The Rumba Kings formed in 2015 in Seattle, Washington (USA) by lead guitarist, George Stevens, and bassist/producer, Johnny Bacolas. The songwriting has a diverse range of influences, from The Gipsy Kings, to the Mediterranean-inspired instrumental music of Yanni. The band's name can be misleading. While several of the songs the band writes and performs are rumba based (think The Gipsy Kings), many are not. "Many of our songs have Greek, Latin, Italian, and Arabic music influences. Our goal is to take people on a trip around the Mediterranean," says co-founder George Stevens. Co-founder, Johnny Bacolas, adds, "I see us as primarily an instrumental pop band,
that plays a wide variety of styles and genres, with Latin and Mediterranean-music overtones. When we play live, we incorporate vocalists on maybe twenty percent of our show, the rest is instrumental music."
From 2008-2015, producer/musician, Johnny Bacolas, began auditioning musicians for a Mediterranean and Latin-style original band he was forming, influenced by such artists as The Gipsy Kings and Yanni. In May 2015, Bacolas and guitarist/songwriter George Stevens met through a mutual friend, and soon-after they set-up a meeting in Bacolas' studio to discuss their visions for their dream group, revealing a shared interest. A musical partnership began shortly afterwards.
In June 2015, Bacolas and Stevens recruited several studio musicians to begin production on their debut double-disc album titled, The Instrumental and Vocal Sessions, Vol I. "Several of the musicians we collaborated with were overseas. If I wasn't physically in Greece to record the musicians, I would have an iPad in the studio siting on a chair next to the engineer (in a Greek studio), and I'd communicate with the artist in the recording booth via the engineer with his talk-back mic. It's not the ideal way to track someone, but it worked," says Bacolas.
Next, Bacolas and Stevens began auditioning musicians for their live performance group, which was a little different than the studio musician group. Within months, they'd created their first incarnation of the live group, and due to the ongoing recording sessions, a set list for the live shows was coming to fruition. In April 2016, The Rumba Kings’ live band was officially formed, and the first version of the band's live show was ready try out.(see the band's first promo video from June 2016 here)
At first, The Rumba Kings' planned to perform at small bars and bistros around the greater Seattle area in an effort to iron out any kinks in their new show. By doing so, they quickly established a loyal fan base. As the word spread about the band’s passionate and energetic performances, the crowds began to grow larger and the band began graduating to premier venues, ultimately leading to sold-out weekend shows throughout the Seattle-Bellevue area, which included such venues as Seattle’s prestigious Triple Door, where the band is the only local group to be scheduled for entire weekends.
In February 2018, The Rumba Kings released their debut double-disc debut album titled, The Instrumental and Vocal Sessions, Vol. I. The album was engineered & produced by Johnny Bacolas and mixed and mastered by veteran mix engineer, Martin Feveyear. The record received a great deal of attention and support from Seattle radio station KNKX, leading to The Rumba Kings performing several in-studio performances at KNKX’s studios in support of it (listen to the full interviews and musical performances recorded in June 2017, February 2018, and April 2019 here). After the conclusion of band's April 2019 in-studio performance at KNKX, host Robin Lloyd finishes the segment by saying, "Happiness, that's what you spread whenever you play. You guys are just so wonderful. I've seen this. I've seen people.....who are these guys? And they leave with this big smile on their face." In June 2018, KNKX presented The Bellevue Jazz and Blues Festival, featuring The Rumba Kings as one of the headliners.
In 2019, The Rumba Kings released their sophomore full-length album, The Instrumental Sessions, Vol. II. The album was also engineered & produced by Johnny Bacolas and again, mixed and mastered by Martin Feveyear. Like the first album, it also received a great deal of support from KNKX, as well as Seattle Newspapers, notably, The Bellevue Reporter, which ran a front page story on the band in the paper’s live music section titled, “Eastside Scene,” in the January 25th, 2019 edition, written by Evan Pappas.
During the production of both records, Bacolas traveled to Greece on two occasions to record several of the country’s top studio musicians on songs for both of The Rumba Kings' albums, which included several musicians from the groups of such legendary Greek vocalist as Notis Sfakianakis and the late Pantelis Pantelidis. During these trips, Bacolas also filmed and directed eight music videos featuring Greek vocalist, Sofi Alexandrou, on the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, as well as throughout the mainland of Greece. In a video podcast titled, A Conversation and a Scotch, Episode #4, Bacolas discusses his filming of the music video for the song, Mila Mou, featuring Sofi Alexandrou, and states, "I want people to associate the song with the beautiful colors of Santorini, the blue roofs, the white stucco buildings, the blue sea, the blue sky." Building on Bacolas' decision to film the videos on the Greek islands, in an interview in The National Herald by Taso Mouhteros, Bacolas says, "My ultimate dream is to build a small villa in Santorini with a recording studio."
Critically acclaimed mixing engineer, Martin Feveyear, who’s mixed all of the band’s recordings to date, describes the band’s music as, "A bold, spirited, diverse and romantic blend of all that's great in Latin music, with an added twist of Mediterranean magic!"
In March 2020, utilizing the downtime from to the pandemic, The Rumba Kings began the long and arduous process of upgrading several aspects of their live show, which included doubling the show's ninety performance to almost three hours. The band's music director, Johnny Bacolas, spearheaded the process by hiring a brilliant composer/transcriptionist, Seth-May Patterson, to fully-integrate one of the Pacific Northwest’s top string quartets, Arcobaleno Strings, into their live shows. "Seth is one of the most talented musicians I've met. Working with him has taking our live show to another level. He's a valuable part of our team," says Bacolas. Lead violinist, Rachel Nesvig, is also featured on several more songs accompanying the band as well.
The purpose of hiring the quartet was for the songs to be performed as accurately as possible with respect to their well-orchestrated studio recordings, and because as Stevens puts it, "They're just more beautiful that way; That's how they're supposed to sound." Patterson scored and transcribed over two dozen works in preparation for the shows. Also with respect to the newly designed show, Bacolas added four new musicians, new vocalists, new dance segments, and as mentioned previously, added an additional ninety minutes of music to the performance, making the shows approximate three hours in length with over thirty-three songs being performed. Bacolas says of the new show, “It now more closely resembles a Vegas production more than anything else. This is how George and I always envisioned our shows when we were planning them early-on. It's pure class. It's a night out at The Copacabana in the 40's, like in the movies. This is the ultimate get dressed-up and have a classy night out show.” Regarding the music in the band's live shows, Stevens adds, "If it isn't beautiful, it doesn't make the cut."
KNKX 88.5 FM Seattle, presents the majority of the band’s shows in the Seattle area, and the band’s music is regularly played on the station.
The Rumba Kings on Allmusic Guide