Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Story of a Mexican American Musical Icon

by Adrian Perez

     Whether you’re Latino or not, if you enjoy Tex-Mex music, you’ve probably heard of Little Joe Y La Familia, the Grammy Award winning band that fused traditional Mexican, salsa, rock and roll, jazz and country western music to create a new revolutionary sound.  Initially established as Little Joe and the Latinaires in the early 1960s, the band’s image and sound changed over the years, leading to a name change as well to Little Joe Y La Familia.  Fronted by Jose Maria (Little Joe) Hernandez and his younger brother Juan (Johnny) Hernandez, the band offered a powerful sound with lead vocals and harmonics that resulted in a string of hits.  The combined musical and business talents of the brothers catapulted them from the cotton fields of Texas to international music stages where tens of thousands of fans cheered their performances.  Having reached a success of legendary status, what happened that split this musical dynamic duo?

     Many have said that Little Joe Y La Familia reached their musical peek in the late 1970s with their international mega hit “Las Nubes,” when rumors started about the band breaking up.  Some believed it was jealousy among siblings that led to the band’s fall, while others thought it was excessive use of illicit drugs.  Now, through the autobiography “The Cotton Picker – An Odyssey” by Johnny Hernandez, the myths and rumors of the Band’s breakup are told.

     This well written book takes the reader through several decades from the hardship of being born and raised in central Texas where many Mexican American families followed the cotton-picking season, through the pressures and excesses of being a musical star.  Johnny’s depiction of growing up in Temple, Texas, as a cotton-picker, will resonate with many former farmworkers whose working days usually started with the smell of fresh made flour tortillas.  Others will quickly relate to the experience of going to public school and facing a combination of discrimination and bullying, forcing Mexican Americans to band together for protection and survival.  However, perhaps it's Johnny’s telling of the respect and love he had for his family and friends as a preteen, a teenager and as an adult that makes his story extra unique.

     As he tells it, singing is what kept Johnny going when working the cotton fields during Texas’ hot and humid summers.  He often daydreamed that someday he would be performing on a stage in front of hundreds of cheering fans.  That dream almost did not become a reality because of Johnny's rebellious tendencies, which got him into legal trouble, had him drop out of school, and marry by age 16.  It was after getting married that Johnny began to learn the hard lessons of life, taking on various jobs to earn a living for him and his wife. 

     There were many people who entered Johnny’s life that slowly helped turn him around from his rebellious ways.  However, none was more influential than his brother Jesse, who had convinced Little Joe to make Johnny a part of Little Joe and the Latinaires.  It was brilliant move by Jesse, who was convinced the group was headed to stardom.  After recording their first major hit, “Por Un Amor,” Little Joe, Johnny and the Latinaires also hit the road for performances across Texas.  Unfortunately, Jesse was killed in a car accident before he could see his brothers reach the heights of their musical success.

     After releasing a string of hit songs, Little Joe moved the band to California where they discovered new musical sounds and performed with popular acts like MALO and Tower of Power.  During the late 60s and early 70s, the look and feel of the band fit in with the sounds and styles being created by Bay Area bands, winning over thousands of new fans, especially when they broke out with Tex-Mex music.  Johnny was also getting more solo singing opportunities, not only recording, but writing as well.  During this time, he also met and became friends with many Chicano music legends like Rick Stevens and Richard Bean.

     Being apart for lengths of time from his family, put a tremendous strain on Johnny’s marriage, resulting in his first divorce.  It was also around this time that Johnny met Pat, a beautiful Mexican American girl from Modesto, California, who became his second wife, and as Johnny declares, the true love of his life.  When the band moved back to Texas, Johnny took Pat with him and started a life together, but not everything was honey and roses.  Suddenly, Johnny began to feel anger directed at him by Little Joe, an anger that would determine the fate of Johnny's musical future and the Band's direction.

     “The Cotton Picker – An Odyssey” is a series of well-told stories by Johnny Hernandez who presents them in the form of a diary or journal, sharing the hardships and successes he achieved, as well as missed opportunities.  This book captures the realities of growing up poor in Texas where unfairness and discrimination are as common as compassion and equality, and where life is learned in the streets.  Johnny’s detailed description of his adventures, including a sudden trip to Veracruz Mexico, gives the reader the sense of being in the rider’s seat on a very unique, spur of the moment trip.  This book is easy, fun and interesting to read, but it’s the story telling of musical historical events that makes Johnny Hernandez’ “The Cotton Picker – An Odyssey” a must-have book.



