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Book Review: "Land of a Thousand Dances"

by Mark Guerrero

     There's a book on the market entitled "Land of a Thousand Dances" by David Reyes and Tom Waldman.  It chronicles the history of Chicano rock & roll in Southern California, a subject that I'm more than casually interested in since I experienced it first hand and was part of the story.  This book will introduce you to Chicano rock artists that made a contribution to rock & roll. Most hailed from East L.A., many had hits, others didn't or haven't yet.  The artists profiled that had a least one hit record include; Ritchie Valens, The Premiers, The Blendells, Cannibal & the Headhunters, El Chicano, Tierra and Los Lobos.  It's a fantastic story that deserved to be told.  The vast majority of the artists came from middle and lower middle class families, had no formal musical training or education, and had to fight an uphill battle against an industry that was either ignorant of their existence, doubtful there was a market for them or simply bigoted.  I find it inspiring that so many managed to achieve success in spite of the odds.

     "Land of a Thousand Dances" was at least ten years in the making.  I was first interviewed for the book in 1988.  The authors spent years doing research and interviews before they began to write and did the job with great interest and enthusiasm.  The book begins with what Reyes and Waldman call the pre-rock influences, Chico Sesma and my father, Lalo Guerrero.  The former, a big band swing and jazz musician turned radio DJ.  The latter, a Chicano musical pioneer.  This is followed by the Ritchie Valens story and proceeds to the 1960's, which was when East Los Angeles was a hot bed of musical activity.  I had a band called Mark & the Escorts, who played virtually every weekend at dances, parties, weddings, etc., in my early teens.  There were scores of good, and some great bands.  Some thriving at the time were Thee Midniters, The Romancers, Ronnie & the Casuals, Little Ray & the Progressions, The Jaguars with the Salas Brothers, The Emeralds, and the aforementioned Blendells and Premiers.  I played gigs on the same bill with all of them and can vouch for the fact that they were good.  As I look back it amazes me because we were all teenagers.  Moving further down the time line, the late 60's and early 70's produced many groups that recorded for major labels including El Chicano (MCA), Tierra (20th Century), Macondo (Atlantic), Yaqui (Playboy), and my band, Tango (A&M).  The 80's gave us Chicano punk bands such as The Plugz, Los Illegals, and The Brat, as well as the versatile and highly successful, Los Lobos.  The nineties have produced rap artists Kid Frost and Lighter Shade of Brown.

     Beyond telling the musical histories of the artists, "Land of a Thousand Dances" delves into the political and social conditions involved in the various eras and how they affected the music and the musicians.  It also places Chicano musical contributions into the larger context of the history of rock & roll. In addition, the authors interviewed Frank Zappa and Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers, both of whom grew up with and were influenced, musically and otherwise, by Chicanos.  Despite the odds, many of the bands from the barrio achieved great things.  Cannibal & the Headhunters toured with The Beatles in 1965, while The Blendells toured with the Dave Clark Five the same year.  Tierra played at Carnegie Hall in the early 80's and Los Lobos have performed with the likes of The Clash, The Eagles and The Grateful Dead.  They also had a number one hit with their remake of La Bamba in 1987.  There is information about me on pages 9, 55, 97, and 106-109.  There are also photos of my first 60s' band, Mark & the Escorts, and my 70s band, Tango.  The discography at the end of the book lists the recordings of each artist featured in "Land of a Thousand Dances."  The book is written with insight and intelligence and I highly recommend it.  "Land of a Thousand Dances" by David Reyes and Tom Waldman is published by University of New Mexico Press and is available in book stores and amazon.com at the link below.

Update

     The second edition of "Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock 'n" Roll From Southern California" was published in March of 2009.  It has a new cover, an expanded introduction, and more photos!

Cover of New Edition
 


Cover of 1st Edition
 


The 1st edition can be ordered at amazon.com and abebooks.com.


Mark Guerrero is featured on page 9, 55, 97, 106-9.  Photos of Mark's early bands, Mark & the Escorts (1963-66) and Tango (1973-74) are also included in the book.


Flyer & Photo Below


"Land of a Thousand Dances" Book Release Concert
September 2, 1998

(Artists who performed included:
Lalo Guerrero with Mark Guerrero & the SecondGeneration Band,
Los Illegals, Max Uballez, Lisa Flores, Thee Midniters, and Li'l Rudy G.)
 


 


David Reyes, Mark Guerrero, and Tom Waldman (2007)

(Mark Guerrero with the authors of the book "Land of a Thousand Dances)


For the Record

     Although there is a lot of good information and some very positive things said about me in the book, for which I am grateful, there are a few things relative to my story in "Land of a Thousand Dances" that I would like correct or clarify for the record.

Page 55- In reference to me, it says that when The Beatles came to America "he put away his acoustic guitar and replaced it with an electric model" and "after seeing and hearing them (The Beatles), he had no choice but to form his own band."  Yes, the Beatles did inspire me and change my life, however, I had a band (The Escorts) and played electric guitar (a Gibson Melody Maker) about a year before The Beatles invaded America.

Page 107- It states that Billy Cardenas' nephew sang the lead vocal on Mark & the Escorts' version of "Dance with Me" because "he couldn't hit the high notes."  The actual reason we brought him in was because I wasn't singing in the band yet because I felt my voice was too young and high sounding to be on the record. I didn't start singing publicly until I was sixteen years old, a year or two later.  It also turns out, it may not have been Billy's nephew who sang on the record.  I definitely told the authors of "Land of a Thousand Dances" that it was Billy's nephew because that was my recollection in the late 80s when I was interviewed for the book.  However, when I asked Billy in 1999 who that singer was, because I was writing the liner notes to the reissue of the Mark & the Escorts recordings on Dionysus Records, he said it was not his nephew and he can't remember who the guy was.  So apparently it will remain a mystery.

Page 109- This item is more of a response to the authors' opinion, rather than a correction.  It refers to my song "He's An Artist," which was on my "Tango" album on A&M Records in 1973, as a "happy-go-lucky song."  Musically it could possibly be described in that way, although it was a crunchy, up tempo rock & roll song, but lyrically it was a somewhat angry song about a pseudo artist.  It was inspired by someone I was working with, who had the walk and the talk of an artist without the talent (all hat, no cattle).  I don't understand how an angry rock song could be described as "happy-go-lucky."  On the same page, it incorrectly states that my song "Pre-Columbian Dream" was on my "On the Boulevard" E.P.  It was not on that E.P. and has not been released officially to date, except for the instrumental version by Herb Alpert in 1983.

Photo Caption- On the caption under the photo of Mark & the Escorts, it calls our lead singer Ricky "Alma" instead of "Almaraz."  This occurred because I faxed a copy of the photo to the authors with the names of the band members written by hand underneath.  The "az" of Almaraz didn't come through on their end because it was slightly past the margin of the photo.

Mark Guerrero also wrote a review on "Land of a Thousand Dances," available on the "Miscellaneous Writings" page.  Click Here to read it.
 

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