About Mike Roman
Musical Footsteps and Roman Ways
Any follower of a rock group can visibly attest to the tremendous mental and physical energy expended in a single performance, even a single song. Imagine the pressure on one person actually managing, performing, composing and arranging the music for a very popular and hard working Midwest band. Such a person is Mike Roman, a charismatic musician and multi-talented entertainer whose insatiable ambition has contributed to his tremendous success, both as leader/founder of The Tellstars and as a civil/criminal lawyer on the Southeast side of Chicago doing business as Michael Roman & Associates.
In the 1970’s, Mike’s Latin style and melodic lead guitar caught the ear of Latin legend and Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame member, Jose “Chepito” Areas, at a college concert at Northern Illinois University. Soon thereafter, “Chepito,” best known throughout the world as the original timbale player and composer for the internationally known Santana band, invited Mike to perform with Santana in a New Year’s Eve jam session in San Francisco, California.
Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco-Mexico, to Dr. Miguél Román and María Román, Mike was educated at the prestigious Colegio Cervantes Centro, a Marist Brothers elementary religious institution where he received his share of scholastic awards and belonged to the Boy Scouts. Although Dr. Román had passed away when Mike was only a year old, Mike followed in his father’s and paternal aunt’s musical footsteps taking up the guitar and the piano at the age of twelve. (His father played the violin and his aunt, Maria de Jèsus Román, played the piano).
After Dr. Roman had passed away, infant Mike, along with his widow mother and his older sister Delia, moved in with his maternal grandmother near the downtown Cathedral of Guadalajara. As he was growing up he made lots of neighborhood friends with whom he formed a club which called themselves, “The 10 Most Wanted.” This mischievous juvenile gang of “Oliver Twist pirates” had decided to make an old colonial inn into their own private playground and day- dreamed about finding the buried treasure, which according to legend, was somewhere within the Inn’s 6 ft thick walls. “El Mesón Del Refugio,” (The Refuge Inn), located next door to Mike’s house, was a 17th century stone and Roman marble landmark, which had been built by the Spanish as a fort and trading post, and later converted into a market warehouse and hotel.
Like modern day "Trojan Horse Warriors," the gang would penetrate the Inn by jumping on top of delivery trucks, as they arrived to unload their fresh cargo inside the patio-parking lot. The stowaways would remain hidden beneath the tarp, until the truck driver would leave to check in with the inn-keeper, and take his usual siesta. The "pirates" would then quickly "confiscate" dairy products, fruits, and vegetables, making their getaway through the rear patio, climbing the rooftops and returning to Mike's house. The "escape artists" would then make house calls, "wheeling and dealing" the merchandise below market prices, to cooperating housewives, and with the profits, they would watch movies at the Roxy theater downtown, attend rock n' roll shows, which featured national recording groups of the era, and Lucha Libre (wrestling matches) at The Coliseo. They would also buy tickets to watch bullfights featuring Gaston Santos, an action movie star and rejoneador who fought bulls not on foot but entirely on horse back at La Plaza de Toros, El Progreso.
Inevitably, one day an alert truck driver discovered the stowaways, and chased them until he managed to corner them in the building’s rear patio, which led into a livestock corral. Caught between “a rock and a hard place,” Mike and his “Goonies” had no choice than to pull the corral gate open, allowing an 800-pound prize bull to run out the building into the busy street. The distraction provided the juveniles with their getaway, even amid a barrage of empty bottles, and rotten eggs being thrown at them, but it also caused an animal stampede, as the startled animals jumped their enclosures, trampling over several ducks and chickens, and damaging an old single engine airplane, which had been stored inside the patio. Luckily, a security guard managed to close the main doors, preventing the menagerie of animals from swarming into the street, and joining the roaming bull outside on the now chaotic scene. Fortunately, for everyone concerned, the ferocious bull was lassoed by an experienced cowboy before substantial property damage had taken place, other than slight damage to several food stands along with the corner candy man’s table stand, or before any frightened bystanders were seriously injured.