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Robert Trujillo presents a new film about the Greatest Bass Player

Jaco Pastorius, The Greatest Bass Player





Robert Trujillo, in association with Passion Pictures, has announced the official multi-platform release of the acclaimed new documentary, JACO, directed by Mr. Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak. The film - which chronicles the brief but extraordinary life of the great American musician/composer Jaco Pastorius - will be available via VOD, streaming services, and digital download on Friday, November 27th.

JACO will also have its official DVD/Blu-ray release that day, in association with Record Store Day and Black Friday 2015. That same day will also see the long anticipated release of "JACO: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK," Sony/Legacy's official musical companion to the film. Full soundtrack details - including a complete tracklisting - will be announced soon. For news and announcements, please log on to

Trujillo - world-renowned bassist with Metallica and the film's Executive Producer - will celebrate JACO and Record Store Day Black Friday 2015 with a special in-store at The Sound Garden in Syracuse, NY. Slated for TK, the event will feature a screening of JACO as well as a special signing session with Trujillo. For details, please see

JACO is the subject of a successful PledgeMusic Campaign which will conclude at the end of September. Complete details can be found at

The official Record Store Day film of 2014, JACO had its world premiere earlier this year at Austin, TX's SXSW Film Conference & Festival, accompanied by a panel discussion featuring filmmakers Trujillo and Marchand as well as longtime Pastorius collaborator Peter Erskine (Weather Report, Word of Mouth) and JACO Executive Producer John Pastorius. The session can be viewed now at In addition, SXSW ON's Studio SX interview with Trujillo, Marchand, and Pastorius is streaming at

JACO has since earned applause at a number of major festivals, including the inaugural Asbury Park Music in Film Festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. The film "(captures) the essence of what made Jaco such an influential artist," declared the Montreal Gazette, praising "the glowing words of Marchand's interviewees and the many recorded and live musical excerpts that he lets speak for themselves" and hailing JACO as "an enlightening introduction to a groundbreaking musician."

JACO tells the remarkable and tragic tale of Jaco Pastorius, a self-taught, larger-than-life musician who single-handedly changed the course of modern music by redefining the sound and the role of the electric bass guitar. Never-before-seen 8mm film, photographs, and audio recordings unveil the true story behind Pastorius' all-too-brief life, his music, and heartbreaking end.

JACO follows Pastorius' beginnings and ascent, from his era-defining work with jazz-fusion pioneers Weather Report to crossover collaborations with Joni Mitchell and Ian Hunter to his own inspired solo career as bandleader and composer. Highlighted by exclusive material from the Pastorius family archive, the film features memories and encomiums from a spectrum of Jaco fans and followers, including Joni Mitchell, Sting, Flea, Herbie Hancock, Geddy Lee, Bootsy Collins, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, and many others. JACO is produced by Robert Trujillo in association with Passion Pictures (SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, PROJECT NIM); the film is directed by Mr. Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Comcast looking for two Hispanic networks

Comcast will be looking network proposals for content, financed, ownership/management, price, launch, and ability to create customers.

PHILADELPHIA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Comcast Cable today announced the company is now accepting proposals for two substantially Hispanic American owned, independent English-language networks that it will launch in select Comcast markets by January 28, 2017.

Today’s announcement is part of the company’s commitment to launch 10 independently owned and operated networks as part of a series of public interest commitments made by Comcast in connection with the NBCUniversal transaction completed in 2011. Of the 10 networks, all of which are to launch by 2019, four will be majority African American owned, two will be operated by Hispanic American programmers, two will be substantially Hispanic American owned, and two will be independent. These criteria were established based on several agreements Comcast entered into with leading diversity organizations in 2010. Since then, five independent networks have already successfully launched, including ASPiRE, BabyFirst Americas, BBC World News, El Rey, and REVOLT.

“We are committed to delivering programming that reflects the interests of our customers and are eager to review many innovative network proposals with the potential to bring new and exciting content to our customers,” said Greg Rigdon, Executive Vice President, Content Acquisition for Comcast Cable.

Criteria for selecting the next two substantially Hispanic American owned networks that Comcast will launch include: the content of the network; whether the network is fully financed; whether the network’s ownership and/or management group(s) are well established, have relevant experience, and are substantially owned by Hispanic Americans; whether the network is already launched and has existing MVPD distribution; price; and whether the network and its potential carriage provide value to Comcast and its customers. Comcast will accept proposals for every major genre, including general entertainment, movies, music, kids, news, and sports.

