The Blazers: The Other Band From East L.A.
by Mark Guerrero
title of this article comes from the many comparisons to Los
Lobos The Blazers heard after their inception in 1988.
The Blazers' style was in fact similar to that of Los Lobos
in that they also played musica Norteña, Tex Mex, and cumbias,
alongside rockabilly, blues, and rock & roll. They
were also friends of Los Lobos and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos
produced The Blazers' first two albums. The Blazers,
however, had their own distinct style in those genres, wrote
most of their own songs, and made their own way. They
recorded four albums on the Rounder record label, toured the
U.S. and Europe multiple times, and continue to record and
perform. Their most recent release was "17 Jewels"
on Little Dog Records in 2008.
The Blazers' story started when Ruben Guaderrama and Manny
Gonzales met at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles around
1970. They both played guitar and shared a love for music.
They also both had musicians, mostly guitar players, in their
family trees. Ruben was born in Juarez, Mexico, but grew
up in the U.S., arriving here at the age of two. His mom
and older brothers had large record collections that included
everything from Pedro Infante to Fats Domino. Hearing
Mexican music mixed in with rock & roll was not an unusual thing
to his ears. Ruben played trumpet in grammar school and
took up the guitar at age 12, after seeing The Beatles on the Ed
Sullivan show. His brother, when he was a senior in high
school, bought a St. George electric guitar. When he
joined the air force, he gave it to Ruben, who was thrilled to
get it. Some of Ruben's
favorite artists were The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob
Dylan. Little did he know he was to meet Dylan later on.
Manuel Gonzales was born and raised in East L.A. Like Ruben and so
many American musicians, he was inspired when he saw The Beatles
on the Ed Sullivan show. He would also tune into the local Los Angeles country & western music
television show, "Cal's
Corral," where he would watch the guitar players with great
interest. He also remembers seeing a rock & roll show in
the parking lot of Jonson's market in East Los Angeles when he
was a kid. In the company of his mom, he watched Thee
Midniters, Little Ray, Ronnie & the Casuals, The Ambertones, my teenage band, Mark & the Escorts,
Ruben and Manny
formed their first band, Long John Silver, in high school and over the next few years played
in bands together and sometimes in different bands. In the
early 70s, they
struck up a friendship with future Los Lobos members David
Hidalgo, Louie Perez, and Cesar Rosas and
often jammed with them. They would sometimes jam at
drummer Victor Bisetti's house. Victor would later play
with both The Blazers and Los Lobos.
In the late '80s, when Los Lobos' career was in full swing,
Cesar Rosas would often go jam with The Blazers at a Casino in
Bell Gardens, California where they were the house band.
By this time, Ruben and Manny were writing their own songs and
putting them into their set lists on the gig. The name
Blazers came about in a serendipitous and perhaps cosmic way.
Manny was in the back seat of a car, when he was in a near
traffic accident on an L.A. freeway. As the car in which
he was a passenger swerved back into it's original lane, a Chevy Blazer passed by at break neck speed
barely missing the car he was in. The word
"Blazer" flashed before him as it sped by. He
immediately thought that would be a great name for the band.
He and Ruben had been trying out different names that they
weren't happy with. When Manny told Ruben about the name
Blazers, he agreed and
the name stuck. They then decided to pool their money
together and make a record. They recorded two songs, "Come
On Baby," a country song, and a ska song called "I Feel So
Happy." The record was produced by their drummer and
engineered by a drummer from the Doobie Brothers. They
found a local record pressing plant and ordered 300 copies to sell at their
gigs. It didn't take them too long to sell them out.
Next they decided to record a whole album, which was produced by
Cesar Rosas and recorded in Cesar's home studio. The album
had a couple of covers, "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" and "Tiburon,
Tiburon," a classic cumbia. All the rest of the songs
were original compositions. They self-released the
collection on audio cassette only. That cassette, even
though it had no distribution, would still lead to a slot at the
important South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, and
ultimately their first record deal.
Enter Gene Aguilera. Gene was and is a music lover,
record collector, boxing enthusiast, banker, musical artist
manager, and lyricist. Back around 1989, Gene got a
call from Cesar Rosas inviting him to go with him to hear a
"cool little band" down at the Bell Club at the Bell Gardens
Casino. Gene went and enjoyed the band, so much so
that he returned the next night and stayed for all four
sets. Gene remembers The Blazers repertoire included
rock & roll, rockabilly, and cumbias. They also did
covers by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Creedence
Clearwater Revival. He was impressed by their "potent
cocktail of a musical mix." He became friends with the
band and by 1991 as their manager he had helped them secure
their first record deal with Rounder Records. The
first two Blazer albums came out on vinyl and CD.