Although the “running of the bull’s rampage” made city news, and the neighborhood food vendors were certainly “up in arms,” no formal charges were ever filed against any of the “young rascals.” Instead, the innkeeper was given a hefty fine for having kept a wild bull without a city permit, and ordered by the judge to pay the food vendors for their damages. Needless to say, this would be the last time the ring leader and his trouble-makers would set foot inside the historic inn, which was part of the swift punishment that they received from their angry parents, some of whom threatened to put their child in a boys town. Mike’s mother was living in Chicago at the time, so it fell upon his strict grandmother to discipline him, and she almost sent him back to the private boarding house, where his mother had left him interned a few months earlier. (In 1970, while the Inn along with two city blocks were being demolished to make way for a city park, thousands of Spanish gold coins and some skeletons were found inside the walls of the Inn by the city’s wrecking crew.
Besides having been taught a valuable lesson, one good thing came out of the gang’s juvenile misbehavior. The rock n’ roll shows sparked Mike’s passionate love affair with music, along with some of his followers, and served as the catalyst for learning to play an instrument, motivating them to transform themselves from a group of juvenile delinquents and “rebels without a cause” into a band of wannabe musicians, which Mike decided to name, “Los Pumas Boys.”
Meanwhile, Mike got a job at water purification plant, delivering bottled water to neighborhood residents, including some of the same housewives, who had been his previous customers, and soon convinced his boss to hire some of his friends as well. With their first wages, they bought a set of maracas and bongos, but since they could not afford to buy the more expensive instruments, they used a drum set made out of metal cookie containers, cardboard boxes, and firewood “drum sticks.” His cousin/godmother, Raquel deSantiago, bought him his first acoustic guitar, and he learned guitar chord patterns, along with flowing melodies of Mexican folkloric music from Jesus Aguilera, a renowned bolero guitarist and singer, who was staying at Mike’s house at the time. Mike was also influenced by the romantic music of El Trio Los Panchos and the duet/movie stars, Los Hermanos David and Juan Saizar. (Mike’s cousin Laura was married to Juan Zaizar). Mike also learned how to play guitar by watching mariachis perform around his Guadalajara neighborhood. The influence of mariachi music would be a major factor in Mike’s guitar playing which helped him master Carlos Santana’s melodic fluency and sustained tone. (Carlos himself was a gifted violin player in his father’s mariachi band before switching to the guitar).
Although Mike had certainly been inspired by the rock bands he saw at the shows, some of whom he would eventually meet, his cousin Raul Hernandez, with his own record collection of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Lil” Richard, Bill Haley and His Comets, and Chubby Checker, exposed young Mike to American Rock n ’Roll music providing a greater influence on the aspiring musician. Indeed, Mike’s love and passion for music helped him to endure the emotional experience of having left behind his extended family and childhood friends in Mexico, and also enabled him to overcome the many obstacles and meet the challenges he encountered coming to America.
In the spring of 1963, Mike’s mother returned from Chicago to attend his grade school graduation from El Colegio Cervantes, and a few weeks before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, both immigrated to America joining his sister Delia who was living in Chicago with her maternal aunt, Pachita Martinez and her husband, Jimmy Martinez. Aunt Pachita, who was like a second mother to Delia and Mike, worked at the South Shore Country Club and Uncle Jimmy, “Jimmy the Clown” as he was affectiously known to everyone, was a steelworker and an accomplished musician who had played drums with a Latin combo called “The Hungry Five” back in the ‘50’s. Uncle Jimmy’s compassionate and kind heart made him everyone’s favorite and was always “the life of the party”. He loved Mike and treated him like the son he never had, and young Mike, yearning for a father, loved Uncle Jimmy more than the father he never knew.
Uncle Jimmy guided Mike through his transition from Mexican teen to American as the young immigrant struggled to survive the collision of the two cultures without the benefit of bilingual education at that time, and also cultivated and influenced Mike’s early interest in the History of WWII and introduced him to the recordings of Latin Jazz music greats, including Mambo King, Armando Peraza, the famous Cuban percussionist whom Mike one day would perform with on stage along with Santana.
Unfortunately, just as Mike was beginning his new life in America, tragedy struck in the fall of 1964, when a car accident took the lives of Uncle Jimmy, Uncle Jose Hernandez, and Uncle/godfather Louie Garcia, along with serious personal injuries to Mike’s mother, and his two aunts Pachita Martinez and Carmen Garcia. Mike’s six cousins, the Garcia children, were also injured in the crash, which took place on the way to a picnic in St. Joseph, Michigan. Mike and his friend, Hector Cortez, had gone to the movies at the Commercial Theatre that day.
