Classified Staff Week Focus: The two faces of Jose Calderon

Colton High’s library assistant has operated as a local punk rocker for the last 25 years


Erin Dallatorre

Jose Calderon has worked as a library assistant at CHS for the last 25 years. He has been rocking so much longer.

Jose Calderon is a man of two faces: librarian assistant by day, musician by night.

At age 8, Calderon’s father introduced him to the violin, which would be the start of his love for music. While the violin was great, it wasn’t the instrument that called to him. He asked his father for an electric guitar.

Dad said “no.”

Instead, Calderon received an acoustic guitar to start. He taught himself basic chords with help from a friend who played the guitar classically.

Calderon grew up in San Bernardino, and graduated from Aquinas High. As a rebellious kid, punk music connected deeply with him. Calderon would go to his friend’s house after school to learn and play electric guitar. That feeling of collaborating with his friends prompted them to form a band.

Needing money to buy more equipment to support his love of music, Calderon had to get a job.

Jose started working at libraries to provide money for his musical adventures. The reason he chose libraries was because of a friend’s recommendation. A week before high school graduation, Jose was asked by a friend if he needed a job. He started working in the San Bernardino library district right after high school. Here is where he would find his love for the quiet life, contrasting with his loud rockstar life.

The library would become a sanctuary for Calderon.

“After high school I attended Cal State San Diego,” Calderon said, “and relocated to San Diego with a girl I called my ‘galfriend.’”

His galfriend worked at a record company which supplied him with a job. Calderon worked with her, disposing of vinyl. It was the 1990s, during the decade’s decline of vinyl.

Getting close to a well-known record label and working with people who had the same aspirations as he did inspired him.

When he was working at the company, Calderon would have jam sessions with his co-workers, prompting him to pitch an idea. They formed a band and asked for a record deal, which made sense as they were already working under the label.

Being in many bands helped Calderon define who he was as a musician. Not wanting to go by his birth name, he had some alter egos, the most enduring being the moniker “Johnny Cheapo.”

“Many of the names come from stories and random thoughts,” he shared. “The names are sort of a David Bowie thing. Not wanting to be known as Jose when on stage rather an alter ego.”

These names would give him stage presences that could not be matched. So much so that his bandmates often did not even know his real name.

After college, Calderon got his job with Colton High and came back to San Bernardino. He has been the library assistant for 25 years. The kids and staff helped him continue to stick with his musical aspirations.

Since working at CHS, Calderon has continued playing shows around the city and even participating and supporting student shows.

“There used to be a lot more music groups in our high school in the 90s and 00s,” he said.

Whether it be recording music, forming bands, or collaborating with staff members, music is the glue for Calderon. One person in particular he connected with musically was former CHS guidance counselor Joe Marchiano. Meeting him was the beginning of a “lovely relationship.”

When the pandemic hit, it hit hard, affecting everyone, especially Jose. All his plans came to a halt. So Calderon turned to calmer music: Country. Country was always a genre he enjoyed growing up.

“I’ve always wanted to record country,” he said. “Being at home alone, I wanted to try something new. I even called Joe Marchiano to come help me . . . which he kindly declined.”

The time helped Jose find himself again, helping him revamp his love for music. Focusing on bettering his sound and even trying to take back up the violin again. After not performing for over two years, early this year in January he would take the stage again.