The Sleepwalkers: A Raza Retro-Cool Band

Specializing in music styles ranging Blues, Country, Tex-Mex, R&B, Cumbias, and their own brand of down-home Rock & Roll

By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: July 18, 2016

The Sleepwalkers: A Raza Retro-Cool Band

The Sleepwalkers have been playing authentic Americana and Roots Rock since 1992. They specialize in original American music styles ranging from Blues, Country, Tex-Mex, R&B, Cumbias, and their own brand of down-home Rock & Roll.

They are poised to be the newest, hippest trip in America and we are proud to introduce them to the entire county and the world! Their Retro-Latin-Cool video "Digame" is raising eyebrows around the internet..

Influences include: Los Lobos, The Blasters, Sir Douglas Quintet, Esteban Jordan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Batista, Miss Corona, Mr.Telephone Road. Their newest video "Tomato Fields" speaks deeply to the heart of immigrant plight.

Since their inception, they've played with top national artists and legends such as Link Wray, Ronnie Dawson, The Texas Tornados (3 times by their request), The Blasters, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kid Ramos, The Beat Farmers, Freddy Fender, The Rev. Horton Heat, Big Sandy, The Supersuckers, BR5-49, The Blazers, Paladins, Johnny Legend, Rosie Flores, Graham Parker, El Vez, The Royal Crown Revue, Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, Mighty Blue Kings, Ray Condo, Harry Dean Statton (and many more), with six nominations for Best Americana/Roots band by the San Diego Music Awards.

In 1999 they released their first album "Can't Stop Rockin'" on Relampago-go records, which earned them positive national reviews and a nomination for Best Americana album by the SDMA. Their songs "Dead of Night" and "Vas A Ver!" were included in the movie "Ofrenda Desnuda" in 2007, which was directed by International Film Award Winner, Guillermo Von Son. In 2008, the Sleepwalkers recorded a cover of Bart Mendoza's song "Days & Maybes" (re-titled "No Me Cueste"), which was included on Forty One Sixty: The Songs of the Shambles.

After a short hiatus to recharge, revamp, and revitalize, the Sleepwalkers have returned to bring back honest-to-goodness American Roots music. It continues their tradition of mixing original Rockabilly, Country, Cumbia and even some Surf into the mix. The result is "Puro Sleepwlkers, Puro Party!" They hope you all enjoy listening and dancing to our music as much as we like performing for you.
The sleepwalkers say that music comes from El Corazon with much luv.

Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez (AC) spoke with band leader Johnny Valenzuela.

AC: Tell us who started the band and what was your original vision. Who did the band want to emulate?

JV: The Sleepwalkers was started by my brother Action Andy and myself in the summer of 1992. My brother was a bass player and I wanted to try and sing somewhere other than the shower, so we thought it'd be cool to start up a band together.
We were both highly influenced by Los Lobos, The Blasters, Sir Douglas Quintet, The Mysterians, Thee Midniters and The Texas Tornados to name a few. We wanted to play original tunes that moved us, with the hope that our music would also touch or strike a chord with folks, making a connection. Whether that meant getting people up "Tirando chancla," tapping their fingers, or allowing the listener to go to a happy place and reflect.

AC: Who are your members and what do they bring to the table?

JV: Until very recently my Little Brother Action Andy was playing bass for The Sleepwalkers. He has since decided to concentrate on his own project and, although we miss him on stage with us, we wish him the best.
At this time we have "Bob-o" Osuna - drums, "Big Al" Fuentes - guitar, "El Ritchie" Orduño - guitar, "Danny-boy" Angulo- Stand-up Bass, and me "Johnny" Valenzuela - vocals.

Bob-o and Danny are the "heart-beat" and driving force for the band. Bob-0 has a great feel for music and rhythm, his sense of timing is right on. Danny is our newest member, but it feels like we've been playing together for a lot longer. His thumping bass definitely gets your attention.

Ritchie is a great guitar player and the "showman" of our group. It's not uncommon for him to step off the stage and dance with a pretty señorita, while playing his guitar without missing a note. Al is our other great guitar player, and also one of our original members. We have played so many shows together, words aren't always necessary on stage, a look is usually all it takes.

We have myself on vocals as the front man. I am always looking to grab the crowd's attention and let them know that The Sleepwalkers are here and ready to move-n-groove ya! I want people to walk away knowing they saw something special, leaving with "The Sleepwalkers Experience."

AC: Your sound is a little Rockabilly with some country swag, mixed with Latin vibe thrown in. Can you elaborate?

JV: We all have a wide variety of musical influences. Al is heavily influenced by The Chess Records sound, Blues and Jazz, Ike Turner & The Rhythm Kings, Tiny Grimes, Gatemouth Brown, but also the twangy sound of Buck Owens, Dale Watson, and Pete Anderson. Bob and I grew up with more of the Latin grooves, The Midniters, Malo, El Chicano, Santana, Los Lobos. Mix those all up in a big "olla" along with Ritchie's musical mayhem and Danny's steady thumpin' and you get the district sound that is The Sleepwalkers…

AC: Where do the lyrics come from? Are you trying to make a statement?

JV: Well, I wish I could say every song is meticulously thought out as far as lyrics are concerned, but that really isn't the case. When The Sleepwalkers make up a song it usually starts as a melody that someone thought of in their head, or a guitar riff or bass line. Most songs are a collaboration of everyone, and once the song is structured and starts to take shape, I think, "What does this sound like? Happy? Upbeat? A jilted lover? Scary?" The lyrics are the last thing that is usually done when a new song is written. I love to sing, but writing the lyrics sometimes seems like homework, LOL, although once I start, the words most often come fluidly.