The extraordinary tragedy caused devastating economic and emotional consequences for the entire family, particularly on young Mike who felt the terrible loss of his surrogate father had made him an orphan all over again. Overwhelmed by the sudden loss, Mike turned his melancholy and infinite sadness into music to drown the shadow of his pain and to muffle the echo of his sorrow. He filled his loneliness and found solace by listening to a Bill Haley/Marty Robbins song named “Jimmy Martinez,” which was released around the same time in 1964, and by remembering that his aunts, María de Jesús Román and Lola Román, had once told him “music is the art of being able to express the feelings and emotions of your soul.” Ironically, both, Dr. Roman and Uncle Jimmy, were forty-one years old when they passed away.
Mike, a product of the Chicago Catholic School system, attended. Our Lady of Guadalupe Elementary School where he learned English, became an eagle scout and bought an electric guitar with the money he earned working a paper route. He graduated from Saint Peter and Paul Grammar School where he served as captain of the patrol boys in 8th grade, formed The Tellstars, and won the Hootenanny talent show. He worked part-time as a dishwasher and a bus boy during the summer while attending Saint Francis De Sales H.S., where he is still actively involved, both as a guest speaker on career days and as chairperson for his high school class reunions. In the 1980’s he served on the school board and in 1996, he was inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame.
Mike went on to graduate from the University of Illinois with a double major in History and Political Science where he was elected during his senior year to the Student Government Assembly and served as chairperson of the Appropriations and Chancellors’ Disciplinary Committees. In his senior year, he served as college student coordinator and campaign manager of his attorney mentor, 10th ward Alderman and Cook County Party Chairman, Edward Vrdolyak, in a political race for Cook County Assessor. He also worked part time as a union representative for United Retail Workers Union in the Chicago land area and at the Chicago Park District to pay for college tuition.
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree, he enrolled at DePaul University College of Law where he was elected to the Dean’s Advisory Committee and was chairperson of the Latino Law Student Association’s Public Relations Committee. He appeared on numerous Chicago radio and television talk shows with local/legal distinguished celebrities such as late Dean Richard Groll, the late Professor Richard Turkington, federal judge David Coar, first Latino judge David Cerda, and the late judge Jose Vazquez. The media exposure helped raise thousands of Dollars for future Hispanic law student scholarships. He has continued to serve his alma mater as chairperson for his law school class reunions and remains active in the recruitment of Latino law students.
Having performed with The Tellstars throughout his high school and college years, Mike simultaneously pursued scholastic and musical careers. As an enterprising freshman law student, he organized and developed Tellstar Productions, Inc., a musical endeavor engineered to provide high quality rock groups to the Southeast side of Chicago, which promoted a long string of big name acts at Alderman Vrdolyak’s concert hall, “The Club.”
During his second year in law school, Mike took aim to uncover the specific causes behind the drop-out problem at local high schools and decided to use music and comedy as the vehicle to convey the message encouraging students to remain in school. During a series of free rock concerts, the message delivered was the only future for drop-outs was becoming “The Mayor of Drop-Out City.” He arranged for “Two on Two,” a CBS TV program, to profile Bowen High School’s high attrition rate. The concert performance by The Tellstars provided the background theme for “The Mayor of Drop-Out City.” Its sequel, “Operation Over-Drug-Lord,” an innovative drug awareness music video program, created and produced by Mike Roman and Tellstar Productions, Inc., which was broadcast on cable T.V. and shown to Chicago high school students.
Mike, the first South Chicago Latino to receive a Juris Doctor Degree from DePaul Law School, worked for Mayor Daley’s budgetary division and later for Chicago’s Office of Professional Standards. Mike then founded Tellstar Records, Inc., to serve as the label for his group to record their first album titled, “The Tellstars featuring Mike Roman play Santana,” which received great response and was nothing short of fantastic, especially after “Chepito” took the time out to fly from “the hills of San Francisco to the streets of South Chicago” to play with The Tellstars and officially endorse the album which contained a superb interpretation of Santana’s music, not just simply an imitation or cover as other groups have attempted to do, but actually underscoring the differences between the output of a tribute band-and that of an interpretive ensemble sure of its own identity. The 1979 sold out concert and a WGN T.V. appearance received uniformed positive reviews, which secured the album’s success. The album is now a collector’s item in Europe.
