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Room for the Latin in Rock and Roll

Mark Guerrero rocks Palm Springs

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: January 16, 2004


Room for the Latin in Rock and Roll


Ahhhh the music of Mi Gente.... So many different styles and genres that we are enriched and fortunate enough to have at our convenience for our enjoyment. Although I am a die hard Oldies fan, I still enjoy different genres when the occasion arises, especially when performed by Mi Gente.

Besides the beautiful doowops,ballads and dance music I play on my show, I also have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to Blues, punk, ska, Salsa, Tex-mex,classic R&B, Mariachi, Rancheras, hip-hop & rap en espa?ol, Merengue, Disco, Latin Jazz, Funk, Swing, Banda (not my favorite, but hey...), fusions of different sorts,and of course good old fashioned Rock and Roll, all performed by talented Latino artists. I have also had the privilege of meeting many of the performing artists.

So it was recently, in my never ending quest to seek out Mi Gente in musical action, that I was graciously invited to Palm Springs, California, to meet with one of my favorite Chicano artists, Mark Guerrero.

Having been a fan of Mark's music since the 1960's when he played as Mark & the Escorts, I also have followed his music as he progressed through different groups like The Men from S.O.U.N.D. , Tango, and most recently, Radio Aztlan. Having formed and played with his first group at age 12, Mark has been blessed with musical talent encouraged by his father, the legendary "Godfather of Chicano Music" Lalo Guerrero.

Born & raised in East Los Angeles, having attended Garfield High School, East L.A. College and Cal State L.A., Mark was one of the musical pioneers that helped develop and showcase the now legendary "Eastside Sound" of the 1960's-70's that continues to be emulated by a succession of musical artists worldwide. His music today reflects his struggles not only out of the shadow of his famous father, but as artist in his own right. Being exposed to music all his life, and having been a performer for over 40 years, Mark admits the road has not always been a smooth ride.

"I remember being invited to record companies after they heard some demos of my groups Men from S.O.U.N.D. and Tango, and then receiving puzzled looks from white record executives when we showed up,as they pondered what they were going to do with a group of (obvious) Latino looking guys, who sang rock and roll in ENGLISH!" Mark recalls. "It's like, they liked our music, but thought it better to refer us to their Latin/Spanish programming departments, because they weren't ready yet for Chicanos playing rock and roll, and playing it well, giving their Caucasian performers competition." Mark admits the musical discrimination he and his groups faced was a motivating force that kept him plying his trade despite some letdowns during his career.

One of the highlights of his career was when he was recently asked to be an Ambassador of Chicano music, playing alongside his father, Lalo Guerrero, and Flaco Jimenez, in front of a thousand enthusiastic French fans in Paris, France. "That was definitely a trip....that these people in Europe were appreciating music originating thousands of miles away in East L.A... I'll never forget that," Mark proudly proclaims.

Mark's versatility ranges from standard Oldies to Latin Jazz, Funk, Blues, Rockabilly, Swing, and Pop, and he performs regularly with his famous father, but he admits his heart is in Rock and Roll, having been heavily influenced by the Beatles during their heyday in the early 1960's.

"Everybody in the neighborhood wanted to be part of a band that had pretty, screaming girls in the audience back in those days," Mark laughingly says. "But we were the first generation of Raza to break out of the musical stereotype of only playing Spanish language music in public."

There's still some musical stereotypes associated with Chicano artists, Mark admits. "Not every Chicano is or was a homeboy or lowrider, and not all of us descended from farmworkers, and a lot of us are educated. There are a lot of Latinos that don't particularly like Spanish language music, so why not Chicano Rock and Roll? We're good enough, and there's a lot of us."

His love of music is infectous, I must say. While Mark admits he appreciates groups like Steven Chavez and the East L.A. Revue All Stars keeping the East Side Sound alive, he has evolved into a Chicano Bard in the true sense of the word, with descriptive, story telling lyrics in some of his original tunes like "Room for the Latin in Rock and Roll", "I'm Brown","The Streets of East L.A.", "Zoot Suit" and "Cruisin' down the Blvd", among others. I particularly like "Orale!" which is available on his new CD.

After the interview at Mark's home, I was invited to hear his Lounge group "Hot Rox"
later on that evening in Downtown Palm Springs. While not the type of music the homies and I would have played on our 8-tracks back in the day, Mark's group nontheless kept the dance floor jumping with Pop, Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, and soft rock with a touch of Latin Soul. To see groups of people drawn in from the busy street action of Palm Canyon Blvd to dance when Mark broke out in his rendition of "La Bamba" was truly a compliment to the man and his music. The open air cantina and stage allowed the music to drift out into the bustling street, where bobbing heads and tapping feet were to be seen in all directions.

As I left just before the end of the second set, I paused for a moment to take a last glimpse of the crowd standing around the entrance of the cantina where Mark & Hot Rox were performing. The music in the air and undulating crowd were reminiscent of times past, where I remember similar occurances outside of places like The Rosewood Plunge, The Big & Little Union Halls, Kennedy Hall, Legg Lake, The Shrine Auditorium, The El Monte Legion Stadium and other musical memory spots of my past. It felt good to in the mix again, music being the fountain of youth and all....

Thanks, Mark....you still got it, Carnal!


Note: Info on Mark Guerrero's music & performances are available on his website at www.markguerrero.com and www.markguerrero.org

About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme spins the finest Oldies but goodies in Aztlan and the World every Thursday at 6:00pm, pst, only on www.kclafm.com
website: www.frankiefirme.50megs.com




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