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My 2003 Recording Session with Chan Romero

by Mark Guerrero

     In 2003, Chan Romero was about to record an album and called to ask me to play guitar on it.  I told him I would be happy to, but would also be interested in writing a song for him.  Chan usually writes all his own songs that he records.  Being that we'd had a long friendship and musical relationship, he agreed to let me give it a shot.  Chan and I had done a lot of recording together in my home studio since we first met in the mid-90s.  On those recordings, I did the engineering and often played many of the instruments and sang harmonies.  I also co-produced one of Chan's previous CDs called "Fifties Flashback."  As a result of those experiences, he had nicknamed me the "Rock Doc," a name he still calls me.  He called me that because he knew he could count on me to add the right instrument, vocal harmony, or pull off a difficult "punch in" as an engineer. 

     Often times we songwriters save titles that we can turn to when needed.  I had come up with a title way back in 1977 and written it down in a notebook.  The title was "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow."  In thinking of a song for Chan, that title came to mind.  Chan is a true rock & roll pioneer and an authentic rock & roll singer.  He can rock with the best of them in rock history.  His famous song and recording of "The Hippy Hippy Shake" is a rock & roll classic.  His song has been covered by no less than The Beatles, as well as The Swingin' Blue Jeans, The Georgia Satellites, and countless others.  It's also been used in many motion pictures and television commercials.  I knew my title would be perfect for a raging rock song.  I was thinking along the lines of a Little Richard style rocker.  With the title already in hand, I was able to write the song in one sitting in about a half an hour.  I played it for Chan and he loved it right away.  He definitely wanted to record it.

     The legendary East L.A. producer, Billy Cardenas was going to be the producer on Chan's album.  Cardenas had been my manager/producer in 1965 when we recorded my first record, "Get Your Baby" by my teenage band Mark & the Escorts.  Billy also produced and managed other storied East L.A. bands such as The Premiers, The Blendells, and Cannibal & the Headhunters.  For the Chan Romero project, Billy put together a band of East L.A., "Eastside Sound," veterans of the 1960s, including John Perez of The Premiers on drums and Andy Tesso of the Romancers on guitar.  I went to a rehearsal in Santa Fe Springs, California one Sunday afternoon to teach my song to the band.  Even though my song was a relatively simple rock & roll song, it had some chord changes that were different than the typical rock changes.  A few weeks later Chan and the band recorded my song at Sanctuary Studios in East L.A., a studio owned by legendary East L.A. vocalist Little Ray Jimenez.  Little Ray was one of the biggest stars in the golden age of the East L.A. music scene of the 1960s.  I was not present when this recording was done.  When I heard the recording, to my disappointment the changes were not correct.  The solo sections were supposed to be typical rock changes for easy, fluid solos.  The solo sections they recorded had the verse changes, which would make it awkward for soloing.  Overall, I was not happy with the recording.  I asked Billy and Chan if it could be re-recorded with me present and, thankfully, they agreed. 

     The next week on a Saturday afternoon, I drove into East L.A. from Palm Springs for the session.  I wound up playing lead guitar on the recording.  The other musicians were the aforementioned John Perez of The Premiers on drums and Andy Tesso of The Romancers on rhythm guitar, along with Willie Mondragon on bass, and Louie Durazo on piano.  We recorded the song and I made sure all the chord changes and song structure was correct.  Chan sang a scratch vocal to guide us as we played.  A scratch vocal is done to keep the band together and help with the groove and feel of a recording.  It is later "scratched" and replaced with a final vocal.  It took about three takes to get the take we wanted.  Andy Tesso and I played rhythm guitar parts with the band on the basic track and I later overdubbed my guitar solo in the body of the song.  At that point, I had to leave to get to a gig I had that night back in Palm Springs.

     I returned to the studio during the week for further overdubs.  First, I brought in my favorite sax player Steve Alaniz to put on his sax solos, one in the middle of the song and then solos which alternated with my guitar solos during the outro of the song.  Steve played some fantastic 50s-style rock solos.  Steve then laid down some great solos on about seven of the other tracks.  One of them was a great flute solo.  Steve did virtually all his solos in one take to the amazement of everyone present.  Everyone was very pleased with his work.

     I made one more trip into L.A. to sing background vocals on the album.  Chan and I were very pleased that Little Ray Jimenez agreed to sing with us on the backgrounds.  We had a heck of vocal trio for the job.  We sang on about five or six tracks, doing them all in a hour or two.  We all enjoyed singing together and the end result was great.  Next, it was apparent that there were some problems with the bass line.  Willie Mondragon, who did a great job on all the other album tracks, could not be reached on this day to fix his part so I called my friend and longtime bass player Leo Valenzuela.  Leo was available and came right down to the studio and put on an excellent bass part.  Now it was my turn to overdub my alternating solos at the end of the song so there would be alternating sax and guitar solos until the song eventually fades out.  The last step was Chan's lead vocal.  Chan did two complete vocals so we were able to pick the best parts of each vocal to create a fantastic master vocal.  Chan went on to finish the album over the next few months, doing lead vocals, overdubs, and mixing.  Eventually the song and album were mixed.

     I was happy with the recording and mix of my song, but unfortunately that was not the end of the story.  Due to an illness to one of the principals, scheduling problems, a temporary falling out between two of the principals, and a mix and re-mix of the entire album, the album did not get released until 2008!This was five years after the recording of the album.  I would say the old cliché applies here.  "It's better late than never."  There were three CD singles released, one of which was my song, and a CD of the entire album called "You're On the Right Track."  As it turned out, I like the original mix better than the new one.  Even though it may not be as "clean" as the new mix, which used the superior software program, the original mix has the raw feel and magic of an old Little Richard record, which is what I was after in the first place.  As a result, it's the original mix I use on my website.

     In 2004, I took a trip to Liverpool, England where I played "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow" on the Spencer Leigh radio show on BBC Merseyside.  Chan is still known and admired in Liverpool because of his legendary song "The Hippy Hippy Shake," which was performed by countless Liverpool bands of the early 60s, including The Beatles, The Swingin' Blue Jeans, and Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes.  Some of the songs Chan wrote for the album that are standouts include "All You Had To Do," "Ya Me Voy," "Carousel," and "Right Track."  I'm also very happy with the way the recording of my song came out.  Chan and the band are rockin', the solos are great, and it has the spirit and atmosphere of a Little Richard record of the 50s, the way I hoped it would.  Chan Romero is a great friend and I'm very pleased he recorded one of my songs.  He sang my song with all the raw power and soul that I could have asked for.  The album has ballads and rockers and Chan Romero has a lot of soul and can still flat out sing.  You can hear the original mix of "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow" for yourself from a link at the bottom of this page.  For more info on Chan Romero and his career, click here to go my article on Chan on this website.
 


Chan Romero Recording Session (2004)
(Sanctuary Studios- Montebello, California)

(left to right- Mark Guerrero, Andy Tesso (formerly of The Romancers), Louie Durazo, Chan Romero, John Perez (of The Premiers), Billy Cardenas, and Willie Mondragon)


 


 


 

 

Sound byte of Chan Romero's version of "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow"

 

 

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