Spotlight on the Brown: Rampart Records' Hector Gonzalez
Performer, artist, producer, actor, television sound man, chronicle keeper....
Once again, the Goddess of Ritmo has smiled upon LatinoLA, and has brought forth another Chicano de Aztlan who is known as a "shaker" in the music and entertainment world, one who has brought and kept the West Coast Chicano Brown sound in the forefront, when others have bent with the winds of conventional commercialism.
Published on LatinoLA: September 21, 2005
This is not an easy feat, when one considers the trials, tribulations, sacrifice and hard work that go into show business, with hardly a guarantee that efforts will bear fruit. When one can survive in this world for over 40 years and still continue to produce, then the feat itself takes on larger proportions than previously considered.
That being said, this month's Spotlight on the Brown shines on musician, artist, music producer, Emmy award winning Television sound man, and of course, a friend of mine, Rampart Records owner Mr. Hector Gonzalez.
I met Hector over a year ago when he came as a suprise guest on my show with Music Producer Steven Chavez, being introduced as the sound engineer for the 2004 Latin Oldies Festival. A fan of his 2 well known music groups of the past, The Eastside Connection and Lava & The Hot Rocks, I was more than excited to meet him after all these years, and he also introduced me to Shin Miyata of Barrio Gold Records and Lowrider magazine of Tokyo, Japan. He also blessed me with a classic collection of Chicano music "The East Side Sound" in a 4 CD set from Rampart Records, which is heard regularly on my show.
Born & raised in South Central Los Angeles, Hector recalls his earliest musical exposure to Black R&B and West Coast Soul Sounds of the late 1950's & 1960's. "I got my groove on early as a kid in L.A." Hector easily laughs.
"My earliest big impression was that of the Beatles. Here was music and lyrics by 4 British teenagers that was sweeping the World with Rock & Roll. Nobody that young had ever done that before, so I got swept up in the moment with the rest of the Country as a fan, and a desire to be a musician".
Like a lot of L.A. Chicanos, the realities of the streets were also an impression, albeit not a positive one. "We lived right in the heart of South Central L.A. during the Watts Riots of 1965", recalls Hector, "I remember walking to school and seeing Army tanks parked in the schoolyard of a local junior high school. I also remember a young kid looking into a recently looted store just as the police pulled up, and without warning, they shot him dead right in front of everybody." A no brainer after that, music was a more positive attraction to Hector than street life.
"I remember going to my first live music show, when I was about 12 or 13, seeing a band called 'Sounds Unlimited'," Hector says, "Here was this group of Chicanos, all decked out, with a heavy brass section, playing Rock & Roll covers of popular tunes of the day. I sat up in the balcony through the whole show and was just mesmerized. That was when I decided that I wanted to be a musician".
After that, Hector started his first group The Reserve Seat. "We played the usual wedding-quincea??era-backyard party circuit, but then we got a chance to perform and compete in the Pepsi-Cola Battle of the Bands at the Hollywood Paladium in 1968. That was one of my first musical rushes".
Hector began studying bass guitar under the tutelege of legendary bass man Chuck Rainey, of the King Curtis Band. (Chuck also had stints with the Young Rascals, Steely Dan, and was the bass player that backed up Cannibal & The Headhunters during their memorable Beatles tour of 1965).
Shortly afterwards, he started his second band, The Eastside Connection which included such musicians as Sal Rodriguez (now of WAR) and Bertha Oropeza (now of CHICO). "I was having fun doing studio work and playing with the Eastside Connection when I met up with Rich Jacobs of the ABC Television Network, who helped me land my first job in television as a sound man. I started doing work on a number of shows like the 'Price is Right' and 'The Pat Sajak Show', among others while covering sports events." Hector also was a major player of the John Denver Television Special, which starred Frank Sinatra with the Harry James Big Band.
It was during this time, Hector won an Emmy award for his work on the 1984 Summer Olympics for ABC Sports..."I'll never forget that." Shortly afterwards, Rampart Records founder Eddie Davis was so impressed that he told Hector, "That was some great work, besides your Eastside Connection Band stuff. When I die, I'm going to leave you Rampart Records."
"I sort of didn't believe him, because Eddie had known such big names, and was a big name himself. In 1994 when he passed, I, along with a whole lot of people, were surprised that he did in fact, leave it all to me after his death. A bigger blessing couldn't be bestowed on a musician than that. Thanks, Eddie".