Applicants may visit to submit a proposal and learn about the terms and conditions. Proposals are due by October 9, 2015, and the two networks will be selected in the coming months. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Latina Web Series Innovator and Webstar Pioneer

Ruth Livier

Ruth Livier, an ESL kid from a trailer park has become a Web Series Innovator and Webstar Pioneer.

By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez

Ruth Livier is not just another alluring Hollywood beauty. She has substance, style, and is an in-demand working actress of stage, screen, and film. Ruth is probably best known for her starring role in the groundbreaking Showtime TV series Resurrection Blvd. and for breaking new artistic ground almost seven years ago when she created, wrote, and starred in Ylse[1], one of the very first made-for-the-Internet series.

Ylse ( won many awards including the first IMAGEN award for Best Internet show.[2] It also landed Ms. Livier on the cover of the WGA’s Written By[3] magazine for becoming the first person to join that union via her work in new media.

Ruth’s journey began in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“Soy Tapatía,” she told us. “Until I was about seven, I lived with relatives in Guadalajara while my
parents worked in the fields here in California…. Once I crossed to the US and learned to read English, you couldn’t get me out of the library. I was a very serious kid…. Theatre and acting have been a part of my life since my first professional gigs back in Guadalajara. I also love to write…. Writing Ylse and seeing my amazingly talented friends bring my words to life was a fantastic, rewarding, and addicting experience.”

We asked Ruth about Resurrection Blvd. and here is some of what she shared: 

“…The show was truly groundbreaking and the people I got to meet and work with were just incredible. I mean, aside from the countless amazing experiences on set, I was invited to the Executive Offices in Washington, DC. There I was, sitting at a conference table with Robert Rodriguez, Esai Morales, and other prominent Latino celebrities while government representatives asked our opinion on the state of Hispanic representation in the entertainment business. For an ESL kid from a trailer park…well, that was one of the best and most surreal moments the universe has sent my way.”

When we asked her if Hollywood still stereotypes she said, “According to every report and study, the answer is still, unfortunately, yes.”

Ylse ( was a pioneering effort. It set the stage for the hit web based programs that seem to sweep the Emmys nowadays. “Our goal was to make something we could all be proud of and my amazing cast and crew, including the wonderful and great late Elizabeth Peña, who directed a webisode for us, did just that. I’m proud of our work on Ylse and I’m excited to bring the lessons learned to the new projects I have in the works.” 





Monday, February 16, 2015

An Interview with Hollywood Icon Billy Dee Williams

From theater to the cinema, and from television to the recording studie, Billy Dee Williams is a versatile actor/performer who is scheduled to perform on Dancing with the Stars.
By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez
Edited by Susan Aceves
Many years before he became Lando Calrissian in two STAR WARS movies and Harvey Dent in BATMAN, a 23 year old Billy Dee Williams recorded a long forgotten album. The album features ten Broadway songs, many of which were recorded for the first time. Williams said, “It’s a collectible; it’s part of my life and it’s an interesting aspect of my life. I kinda chuckle about it and I just find it interesting it’s going to be re-issued!”

