to the copyright office to register his songs, the form had a space for both proper name and an alias. He'd been nicknamed Gecko since boyhood and loved the music of Big Joe Turner, and wrote down Gecko Turner on a whim. When the copyright office sent him a confirmation order addressed to Gecko Turner, he took it as a sign and began using it as his stage name.
When Perroflauta broke up, Turner made demos of the new tunes he had been writing that combined the Brazilian reggae he'd been playing with the blues and rock he'd always loved. His wife lent him $1,000 to book time in a small studio in Madrid. He finished the album, and enlisted the big names that helped him make Guapapasea! by promising to pay them when he got a record deal. Love Monk, a new indie label, put out the album in Europe and Japan, allowing him to pay off the studio and his friends. Turner, who sings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, put together a band he called the Afrobeatnik Orchestra and toured to support the album. Guapapasea! won Spain's Premio Extremadura a la Creación in 2005, given each year to writers and musicians who have created work that furthers the recognition of the Spanish language as a creative medium. His follow-up, Chandalismo Illustrado (Sweatsuits Illustrated), is heavy on the funk, with highlife, various Cuban rhythms, and a Tom Waits tribute adding to his already eclectic blend. ~ j. poet