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Book Review:  "Riot On the Sunset Strip"

by Mark Guerrero

     "Riot On the Sunset Strip" by Dominic Priore, published in 2007 in the U.S. and U.K. by Jawbone Press, is about that brief but magical time in the mid-60s on the Sunset Strip.  I did some hanging out there as a teenager and have some great memories about it that the book brought back to life.  Although most of the emphasis is on the Sunset Strip, the book also covers the music scene in Southern California in general.  He gets into the black music in South Central L.A., the surf music coming out of Orange County, and the Chicano music scene in East L.A.  He even writes about bands from San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, and other Southern California locales.  What unifies it all is that special time period.  The British Invasion was new and in full swing and folk rock was taking off.  On the Sunset Strip Dylan was jamming with The Byrds and bands like The Doors, Love, and The Buffalo Springfield were breaking new ground.  It was an exciting time before the hippie movement, the psychedelic era, and the escalation of the Viet Nam War.  One of the things I found particularly interesting in the book is the history of the Sunset Strip going back to the turn of the 20th century.  That was information that was new to me.

     The part of the book most relevant to my website is contained in the chapter called "The Roots of Los Angeles Rock & Roll."  Part of the chapter gives some space (about six pages) to what was happening in East L.A. with Chicano musicians of the era.  He gives some information on Eastside artists such as Cannibal & the Headhunters, The Premiers, The Blendells, and Thee Midniters, who had national hits.  Early pioneers Ritchie Valens and Chan Romero, Little Julian Herrera, Chris Montez, and my dad, Lalo Guerrero are also mentioned.  The Rhythm Rockers from Orange County also are covered.  This band headed by the  Rillera brothers, was a launching pad for the Righteous Brothers and Richard Berry, who wrote "Louie Louie" based on Rene Touzet's "El Loco Cha Cha Cha," a song he first heard played by the Rhythm Rockers.  The Romancers and The Mixtures, two early 60s Eastside Sound bands also get some well-deserved attention in the chapter.  East L.A. promoters Billy Cardenas and Eddie Davis are also mentioned, as well as disc jockeys Godfrey and Huggy Boy, who played the Eastside Sound locally on the radio airwaves.  I'm mentioned in regards to my East L.A. bands of the period, Mark & the Escorts, who recorded two singles for GNP Crescendo Records in 1965, and the Men From S.O.U.N.D.  The Jaguars with the Salas Brothers, Ronnie & the Casuals, The Sisters, The Enchantments, and Little Ray Jimenez are also mentioned, Little Ray getting the most attention.  Dominic also talks about Chicano bands who were playing on the Sunset Strip in the mid-60s, such as Tony, Vic & Manuel, Jim Doval & The Gauchos, and Pat & Lolly Vegas, who later gained national fame with their 70s band, Redbone.  I had never heard of the first two of these bands and they were apparently very good and were pretty high profile on the Hollywood scene.  Tony, Vic, and Manuel recorded an album for Reprise Records, played at Gazzarri's night club, and performed often on the popular television show "Hollywood  A Go Go."   They also backed up Jan and Dean on their 1963 album, "Surf City."  Jim Doval & the Gauchos played at the Crescendo night club on the strip and appeared on the national television show, "Shindig."  Some of the people interviewed for the section on the East L.A. music scene were Richard Rosas, former Mark & the Escorts member and now Neil Young's bassist; Billy Cardenas, East L.A. manager and record producer; and Gene Aguilera, record collector, songwriter, and current manager of Little Willie G.

     This book is of special interest to me, not only because of the part about Chicano musical artists and the East L.A. music scene, but because I also personally experienced and loved the music scene that was happening in Hollywood and the Westside in general at that time.  I liked a lot of the artists of the period such as The Byrds, The Doors, Love, and particularly The Buffalo Springfield, who are my second favorite band of all time after The Beatles.  I also saw many great bands perform in person such as The Beatles (at the Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium), The Rolling Stones (at the L.A. Sports Arena), The Young Rascals (at the Cheetah in Venice), The Beach Boys (at the Whiskey), and The aforementioned Buffalo Springfield (at Cal State L.A. and Long Beach Arena).  I also frequented Pandora's Box, The Experience, The Whiskey a Go Go, Gazzarri's, Ciro's, and other clubs on the Sunset Strip.  Later in the decade I performed at Gazzarri's with my band The Men From S.O.U.N.D. (1968) and in the early 70s at The Roxy with my band Tango, who recorded for A&M Records.  The mid-sixties were a seminal and magical time in rock history, even more so having experienced it in my mid-teens when one is so impressionable and in the process of coming of age.  I feel very fortunate to have been there not only to witness it, but to be playing music in bands at the time.  The author is passionate about the subject of his book and did an incredible amount of research.  He also interviewed around 200 people who were part of the scene.  "Riot On the Sunset Strip" is a great book with lots of detailed information, great archival photos, a cartoon-like map of  relevant Hollywood landmarks called the "Rock & Roll Hollywood 1965-66," and a forward by the legendary singer of the band Love, Arthur Lee.  Dominic Priore has done a great service for us all in documenting this historic and exciting period in the history of rock & roll.

Updates

     On September 8, 2007, Dominic invited me to speak at a book signing/lecture at Vroman's Book Store in Pasadena, California.  Click here to read my article about the event, which includes a photo gallery.  In February of 2007, I'm going to be a guest on Dominic's internet radio show, whose subject is, like his book "Riot On the Sunset Strip," the music of the 60s in the Greater Los Angeles area.  Once it's done, I'll post the show on my website on my "Radio & Miscellaneous Sound Bytes" page.

     On February 24, 2008, I was a guest on Dominic Priore's "Riot on the Sunset Strip" radio show, which plays music from the 50s and 60s.  I was interviewed and we played my recordings on the 60s by my bands Mark & the Escorts, The Men From S.O.U.N.D., and Nineteen Eighty Four, in addition to recordings by Lil' Julian Herrera, Ritchie Valens, The Romancers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, The Premiers, The Blendells, and others.  Click here to hear the show.


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Mark Guerrero
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