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Ruben Molina's new book: Chicano Soul

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: November 30, 2007


Return to the Spotlight Brown


Once again, mi Gente, we are blessed with a literary and historical treasure from one of our own artistic warriors de Aztlan, that adds to our rich legacy in the modern world for future generations. watcha:

3 years in the making, Ruben Molina's well researched new book "Chicano Soul" takes us on a musical journey almost forgotten in the contemporary American music scene and time, barely touched by his first book "The Old Barrio Guide to Lowrider music". (www.mictlan.com) .

While many African American and Anglo American music artists can rightfully assume the mantle of "Rock & Roll music Legend", there are many less heralded, yet just as talented if not more so, Chicano music artists that helped usher in the early Rock & Roll era to Americana and the World, also deserving of the title "legend".

For many years, I, along with many others, have promoted and heaped praises on the early Chicano Rock & Rollers from East L.A. and the West coast, circa late 1950's to early 1970's, as the fathers and birthplace of Chicano Music at it's purest.

Now, I stand enlightened, albeit previously incompletely informed, in part due to the limited exposure to artists & music afforded me through various means available during earlier times.

Unbeknownst to me, and probably a lot of you, in the early days of Rock & Roll, while the West coast & American Bandstand were blistfully gorging on the "Eastside sound" of Los Angeles' CANNIBAL & THE HEADHUNTERS, THE BLENDELLS, THE PREMIERS, THE JAGUARS, THE SALAS BROTHERS, and the original THEE MIDNITERS back in the day,talented Chicano artists from Arizona to Texas where making the same sounds in their part of the planet with less fanfare and publicity on the west coast.

In San Antonio,Texas, lowriders were enjoying the "West side sound", which surprisingly sounds a lot like the East side sound of L.A. of the 1960's & 70's.

Ballads & snappy dance tunes, fresh horns, clean English language lyrics, suave guitar rifts, clean cut guys in sharp matching suits, and young emotional vocal renditions of love, heartbreak, happiness, and life...it was all there, for a lucky few that lived the times...and loved to the music.

The initial mark of uniqueness to the American , and later on, an international audience, was that this was the first large scale presentation of Mexican~American musical artists singing and playing in English, for English language audiences that increasingly included large numbers of first and second generation Mexican~Americans.

Secondly, the majority of them were young, some still in high school, putting a new twist to the growing popularity of black inspired early rhythm & blues music, and a growing market that would soon have world wide proportions. To have this type of musical impact on so many... without major American corporate label support, and at such a young age, is truly an innovation for it's time, and a testament to the talent, artistry, & chemistry of the times.

44 years after the birth of Chicano rock & roll in Los Angeles, I met with author and good friend, Ruben Molina, in the birthplace of the Chicano community in Los Angeles, Olvera Street in downtown L.A., to discuss this and his new book.

"Like my first book...I just wanted people to know the story of what really went down at a moment in time that is gone...before I'm gone", Ruben says of his new book "CHICANO SOUL".

"The whole idea is to keep it alive...I just want the next generation to know that anything is possible for us. Young people today don't know or appreciate the kind of struggles and acomplishments that many before them put forth. My new book exposes some of that. In my research, I have met so many talented artists and discovered such beautiful music that I never heard before, and I felt their story had to be told before time swallows up the memories.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's, here were Chicano kids living in a time when racial prejudice against people of color was still easily accepted and practiced. They struggled for acceptance on 2 language fronts, took a chance and helped create something artistically new that affected their local communities in a way I never realized until I started researching for my book".

Ruben credits early Chicano rock & roll with creating virtual economies that supported neighborhoods. "Can you just see it?", he asks, "Nobody would hire these kids because they were so young, didn't have established major management or exposure, playing music attributed to black rebels at the time, and DARING to do it in English! The clubs and dance halls they performed in, production needs, photographers, clothing, studios to record the records, record players, music instruments, union halls, restaurants, etc...these were jobs that were created , and the music, dances, and performances supported this. Once it got started in places like East L.A. and west San Antonio , markets sprang up and audiences were catered to. Money started getting made,and people started getting paid...that's called an economy!".

With his new book, CHICANO SOUL, which offers a wide array of rare and never before published archival photographs of such distinguished groups as the SUNNY & THE SUNLINERS, DIMAS GARZA & THE ROYAL JESTERS, THE SUNGLOWS, and RUDY "T" & THE RENO BOPS, along with some interesting historical facts, one can see the style, changes and struggle early Chicano artists went through while unknowingly opening doors for today's artists.

"My first book covered all the early original artists, brown, black, and white, that Chicano lowrider audiences have listened to for years. My second book covers the Chicanos from L.A. , New Mexico , Arizona , and Texas . That alone filled one book. Can you imagine, I even found Chicano music that had the black soul influence on Indian reservations while traveling and researching. That was a really rewarding experience".

While early American music historians and movies reflect back on the traveling Motown and Alan Freed Rock & Roll music shows that helped give rock roll it's early prominence long before MTV and music videos, a little known fact was that Chicanos were also touring the southwestern United States around the same time, putting on large music shows and dances.

"I wasn't around then", Ruben admits, " and I never saw it on TV, but I found out through reading and researching...something kids today sadly don't do enough of. I admit, I wasn't an angel growing up, but I always had my music to get me through tough times. During the Viet Nam war I joined the Marines to get out of the streets, and that's when I met a lot of guys from different parts of the country, getting exposed to different types of music.
Ironically, I got shot in the streets of East L.A. the first week after being discharged. I had a long recuperation, and while recuperating, I became addicted to books and reading...and brother, you couldn't ask for a better addiction.".

While making it through life, getting married, working, and raising 2 children, over the years Ruben read the entire encyclopedia, along with other books of Aztlan, and one of his lifelong loves: music.

"If I had done that formally, I would have a Ph.D by now", Ruben laughs. During his many hours of reading while pursuing another one of his loves, history, Ruben noticed that little was available on the subject of Chicano music in America .

One day, while speaking with famed L.A. performer/promoter Johnny Otis, a white man who made his fortune catering to Chicano and Black music audiences, Ruben mentioned how so much Chicano influence is in the L.A. music scene that somebody should write a book about it.

"You do it, man", Johnny confidently told Ruben. "If anybody can, you can".

7 years later, Ruben Molina's 2nd book "Chicano Soul" is out, and it is a fine book indeed. As a musical historian myself, I had a hard time putting it down.

"Like me...I hope Chicano kids today get excited about reading and researching our people, and discovering part of our artistic accomplishments", Ruben says, "...and maybe they'll ask the older generation what it was like...and the generations will communicate and educate each other about life and the music that is our legacy....and that's called keeping it alive" .

Gracias Ruben! You do our Gente well!

Note: Both Ruben's books "The Old Barrio Guide to Lowrider Music" and "Chicano Soul" are available at www.mictlan.com

About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme brings it back & keeps it alive 24/7 at www.eastLArevue.com ~ the finest music in Aztlan




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