After leaving the government sector, Mike married
Mexican-American beauty queen, Rose Casanova, and
raised a daughter, Vanessa Marie, a college student and musician, and two sons, Michael Angelo, a law student and musician, and Brandon Anthony, a high school student and musician.
In order to support his family and widowed mother, now deceased, he founded Michael Roman & Associates, a successful general practice law firm on the Southeast side of Chicago serving the large Hispanic community and other ethnic groups as well. Two of his many high profile courtroom victories include a civil rights case in federal court which involved a young Hispanic charged with kidnapping, rape, and robbery, despite an ironclad alibi that on the night of the incident he was attending his own wedding reception, and another case in the Illinois Supreme Court, where he successfully challenged the “No Social Security, No Divorce” domestic relations court rule, which required the disclosure of social security numbers before a divorce decree could be granted contrary to the 1974 Federal Privacy Act. Both cases received national and local media coverage. The wedding alibi case has been illustrated in criminal law books, Chicago Lawyer, Playboy, and Esquire Magazine. Attorney Roman has lectured at DePaul University for the National Latino Law Student Association Conference on the topic of Actual Innocence: From Wrongful Conviction to Exoneration.
In 1983, he served as chairperson for Hispanic Attorneys for the late Mayor Harold Washington’s Mayoral Campaign and also served for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 1989 and 1991 mayoral campaigns. After a successful run as a Walter Mondale delegate to the Democratic National Convention, he was twice offered a Cook County judgeship, but decided to decline the prestigious position. Instead, he concentrated on his musical passion and still found the time to write a monthly local newspaper column on different areas of the law and to also participate in community affairs by volunteering to serve on the East Side Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the East Side Labor Day Parade music committee and donating his legal services to represent the parents of children attending over-crowded schools on the Southeast side of Chicago, successfully bringing about the construction by the Illinois State Board of Education of a much needed Sullivan-Coles Elementary School. He also managed to obtain a donation pledge for the new school from the Spirit Foundation, one of John Lennon’s charitable organizations, and almost succeeded in naming the school after the late Beatle. Mike also participated at the school as Principal For a Day, an annual event sponsored by Mayor Daley and the Chicago Public Schools system.
In 1985, Mike, along with Tellstar Productions, Inc., produced and arranged a concept album titled, “Rock n’ Roll, Yesterday, Today, and Forever!” which featured a tribute to the 50’s music of Elvis Presley (Rick Saucedo), 60’s music of the Beatles (Rubber Soul), 70’s music of Santana (Tellstars) and the 80’s music of Michael Jackson (The Jasons). The last cut on the album united all four tribute acts in a Rock n’ Roll medley arranged by Mike Roman. The album, an ambitious and difficult project, was dedicated to the memory of Elvis Presley and John Lennon, and was released on the East Side of Chicago to a standing-room only crowd at a popular music venue. Many other sold out concerts throughout the Midwest followed, along with numerous radio and television appearances.
During the late 1980’s Federal Amnesty Program, Attorney Roman provided legal services to hundreds of undocumented immigrants, along with their minor children who he represented pro bono, assisting them to adjust their immigration status which in most cases ultimately led to full American citizenship.
On March 22, 1991, another terrible tragedy struck the Roman family when Danny Joyce, Mike’s 20 year old nephew/godson drowned in a North Evanston beach while trying to save the life of his friend, James Nicholson, whom had fallen into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. Danny and a group of friends were celebrating James’ return from naval duty in the 1991 Gulf War. Attorney Roman hired his own diving team to search for the missing bodies, which were not found until three months later. He then filed a lawsuit against the City of Evanston for failure to initiate a rapid diving rescue effort until five hours after the young men were reported missing. The lawsuit resulted in the implementation of a new fire department program by the City of Evanston along with its neighboring suburbs for future emergency rescue and recovery operations known as Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS). The incident and court case received local and national media coverage.
In addition to being the mentor of Good Samaritan Danny, Mike Roman was
also the role model for his other nephew, Paul Joyce, who is a graduate of DePaul Law School and is a seasoned prosecutor with the Cook County States Attorney Office at 26th and California Criminal Courts Division.