And as far as making a statement, there have been songs like that. Tomato Fields which is on our first CD. "Can't Stop Rockin" is a song I wrote about a migrant farm worker and the difficulty in being away from his loved ones. This is one of my 'personal favorite' songs and one I'm very proud of.

AC: Like Los Lobos, you do some tunes in Spanish. Why?

[/b]JV:[/b] Our songs in Spanish make us feel like we're at home. It's our heritage, so most of us grew up getting together at posadas and backyard carne asadas, and familia would break out the guitars and sing traditional Mexican folk music. As we grew older, Latin rock came into play such as Santana, El Chicano, Malo in the 70's and then Los Lobos in the 80's. We have all been inspired by all these groups and we firmly believe it's important to stay true to your roots, which we are very proud of.

AC: Tell us about your killer retro-cool videos. Whose idea was it for the concept?

[/b]JV:[/b] We wanted to have people see a visual that was interesting and somewhat different than the norm, but that still went with our songs. The Sleepwalkers are definitely known as a fun band and a band with a sense of humor, so we wanted to convey this to the viewer.

My Son Stevie Ray was the guy that put them together and our video "Digame" has had over 130,000 views in the short time it's been out. It shows the legendary Tin Tan throwing down some movidas as only he could do. So we are putting out an original Sleepwalkers' cumbia, while showing the viewers a piece of Mexican culture ….dos pajaros con una piedra!! Epaaaaah!!

AAC: The band started in 1992 and played steadily until 2004, then went on hiatus until 2013. Why the break?

[/b]JV:[/b] Well, we played many shows for quite a few years and it was all pretty fun for the most part, but like a lot good things, it can sometimes get a bit tedious and tiresome as well. And we had our long time drummer and great friend pass away. At the time of his passing I reflected on my life, as did the other band members, and it was decided that it was time to take some time off. Little did we know that that "time off" would turn into almost ten yrs. During this time I went back to school, other members continued in different music projects, and we continued our lives as husbands and fathers. But we all knew deep down inside that one day we would re-group and get The Sleepwalkers back together. In early 2013 I met up with Al and my brother Action Andy and agreed it was the right time. So…….we're back!

AC: Tell us about your first album "Can't stop Rockin," recorded in 1999, which, at the time, broke to rave reviews.

[/b]JV:[/b] It was a lot of fun to record. We wanted a "live" feel so it was recorded with all of us in the same room, pretty much playing each song as we would at a live show. There were a few additions, such as accordion on "Tomato Fields" and "Vas a Ver", and some buddies came in and laid down some horns as well. We did all originals with only one cover "Chicano" by Doug Sahm. Overall it was a pretty good debut CD, and one that's hard to find. I saw two of them for sale on Amazon, one in Germany and one in Japan. I might have to buy them because I only have one left… Folks ask us all the time about buying them so I think it might be cool to get some reissued. We'll see.

AC: You were involved in the movie "Ofrenda Desnuda?"

[/b]JV:[/b] In 2006 Doctor Carlos Von Son, who is a professor at Cal State San Marcos, called me in regard to using some of our songs in his movie "Ofrenda Desnuda." He was a fan of The Sleepwalkers for some time before this and he felt our music would be perfect for his film. When someone asks if they could use your music for a movie, what do you say? Pues si! So, needless to say, we were flattered . . . thus our little excursion into films. Want to use our music in your movie? Give us a call!

AC: You have a new CD that was released in April of 2016 called "Roots Rockin with the Sleepwalkers." What tune seems to be the most popular and what are folks saying about the music overall?

[/b]JV:[/b] We've received some great positive responses from our CD overall, but I'd have to say our original cumbia "Digame" is probably our most popular song at this point. This is a song that was made into a video and has struck a chord with the Latin community. It has a great vibe and feel and definitely makes you want to jump out of your seat. But if you listen to the CD in its entirety, there is a broad range of musical genres that appeal to a wide range of people.

AC: We know that the new CD contains mostly original tunes. What kinds of songs are they?

[/b]JV:[/b] We have a great mix of music on our newest CD. We like to call our music Chicano Roots Rock because firstly, we are all Chicanos and proud to be and secondly, the music we write and play come from the very roots of music in general. We have a bit of Blues with some Country, Cumbia and Rockabilly. We even have a surfy instrumental thrown in and mixed like a musical smorgasbord, then served up, hopefully to ones liking.

AC: What kinds of gigs do you do play and what can people expect during a live performance?

[/b]JV:[/b] We play all kinds of gigs. We've played some smaller dive bars where you might have to sit with your back toward the wall, and we've played larger venues such as The Belly Up in Solana Beach. We've played sold out venues where we've opened up for top national acts and legends such as The Texas Tornados, Royal Crown Revue, Link Wray, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Reverend Horton Heat, The Blasters, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy . . . the list goes on. I would definitely say we are at our best in front of a live audience….any live audience, big or small. We are very energetic and will get you up outta your seat in a heartbeat. When you come to see The Sleepwalkers you WILL BE entertained!

AC: How can people get in touch with you to learn more and purchase your music and merchandise?

[/b]JV:[/b] We have our newest CD "Roots Rockin with The Sleepwalkers" is available on cdbaby.com We also have t-shirts available on our Facebook page. As I said earlier, I plan on re-issuing our first CD "Can't Stop Rockin" and hopefully this will be in the near future. Any venues or persons interested in contacting us can do so at our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheSleepwalkersBand/

AC: What final words would you like to say to our readers?

[/b]JV:[/b] Well, The Sleepwalkers are a group of guys that love what we do. We love making original music for folks to listen, dance, and just plain enjoy. If you want to listen to us, purchase our music online. If you're in the Southern California area come to one of our shows, or if we come touring thru your area come check us out, and once you do……. you'll be hooked! Puro Sleepwalkers Puro Party!

Edited by Susan Aceves

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