"Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles"
by Mark Guerrero
Eight years in the making, the documentary "Chicano Rock:
The Sounds of East Los Angeles" was broadcast on PBS
stations across the U.S. starting in December of 2008.
It was produced, written, directed, and edited by Jon Wilkman.
The production staff included Tom Waldman and David Reyes,
co-authors of the book "Land of a Thousand Dances";
Max Uballez, East L.A. music pioneer; and Ruben Molina, author
of the book "Chicano Soul."
The one hour documentary about the rich history of Chicano
rock, most of which has emanated from East L.A., rightfully
begins with my dad, Lalo Guerrero. Even though Lalo
was born in Tucson, Arizona, he came to Los Angeles at around
age 22 in 1938. He soon thereafter married my mom Margaret,
who was also from Tucson, and brought her to Los Angeles.
From about 1946, they lived in East Los Angeles and it was
from there that he achieved his musical success, starting
with his recordings on Imperial Records in the late 40s.
The documentary then focuses on Don Tosti (Edumundo Tostado),
a talented composer/arranger/musician from El Paso, Texas,
whose music was primarily Latin and jazz. However, he's
probably best remembered for his band the Pachuco Boogie Boys.
Don Tosti also moved to East Los Angeles in his late teens
and achieved his own recording success there. The documentary
continues with the life and music of Ritchie Valens (Valenzuela)
who came out of the San Fernando Valley. Spotlighted
next is the "Eastside Sound" of East Los Angeles
in the 1960s. Featured in this segment are The Premiers,
Cannibal & the Headhunters, and Thee Midniters.
The late 60s and early 70s mainly feature El Chicano and Tierra.
That's the era where Chicano bands from East L.A. became more
Latino in their music and choice of band names. They
were also more politicized, mirroring what was going on in
the Chicano movement at large.
I appear in the documentary in a couple of interview clips
and one performance segment. The latter appearance is
titled "La Raza Rocks." The late 70s, early
80s segment features mainly The Brat, but mentions bands such
as Los Illegals and the Odd Squad. More recent bands
touched on are Quetzal and Ozomatli. All the stories
above demonstrate the evolution of Chicano Rock throughout
the decades culturally, stylistically, and musically.
"Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles" is
very well done and gives a thumbnail sketch of the story of
the music that has emerged from East L.A. Jon Wilkman
wove the story together using interview and music clips, vintage
footage, and very clever and effective special effects and
graphics. The people interviewed were the artists themselves
as well as the authors previously mentioned above, David Reyes,
Tom Waldman, and Ruben Molina. Interview clips featuring
"Barrio Rhythms" author Steven Loza, TV personality
Tony Valdez, legendary disc jockey Casey Kasem, and record
company owners Bob Keane and Art Laboe are also included.
So the story is narrated by the people interviewed who witnessed
or were a part of the story.
The story of Chicano Rock from East Los Angeles is very complex
and involves many more great and important artists and participants
who were not featured or mentioned in the documentary.
Much of this had to do with major time constraints.
Because of these, a lot of interview footage wound up on the
cutting room floor. Many people who richly deserved
to be in the documentary were not included. Many hours
of footage was collected and shot that could not be used.
From what I've heard there were two hours edited and ready
to go, maybe it was ninety minutes. However, PBS only
allowed for a one hour documentary to be aired. A lot
of things had to be cut out for the final product. In
some cases, some musicians were invited to be interviewed
for the documentary who declined for various reasons.
Some examples of people left out of the documentary either
by editorial choice or by declining are Chan Romero, who came
to East L.A. from Montana to record his legendary song "The
Hippy Hippy Shake" which was later performed by The Beatles;
The Blendells, who scored a national hit in 1965 with "La
La La La La" and toured with the likes of the Dave Clark
Five; The Romancers, the pioneering East L.A. band led by
Max Uballez, who made some classic "Eastside Sound"
recordings in the early 60s including the classic "Do
the Slauson" album; Little Ray Jimenez, a great r&b
singer/performer, Mario Panagua, leader of The Jaguars and
behind the scenes participant as a producer/arranger in the
60s and 70s; Art Brambila, a controversial but important manager
who helped sign Tierra, Yaqui, and yours truly to major record
deals in the early 70s; and if I may say, my pioneering 70s
rock/country rock band who recorded for A&M Records, Tango.
I'm pleased and grateful that I'm in the documentary, but
disappointed that there's no mention of any of my own accomplishments,
i.e. my first band Mark & the Escorts; my having done
a record produced by one of the most legendary producers of
all time, Lou Adler; my aforementioned 70s band Tango; my
songs having been recorded by major artists such as Herb Alpert,
Trini Lopez, and others; the work I did to advance Chicano
music with my website and radio shows; or my groundbreaking
1972 song and recording "I'm Brown," which is currently
housed at the Grammy Museum in an exhibit called "Songs
of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom." I think "I'm
Brown" was a perfect example of a record that came out
of the era when Chicano bands from East L.A. began to become
more cultural and political. However, my disappointment
was eased a little by the fact that the song chosen to represent
this idea in the documentary was "Barrio Suite"
by Tierra. That's also a great song and recording that
deserved to be featured. It's probably the only other
song I could have lived with to be highlighted in the documentary
in that context. I'm not saying these things to be immodest,
but documentaries such as this and books that have been published
on the subject of Chicano music and the "Eastside Sound"
become its history, now and for future generations.
Since my own legacy is important to me, it's personally disappointing
that current and future viewers of the documentary would see
me in it and not learn about anything that I did. One
other thing I'd like to clarify that was in the documentary
regarding my dad's song "Elvis Perez." It's
described in the documentary as "Hound Dog" in Spanish.
A more accurate description of the song would be "an
original song with parody fragments of three Elvis Presley
songs, "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog,"
and "Don't Be Cruel."
I've heard some complain that the early 1970s period was not
given enough time and attention in the documentary and that
there might have been some bands, particularly from the punk
era, that received too much time and attention. As I
said earlier, I think Jon Wilkman did a great job of telling
the basic story with the time limitations with which he had
to work. Wilkman also did a good job of including female
artists, who richly deserved to be featured. East L.A.
Chicano rock history includes many, such as The Sisters, Ersi
Arvizu with El Chicano and as a solo artist, Geri Gonzalez,
Bertha Oropeza, Irma Rangel, and Teresa Covarrubias to name
a few. There was not time to include them all, but he
managed to spotlight some female artists for some gender balance.
Despite any personal disappointments or criticisms that have
been made, "Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles"
is another important piece of the puzzle that advances and
perpetuates the story of Chicano rock and the "Eastside
Sound" that richly deserves to be told and remembered.
Thank you Jon for all your time and hard work. You've
done a great service to Chicano rock and culture. The
DVD of "Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles"
is available in stores and on line on many sites including
pbs store and at amazon.com at the link below. I
highly recommend you add it to your video library.