William December "Billy Dee" Williams, Jr. is an American actor, artist, singer, and writer best known for acting in the movies Brian's Song and Lady Sings the Blues, and for his roles as Harvey Dent in Tim Burton's Batman and as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars film franchise.
Williams was born in New York City, New York. He has a twin sister, Loretta, and grew up in Harlem, where he was raised by his maternal grandmother while his parents worked several jobs. Williams graduated from the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, where he was a classmate of Diahann Carroll, who coincidentally played the wife of his character Brady Lloyd on the 1980's prime-time soap opera Dynasty.
Even before he began acting, Williams attended the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design in New York. In the late 1980's, he resumed painting. Some of his work can be seen at his online gallery BDW World Art. He has had solo exhibitions in various galleries around the United States and his work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution and the Schomburg Museum. The covers of the Thelonious Monk Competition programs since 1990 are by Williams.
He first appeared on Broadway in 1945 in The Firebrand of Florence. He returned to Broadway as an adult in 1960 in the play version of The Cool Word. He appeared in A Taste of Honey in 1961. A 1976 Broadway production, I Have a Dream, was directed by Robert Greenwald and starred Williams as Martin Luther King, Jr.
He made his film debut in 1959 in the Academy Award nominated The Last Angry Man, opposite Paul Muni, in which he portrayed a delinquent young man. He rose to stardom after starring in the critically lauded blockbuster biographical television movie, Brian's Song (1971), in which he played Chicago Bears star football player Gale Sayers, who stood by his friend Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan) during his struggle with terminal cancer. The film was so popular it was given a theatrical release. Both Williams and Caan were nominated for Emmy Awards for best actor for their performances.
Having broken through, Williams became one of America's most well-known black film actors of the 1970's after starring in a string of critically acclaimed and popular movies, many of them in the "blaxploitation" genre. In 1972, Williams starred as Billie Holiday's husband Louis McKay in Motown Productions' Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues. The film was a box office blockbuster, becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year and received five Academy Award nominations. Diana Ross starred opposite Williams; Motown paired the two of them again three years later in the successful follow-up project Mahogany.
The early 1980's brought Williams the role of Lando Calrissian, which he played in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Calrissian's charm proved to be popular with audiences and Williams now had a substantial fanbase within the science fiction genre as well. He reprised this role when he lent his voice for the character in the 2002 video game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, as well as
the audio dramatization of Dark Empire, the National Public Radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, and two productions for the Star Wars: Battlefront series: Star Wars: Battlefront II and Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron.
Between his appearances in the Star Wars films, he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone as a cop in the critically acclaimed film Nighthawks.
He co-starred in 1989's Batman as district attorney Harvey Dent, a role that was planned to develop into Dent's alter-ego, the villain Two-Face, in sequels. Unfortunately for Williams, that never came to pass; he was set to reprise the role in a more villainous light in the sequel Batman Returns, but his character was deleted and replaced with original villain Max Shreck.
Williams's television work included a recurring guest-starring role on the short-lived show Gideon's Crossing. He is also well known for his appearance in advertisements for Colt 45 (a brand of malt liquor) in the 1980's and early 1990's, for which he received much criticism. Williams responded indifferently to the criticism of his appearances in the liquor commercials. When questioned, he allegedly replied by saying, "I drink, you drink. Hell, if marijuana was legal, I'd appear in a commercial for it."
In 1992, he portrayed Berry Gordy in The Jacksons: An American Dream.
He played Toussaint Dubois for General Hospital: Night Shift in 2007 and 2008. Williams
reprised his role as Toussaint on General Hospital itself beginning in June 2009. Also in 2009, he took on the role of the voice of Admiral Bitchface the head of the military on the planet Titan in the Adult Swim animated series Titan Maximum. In July 2010, Williams appeared in the animated series The Boondocks, where he voiced a fictionalized version of himself in the episode "The Story of Lando Freeman."
In 2011, Williams appeared as a guest star on USA Network's White Collar as Ford, an old friend of Neal Caffrey's landlady June, played by Diahann Carroll. In 2012, Williams was the surprise guest during a taping of Oprah spotlighting Diana Ross. Ross and Williams were reunited after having not seen each other in 29 years.
It was announced in 2014 that Williams will be competing on the 18th season of Dancing with the Stars. He partnered with professional dancer Emma Slater. The couple had to withdraw from the competition on the third week due to an injury on Williams' back.
Williams will provide the voice of Lando Calrissian in the upcoming 2014 Star Wars Rebels cartoon series.
Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had a unique opportunity to speak with the living legend!
AC: Tell us a little about growing up in Harlem, New York. What was it that inspired you to gravitate towards the arts?
BDW:I always found myself to be an artistic person. I would look at things and see the beauty and want to give my own personal take on it.
New York was great. I come from a very supportive family.
AC: Many people don’t know that you are an accomplished and significant artist. Can you tell us a little about your art? What are some of your more favorite works and what inspired you to create? Do you still paint?
BDW: Yes I still paint. I will probably paint till my last day. I am literally inspired by everything! People around me, my surroundings, from the little things like a glass of water at the dinner table to larger things like buildings and the sky. I can find inspiration in anything I am looking at.
AC: Tell us about your singing; about the reissue of the album you did when you were 23?
BDW: It was the first time some songs had ever been recorded. It is a very raw but important part of my history as an entertainer. It is something I wished I had tried more of it in the day. And I think the new CD will make a great collectible! I know the original vinyl records are very hard to find.
AC: What do you remember about the experience and why didn’t you pursue more of a singing career?
BDW: I ask myself that same question all the time, I think I could have been a great singer. The experience itself was very positive. I had so many people around me, supporting me. I was very blessed to have been able to record the album.
AC: Your breakout performance was in Brian’s Song. How did you get the role? What was it about that story and the character you portrayed that made you into a star?
BDW: I got the role as a hungry young actor who was willing to try anything that was thrown my way. I was looking for a job at the time and it was offered to me. I thought it was a great vehicle and there was no way I could have turned it down. The experience was amazing, something I will always remember. I was nominated for an Emmy for that role. It was a real pleasure to be part of something so prolific. People still talk to me about it today; so many men say it is the only movie that makes them cry.
AC: Tell us about your leading man roles in Lady Sings the Blues and Mahogany.
BDW: Simply put, those films turned me into a romantic idol for the screen. It has been a persona that has stuck with me my whole career and I’m very proud.

