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Spotlight on the Brown: Steve Salas

East Los Angeles singer/songwriter EL CHICANO & TIERRA fame

By Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: February 3, 2018


Spotlight on the Brown: Steve Salas


¡Orale, Mi Gente!

One month into the New Year of 2018, and some of us are still trying to catch our breath from 2017!

Lots of things happened in 2017... some good, some not so good ... either way, 2017's a memory, so let us not dwell on the past when the future's looking pretty cool on most fronts for a lot of us.

Of course, the current political taste and attitude in our Country is a little dry & sour at the moment ... but hey! I'll save the vitriol for another story...

...so let's get on with the positive y muevate!

Our first "Spotlight on the Brown" for 2018 is East Los Angeles Chicano Music Icon and legend, Mr. Steve Salas, known best as the original singing voice of renown Chicano music groups EL CHICANO and TIERRA, currently touring & performing with Ray Carrion's THEE LATIN ALL STARS.

Born and raised in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Steve says he began singing at the age of 7, along with his older brother Rudy.

Together, they sang Spanish language boleros at family and local events, then with the legendary JAGUARS Band of East Los Angeles during the birth of the pioneering "East Side Sound" (which brought national attention to the English language, Chicano music groups from East Los Angeles in the early to mid 1960s), went on to form & perform with local groups such as MAYA, 1 G + 3, SIX-PACK, and finally founding the popular and renown Latino R&B group TIERRA back in the late 1970's, which continues to tour and perform regularly.

Steve laughs, "During the time I was with MAYA, we used to gig 6 nights a week ... and then rehearse on Sundays. That's what it took, but it didn't leave very much of a personal social life ... but that's what it took to make it as a Chicano musician singing Rock & Rollin' English back then."

"I give a lot of credit & respect for our musical careers to my brother Rudy," Steve tells LatinoLA. "It was because of his guitar playing that we got our early start & gigs. Music has always been a part of my life ... I will love it till I die. Playing and singing in bands during Jr. High school and High school kept us out of gangs."

"A big early inspiration to both me and my brother was our mother, Margaret Salas. She was a beautiful woman, and a very talented singer in her own right during the 1940s. She gave it up to marry my father, who was a talented artist himself, to raise 4 sons. Together, they instilled an appreciation of the arts and music that has lasted my lifetime. One of the best TIERRA songs my brother Rudy ever wrote was 'A Place Called Home,' which pays a beautiful tribute to our mother."

"Besides music, I have always enjoyed school and reading, and continue reading something everyday," Steve easily states. "I see it as a form of social research and education. I guess I get that from my father, who was a voracious reader. He would read at least 3 newspapers a day, completely ... then have a pretty informed opinion of the World by the end of the day. I got to be the same way during and after High School. My life, moods, and inspiration for music with a message has always been influenced by the social fabric of the time."

"I came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, the East L.A. Chicano High School walkouts, and the Chicano Moratorium against the Viet Nam War during the 1960's ... music wasn't the only going on with Chicanos in East L.A. at the time."

"I felt like I was coerced into ROTC during High School because I was lead to believe it was mandatory! By the time I graduated from High School, at least 10 of my childhood neighborhood friends had been killed in Viet Nam. Nothing had changed for their families, we didn't win the war, and Chicanos weren't being welcomed back as heroes, or even appreciated for their service..."

"...and yet military recruiters kept showing up at my high school, and other heavily Chicano-populated high schools, and kept recruiting Chicanos to join and fight, maybe even die, while our people were still being looked at with suspicion and treated with mistrust like second class citizens. I didn't want no part of that, and I wasn't going to hide my opposition to the war (NOT our soldiers, let's be clear on that), so I attended college, being lucky enough to attend Stanford University while being heavily involved in the Chicano Movimiento...but I never forgot my friends that didn't come back ... the war ended while I was in college so I guess I'm lucky it passed me by."

"After college I returned to L.A. after a brief hiatus, and I got right back into the East L.A. Civil Rights Movement and music. I was lucky that my brother and I were still able to gig regularly, and we had some good gigs. After a short stint with a group named 1 G+3, we hooked up with THEE MIDNITERS original drummer GEORGE SALAZAR, and we formed a group named SIX PACK. Right around this time, I met Andres Baeza and Bobby Espinosa of EL CHICANO, 2 very impressive and well-known East L.A. musicians, who's group EL CHICANO, had the right name and the right music at the right time, as well as national #1 record hits with "Viva Tirado" and "Cantaloupe Island."

"So it came as an honor and a rush that they wanted me to sing their first vocal song (prior to that, EL CHICANO's music was mainly instrumental), a stylish remake of Van Morrison's classic "Brown Eyed Girl", which was more than apropo for the social Chicano movement & environment at the time, and it became a #1 hit locally and on the West Coast.

