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My Concert At the "Chicano Rock" Documentary Premiere
October 9, 2008

by Mark Guerrero

     On Thursday, October 9, 2008, there was a premiere for the documentary "Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles" at the legendary Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles.  The theater, which was opened in 1918 as a movie and vaudeville house by Sid Grauman, later of Grauman's Chinese Theater fame, went through many incarnations throughout the 20th century.  In 1945, it began hosting shows which featured great black artists such as Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Lionel Hampton.  Starting in 1950 it became a film and stage venue for Latin American audiences, where Latin artists such as Javier Solis, Maria Felix, Miguel Aceves Mejia, and my dad, Lalo Guerrero, performed.  In 1993, the theater was taken over by a church and used for religious services until 1998 when it was closed and shuttered.  Restoration began in 2005 and the theater reopened in February of 2008 to once again be a venue for movies and live shows.  The "Chicano Rock" documentary produced, written, directed, and edited by Jon Wilkman, had been many years in the making.  It finally has a broadcast date set for December 14, 2008 on PBS so this event was as much a celebration as a concert and premiere.

     A live show was organized to go with the screening of the documentary.  It was put together mainly due to the efforts of Max Uballez, formerly of the pioneering East L.A. band The Romancers, along with drummer/band leader Robert Zapata and yours truly.  Phil Reyes and his crew did the sound mixing.  The show was hosted by KTTV's Tony Valdez, who goes back to the golden age of the "Eastside Sound" when he sold records at the Record Rack on Whittier Boulevard.  I used to buy records from him myself.  Valdez is very intelligent and articulate and always brings a lot of class to any event with which  he's involved and this night was no exception.  Ruben Molina, author of the book "Chicano Soul," secured the opening band, Pachuco Jose y Los Diamantes, who dressed in zoot suits and performed two of my dad's classic recordings, "Chicas Patas Boogie" and the swing-styled rocker, "Tin Marin de do Pingue."  They're a very good band with the right look, style, and sound to best put across the pachuco music of the late 40s and early 50s.

     I came on next backed by Zapata's group, Frankie Garcia's Cannibal & the Headhunters Band.  The band members were Ron Reyes on guitar, Art Sanchez on bass, Dave Goldstein on keyboard, and Robert Zapata on drums.  When they've backed me before the keyboardist is usually Karl Carrasco, but he was unable to make the show due to a previous commitment.  Dave Goldstein, who is also a member of the band had never played with me before.  I e mailed him the songs the day before the show and he came in and did a great job with no rehearsal.  I also brought in Steve Alaniz to play tenor sax.  I sang and played guitar and keyboard on the two songs we performed, my dad's "Los Chucos Suaves" and my song "I'm Brown," which I originally recorded on Capitol Records in 1972.  Rudy and Steve Salas of Tierra followed with their version of the Righteous Brothers' "My Babe" and the classic Mexican love song, "Gema."  Rudy played guitar and Steve bass while they sang their beautiful harmony, backed by Robert Zapata on drums, Ron Reyes on guitar, and Dave Goldstein on keyboard.  These are songs they did back in the 60s when they were known as the Salas Brothers.  In those days they regularly performed with The Jaguars.  It was like deja vu.  I used to perform on the bill with The Jaguars with the Salas Brothers in 1964 and '65 on the East L.A. circuit with my band Mark & the Escorts.  Frankie Garcia's Cannibal & the Headhunters Band came on next, with their lead singer Charlie Muñoz, who sang with The Ambertones in the 60s.  They did a version of James Brown's "Out of Sight" and closed with "Land of a Thousand Dances."  Charlie went out into the audience and got Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo, an original Headhunter, to come up and join them on the song.  It was a great moment.  The show was very good and very well received by the audience.

     Tony Valdez interviewed some of the performers on stage in front of the curtain immediately after their performances, including yours truly, Rudy and Steve Salas, and Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo.  He asked me about my website and work chronicling the history of the "Eastside Sound" and Chicano music in general.  We also talked about the East L.A. circuit of the 60s and some of the mainstream stars who sometimes played at some of the venues, such as the Righteous Brothers, Sonny and Cher (then Cesar & Cleo), The Turtles, and others.  He also spoke with Rudy and Steve Salas about the 60s and 70s music scene in East L.A. and "Rabbit" Jaramillo about some of his experiences with Cannibal & the Headhunters, including their 1965 tour with The Beatles.  Tony also brought out Max Uballez for a short interview.  Max was leader of the pioneering East L.A. band, The Romancers, and a behind the scenes producer of many East L.A. classic recordings by the Premiers, Cannibal & the Headhunters and others.  Max was also part of the production team for the "Chicano Rock" documentary and one of the organizers of this event.

     The show was followed by the screening of the documentary, the aforementioned "Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East L.A."  It's is very well done, with first class graphics and an excellent narration by Edward James Olmos.  The documentary tells the story of Chicano rock, mainly from what happened in East L.A., beginning with my dad, Lalo Guerrero.  It then follows the story from Don Tosti, Ritchie Valens, the Eastside Sound of East L.A. of the sixties, the evolution of Chicano rock of the late 60s and early 70s, the punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s, and beyond.  The story is put into the social and political context of the times; the Viet Nam war, the East L.A. riots, and student walk outs.  It also chronicles some of the racism encountered on the road by some of the Chicano artists in the early 60s.  The artists featured in the documentary, in addition to the ones just mentioned, are The Premiers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, Thee Midniters, Mark Guerrero, El Chicano, Tierra, Los Illegals, The Brat, Los Lobos, Ozomatli, and Quetzal.  The documentary was well received and enjoyed by the audience.  After the screening, a finale of "Land of a Thousand Dances" was performed by the Headhunters Band, joined by yours truly, Rudy and Steve Salas, "Rabbit" Jaramillo. and David Castañeda, who sang with Cannibal in the 70s.

     Many musicians with roots in the Eastside Sound of East L.A. in the 60s were present at the event.  These included Little Willie G., Larry Rendon, and Jimmy Espinoza of Thee Midniters; Jerry Salas, Bobby Espinoza, and Mickey Lespron of El Chicano; Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo and Richard "Scar" Lopez of Cannibal & the Headhunters; Bobby Hernandez of The Romancers; Henry Hernandez of The Ambertones, Bobby Delgado of The Exotics; Trini Basulto and Ernie Hernandez of Mark & the Escorts; Ralph Gandara of Thee Royal Checkmates; and members of The Showcases, an African-American singing group, who influenced Cannibal & the Headhunters.  Also in attendance were authors Tom Waldman and David Reyes ("Land of a Thousand Dances"), Steven Loza ("Barrio Rhythms"), and the aforementioned Ruben Molina ("Chicano Soul").  It was a great event that was part concert, part premiere screening, and a hell of a reunion of East L.A. musicians.

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