AC: You were America’s first African American heart throb and you set the bar for the rest who have followed you. How does that feel? Who are some of your favorite lead actors?
BDW: It is a great accomplishment for a “little brown skinned boy” from New York. Who would have ever thought?!
My favorite actors would be Paul Muni, Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier.
AC: Many people today know you as the Star Wars icon Lando Calrissian. What did you bring to the character and why do you think the Star Wars franchise is such a hit with all generations?
BDW: I brought a rouge-ish charm to Lando and his suave and stylish lifestyle was something that the Star Wars universe needed at the time. Lando is like Steve Wynn.
AC: Tell us about your role in Batman. What was the good and bad of that experience?
BDW: It was a great experience. I will always remember the sets! They were huge and impressive beyond what words can express. I wanted to play Two-Face very badly. It was part of the reason I took the role, but sadly the studio changed hands and the project was taken over by new folks so I never got to show what my take would have been.
AC: There was some controversy about bringing your star power to Colt 45 Malt Liquor back in the day. It is alleged that you said you would do an ad for marijuana if was legal. Is this true; would you do it?
BDW: That’s simply not true, I would not do a commercial for marijuana. As for Colt 45, I am very proud of my endorsement of the product and it still, “Works every time.”
AC: Tell us about Dancing with the Stars. What was that experience like? Have you recovered from your injury? Are you a fan of the show and would you do it again?
BDW: FUN! So glad I did it! It was a great challenge but one that I wanted to see if I could do! It was a lot of hard work but worth every bit of effort and my partner, Emma Slater, was an amazing teacher and friend! I would do the show again in a heartbeat if they asked me. Aside from a small back problem, I am fine.
AC: You are an American legend, a pioneer. How would you like history to remember you and what would you like your legacy to be?
BDW: I want to be remembered as being a hard working performer. I always tried to give my very best. I always tried to bring something extra to any role that I did, on stage or on screen. I took my roles seriously and put every ounce of effort and more that I had into them.
AC: What kinds of projects are you working on now? What are some things that are still left on your bucket list?
BDW: I can currently be “heard” on Star Wars Rebels in which I reprise my role as Lando Calrissian. As for my bucket list? I would love to sink my teeth into a spectacular and pioneering role that would be really meaningful. I am always looking for that one great, unforgettable script.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Chicano group from yesteryear: The Midniters

Thee Legendary Midniters were among the first rock bands to openly sing about Chicano themes.
Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Hispanic News Online
Edited By, Mariam Salarian

When you think of Old School authentic Chicano soul music the first name that comes to mind is Thee Midniters.

The band was one of the first Chicano (Mexican-American) rock bands to have a major hit in the United States and without question one of the best known acts to come out of East Los Angeles in the 1960’s

Their cover of the tune, "Land of a Thousand Dances", and the instrumental track, "Whittier Boulevard" in 1965, hit high up the record charts and catapulted the band into the national spotlight almost overnight.

Thee Midniters were among the first rock acts to openly sing about Chicano themes in songs such as "Chicano Power" and "The Ballad of César Chávez" in the late 1960’s. Hit songs also included, “Sad Girl”, “The Town I live in” and “That’s All”. The band was originally promoted by Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg on local radio station KTYM, then later on KRLA.

One of the first to integrate horns, the band’s unusual combination of trombone, sax, congas, keyboards and electric guitars produced a sound in the same vein as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Thee Midniters shared the stage with such notable acts as The Supremes, The Doors, The Turtles, Herman’s Hermits, Van Morrison, The Coasters, and The Drifters in addition to Latin acts such as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Jose Feliciano. They performed all the major venues including The Rose Bowl, The Greek Theater, Caesar’s Palace, and The Kennedy Center, just to name a few.