Hector started his 3rd band, Lava & The Hot Rocks around 1980, which included his wife, singer Miroslava (aka Lava, now of the Blues Straight Up Band), and his son Alex on drums. They recorded their only album under this name "You Damn Mexicans Are Too Loud", which has since become an L.A. classic. "This was my dream band, because it included my wife and son, and was co-produced by 10-time Emmy Award winning cameraman Jimmy Velarde, who is a close friend of mine," Hector is proud to say.
Hector then worked for various studios like ABC, CBS, and HBO before landing a gig as Musical Director and co-host of the Telemundo Network-produced Maria Conchita Alonzo television variety show "Al dia con Maria Conchita." "That was fun, working with such names as Tito Puente, Mark Anthony, Salma Hayek, Edward James Olmos and J-Lo". Hector says one of the biggest honors he felt was when a majority of the engineers, sound men, camera men, gaffers, and other people he had worked with behind the scenes for years all converged on him during a break in taping one day to personally congratulate him. "You don't feel you've made it, till your peers in the business tell you you've made it, and they let me know how proud of me they were" Hector recalls happily.
Next, Hector landed a short stint as "Fernando Cedillo" on the long-running CBS soap opera "The Young & The Restless" on network television. "I can't tell you the thrill I felt when I walked onto the set for the first time, and the crew recognized me and started asking me for help with sound equipment & microphones, etc, and I told them I was here as an actor, not the sound engineer. Man!...you should have seen the mouths drop open!".
In 2001, Hector again teamed up with Emmy Award-winning cameraman Jimmy Velarde to direct the documentary film "The West Coast East Side Sound", which dug deep into the Rampart Records vault of film clips of early L.A. Chicano Rock & Roll groups. "I wanted to put a spotlight on these early Chicano music groups who broke the mold and began performing Rock & Roll in English (something new at the time) for a national audience". The film has garnished critical acclaim since then.
In 2004, Hector got the call to be sound engineer for the 2004 Latin Oldies Festival in San Bernardino, California, which featured such names as The East L.A. Revue All Star Band, MALO with Jorge Santana, CHICO, comedian Gilbert Esquivel,and the Village Callers. That was the first time I had the chance to work with Hector, and it was a fun experience, to say the least. We became fast friends around this time.
Later on that year, comedian Gilbert Esquivel, "The Crown Prince of Chicano Comedy", called upon us both to join him for his "Chicano Old School Music and Comedy Revue" show at the World Famous Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California. With me as host & MC, and with Hector pulling double duty not only as sound & music director, but playing bass in the band along with his drummer son Alex, the show was a sold-out success for 3 straight weeks. This was an honor for us both, as there had not been a Latino-produced & starring headliner show on the Sunset Strip since Desi Arnaz pulled it off in 1952, and Gilbert had honored us by letting us be a part of it.
We both agreed that sharing the stage where such legends as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., and Richard Pryor had performed, along with an all star band and of course, Gilbert Esquivel, was just a straight out rush of a lifetime!(and, we had our Ladies & family there as witnesses!)
One moment we both agree we will take to our graves as friends during this time was during a short break in the show, we stepped outside the club through the performer's entrance, away from the main door & entrance, to grab some fresh air. As we stood there looking at the excitement charged Hollywood atmoshere, seeing the long line of people waiting to get into the show, hearing the wall banging laughter of the audience as Gilbert plied his trade, the stopped up traffic, the lights, the staring crowds of people walking by on the Sunset Strip, the sounds of other Hollywood venues wafting in the air, we got caught up in the moment and stared at each other for a second with smiles big enough to drive a Hummer through!
I couldn't help but feel special, when Hector looked at me and said "Hey, Frankie...trip on this...Chicanos on the SUNSET STRIP! We're really here, man!"... At that moment, we embraced as only brothers and tight camaradas can understand, in a show of mutual respect and congratulation. The moment was that charged! We then went back in and finished off the show in style!
Since then, Hector has continued working for major studios around the country, but has managed to pull off another great stunt for Aztlan: The issue of original, previously unheard, Rampart Records recordings of Cannibal & The Headhunters from the 1960's, remastered on CD, and a compilation of other early Chicano music favorites called "Rockin' the Barrio," soon to be available at record stores around the country.
"This is just my way of commemorating the 40th Anniversary of West Coast Chicano Rock & Roll music," Hector proudly says, "the Artists deserve the recognition denied them so many years ago, and my people de Aztlan are entitled to their music legacy...so here it is! Take it, mi Gente! It's yours!".
May the music live forever!
Gracias Hector Gonzalez. Performer, artist, producer, actor, television sound man, chronicle keeper....
note: Hector Gonzalez will be a guest in the 2nd Time Around Show, on www.kclafm.com, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Frankie Firme spins the finest Oldies on the World wide web and is a contributing writer to LatinoLA.com