of the best and most successful bands to emerge from the musically
fertile ground of East Los Angeles is El Chicano. Originally
formed as the V.I.P.s in the late 60's, the group recorded
a rendition of a song by jazz composer Gerald Wilson, "Viva
Tirado," an homage to a Mexican bullfighter by the name
of Jose Ramon Tirado. The album and single were released
on MCA Records in 1970. With the cultural awakening
of the Mexican- American in full swing and the new Chicano
consciousness on the rise, the band was renamed El Chicano.
The record became a local hit in Los Angeles, remaining at
number one for thirteen consecutive weeks. It also did
well in New York, Baltimore, the South and the Midwest.
It was historically significant because it was the first single
to attain positions in all popular music categories except
country and western. The recording had a definite mid-tempo
Latin jazz feel and was an instrumental, featuring the Hammond
organ of Bobby Espinosa and the Wes Montgomery-inspired guitar
of Mickey Lespron. With the success of their first record,
they toured extensively, playing the Ohio Jazz Festival and
became the first Chicano band to perform at the legendary
Apollo Theater. El Chicano went on to release six other
albums with MCA, which include, "Revolution" (1971),
"Celebration" (1972), "El Chicano" (1973),
"Cinco" (1974), "The Best of Everything"
(1975)" and "Pyramid" (1976). Also in
1976, they recorded an album called "This Is El Chicano"
for the independent Shady Brooke label. It was the first
record on which they had been in full creative control.
During this period they had hits with their version of Van
Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" in 1972 and "Tell
Her She's Lovely," which reached number 40 on the national
charts in 1973. In 1982, they recorded an album for
CBS entitled, "Do You Want Me."
ensuing years, El Chicano has made a huge name for themselves
in Japan and abroad. They have performed in such diverse
places as Nicaragua, Canada, Malaysia and Korea. They
have performed on the same bill with such diverse artists
as Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, Earth, Wind and Fire,
Olivia Newton-John, Chaka Kahn, Chicago, Santana and War.
Their success prompted MCA to reissue a greatest hits collection
entitled, "Viva! El Chicano, Their Very Best" in
1988, and five of El Chicano's MCA albums to be re-released
on Bomba Records, as a Japanese import, in 1995. In
addition to touring, El Chicano has appeared on the "Donny
Brasco" (Tri Star) soundtrack with "The Latin One"
(1998) as well as doing the entire score in collaboration
with John Taylor (Duran Duran) for the movie "Mi Vida
Loca" ("My Crazy Life") in 1995. In 1997,
El Chicano resurfaced on Thump Records with the release of
"Latin Legends Live," a live recording that also
includes the Chicano bands Malo and Tierra. The groups
went on to do a Southwest tour for the release.
on the same bill with the V.I.P.s many times with my bands
Mark & the Escorts in 1965 and the Men from S.O.U.N.D.
in '66. According to some flyers I still have, we shared
the same stage nine times at such Eastside venues as the Montebello
Ballroom, Boulevard Theater, Kennedy Hall, and the Big and
Little Union Halls. Years later, in 1972, I was on the
same bill with El Chicano at the "Feria de la Raza"
concert at Cal State L.A., when I was a solo artist with Capitol
Records. I also saw them perform at Magic Mountain in
Valencia, CA in the early 70's where they tore it up and,
most recently, a couple of years ago at the House of Blues
in L.A. I was very impressed with them that night.
They played some great instrumentals and had the vocal contributions
of veteran East L.A. vocalists Steve Salas, formerly of Tierra,
and Geree, one of the finest Mexican-American female singers
of all time. El Chicano has gone through many personnel
changes over the years, but the one constant is Bobby Espinosa.
It's become much like the Steely Dan model, where it started
as a band with a set lineup and evolved into Donald Fagen
and Walter Becker and whatever sidemen they hire. El
Chicano's lineup on their first album was: Bobby Espinoza,
organ, Andre Baeza, congas, Freddie Sanchez, bass, Mickey
Lespron, guitar, and John De Luna, drums. Other members
during the 70s were: Ersi Arvisu, lead vocals, Rudy
Regalado, timbales, Max Garduno, congas, Danny Lamonte, drums,
Brian Magness, bass, Joe Perreria, bass, Jerry Salas, lead
vocals and guitar, and Rudy and Steve Salas of Tierra fame,
on guitar and lead vocals respectively. Whatever the
lineup, El Chicano always has excellent musicians and are
musically very tight.
