Legendary Coach Lenny Roybal At Long Last Is A Hit

Legendary Coach Lenny Roybal, 83, was a star for a few minutes Thursday as he played his original tune ‘Red or Green?’ for members of the House of Representatives in an effort to get lawmakers to adopt the tune as New Mexico’s official State Chile Song (link). Post screenshot

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Lenny Roybal was dreaming of stardom about the time Glen Campbell’s version of “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” hit the radio airwaves late in 1967.

It was a huge hit for Campbell, leaving Roybal’s version — recorded as a single on the Corby Records label around the same time — to languish in obscurity.

“There but for the grace of Glen Campbell go I,” Roybal said with a laugh as he recalled the sunny days of 1960s California when he hoped to be a music star.

The 83-year-old former teacher, coach and educational administrator was a star for a few minutes Thursday as he played his original tune “Red or Green?” for members of the House of Representatives in an effort to get lawmakers to adopt the tune as New Mexico’s official State Chile Song. (link)

Lawmakers voted with their hands first, applauding his performance of the original song, written some 12 years ago or so. The tune pays homage to the scent, taste and culinary culture associated with both red and green chile.

The House then unanimously voted 65-0 to approve House Bill 510 — which would make “Red or Green?” the official chile song — and sent it on its way to the Senate for consideration.

Roybal is known primarily around the region as “Coach” after his years at Santa Fe High, Española Valley and the College of Santa Fe, where he led their basketball programs to prominence and success.

He said he first began playing the guitar when he was 17 after his older brother, Toby Roybal, brought him one from Mexico. 

“Self-taught,” Toby Roybal said, cradling his guitar in his lap.

He’s been strumming it ever since, singing cover tunes of other artists’ works and his own original creations, including “Little Daisy” — another Corby recording. You can find that song, as well his Roybal’s take on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, on YouTube.

Though he spent a few years on the West Coast trying to break into the music business in the 1960s, he returned to New Mexico to work as a physical education teacher and coach. He mostly retired in 1999, he said, though he sometimes returned to the school system to coach after that.

He said he sometimes felt torn between coaching and strumming the guitar and singing. Sometimes, he could combine the two.

John Sena, deputy director of the Legislative Education Study Committee, recalled Roybal taking part in a duet of the Everly Brothers’ ballad “Dream” as part of a talent show at Española Valley High.

“He was game to help the journalism program and perform for the students,” said Sena, adding, “We were no Everly Brothers but we did OK.”

Roybal threw his hat into the political arena once, running for a county commission seat in 2010. He raised less than any of his competitors in the race — not even $3,700 — by selling raffle tickets.

Vying for a political seat once was enough for him, he said.

“I got politics out of my system — I lost,” he said with a laugh during an interview in the House chamber.

He began working in the House of Representatives as a sergeant at arms 11 years ago, he said. He can often be seen and heard there serenading people with his guitar.

Richard Sena, sergeant at arms for the House, called Roybal a “top notch, reliable” worker.

Sena, who held the microphone while Roybal performed Thursday, said: “I’m proud I got to hold the mic for him.”

“He’ll do anything for publicity,” Roybal said of Sena in response.

Roybal insists he does not get involved with or talk politics while working at the Legislature during the session.

Still, when asked which he preferred — red or green? — his answer sounded a little bit like that of an entrenched politician. 

“It depends on who’s cooking it,” he said.

Richard Sena could only smile and shake his head when he heard that one.

“He’s learned how to answer questions here,” Sena said.


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