Remembering Bobby Espinosa of El Chicano
Thee Mr. Duran remembers his friend, Bobby Espinosa, legendary keyboardist of El Chicano.
Richard "Thee Mr." Duran
Published on LatinoLA: March 1, 2010
As you may know, "El Maestro" Bobby Espinosa from El Chicano passed away late night February 27th, 2010. I had the distinct honor of meeting Bobby when I was filming our show in East Los Angeles. He would do walk-on guest appearances, and I had him appear in the East L.A. Christmas Parade alongside Rudy Salas and Little Willie G in 2004. Bobby supported all the cable TV shows at the East LA studio. He was one of a kind. One time, he walked from 1st and Mott with his keyboard all the way to our studio just to appear on my show. That's just the kind of guy he was.
During our days at the East LA studio, Mario Lobato (aka voice of Little Dickie) met Bobby on my show, and they hit it off very well, forming a friendship that would last till Bobby's final days. He performed with Mario's band Thee Rhythm Kings at venues like Steve's BBQ, and recorded with them on their debut album "Killing Time." Mi gente, I believe Thee Rhythm Kings have the distinct honor of Bobby playing his last studio recording on their all-star song "Vida."(Listen to the song on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjZwhlsEu1E) Bobby was a supporter of local talent, always approachable, a musical legend living in our community.
Ladies and gentlemen, back in Summer of 1971, when I was a student at Garfield High School there was an announcement that the band El Chicano was going to perform in our auditorium after school. I had heard their song "Viva Tirado" on the radio, and purchased their album "Revoluci??n" with an image of Pancho Villa and Zapata sitting on a couch, with Bobby standing off to the side. I was excited to see El Chicano coming to my school. Mind you, we had just had the East LA riots a couple years earlier, so Chicano Power was very strong back then. Mi gente, as they walked onto the stage, I s___ you not, they looked like Chicano Charles Mansons walking out. Very tall, thin, with long black hair and long black beards, boots up to their knees with jeans tucked into them; it scared the s___ out of me. As they started performing, my jaw dropped to my knees, I just couldn't believe the sound I was hearing coming from this organ I had never seen before in my life. It had a fan underneath, with something spinning as he played, and a Mexican zarape draped over the top. And the trippy part about it, was Freddie Sanchez, Andre Baeza and Bobby would talk to the audience, mentioning about us graduating, staying focused and not getting caught up on the streets. And I just remember that guy Mickey Lespron would keep saying, "Yeah, man. Yeah, man."
I would never imagine in my wildest dreams, ladies and gentlemen, that Bobby, Mickey, Fred and Ersi would be friends of mine years later in life. I went to visit Bobby one day at his home. He had this pet turtle, a huge tortoise walking around. Bobby got mad because he stepped on turtle s___ when he came inside the house. He took me to his room, and had his keyboard out. I told him that two of my favorite songs that El Chicano recorded that I didn't have on CD or cassette (which Bobby gave me that day) were "Sugar Sugar" and "Hurts So Bad." He then played both of them on his keyboard, even Mickey Lespron's guitar parts. I was shocked! He said he hadn't played those in years. It was like he never forgot the notes. That day, Bobby shared that he once partied with both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Those are the types of legends his name ranks among.
El Chicano had broken up for a while. Mickey Lespron got them back together to play one night at the Montebello Inn, with four original members: Mickey, Bobby, Freddie Sanchez and Ersi Arvizu. With his blessing, I had the distinct honor of filming it. Just like in 1971, they came back to the community that made them. As a matter of fact, when the Garfield Auditorium that I saw them perform in burned down, they were one of the first artists to confirm when Rudy Salas started organizing the fundraiser to rebuild that legendary room.
Mi gente, just four months ago, Bobby performed with El Chicano at the memorial fundraiser for our fallen brother Pete Perez at the Paloma Room (formerly the Montebello Inn, where I filmed them in 2002.) When the band brought up Poncho Sanchez to play congas on "Viva Tirado," it was an amazing performance. I told my promoter friends George Fernandez and Bobby Dee that Poncho and El Chicano should be their next big concert, because that one performance was too amazing for a mass audience not be able to witness. Just two weeks ago, I ran into promoter George Aguilar on Valentine's Day, and he mentioned that El Chicano and Tierra would be opening up for Los Lonely Boys this August at the Greek Theatre. Wow, what an amazing lineup. It's a lineup I wish Bobby had lived to be a part of. The maestro deserved to get his kudos.
He was a Chicano icon and legend, one who touched the hearts of big names and small. They say the hospital was jam packed with musicians. The iconic sound of his Hammond B3 Organ will live on forever. A sound responsible for what we now call Chicano Music. This approachable legend said no to nobody. Car shows, fundraisers, cable tv shows, there was no stage too small for him.
God bless you, my brother. El Maestro will live on forever.
Richard "Thee Mr." Duran:
Richard Duran hosts "Thee Mr. Duran Show", currently filming at LVTV 3 in La Verne, and broadcasting on www.mrduran.com