Though they may not be able to gamble legally in this establishment, that hasn’t stopped the teen quartet of The Cruz Brothers from dropping a single and having its red carpet release party at Tampa’s renowned Hard Rock Café.
Founded three years ago by brothers Phil and PJ Cruz, ages 15 and 17, what could have been chalked up as another teenage pipe dream of rock star fame has taken the brothers and bandmates Cory Jones, 19, and Taylor Benson, 17, to places most people only dream about.
It all began with young PJ being terrible on guitar and younger Phil being equally horrible on drums. Phil’s drum teacher told the family to consider switching the boys’ musical instruments.
Both boys excelled where the other had been unsuccessful — and the shift was life changing.
“I’m inspired by performers like Dave Grohl and Neil Peart,” said PJ. “I like playing drums because it’s almost like another way to communicate. When I hold together a beat, it’s almost like I’m crafting an art — like I’m painting with brute force.”
After lessons and realizing that music was something much more than a hobby — and two unsuccessful cover bands — they decided they wanted to showcase their own original sound and music.
That decision birthed The Cruz Brothers.
The first addition to The Cruz Brothers was Taylor, a musically multitalented classmate, a pianist whom PJ met at a middle school talent show. While in one of their other groups, Phil taught Taylor bass guitar and she mastered the skill.
The newly formed Cruz Brothers debuted at their middle school talent show. Soon, they had a fan following both online and through venues, special events and festivals across Tampa Bay including Sacred Ground Coffee House, The Noise Box, Ybor Daily Market and Rock the Park.
Newest member of four months, Cory, sent them a Facebook message when he saw they were auditioning new talent.
“I remember being in the crowd and hearing Phil play and thinking, ‘Wow, that guy really shreds.’ I followed them from there and certainly didn’t think, years later, I’d be in the band,” he said. “They were doing open auditions for the rhythm guitarist and I sent them an audition of me playing, which they really liked, and I went to the audition and it went really well and here I am.”
Cory stressed how nice it was being in a musical project where they all “speak the same musical language.”
Bass player Taylor holds her own as the lone female musician in the band. Taylor not only plays bass, she’s an accomplished pianist, violinist and Chinese erhu player.
“They’re basically my brothers,” said Taylor. “I like being the only girl — how I stand out in the group. Some people come to me and compare me to the bassist in Sick Puppies. It’s a really cool feeling and I consider myself a brother at heart. I’m just the girlie brother.”
Recently, the foursome decided to submit a video application to perform at the Tampa Bay Acoustic Music Festival at Hard Rock Café.
“They selected us,” said Phil. “And the rest is history. We are so grateful for the opportunity.”
With the support of both their family and “adopted” family James Geiger, PR manager and photographer, The Cruz Brothers has become well know enough that if someone types “The Cruz” into Google, this band is the first to appear in the search word suggestions.
In June, The Cruz Brothers performed with 60 other bands at the Tampa Bay Acoustic Music Festival. At the end of the event, they were shocked and honored with being selected as one of 10 bands to represent the Hard Rock Café as a Brand Ambassador.
In July, The Cruz Brothers debuted their single “What I Am” at a launch party hosted at Hard Rock Café.
“The song is really important to us as a band,” Phil said. “It’s about judgment. Not to judge a book by its cover and get to know a person before you make assumptions about their personality. It was kind of difficult to write because it brought back memories of being bullied in middle school. I’m hoping that people will hear the lyrics and it will help them know that someone is out there, understands their situation and we’re trying to say something about it.”
On Aug. 15, the group was live on 102.5 The Bone’s “The Cat Named Moe Show” where they performed their new single acoustically.
The future for these talented teens couldn’t be brighter.
Both The Cruz Brothers and photographer James were nominated in Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay. Fans can now vote to see their favorites receive top honors.
“We can see ourselves doing this for the rest of our lives,” said Phil. “As long as we can, as long as I can move my fingers.”
To learn more or to book The Cruz Brothers, visit www.thecruzbrothers .com or www.facebook .com/TheCruzBrothers or email PR manager at [email protected]
The Cruz Brothers can be seen Sept.19 at Carrollwood Players Theatre for Life Amplified SADDLE UP charity showcase. See www.lifeamplifiedshow case.com.
Vote for Creative Loafing Best of the Bay at https://creativeloafing .wufoo.com/forms/arts -entertainment-z97pcmu 03w9dbe/.