Cruisin' Back in Time...Again!
The 40th Anniversary of Chicano Rock n Roll
As I write this, it's a gloomy, rainy, Monday morning, in the year 2004.
Published on LatinoLA: October 27, 2004
Although I should be joining my contemporaries on this type of morning (...tu sabes...serious, mature, established, responsible, working grandparent, feeling 50ish, feeling those Monday morning morning blues while back at work, like forever, etc), on this morning I'm still buzzin' with that teenage surge of excitement, energy, & hormones that I used to feel back in the day after a terrific week-end...
...music still does that to me, with live performances even more so! Talk about a fountain of youth!
Although they may seem like foreign, ancient, historical perspectives to those younger than 40, it seems there are certain things that will forever identify that "OG", cool, hip, daring, first-to-come-out-in-english, Chicano generation de Aztlan, circa 1960's-70's, that dared to step out & be seen in the public eye.
..things like taking hours to comb your hair & crease your pants & shirts. Shaving your face 2-3 times till it was smooth as a baby's booty, then stinging it with Jade East, Aqua Velva and Old Spice till you cussed in 2 languages... Spraying your hair with so much Aqua Net it was almost a bullet proof helmet, or greasing it so fine con Tres Flores...starving all week at school to save your lunch money so you'll have enough weekend cash for gas & a concert ticket. Practicing your dance moves in front of a mirror when you were safe nobody was watching...girls with hair-do's, hoop earrings, foot long eyelashes, tight miniskirts, black nylons & 6 inch high heels that simply hypnotized you when they danced, and they smelled and felt SO GOOD when you had the chance to slow dance with them!! Ummm, ummm, ummm!...Car record players & 4/8-tracks, color bars, cragars & supremes, glass packs, pin stripes & primer spots, cruising the street with a carload of friends while the music was blasting...
...Ahhh, the MUSIC! Now that's where this is all going, Mi Gente! Sit back, trip well, my friends, and let me share thus another musical journey thru the colorful, musical corridors of my Aztlan, courtesy of LatinoLA.com !
So it was, on a cool, windy, Southern Califas fall evening that I travel to the Inland Empire on a Saturday night, to the University of California, Riverside.
Music promoter Steven Chavez, Music/film producers Hector & Miroslava Gonzalez, Emmy award winning cinematographer Jimmy Velarde and The Chicano Student Program got together and put on a show commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the West Coast East Side Sound~ Chicano Rock n Roll, that was a true & in depth look back into another era, a CHICANO era, of music.
Serving as host & emcee, Steven Chavez could barely hide his enthusiasm as his famed East L.A. Revue All Star Band provided a powerful backdrop & musical canvas for this documentary film screening and dream concert, 40 years in the making, that came across perfect as a picture.
Opening the show, Film producers Hector & Miroslava Gonzalez defined their love & dedication to Chicano music, and the hitherto rarely mentioned historical contribution early Chicano artists made to the development of American music that is World emulated to this day. That being said, the film "The West Coast East Side Sound" aired to a select & lucky anticipatory audience that included such dignataries as Author Ruben Molina, Actor Danny De La Paz, KUCR Radio DJ's "El Betoman" Robert Tigerina, Christina Chavez, & Angel Baby, and Chicano Magazine's Spooky Esparza, among many others.
The film comes at you in true cinemascope & engulfing surround sound from the very start. The award winning skills of Hector Gonzalez and Jimmy Velarde are apparent from start to finish as the film takes you on a colorful, historical, musical journey back in time in an impressive manner with music, interviews and vintage film footage clips. Centering around the late music pioneer Eddie Davis, and his devotion to Chicano rock and roll (which was in it's infancy with no predecessing role models), the film highlights 3 groups, which were the first Chicano rock n roll groups to chart on english language, national music billboards. Not since the late Richie Valens had California Chicanos been in the national music spotlight on this level.
The 3 groups, Cannibal & The Headhunters, The Premiers, and The Blendells are all featured in the film with then-and-now interviews and film clips of performances. As I looked around the audience, I could see nostalgic tears of pride in many, whom I'm sure were there back in the day. Little talked about today is the way the draft, the Viet Nam War and the Civil rights movement concurrently affected these artists & their audience back then.
