Concert For 1960s Record Producer Billy Cardenas
February 11, 2001
By Mark Guerrero
In December of 2000, I got a phone call from pioneer Chicano
rocker Chan Romero about putting together a tribute concert/party
for 1960s record producer, Billy Cardenas. Billy had
managed or produced 60s East L.A. bands such as, The Premiers,
The Blendells, Cannibal & the Headhunters, The Romancers,
Ronnie & the Casuals, The Jaguars with the Salas Brothers,
(my teenage band) Mark & the Escorts and many others.
Chan had worked with Billy in the 90s when they recorded an
excellent, yet still unreleased, album that features Chan
Romero backed by The Premiers. Chan felt compelled to
do the tribute because it was deserved and because Billy’s
life had taken a detour away from music business due to personal
circumstances. I agreed to help so we set about organizing
the event. We secured a night club, the Hacienda del
Desierto in North Palm Springs, California, set a date, and
began to call musicians to participate. The Premiers,
who scored a hit with Billy in 1964 (“Farmer John”),
agreed to come as did Cannibal & the Headhunters, (my
dad) Lalo Guerrero, and my current cover band Hot Rox.
Not only was it a tremendous show, but it was a great reunion
of musicians and friends. Everyone performed for no
pay since it was a non-profit event.
The Sunday afternoon concert started
with The Premiers, who did some cover tunes including “Viva
Tirado” by El Chicano, as well as their own classic
recordings “Duffy’s Blues” and “Farmer
John.” My band came on next performing “Get
Your Baby” and “Dance With Me” by Mark &
the Escorts, “Los Chucos Suaves” and “Tin
Marin de do Pingue” by my dad, and two of my later recordings
“Orale” and “On the Boulevard.”
We then had the pleasure of backing up Chan Romero, who rocked
the house with several of his songs including “My Little
Ruby” and his hit song “The Hippy Hippy Shake.”
My dad came on next with his acoustic guitar, backed by guitarist
Skip Heller and me. He did some of his pachuco songs
such as “Chicas Patas Boogie” and “Muy Sabroso
Blues,” his classic love song “Nunca Jamas,”
and his hilarious parody “There’s No Tortillas,”
sung to the melody of “It’s Now or Never.”
Cannibal & the Headhunters came on last, resplendent in
classy suits and doing classic doo wop and r & b songs,
including their 1965 hit “Land of a Thousand Dances.”
Cannibal & the Headhunters today feature two original
members Robert “Rabbit” Jaramillo and Richard
“Scar” Lopez, along with two excellent young vocalists,
Gregory “Lucky” Esparza and Cesar “DJ”
Lemus. Their harmonies are perfect and each member is
a strong lead singer in his own right. Their back up
band is great, led by legendary guitarist, Andy Tesso.
Andy is considered the father of East L.A. guitar players,
pioneering the funky Fender Telecaster style that influenced
many a guitarist in East L.A. in the sixties, including me.
At the time he played lead guitar for the Romancers, whose
instrumental album “Slauson Shuffle” still sounds
great today. It’s available of DelFi Records (P.O.
Box 69188, Los Angeles, CA 90069) or www.del-fi.com.
Billy Cardenas had a great time and
was touched by the event. He came up and sang a couple
of songs with Chan and my band and later danced a routine
with Cannibal & the Headhunters. It was a very emotional
day and there was great camaraderie between the musicians.
Two of the members of Mark & the Escorts showed up as
well; our drummer, Ernie Hernandez, and sax player, Trini
Basulto, who played a couple of songs with my band and also
with the Premiers. Legendary Chicano musician/composer
Don Tosti also attended. At the end of the show, Lawrence
Perez of The Premiers, Andy Tesso, Chan, Robert Jaramillo
and yours truly, said some kind words on the microphone about
Billy Cardenas and Billy closed the day with his own stories
about the old days.
After the show many of us went over
to my gig at Las Casuelas Terraza in downtown Palm Springs,
including Chan and Billy, and the party continued. The beautiful
outdoor Mexicantina was a great setting for Cannibal &
the Headhunters as they did their show again to great response.
The “Tribute to Billy Cardenas” event did wonders
for Billy and got him fired up to produce records again.
2001, Billy Cardenas co-produced a CD with Bob Keane on the
legendary Del-Fi record label, Ritchie Valens' former producer
and label, with a young band called Brown Bag. Read
more about it on my "what's new" page.
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the Billy Cardenas Tribute Concert Below