Aguilera battled the company to release the vinyl at a time
when CDs had taken over the market. He also booked the
band at "underground" clubs in Southern California such as Raji's, Anti Club, King King, and Blue Cafe.
Through another manager by the name of Kevin Morrow, they
were booked into the legendary Palomino Club in North
Hollywood. It was there that Gene invited the Rounder
executives to come and check out the Blazers show. The
Blazers also had their fans do a write in campaign to
Rounder Records to bolster their chance at getting signed to
the label. It all worked and so began their four album
run with Rounder.
The Blazers' first album was entitled
"Short Fuse" and was released on January 1, 1994. It
was produced by their old friend Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos.
The album featured three Spanish language songs, along with
their usual blend of rock & roll, r&b, and rockabilly.
One of the songs in Spanish was the classic cumbia "Tiburon
Tiburon," which means "Shark Shark."
The band lineup for "Short Fuse": Manny Gonzales (vocals,
guitars, bass, and harmonica), Ruben Guaderrama (vocals,
guitars, lap steel, tres, and bass), Lee Stuart (bass), and
Ruben Gonzalez (drums). Additional musicians: Cesar Rosas (guitar, bajo sexto, bass, and backing
vocals, Victor Bisetti (drums), and Rudy Rosas (keyboards).
After "Short Fuse" The Blazers toured the U.S. traveling by van
with stops in San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson,
Albuquerque, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Miami, and New York.
This was followed by a European tour which included Sardinia (an
island off of Italy), Belgium, Austria, and Germany. They
were surprised many people in those countries were familiar with
their music already. Their manager Gene Aguilera
accompanied them on what was to be the first of several European
tours. Their second album, "Eastside Soul," also produced
by Cesar Rosas, was released on December 31, 1994.
It received the following review from the Boston Globe.
They described the album "as raw, primal and doggone brilliant
as any roots album that year." It featured covers of
Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country" and the r&b classic "Ooh
Poo Pah Doo." "Eastside Soul" proved to be the best
reviewed and best selling album by The Blazers. It is also
widely considered their best. The band lineup for
"Eastside Soul": Manny Gonzales, Ruben Guaderrama, Lee Stuart
(bass), and Mando Goss (drums). Additional musicians: Victor Bisetti (drums), Cesar Rosas (percussion), Eddie
Baytos (keyboards), and Gene Aguilera (backing vocals).
After the release of the first two Blazers albums on Rounder
Records, the label released a Blazers "live" six-song E.P.
entitled "Going Up the Country," which they released on their
Netherlands-based affiliate label, CRS Records.
The Blazers third album, "Just For You" was released on January
1, 1997. By this time Gene Aguilera was no longer involved
as their manager. This album was produced by Pete
Anderson, who had produced artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Roy
Orbison, K.D. Lang, and Flaco Jimenez. The Blazers on
"Just For You": Ruben Guaderrama, Manuel Gonzales, Raul
Medrano (drums) and Lee Stuart (bass). Guest artists: Lee Thornburg and Greg Smith (from the Tower of Power
horn section), Juke Logan on blues harp, and the aforementioned
Pete Anderson on slide guitar. The fourth and final album
on Rounder Records was "Puro Blazers," released on January 1,
2000. This collection was all in Spanish, which included
cumbias, polkas, and a bolero. There was a heavy use of
instruments such as the bajo sexto, tres (a three stringed
guitar), and button accordion. It also featured the
classic Mexican bolero, "Crei." The album, which was
produced by Ruben and Manny, also covered genres such as cha cha
cha, cumbia, salsa, as well as Cuban and Bolivian styles and a couple of
originals. The Blazers' lineup on "Puro Blazers":
Ruben Guaderrama (vocals, guitars, requinto romantico, tres,
bass, percussion), Manuel Gonzales (vocals, guitars, bajo sexto,
orchestral accordion), Jesus Cuevas (vocals, button accordion,
bass), and Mike Molina (drums). Additional musicians:
Raul Medrano (drums, timbales, percussion), Armando Goss (drums,
timbales), Lorenzo Martinez (drums, bass), Tony Garcia
(clarinet), and Barney Floyd (trumpet).