El Chicano recorded a new album entitled, "Painting the
Moment." It is their first new collection of songs
in well over a decade. It also marks the return of original
guitarist, Mickey Lespron, after a 20 year absence.
I'm personally happy to hear that Mickey is on this album
because he and Bobby have a great musical chemistry together.
After all, it was that team that put El Chicano on the map
in the first place. The new album features instrumentals
as well as vocal performances by Steve Salas. In the
words of bandleader Bobby Espinosa, "This album is an
evolution of the El Chicano of the 70's. With our well
known sound signature, we've managed to keep the original
musical formula intact while taking it to a new level by adding
horns. I am very pleased with the results."
In 1997, MCA released another collection of El Chicano songs
entitled, "Chicano Chant" and Varese Sarabande recently
reissued their self-produced 1976 album, "This Is El
Chicano." If you'd like a sampling of what the
early El Chicano was all about, I recommend, "Viva! El
Chicano, Their Very Best" on MCA, and to hear what they're
about now, pick up their new album "Painting the Moment"
on Thump Records.
I got an e mail from Jerry Salas, who sang lead on most of
El Chicano's albums as well as their hit "Tell Her She's
Lovely." He had run into Little Willie G. who was
performing in Portland, Oregon, where Jerry now lives. Willie
told him about my website and he contacted me. Jerry
has a Christian band, who in 2001 performed in Brazil for
90,000 people live plus millions via television. He's
doing concerts around Oregon and recording albums for his
church. In November of 2005, Jerry Salas came out to
Palm Springs for a visit. He is now back with El Chicano
and living in Southern California.
They also have Fred Sanchez (original bassist) and Rudy Regalado
(original timbalero/percussionist) back in the band.
Jerry says Bobby Espinoza is back on the Hammond organ with
a Leslie speaker, instead of a digital keyboard. All
these factors are good news to El Chicano fans. You
can be sure El Chicano is sounding great, particularly with
Jerry's strong vocals and dynamic performing style.
Mickey Lespron, El Chicano's original lead guitarist, is no
longer with the band. He's playing in a band with original
female vocalist of El Chicano, Ersi Arvisu, called La Chicana
& Her Revue. While in Palm Springs, Jerry Salas
did a radio interview with me for my new show "Chicano
Music Chronicles" on crnlive.com.
It was his segment of a show featuring the music El Chicano.
He also came out to my local gig and sang a few songs with
my band. I also occasionally see original drummer, John
De Luna, when he comes to the Palm Springs area. He
sat in with my band for a couple of songs in 2001.
In October 2002, Freddy Sanchez (El Chicano's original bassist)
and his wife visited me at my home gig in Palm Springs.
It happened to be Halloween night. We hadn't seen each
other since the early 70s. Freddy now manages El Chicano
and runs their website out of Phoenix, Arizona. The
website uses my article on El Chicano on their history page.
As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Freddy is now (in 2005)
back with El Chicano.
On November 1, 2003, Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán shared
the stage with El Chicano, Tierra, Thee Midniters with Special
Guest Little Willie G. The East L.A. Revue All Stars featuring
The Premiers, The Best of Everything, and Cauldron, at the
Latin Oldies Festival 2003 at Arrowhead Credit Union Park
in San Bernardino, CA. El Chicano, led by founding member
and keyboardist Bobby Espinoza, sounded as good as ever with
a set that included their hits "Viva Tirado," "Brown-Eyed
Girl," and "Tell Her She's Lovely." On
October 16, 2004, I performed on the bill with El Chicano
again at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, CA
for a Day of the Dead celebration.
