for Garfield High School: Gibson Amphitheater, October 14,
by Mark Guerrero
On October 14, 2007, there was a concert at the Gibson Amphitheater
in Universal City, California to benefit my alma
mater, Garfield High School, whose auditorium had been burned
down by an arsonist earlier in the year. Many other
Chicano musicians are alumni of Garfield as well, including
members of Los Lobos, El Chicano, Thee Midniters, The Blendells,
Los Illegals, Little Ray Jimenez, Hirth Martinez, and many
others. The lineup for the benefit concert included
Los Lobos, El Chicano, Tierra, Little Joe y La Familia, War,
Little Willie G., Upground, and comedian Rudy Moreno.
All the artists donated their time and talents for the worthy
cause of generating funds that will go toward the rebuilding
of the auditorium. Fred Sanchez, leader, manager, and
bassist/vocalist of El Chicano, upon learning that I was a
graduate of Garfield, graciously invited me to perform with
them at the event. El Chicano and I go back a long way.
In the 60s, my bands Mark & the Escorts and The Men From
S.O.U.N.D. were often on the bill with the V.I.P.s, who were
later to become El Chicano. In 1972, I performed on
the bill with El Chicano with my band Mark Guerrero &
The Mudd Brothers at the now historic Feria de La Raza concert
at Cal State L.A., which also included Tierra, Elijah, and
Carmen Moreno. In recent years, my band Mark Guerrero
& Radio Aztlán performed on the bill with El Chicano at
the Latin Oldies Festival in San Bernardino in November of
2003 and the John Anson Ford Amphitheater in October of 2004.
I also interviewed Fred Sanchez and Jerry Salas (lead singer
for El Chicano) for my radio show, "Chicano Music Chronicles,"
for an edition of the show featuring the music of El Chicano
in 2006. In March of 2007, El Chicano performed at a
screening of a documentary on my late father, Lalo Guerrero,
called "Lalo Guerrero: The Original Chicano" at
the University of California at Riverside, Palm Desert Campus.
The screening was part of a film festival named in my dad's
honor, funds from which were to benefit scholarships for east
Coachella Valley Chicano youth and the development of an East
Valley youth Leadership Institute. When the organizers
contacted Fred Sanchez about performing, I was told that Fred
asked if I was involved. When they answered in the affirmative,
Fred said they were in. Members of El Chicano traveled
into the Coachella Valley from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las
Vegas to participate. They waved their fee for the good
cause, with only their travel and hotel expenses being covered.
I will always be grateful for their generous gesture.
At the event, I had the great pleasure to sit in with them,
playing guitar and singing the co-lead vocal with Fred, on
their hit version of "Brown-Eyed Girl." As
one can see from the background information above that El
Chicano and I have a special and meaningful association developing
and I can tell you there's more things brewing in the near
Getting back to the Gibson Amphitheater and the benefit for
the Garfield High School Auditorium, I knew it was going to
be tricky to get to the event on time because I was flying
in from Seattle that day, having just attended the opening
of the "American Sabor: Latinos In U.S. Popular Music"
exhibit at the Experience Music Project Museum, for which
I was a consultant and on the advisory board. El Chicano
was scheduled to perform second at 6 p.m. with my plane arriving
at Ontario airport around 3 p.m., which barely gave me enough
time to get my luggage, get to my car, and drive the hour
or so to Universal City. Upon arrival, I just had enough
time to park, change clothes, and go over the harmonies with
the band backstage in our dressing room. I had only
been at the venue for about 45 minutes when I found myself
on stage with the band in front of about 6,000 enthusiastic
people in the audience! The lineup for El Chicano for
the event included founding members Fred Sanchez (bass) and
Bobby Espinoza (organ); Rudy Regalado (timbales), who joined
El Chicano on their third album, "Celebration";
lead vocalist/guitarist Jerry Salas, a member since the fourth
album, "El Chicano," on which he sang the lead vocal
on their hit record "Tell Her She's Lovely"; Ray
Carreon (guitar); Sal Rodriguez (drums), who was a member
of Tierra in the late 80s before becoming drummer for War;
Marcos Reyes on congas, also currently a member of War; and
Bertha Oropeza, Dolores DeAngelo, and yours truly on background
vocals. Bertha is a great vocalist who sings with the
popular East L.A. band, Chico. El Chicano's set began
with an up tempo instrumental called "Juntos," from
their 1972 "Celebration" album, which gave all the
players a chance to show their stuff and got the crowd going.