Highly professional and musically sophisticated compared to the surf bands of the day (they were largely school-trained), Thee Midniters were regarded in the East LA of the 1960’s as The Beatles on a smaller scale , though they sounded (and still sound) more like a big, soul-gospel review group with a hefty dose of salsa.

Thee Midniters continue to be impressive with a Greatest Hits CD, and the willingness to make new music and continue bringing the music to the people.

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Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had a unique opportunity to speak with Midniter founding member Jimmy Espinoza, who said he was proud to be a part of “Thee Midniters”. The band’s successful body of work includes 5 albums and 25 singles.

AC: Tell us about your family, where did you grow up?
JE: I was born in Boyle Heights, East L.A., at Lincoln Hospital on Soto Street. We Lived across the Street from Roosevelt High School on 4th Street. My mom, Grace Espinoza, was my lifesaver. She worked very diligently and sent my brother and I to St. Mary's school.

We then attended Salesian High School, unbeknownst to anyone that Salesian High School's Music Department would be fertile soil for the later East L.A. rock scene. Mom was a beautiful woman, stunning inside and most certainly outside!

SHE STILL LIVES AND SINGS IN MY HEART! Thanks Mama (I will be writing an autobiography soon too many "Nuggets" to pass up!)

AC: What did you listen to as a kid? When did you realize that you loved music? Did your parents encourage you?
JE: I was listening to music from the roaring 20’s to the late 50’s due to radio and T.V. resources media formats Xavier Cugat, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley, Spade Cooley, Ina Ray Hutten, Frankie Avalon, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Frankie Valle and the 4 Seasons. Mostly what radio stations KRLA, KFWB and KGFJ were formatting as their Top 40. As far as realizing my love for music, it was a homogenous process of me finding cool expression of self, musically, which really addresses all the emotions. Yes, my parents encouraged me.

AC: What was school like? What kind of a student were you? Any other interests aside from music? Sports?
JE: I loved both St. Mary's and Salesian High School. I believe that my Catholic education grounded me for later challenges in life. I was an average to B+ student but that was all purposeful. I basically absorbed some good spiritual guidance and got an investigative education to boot!

AC: Can you remember your first performance, what was that like what did you sing?
JE: Yes, Johnny Gamboa and the Crowns. He recruited me to be a backup singer and bongo player and I accepted. He was the man, very popular and with me in the band? It was way too cool! We did a gig at the American Legion Hall in Montebello, he had taught me the 50’s song, "Just Because" by Larry Williams. He turned to me and said, "This is it! Go!” Center stage, full horn section, sold out show. I was scared because I thought of myself as a backup singer, bongo player, ya know? I sang! What a rush! It was Intoxicating. I later realized that Johnny had seen something in me that just needed development. He is still my guru and best friend today! Thank you John!

AC: Are you the founder of the Group?
JE: Thee Midniters was an amalgamation of a group of East L.A., CYO Club and local high school music affiliations of a series of talented musicians. Although teens were music savvy! The band emerged to be Thee Midniters, the recording group. East L.A.’s finest! There really was no founder. Truth is we found each other and our chemistry trail blazed us to great heights and the story is still unfolding...for "Tommy Tomorrow" is with me!

AC: Tell us about the original members and what they each brought to the table?
JE: Well that is a broad question! The band was a melting pot, a buffet of black soul, R&B, British R&R, Gospel, Jazz and Latin a la New York and Puerto Rico. Trombonist, arranger, Romeo Prado and Sax man Larry Rendon and I shared a love of Jazz, Latin, Big Band, Sinatra, Bennett, Mathis, with some Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader for flavoring. Willie Garcia brought to the table the Black R&B soul sounds of lush steamy ballad love songs. Roy Marquez, rhythm guitarist, Danny LaMont, bad ass drummer and myself loved the English sound and the surf sound (La Mont and I had been in an East L.A. Surf band called The "Vesuvians".) but we also loved the studio jazz bands like Doc Severinson and Buddy Rich.

George Dominguez, lead guitar, was a natural. He could play every style and absorbed, as did the Band, the contemporary sounds of the day, but we did it or expressed ourselves on our own terms. Ronnie Figueroa, organist and keyboards (Albums 1 and 2) was classically trained and brought an intellect to the band although very understated, this was an offset to his zany "Arriba Ribba" and "Grito" opening on the song “Whittier Blvd.”.