One of the highlights of The Blazers career was when they opened
for Bob Dylan at the Pantages Theater c.1995.
According to Gene Aguilera, a friend of his by the name of Lydia
Montano knew the bass player of the Fabulous Thunderbirds who
knew the music director of Bob Dylan's band. Gene was
tipped off by Lydia that Bob Dylan might come into the Palomino
Club where The Blazers were playing that night. He did
indeed appear at the club and sat at the bar. According to
Ruben Guaderrama, after The Blazers set he walked up to Dylan
and said "hello Mr. Dylan." Dylan turned to Ruben and said
"Man I dug your set. You kinda remind me of Los Lobos."
Dylan then asked Ruben if they'd like to open for him at the
Pantages. The night of the Pantages show happened to be
Dylan's birthday. George Harrison and Ringo Starr showed up and were backstage. It was a pretty
heady night for Ruben and The Blazers to be in the company of
such luminaries as Bob Dylan and two former Beatles.
Another fond memory for Ruben was a time The Blazers played at a
festival in New Hampshire, which took place out in the woods.
Doug Sahm, who was on the bill, and Emmylou Harris, who had
performed another day at the festival, were dancing up a storm
together as The Blazers were jamming on some cumbias.
According to Ruben, The Blazers toured Europe once or twice a
year for about 10 years, playing in Norway, Italy, Spain,
Germany, Austria, France, England, Belgium, and Holland, which
was their home base for a while. They also toured the U.S.
extensively putting 425,000 miles on the second Blazers van
alone. He didn't say how many miles were put on the first
one. On their tours they would sometimes play sixteen out
of seventeen days. They've shared the bill with artists as
diverse as the aforementioned Bob Dylan, Alvin Lee, The Blasters, Los Lobos, The Fabulous
Thunderbirds, Booker T., Doug Sahm Band, and the Texas Tornados.
In 2002, The Blazers signed with Pete Anderson's
Little Dog Records. By this time The Blazers were Ruben
and Manny and various sidemen and guest artists. Their
first CD for Little Dog was "17 Jewels," which was released in
January 1, 2003. This collection includes their cover of
the low rider classic "Leavin' It All Up To You."
My favorite cut on the album is The Blazers' version of The
Beatles' "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party," which works
perfectly in a Tex Mex-style polka. Additional musicians
on "17 Jewels": Mike Molina (drums),
Jesus Cuevas (button accordion, vocals), Jim E. Christie
(drums), Bob Gluab (bass), Skip Edwards (keyboards, accordion),
Pete Anderson (percussion, bass, casio), Lee Thornburg
(trumpet), and Roberto Gaytan (background vocals). After "17 Jewels," Manny left the band due to some health
issues. In 2008, Ruben went ahead and recorded a second
album on Little Dog called "Dreaming a Dream."
Although this album is credited to The Blazers, it's more like a
solo album by Ruben Guaderrama. Additional musicians on
this collection: Patrick Kahl (vocals, button accordion,
bass), Michael Murphy
(keyboards), Armando Goss (drums), Bob "Boo" Berstein (pedal
steel), and Pete Anderson (percussion). Little Dog's website says of this record "the Blazers
clearly demonstrate the breadth of their musical range from
searing blues to funky R&B grooves to up-tempo conjunto raves."
Guaderrama still does Blazer shows and teaches music at the
Fender Center for the Performing Arts in Corona, California. Manny Gonzales
currently has his own band called the Big Manny Band and
occasionally plays with The Blazers. Happily, all six Blazers albums are still
available. You can buy them at many sites on line
including amazon.com, which you can access from the links below.
is based on an audio taped telephone interview by Mark Guerrero
with Ruben Guaderrama, Manny Gonzales, and Gene Aguilera in
August of 2009.
mp3 Sound Bytes
Yeah Yeah Yeah
The Blazers 1994
The Blazers 2003
"Short Fuse" CD by The Blazers available at amazon.com
"Eastside Soul" CD by The Blazers available at amazon.com
"Just For You" CD by The Blazers available at amazon.com
"Puro Blazers" CD by The Blazers available at amazon.com
here to go to
The Blazers store at amazon.com
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