"Right around that time, or a little after, my brother and I founded TIERRA. Andre Baeza, one of the original members of EL CHICANO, joined us briefly, and he really put forth the face of TIERRA with his booming personality & wit, while I was the original lead vocalist along with my brother Rudy, and we had some really memorable gigs and good times. Although I'm not performing with the band anymore, I will ALWAYS be a part of TIERRA, and TIERRA will always be a part of me."

Steve says he is fortunate to have recorded hit music records with 4 recognized groups, to have met & performed with major music stars from across the Country, and to have traveled across the Country to New York's famed Carnegie Hall and to Japan to perform with TIERRA, and most recently as part of Ray Carrion's THEE LATIN LEGENDS, but that his political views & opinions sometimes alienate him from others.

"You know ... sometimes it bothers some people when I say L.A. is Chicano, but I mean that! The Art, the music, the people, the food, the feelings of togetherness, the history (both good & bad) of our people, the accomplishments and contributions of Chicanos that a lot of our own people today don't take the time to realize and appreciate..."

"That means something to me. It really bothers me whenever I meet or talk to someone from out of state who comes to California, visits Malibu, Santa Monica, and the West Side, then leave, thinking they've 'seen L.A.' ... I feel they have missed out on so much not coming to the East Side or other Chicano areas, and not soaking up our local culture."

"I know people bless me and respect me when they come to hear me sing, but to tell the truth, I spend a lot of time alone. .. reading, catching up on world news, or putting music together with my nephew David Salas and his talented wife Daphne when I'm not on the road doing a gig."

"Besides my family, which includes my uncle Art Brambila, my brothers Robert & Richard, and my best friend & confidant of over 25 years Mary Alcantar, and maybe a handful of others, my nephew David & his wife Daphne have proven to be quite talented, resourceful, supportive, and creative, having written and recorded some great music. I consider David a genius! I mean, really, David could have been a Doctor or Engineer or Lawyer ... he's that intelligent, but he chose music and he's done pretty good. He's played with various groups over the years, appeared in a movie, has produced and recorded some impressive new stuff, has helped jump-start his wife Daphne's singing career, and has established a pretty successful recording and mastering studio. That, and the fact that he's so devoted to his wife and our family really makes me proud of him!"

Most memorable moment?..." I've had a lot, but the one that sticks in my mind is the time TIERRA performed at the American Music Awards at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1982, and we were able to bring our mother along, realizing HER dream that we would someday perform there in front of the World. Our 'City Lights' album was doing pretty good nationally, and had established the song 'Together' as our signature song."

"As I was up on stage singing, you cannot possibly imagine the emotional rush I got when I looked and saw Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder sitting in the front row singing along with ME ...! Later on after the show, we got to cruise through Manhattan, checking out the night life. At one point, a crowd of mostly girls saw us, and ran up to us screaming in admiration, yelling 'Look! It's the guys from TIERRA!' ... reminded me of a scene from the Beatle's movie 'Hard Day's Night.'

..."It was such a warm feeling of accomplishment that a group of Chicano musicians from East L.A. were admired and recognized outside of East L.A.," Steve smiles proudly.

Current plans? ..."Well...I'm lucky that I'm able to continue touring and performing with some of the top Latino music artists of my time, especially with the kind of shows Ray Carrion puts together, so I'll sing & perform as long as I can. I'm also working on a new music tribute project...more news on that later, and it's fun to say that I've been lucky to be able to record on recent projects with my nephew David & Daphne Salas, Rocky Padilla, and Pepe Marquez, and more new things are coming!"

"Also, I want to take the time to appreciate and thank all the radio & club DJs, writers, promoters, music artists, singers, venues, producers, and ESPECIALLY the fans, who all contribute to keeping our music alive and relevant, while opening the doors of exposure to the art of music."

In closing: "You know, some people often ask or talk about a current TIERRA controversy," Steve laughs, "But there really isn't any controversy about TIERRA that's anybody's business other than mine and my brother's, and I thank people for respecting that .. ANYBODY who's been in the music business, and survived as long as me and my brother have, can agree that there's a lot of demons to deal with (drugs, alcohol, different personalities, drama, & egos, etc.), but putting your dirty laundry out in public or bad mouthing others, blaming them for this or that, is pretty lame and unnecessary so nobody should expect me to do that. Doesn't make anybody better..."

"Me and my brother started TIERRA together, we've come a long way together, have become a historical icon in American music together, and made a serious mark in the music world together, for which I am lucky and grateful that the World gave us the chance & opportunity, in which we grew & thrived, TOGETHER!".

..."And that's how it's going to end, the way it started...Salas Brothers, TOGETHER! You can spell it backwards or forwards...and it still comes out SALAS!"

And with that, LatinoLA proudly salutes another Warrior de Aztlan, and long time song carrying card member of the Land of 1000 Dances.

Steve Salas ... Activist, song writer, singer, performer, uncle, brother & friend ... CHICANO!

About Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the "Al Capone of the microphone & Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul" heard daily on Internet Radio Station www.eastLArevue.com
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