Dancing in the Rain on a Friday night

The L.A. Rhythm Kings rock Diamond Bar

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: April 18, 2006

Dancing in the Rain on a Friday night

If you've been following my "roadprints" as I cruise thru the Chicano Music Boulevards and Avenues of Aztlan in search of good music, good times, and good people, you'll recall that I've stated that my Lady & I try to avoid inclimate weather whenever possible.

Not since Gilbert Esquivel's 2004 debut of his Old School Music & Comedy Revue in Hollywood, and SATISFACTION's 2004-2005 New Year's Show at the Norwalk Ramada Inn, have we ventured out and taken a drive in the rain to get our smiles & boogie on.

Last Friday was another exception. For about 2 years, I've been hearing about an old school music group from the L.A.~Orange County area that continually pop up on my radar with good reviews and kudos from the Gente, but I keep missing them. (Once by just an hour!) On this particular Friday, I wasn't about to miss a thing.

This band is known as the L.A. Rhythm Kings. Everybody's starting to talk about them...

Having heard them on CD, and heard of them last year on Texas's Chicano Express Radio program with Crazy Chuy Hernandez, my curiosity has steadily grown. Because there is no shortage of great music and entertainment here in the Land of 1000 Dances, I thought the opportunity to catch their act would eventually surface. My patience got the step up on my opportunities, and I finally reached out and called them out of curiosity & respect.

I got a hold of band manager and lead guitarist Paul Ballesteros (I had heard of him as a former member of the Cannibal & The Headhunters Band, Cold Duck, and Brenton Wood's band), after some brief intro, we immediately hit it off as I discovered he was a East L.A. homie from my side of town. His guitar is a standout for the L.A. Rhythm Kings, and a major part of their growing popularity.

"We've been together about 6 years now, and the band members have lots of experience with different groups and genres. We have fun and a good time whenever we play , and right now that's good enough for everybody in the band and our growing fan base". I was going to ask if I could maybe catch a rehearsal when he invited me to their Friday night gig at the Shiloh Inn Restaurant in Diamond Bar. I had previously flaked out on 2 earlier invitations over the course of 2 years, and I had to satisfy the nagging thorn in my side that I had been missing something, so this invitation was very well appreciated.

Located off the 57 freeway between the 10 and the 60 freeways in Diamond Bar just west of Pomona, the Shiloh Inn Restaurant and Lounge is a relatively new venue to get your boogie on without the bother of youngsters in baseball hats, baggies, sports jerseys, and young hormonal humping disguised as dance. The Lounge is comfortable, clean, and classy. Food & service are excellent, and parking is free. A good looking, mature , and well dressed crowd complete the "cool" ambience I've been meaning to get out to, but just needed a reason, tu sabes...tonight, I had a reason.

Inviting my good friend, original Thee Midniters band member & music afectionado George Salazar and his Lady Lisa, my Lady and I made the 65 mile trip from the San Fernando Valley to the Shiloh Inn in the rain to catch the L.A. Rhythm Kings live in action.

Arriving early, we were greeted warmly by Paul Ballesteros and the band members as they were setting up. We chatted briefly, and they all seemed genuinely glad to meet us, answering questions and exchanging jokes. I noticed that the bandstand and dance floor are backdropped by large bay windows that allow an impressive background of the Pomona Valley and freeway traffic lights. With the comfortable and classy atmosphere completing the ensemble, we settled in and waited for the show to begin as the lights slowly dimmed...and the L.A. Rhythm Kings "showed their stuff".

A seven member ensemble made up of Paul Ballesteros(guitar), legendary bass man Tony Banda, John Gulack (keyboards), Danilo Torres (drums), Jason Hemmens (Saxaphone,harmonica, and vocals), and the dual vocal team of Morris Edwards and John Colar, the L.A. Rhythm Kings can "take it upsatirs" and back with no problem.

Opening up with smooth jazz, the Rhythm Kings wasted no time getting things started early by giving up a hot rendition of Grover Washington Jr.'s classic "Mr. Magic".

A difficult tune for almost any band because of it's unique, off kilter beat & opening, the original studio long version of "Mr. Magic" featured outstanding guitar and sax solos, but only true music affectionados (like George & I in the audience) know that in live performances, the late great Grover Washington Jr. added a hot keyboard solo as well, which added to the song, and made it the beloved American classic that it is. We agreed that many bands try, but usually one or two of the solos are weak. In addition, the mark of true talented music professionals is that they avoid a true note-for-note exact rendition of somebody else's song (especially if it's great), while adding their own original ad lib live performance kick, making it theirs for the moment...and memorable for those lucky enough to be there.

The Rhythm Kings did just that, and hit ALL 3 solos first class.

First, Paul Ballesteros gave up a juicy, smooth, shoulder & booty shaking guitar solo, followed by John Gulack simply "going off" at keyboard solo, eyes closed, smiling almost in extacy, hittin' them keys and drawing some "oohs" from the crowd as he plied his trade. Jason Hemmens finished off the opening seduction of the crowd by blowing the sax in a hot and heavy manner that I'm sure if Grover had been at my table, he would lean over and tell me "...Cat can play!..."

As the evening wore on, the band warmed up even more, with vocalists Morris Edwards and John Colar showing their vocal and genre range with talent, wit & humor, accompanied with some colorful stage presence and one liners that put everyone at ease. These guys make the show, going from one great classic R &B and Soul Oldie to another. They also harmonize well with the other band members, sometimes , in 5 parts.

Probably one of the highlights or two of the night was when Jason Hemmens, the newest and youngest member of the L.A. Rhythm Kings, barely 2 years on the West Coast, was allowed to "bust out" with his take on the oldies. First, he sang solo on B.B. King's "Caledonia" while the band took it up a notch and played it swing style. After hittin' the lyrics with spirit, he suprised everybody in mid song by saying "Wait a minute...I think I got something in my pocket...", pulled out a harmonica and gave up a ripping solo that really impressed me and the crowd, drawing a loud ovation before the song was even finished. Later on in the evening, he again solo'd on "Play that funky music, white boy", took a cordless microphone, and danced off stage into the dance floor and sang his heart out while dancing himself. The band good naturedly teased him on stage with "Go head on, Michael" (in humorous reference to Michael Jackson).

With past experiences playing, performing, and recording with such greats as Poncho Sanchez, The Esquires, The Dramatics, the 4 Tops, Rare Earth, Brenton Wood, Cannibal & The Heahunters, the Coasters, Prince, The Five Smooth Tones, Bloodstone, Cold Duck, and Sangria, the varied experiences and obvious influences of all the group's members make The L.A. Rhythm Kings one of the hotter acts to catch in the Land of 1000 Dances, and one you will be hearing more about.

Check them out...you WILL NOT be disappointed, quote me!

Note: For info & booking of the L.A. Rhythm Kings, go to their website at:
www.larhythmkings.com, or call Paul Ballesteros at (714)307-0009


About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme's website: www.frankiefirme.50megs.com

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