This was followed by El Chicano's break out instrumental hit,
"Viva Tirado," which got a tremendous ovation after
the audience recognized the first few notes. After "Viva
Tirado," Bertha, Dolores and I came out to our vocal
mikes on the right side of the stage to sing background vocals
on "Brown-Eyed Girl," on which Fred and Jerry
shared the lead vocal. Next Bertha was featured on lead
vocal on El Chicano's classic version of "Sabor a Mi,"
which received a thundering response. She sang it beautifully.
At this point, Fred Sanchez introduced the members of the
band. He introduced me by saying (I'm paraphrasing here),
"Mark Guerrero's a singer/songwriter, writer, historian,
man this guy does everything. He's also the son of Lalo
Guerrero and an alumni of Garfield High School."
Much cheering ensued, I'm sure helped along by the mention
of Garfield High School, but I appreciated Fred's kind and
thoughtful introduction. The closing song of the set
was El Chicano's 1974 hit "Tell Her She's Lovely,"
on which Jerry Salas sang lead with Bertha, Dolores, and I
on harmony vocals. Bobby Espinoza also sang harmony
with us on both "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "Tell
Her She's Lovely" so we had plenty of voices to fill
out the harmony parts in a strong and effective way.
Watching Jerry Salas from the stage gave me a unique perspective
to see that he's a dynamic performer as well as an excellent
singer, making him a excellent front man for the band.
El Chicano sounded great from the beginning to the end of
the set and we got a standing ovation after our performance.
I didn't get a chance to hear the other performances because
I was backstage hanging out and talking with many of the musicians
from the other bands, most of whom I've known since the 60s
and 70s. It was a great reunion backstage. I spoke
with Steve and Rudy Salas and Aaron Ballesteros of Tierra;
Sal Rodriguez of War; David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, and Conrad
Lozano of Los Lobos; Little Willie G.; Larry Rendon of Thee
Midniters, and many others. There was a very good feeling
and camaraderie backstage. We've all been part of the
same musical community for decades and were all there to support
a worthy cause. There was a television monitor in the
lounge backstage so one could see and hear the bands who were
on stage at the time. I did get a chance however, to
go out to the audience to see the Los Lobos set, which closed
the show. They sounded great. They did of few
of their own songs, including one of my favorites from their
latest album, "Chucos Cumbia." Cesar Rosas
then introduced Little Willie G., who came out and sang several
songs with Los Lobos backing him, including some classics
he recorded with the Midniters in the 60s, such as "That's
All." Willie was in great voice and, as always,
an excellent performer. I made my way backstage
in time for the the last song which was a medley of "La
Bamba" and "Good Lovin'". Many of the
musicians from all the bands went on stage to join Los Lobos'
finale. I wound up center stage sharing a microphone
singing backgrounds with Rudy Salas of Tierra and Bertha Oropeza.
Musicians were singing and dancing around on stage, some getting
on various percussion instruments, while the audience stood
and clapped along with the lights in the amphitheater turned
on. There was a tremendous energy and good feeling in
the auditorium. After the song there were handshakes
and hugs going around on stage and I think everyone was feeling
pretty high about the whole experience.
After the show, a lot of us hung out some more backstage in
the outdoor area and lounge. Some of the people from
the audience were also backstage and I talked to a few with
whom I went to Garfield in the 60s. One guy remembered
seeing me perform with my band The Men From S.O.U.N.D. in
the Garfield auditorium in 1966! As a matter of fact,
that assembly in the auditorium in 1966 also featured another
popular East L.A. band, The Exotics, and a band called Euphoria
with Conrad Lozano, Los Lobos' future member, on bass.
As I said, a lot of us go way back. The Garfield High
School auditorium was a classic, probably built in the 40s
or 50s, with a big balcony and a good sized stage with a system
of curtains. My best memories of the auditorium were
the 1966 assembly, there were actually two assemblies that
day to accommodate the entire student body, and my senior
class play, "Batman." I played guitar with
the orchestra in the pit and performed one song on stage with
Roy Marquez of Thee Midniters. We played guitars and
sang harmony together on The Beatles' version of the Buck
Owens song "Act Naturally." I, like anyone
else who went to Garfield and knew the auditorium, were particularly
sad to hear about it burning down. It was very personal.
Many of the artists who performed for the benefit, did not
attend Garfield, but had great compassion for what happened
and were very happy to be able to contribute their talents
for the cause. It was a great night for all of us, both
musically and for the good feelings that were pervasive with
the performers and the audience. It was a magical night
that I'm sure we'll all remember.