Another Legend Comes to the Land of 1000 Dances

Johnny Hernandez cruises Aztlan...again.

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: September 12, 2007

Another Legend Comes to the Land of 1000 Dances

Whether it be California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, or Nevada, the influence of Aztlan continues to spread beyond it's borders to enrich the masses...

...not geographically, not politically, not financially, and certainly not militarily or revolutionary...

...but artistically, culturally, and musically. That's from the heart & soul ...

That being said, consider this "Part II" of a story about a Chicano Music legend's trek to the Land of 1000 Dances, in a series started up north by my brother chronicler of all things Brown & Beautiful, Mr. Al Carlos Hernandez of Oakland, California.

Recently, Al Carlos put out a piece about Tejano~Chicano Music pioneer, Johnny Hernandez (Little Joe y Los Latinaires/ La Familia fame), that got my attention. Awhile earlier, my good friend, Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame Radio DJ Jesus "Crazy Chuy" Hernandez had also brought to my attention that Johnny was "coming to play in L.A." armed with a new CD entitled "This time...again", that was a collection of oldies and blues. My kind of stuff, for sure! I had to check it out.

But first, a little Tejano music history from the L.A. perspective. "Tejano" literally translated, means a person from Texas, USA.

First introduced to Tejano music by brother U.S. Marines during the Viet Nam era, I fondly recall classic Tejano jams such as "Rebelde", "Las Nubes", "Cartas Marcadas","A la Guerra ya me llevan", and "Por una mujer casada" on 8 track tapes, that put a whole new twist to the term "Spanish language music" for me and a whole generation of Chicanos in the 1960's and 1970's. Like hard-driving early Rock & Roll, early Tejano music made you want to get up and dance, and scream to the winds that you were having a good time, no matter what cards life had dealt you. I always liked that...

Likened to the originality of the Eastside Sound of Los Angeles, the Tejano sound of music pioneers like the Hernandez Brothers (Joe, Johnny, and Rocky) took traditional Mexican music to a new level of musical creativity by incorporating big band brass, rock & roll, blues, rockabilly, German polka, country, and traditional "ranchera" music into a new mix of Spanish slang lyrics and dance music that had traditional lovers of Mexican music scratching their heads as "Chicano~Tejano" music kept Brown people partying north of the border, and attracted the southerners.

Besides love songs, the new Tejano music sang of the heartbreaks, struggles, and fun of life and love in a unique style ... singing, mocking, laughing, and crying, with an occasional "grito" (or Indian warrior cry) for good measure, all performed in a harmonious chorus of voices and instruments that is a classic, original American art form unknown to many.

"I've been into music all my life, and I've been a performer for over 46 years," Johnny told me proudly during a recent interview. "I first came out to the West Coast to perform with the Latinaires back in 1964 out of Temple, Texas, right about the time the East Side sound started taking off in L.A. Man, it was a unique time for music back in those days, and we were accepted by the RAZA of L.A., no questions asked. Intermingling with great horn men such as Tony "Ham" Guerrero of Texas, and Bobby Loya of East L.A., we easily influenced each other, and because of this, we were exposed to a variety of music between us that broadened both our horizons and sense of creativity, that has advanced Chicano music to the level it's at today".

Joining me recently at one of L.A.'s favorite outdoor venues for live Chicano music, Johnny and his lovely lady Valentina joined myself, Steven Chavez and our ladies for a show put on by one of Aztlan's current music sensations, BARELA.

Hitherto known to me as a strictly Spanish language singer, I was caught off guard when I noticed Johnny softly singing along to BARELA's repertoire of English language rock, R&B, Disco, Oldies, and Soul music.

"Hey, we all play and sing this music in Texas and California. It's the music our people love and dance to. I've done this stuff for years, and I've performed along some of the greats...and I'm still in love with the music," Johnny told me.

Johnny's new CD "This time...again" is a collection of his favorite oldies covers mixed in with some original blues, and topped off with an original Chicano~Tejano Latin Soul dance tune called "Toda me gusta de ti" that I can easily see becoming a West Coast Latino favorite. The music arrangements are good.

Bringing you that intimate, small, comfortable club sound, Johnny's rendition of oldies would give any veterano a nostalgic chill. His "bump & grind" and "Wicked, wicked woman" blues jams make you think of those old style, smoke-filled, after-dark blues clubs of yesterday, where only "the cool" hung out.

"I'm from Texas, and I love Tejanos & Tejano music, but I was beginning to feel confined just staying in that genre, singing only in Spanish. I came out to L.A. because I see a bigger mix and variety of music genres that I can have fun in. I don't mean that ear splitting noise and vulgar lyrics that some young people play today, but the soulful sound of talented Chicano musicians that can carry a tune, make you smile, make you dance, make you love...that's the world I want to hang out in".

Taking Johnny backstage to meet the BARELA brothers and members of the band, I could see the respect the younger artists had for this Tejano legend, and the respect returned, as the legend complimented the up-and-coming stars by answering questions about what the future as a musician would be like, while complimenting their talent and performance on this day, under the sunshine of the Land of 1000 Dances.

I could only think of good things to come, as Johnny happily told me he wants to further explore and enjoy the music, people, sights and sounds of the City of Angels, while hooking up with other artists and continuing to expand his love of music and performing.

...and with that, LatinoLA proudly welcomes another music warrior de Aztlan into the fold that is the Land of 1000 Dances.

Johnny Hernandez...Tejano Music legend, singer, songwriter...CHICANO !

note: Johnny's new CD is available at Wal-Mart and at johnnyhernandez.biz/merchandise.html

About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul. Catch his music shows at: www.eastLArevue.com and www.chicanoexpress.com

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