Behind a Latino rock and roll music legend

Many Latino musicians followed in Valens’ footsteps
By Melissa Rentería - Conexión

Ritchie Valens is considered by many music historians to be the first crossover Chicano rocker, a pioneering musician who blended the sounds of his Mexican roots with American rock ’n’ roll.

Valens, a Mexican-American kid from the barrio who record producers said had to change his name so he wouldn’t be labeled a Latino musician, influenced many other Latino rockers. Some of these musicians did not have to hide their ethnicity, embracing their Latino roots through their name and music.

Here’s a look at some of the mainstream musicians for whom Valens paved the way:

Chan Romero
The part-Apache Indian and part-Mexican-American singer who hitchhiked from his native Montana to Los Angeles to launch a music career was seen as the obvious successor to Ritchie Valens. Romero signed with Del-Fi records months after Valens died, and his song “Hippy Hippy Shake” became a hit in late 1959.

Sunny Ozuna
The San Antonio-born singer was the lead voice behind Sunny and the Sunliners, whose 1963 hit “Talk to Me” earned the band an appearance on “American Bandstand,” making Ozuna the first Tejano musician to appear on the show.

The Premiers
Formed in 1962 in San Gabriel, Calif., by brothers Lawrence and John Perez with their neighbors George Delgado and Frank Zuniga, the group went from popular garage band to national stars with its cover hit “Farmer John.” The single went to No. 19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1964.

Cannibal and the Headhunters
The Mexican-American band from East Los Angeles — founding members were Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia, Joe “YoYo” Jaramillo and Bobby “Rabbit” Jaramillo — had a hit single in 1965 with “Land of a Thousand Dances.” The song’s success earned the band a spot opening for The Beatles during its 1965 American tour.

Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs
Back in the 1960s few audiences probably knew that Sam was really Domingo Samudio, a Mexican-American singer from Dallas. Known for its campy stage outfits — Samudio often wore a robe and turban — the band had a Top 40 hit in 1965 with “Wooly Bully.”

The Pharoahs included two Latinos, Omar Lopez and Vincent Lopez.

Thee Midniters
The rock band from East Los Angeles was among the first Latino rockers to sing about Chicano themes, including its 1965 hit “Whittier Boulevard,” which begins with a grito, and the late 1960s song “The Ballad of César Chávez.” Cesar Rosas, who went on to form Los Lobos in the 1970s, has said he used to watch Thee Midniters perform to try to emulate their playing style.

Carlos Santana
The Mexican-born guitarist started playing music at age 5. He would go on to win 10 Grammy awards and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both for his work as a solo artist and with his self-titled band. A performer at the famed 1969 music festival Woodstock, Santana has paid tribute to his Latino roots by including such influences in his music.

Malo
Formed by Jorge Santana, the brother of Carlos Santana, the group had a Top 20 hit in 1972 with “Suavecito,” referred to by some as “the Chicano national anthem.” Like Santana, the group’s music was a fusion of Latin percussion, jazz, blues, rock and salsa.

Linda Ronstadt
The Mexican-American singer from Tucson, Ariz., was one of the biggest female rock stars in the 1970s. She later used her Grammy-winning commercial success to record other musical genres, including country, big band and mariachi. Her 1987 album, “Canciones de Mi Padre,” is the most successful non-English language album in history, selling more than 2 million copies.

Tierra
Originally known as The Jaquars, the R&B band from East Los Angeles also included former members of the rock band El Chicano. The group, led by brothers Steve and Rudy Salas, had a top 10 hit in 1980 with “Together,” which they performed on “Solid Gold” in 1981.

Los Lobos
The Grammy-winning band from East Los Angeles cites Valens as one of its biggest influences. They performed the cover versions of his music for the 1987 biopic “La Bamba,” giving the band its only No. 1 hit with its version of the title song. The band, a frequent performer on “Austin City Limits,” used the fame that followed “La Bamba” to bring traditional Mexican music to the masses with its 1988 album “La Pistola y El Corazón.”

Los Lonely Boys
The trio of Mexican-American brothers from San Angelo — JoJo, Ringo and Henry Garza — calls its style of music “Texican” because it blends rock, conjunto, blues and Tejano. The Grammy-winning group has cited Valens, Santana and Los Lobos as its musical influences.

Source: “La Onda Chicana,” “Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles” and various artists’ Web sites.

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