In the 1990’s, as his law practice prospered, Mike kept busy in the legal profession doing pro bono work on behalf of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and successfully lobbied the Illinois State Legislature in opposition of “CAPS,” a bill which imposed limits on economic damages resulting from medical malpractice cases. Mike’s involvement in community affairs led to his participation in organizing the 1996 Hispanic March on Washington D.C. He chartered two buses to take marchers down to D.C. with him where he marched with Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Geraldo Rivera. Meanwhile, he continued to excel in the field of professional music appearing on stage with the legendary Jose Feliciano, and the phenomenal George “Buddy” Miles whom Attorney Roman successfully represented pro bono in a criminal case at 26th and California’s Cook County courthouse. “Buddy” Miles returned the favor by introducing Mike to Sir Paul McCartney and his late wife Linda along with Eric Clapton and Phil Collins during a backstage concert reception party at Soldiers Field.
As a member of the American, Illinois and Chicago Bar Associations, Mike has served on various committees where he met super lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who recommended Mike join “Lawyers without Borders” to assist indigent defendants and immigration clients. Mike and the Hispanic Bar Association’s picture appears on a book titled, “Mexican Chicago.” “From Immigrant to Immigration Lawyer.” DePaul University’s Dialogue law magazine also featured Mike in the spring of 2001. He also participated in the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, attending a fundraiser given by Physicians Against Landmines and the late Princess Diana at the Hilton Towers Hotel where he met the Prince of Camelot, the late John F. Kennedy, Jr.
In 1997, as a founding member of the American Air Museum in Britain, Mike was invited to the opening ceremony hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and the late actor Charlton Heston in Duxford, England. In 2004, as a charter member of the New Orleans WWII Museum and the Washington D.C. National WWII Memorial Monument, he attended the 60th Anniversary Celebration of D-Day hosted by the French President in Normandy, France. Not surprisingly, the European trips inspired him to embark on a new project to build a diorama of the allied beach landings, which has become his favorite hobby.
In June 1999, with the release of Santana’s mega hit “Supernatural” album, Mike once again met backstage with Carlos Santana, where he introduced his son Michael Angelo to the rock super star. This meeting led to production and recording of “The Sounds of Santana” cd, by Mike Roman and The Tellstars, featuring Jose “Chepito” Areas, and Richard Bean, the original lead singer with Jorge Santana’s Malo Band, which contained twelve medleys of Santana’s greatest hits arranged by Mike and was released in August 2003 to a very enthusiastic crowd, followed the next evening by another popular “Don’t Rock the Boat!” celebration cruise on Lake Michigan. Indeed, with Chepito’s participation on the recording, the CD had official validation and an authentic touch of Santana and thousands of copies were sold at several Midwest summer festivals, including the famous Taste of Chicago.
In 2007, The Tellstars recorded an original album titled, “Cha Cha Time!” “Chepito” is featured on “Cha Cha Time!” and “Runaround” and Michael Shrieve, the original drummer of Santana and Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame member whom is best known for his fantastic and unforgettable drum solo at Woodstock, is featured on “Tsunami 911” which he also produced. Mike’s two sons, whom he hopes will continue to follow in his musical footsteps and carry on the legal torch, also play on the album. Michael Angelo, leader-bassist with his group “Transition”, plays lead guitar and tenor sax on most of the songs. Brandon Anthony, leader-bassist with his group “Subversion”, plays the vibraphone and recites a poem on “D-Day in Normandy”, which Mike wrote and dedicated to the allied soldiers of World War II, whom without them and for the grace of God, as Mike puts it, he would be speaking German with a Spanish accent and living a nightmare instead of the American dream. In gratitude and appreciation, Mike provides pro bono work for WWII Veterans at Illiana Post #220 on the Southeast side of Chicago and has also provided shelter and covered funeral expenses for some homeless Vietnam Vets. During the 2008 presidential elections, he collaborated with Carlos Santana on a song titled, “Obama, Man of Change,” which was dedicated to President Barack Obama, whom Mike met in 2004 during Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Throughout Mike’s triumphs and tragedies, five preoccupations have guided his life; family, music, history, law and politics. Although his long journey from eagle scout to legal eagle and from musical arranger to songwriter has brought wide recognition and monetary rewards, including international and national media notoriety for his controversial actions during the R. Kelly criminal trial and at former Alderman and Cook County Democratic Chairman “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak’s sentencing hearing in federal court, Mike has never forgotten that his accomplishments also belong to his family, friends, fans, and the Hispanic community.