AC: What was your vision for the band? Whose career did you want to emulate?
JE: We sought stardom. I believe that all of us wanted to make it, like the Beatles or Elvis. Each contributing band member had a similar core desire, live your dream!

AC: What kinds of tunes did you do in your set?
JE: As most bands, we did the hits of the day, Motown, Surf, R&R, R&B, and soul music of the early 60’s. That was the popular thing to do. This is what made Thee Midniters different, because we had our own way of musical expression. It was truly our own sound. Many East L.A. bands honored us by adapting "Thee" to their band name, way too cool! We covered songs from Frank Sinatra to James Brown, Henry Mancini, Stan Kenton and Big Bands along with New York Salsa Bands stirred in our musical senses. The first album featured "Whittier Blvd." and as we continued to record we added more original material.

AC: Would you call what you did Chicano Soul music?
JE: No, that terminology was coined after the band had its heyday. I suppose in retrospect you could label it that way, but in 1965 we were on the charts with all the greats! The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra. We covered “Strangers in the Night”, Sonny and Cher, Glenn Campbell, all of them. We were artists, musicians, singers, producers, songwriters, entertainers, celebrities, stars in our own right. Certainly in The City of the Angels, "The Town I Live In", I would offer that in my opinion, these labels are a closer description of our music output. This is why they called it the sizzlin’ sixties. Lots of freedom and growth occurred globally.

AC: When was your first break, how did it come about?
JE: Thee Midniters performed at East Los Angeles College at a Salesian Rock and Roll Show. Our song, “Land of a 1000 Dances” was recorded live to hundreds of screaming girls. KRLA DJ "Huggy Boy" gave “Land of 1000 Dances” its first L.A. exposure and it went on to chart nationally. The feeling was absolutely euphoric; we were living our dream in East Los Angeles!

AC: Who were the primary song writers, did you write from the East L.A. Chicano experience?
JE: Willie Garcia, Jimmy Espinoza, Larry Rendon, Romeo Prado, but really the whole band had everything to do with our songs being very well received, if not hit records. We were good at interpretations, like Sinatra and approached the songs with honesty and integrity like the Chairman of the Board.

AC: Which songs do you never tire of performing?
JE: Our Version of "That’s All" is still a favorite in many markets. We wrote from an artist, musician, poet of life experience, no borders, no prisoners! (e.g. the "Ballad of Caesar Chavez") We do all of the tunes in Thee Midniters Boxed Set Limited Edition, which is now available.

AC: What would you say is the best gig you ever played what was that like?
JE: The Rose Bowl Concert Pasadena, California in 1965 sponsored by radio station KRLA. With 38,000 fans in attendance, the first concert to be held with this attendance turn-out. The bill included Herman's Hermit's, Lovin' Spoonful, and Bobby Fuller Four. The Turtles and Thee Midniters. This was a very exciting high point in our careers and we knew we made it!

We later produced our own L.A. shows; we actually hired acts like Steppenwolf, Van Morrison, The Chantels, and Johnny Guitar Watson. Producing shows was a good endeavor, successful and fun.

AC: Do you think that the British invasion of the late 60’s put a damper on your career?
JE: Not at all, we were riding the crest of it all, absorbing it all internalizing all of it. It was our invasion just as much as a British invasion. We were in the mix! Very exciting times.

AC: What about your Grammy nomination?
JE: Great Honor, just being nominated blew our socks off! No sour grapes at the awards night, everyone was there, all the nominees and the stars of the day. Recording artists to movie stars, to music producers to record CEOs it was intoxicating.

We were recognized by industry standards and that was and still is quite something.

AC: Best gigs?
JE: Hard to say, so many great venues, The Rose Bowl, Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood Palladium Gigs, all were very exciting to places and significant to our rising careers

AC:   What happened after ‘69 for the Midniters? Did you break up? Was the band affected by fame and fortune?
JE: Yes after 1969, Camelot was over, the band was greatly affected by fame and stolen fortunes. Common for 60's groups without proper honest management or legal backup geared to the artist’s best interests! It has been traditionally the opposite.

AC: What kinds of things have you done while the Midniters were sidelined from the music business? I understand you become involved in Classical Music?
JE: I have always been involved in my continuing music education and have been a professional musician, self-employed as an artist, bassist, singer, and entertainer for well over forty years. I did and still do music consulting, teaching and session work.