Time has passed, and the years have taken their toll. As I noticed some empty seats, Miroslava Gonzalez whispered to me "Frankie...every seat is filled with the spirit tonight. Don't you feel it?" I did. We agreed, in a most poetic fashion paramount to the event, that the empty seats represented those who are no longer with us. It gave me a warm feeling that I was being part of a historical event, and a chill that I could almost visualize the ghosts of teenagers past. A sad, yet happy feeling...know what I mean?
As the film ended to thunderous applause, Steven Chavez then announced "Ladies & gentlemen, please put your hands together for the one & only... PREMIERS!"
Wow! The curtain rose, and there they were! Lawrence Perez, Johnny Perez and George Delgado! The Premiers! Some of my adolescent heroes! (For those of you youngsters..let me explain that back in the '60's, there weren't a lot of positive role models for young Chicanos back then. Musicians were the epitome of Chicano class!). Man, just to see those guys perform, with Lawrence & George hitting hot guitar solos while Johnny rocked the house on drums was a testament to how music keeps the human soul forever young! Lawrence was SO in the zone, showing the style & talent that enthralled a generation. My Lady (a youngster at 42) said "Wow! He sounds better than a lot of the younger guitarists I've seen in the last couple of years...and I've seen a lot!" A few seats down from me were Lawrence's grandchildren. Teenagers. As they wonderously absorbed the rockin', on-their-feet audience responding to their grandfather's kick ass performance, their tears of pride were evident, and I was touched by the moment!
Next, Big Mike Rincon & Andy Tesso, aka the BLENDELLS, hit the stage with their ever popular trademark song "Huggies Bunnies". I had to stand up and join the audience to rock out to this one! I must have played that 45 a million times when I was a youngster, along with next song...you guessed it: "La La La La La"! Man, when the Tribal drumbeat began, and Big Mike Rincon uttered those famous words "We're gonna play a little song for you now...." the audience was possessed to get to their feet and sing along. I got a kick out of the confused look at a lot of the youngsters in the audience when this started, as they didn't know what all these Veteranos & Veteranas were gonna do.Ha!
They were getting an education, that's for sure, as the older generation had their chance to show the younger generation what was up before they were even thought of!
I must say, backing up these acts in the finest fashion were the renowned East L.A. Revue All Star Band, a well known group of music veteranos who are a class act in themselves. Vocalists Maria Conchita Sandoval & Teri Speed, relative youngsters to everybody, didn't let age get in the way as they belted out classics like "Tell mama", "You'll lose a good thing", "We belong together" and "Heat wave" with attitude & finesse. Standing in the aisle & beaming like proud parents, Steven & Janie Chavez looked on with pride as their dream concert became a reality, with their East L.A. Revue All Star Band being the musical vehicle that took everybody in the house for one of the smoothest musical cruises anywhere in Aztlan!
Closing out the show Las Vegas~Broadway style, both The Premiers and The Blendells came back on stage, joining The East L.A. Revue All Stars in welcoming Richard "Scar" Lopez and David Casteneda, surviving members of Cannibal & The Headhunters, as the finale song "Land of 1000 Dances" got everybody on their feet, dancing & singing along to the legendary " Na, na na na na.....". Man! You should have been there!
Like a dream come true, I realized I was doing something I had wished for almost 40 years ago. Here I was, in an audience surrounded by good friends, in the company of a beautiful Lady (mine, of course!) and enjoying a live performance of some of the greatest Chicano Rock n Roll legends of my generation that had somehow disappeared when I came of age...how could it have been any better?
Afterwards, I had a chance to interview some of the artists backstage. I met with Tony Carrol, Scar Lopez, Andy Tesso, George Delgado and David Casteneda. On an impulse, I asked a hypothetical question that just seemed appropriate for the moment: "How old do you guys feel right now?" . They all smiled , looking at each other, and replied together "twenty!!", as they shared hugs, handshakes, high fives, laughs, & tears.
...they'll always be twenty...and the music will always be there! Thanks, guys!
...who knows where Frankie Firme will show up next?...hmmm...only LatinoLA knows!!
note: The East L.A. Revue All Star Band, Big Mike Rincon and Miroslava Gonzalez will be some of the performers at Frankie Firme's fundraiser concert, along with the Satisfaction Band and comedian Gilbert Esquivel, at the Club Montebello on November 5th. Help keep Chicano Music alive, be there!!
Frankie Firme spins the finest Chicano style Oldies but Goodies & Latin Soul Music on the World Wide Web every Thursday at 6:00pm, pst, only on www.kclafm.com