On Saturday, October 16, 2004, I performed with my band Mark
Guerrero & Radio Aztlán on the bill with El Chicano for a Day of
the Dead celebration concert at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater
In January of 2006, I interviewed Fred Sanchez and Jerry Salas
for my internet radio show, "Chicano Music Chronicles."
I played eleven of my favorite El Chicano tracks and we talked
about them. The interview gives insight into El Chicano's
music and career. It aired multiple times in the month
of March 2006 on crnlive.com.
You can hear it at your convenience on my website on my "Chicano
Music Chronicles" page" where it is archived.
A high speed internet connection is recommended. Click
here for a shortcut to the page.
On March 23, 2007, El Chicano performed at the opening night
gala for the Lalo Guerrero Film & Arts Festival in Palm
Desert, California. My acoustic trio also performed
and I sang "Brown-Eyed Girl" with El Chicano, sharing
the lead vocal with Fred Sanchez. I also presented them the
first Lalo Guerrero Lifetime Achievement Award at the conclusion
of their set. You can read about the event, with a photo
gallery, by clicking here.
On Sunday, October 14, 2007, I performed on stage with El
Chicano at the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City for a
benefit for the restoration of the Garfield High School
Auditorium which was destroyed in a fire. Other performers
on the bill included Los Lobos, Tierra, Little Willie G., Little
Joe y La Familia, and Upground.
On November 11, 2008, I performed on the bill with El Chicano
on a PBS special called "Trini Lopez Presents Latin Music
Legends." Also performing on the show were Trini
Lopez, Little Willie G. & Thee Midniters, Tierra, the
Greg Rolie Band. I performed a tribute song to my dad,
Lalo Guerrero, backed by Tierra. The show will air in
March of 2009 and be released on DVD and CD.
On October 25, 2009, El Chicano performed at "West Fest"
celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock at Golden Gate
Park in San Francisco. Other artists included the
Jefferson Starship and Country Joe McDonald.
On Sunday, November 15, 2009, I sat in with El Chicano at the
Paloma Room in East Los Angeles for a benefit for the then
ailing the legendary percussionist, Victor Pantoja. Also
sitting in with El Chicano that day were Sal Rodriguez of War on
timbales, Poncho Sanchez, Joey Guerra (formerly of Tierra), and
Victor Pantoja himself. Victor Pantoja passed away a few
months later on March 12, 2010. It was also the last
performance of organist and founding member of El Chicano, Bobby
Espinoza, who passed away on February 28, 2010.
On Saturday, December 5, 2009, I performed a duo acoustic set
with Jerry Salas of El Chicano at the screening of the "Trini
Lopez Presents Latin Music Legends" for the Coachella Valley
Latino Film Festival. I sang lead vocal on my dad's "Los Chucos
Suaves" and my "On the Boulevard." Jerry sang lead on his "I
Will Always Be Loved" and El Chicano's hit song "Tell Her She's
Lovely." Earlier that same day, I sang the co-lead vocal
with Jerry Salas on "Brown Eyed Girl" with the Geo-Latin All
Stars, which was comprised of members of Tierra, El Chicano, and
Sal Rodriguez of War on drums. Also guesting was Arcelio
Garcia of Malo.
On Friday, June 11 2010, I guested with El Chicano at
Spotlight 29 Casino in Indio, CA. I sang co-lead vocal
with Jerry Salas on their hit version of "Brown Eyed Girl."
On Saturday, September 19, 2010, El Chicano and I shared the
bill at Palm Springs Fiesta Days. I was backed by Frankie
Garcia's Cannibal & the Headhunters, along with Bobby Robles of
Thee Midniters, and Victor Cisneros and Dale Villavicencio of
Tierra. I also performed with Frankie Garcia's Cannibal &
the Headhunters. Also on the bill that night were Mariachi
Reyna de Los Angeles, Los Fabulocos featuring Kid Ramos, and
On Saturday, December 18, 2010, I sang background vocals on
"Tell Her She's Loveley" with El Chicano at the Gibson
Amphitheater in Universal City for "Chicano Soul Legends," which
also featured Tierra, Malo, Joe Bataan, and Thee Midniters.