Performing with L.A.’s finest club acts. The Playboy Club Circuit, Harrah's Reno and Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Cruise ships. I am grateful for all of it. Now to connect all these dots and assume the position to the toppermost of the poppermost…

AC: I understand you play classical?
JE: Yes, I was First Chair Bassist at Cal-State L.A. Symphony Orchestra. I studied the upright bass with Ray Brown, famous Jazz Poll winner, Ralph Pena, another great bassist, studio jazz musician with Frank Sinatra. I studied classical bass with James Ammond, bassist, Pasadena Symphony Orchestra. I later became bassist for the Gerald Wilson Jazz Orchestra. Legendary jazz trumpeter for about two years playing the world famous Shelly's Manne Hole in Hollywood.

I studied voice, Bel-Canto (Italian system taught at La Scala, Milano, Italia) and became a professional teacher, trainer, coach and vocal producer. I thank God for all the inspiration to "Keep on Keeping On" and my efforts are aimed at leaving a legacy to be proud of.

AC: Why do you think the Midniters were not a real commercial act, like many of your contemporaries?
JE: We actually were commercial in my opinion. We did have limiting management. When the time comes to multiply your gains and go national and international stronger and also you need savvy management and a good publicist!

AC: What do you think the biggest misconception of the Midniters is?
JE: I might say that the band was primarily a Chicano band. It wasn't. I might say that the band was and is an American Root's Rock n' Roll Pop phenomenon with black, R&B, Gospel, Jazz and Big Band influences and not a Chicano Soul music experience only. It is certainly true we fit that label today, with the term Chicano in today's marketplace being in common usage such as the Chicano Soul Legends Concerts that we perform on working with the legendary L.A. DJ Art Laboe. He is famous for his "Oldies But Goodies" Record Company..."Original Sounds"...and ever popular radio "Request and Dedications" Show.

This show is very popular with Chicanos everywhere and that would mean Mexican Americans. American Mexicans, however you choose to slice it centered on la 1950's to1960’s culture and the old school sound, Doo-wop, Soul and R&B Love Ballads.

Little Willie G (Willie Garcia)
AC: There was a time a few years ago when The Midniters became more of a Christian act, can you tell us about that spiritual renaissance?
JE: Original singer, songwriter Willie Garcia is a Minister of the Gospel, an Evangelist at Victory Outreach Ministry and Willie G Ministries. He re-joined the group from 2003 to 2008. We played our catalogue and included Christian material from Willie's repertoire. We performed at many Christian functions and performed our hits as well. It would be welcomed in some circles and frowned upon in some who wanted a more organic Thee Midniters delivery.

AC: What kinds of things are you involved in and is there any chance of new music?
JE: To market the band nationally and internationally and perform at the major venues and reintroduce the band and connect the dots to this band's amazing creative force as an American Roots Rock Band. "Whittier Blvd." is the ultimate car cruising, party rock, surf pop song. Relevant in Any town, U.S.A., but with a catalogue of music history reflecting society’s norms, values and lifestyles and many influences of the sizzlin’ sixties.

AC: I understand you have your own media company?
JE: Yes. I have a music performing arts production and consulting company. The Stargate Entertainment Group,, working with industry professionals. We are creating new visions, business opportunities, and venture capital with products and services catering to the Hispanic market in California and the southwestern states. This is a demography I helped create as an artist and successful recording musician, bassist, singer, songwriter producer. I have three new cd's in the works.

AC: New Music?
JE: One new from Thee Midniters...and two solo projects in English and Spanish some interest in filming my colorful art walk!

AC: What are some things still on your bucket list?
JE: Bucket list? Here goes, Campaign Manager for a politician who can't be bought. Record live at Martha's Vineyard produced by Paul McCartney. Have Donald Trump invest in The Stargate Entertainment Group to empower the rising populace of Hispanics in the USA, a good political move while creating jobs. Have a Jimmy Espinoza Disneyland E-Ticket ride created by Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and finally, sing at the White House…
Me, Gracie’s kid! How's That?

In all honesty, I am currently dematerializing paradigms (histories of oppression that aren't beneficial to our rich culture) and installing a new technology of software that will create an artistic legacy of pure music art and entertainment to uplift all its recipients, this is what I do and love.

AC: What would you like your legacy to be?
JE: To be remembered as a brother and friend and thank you for the opportunity to tell my story! Blessings to all! To the People! Jimmy Espinoza, Artist.