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An interview with Mark Guerrero
November 4, 2004

 by Daniel Delarosa

Hello and welcome, I am the webmaster for VirtualChicano.com. I'd like to thank you for taking the time for this interview. This interview will be un-cut and un-censored. Let's get started.  

Q, VirtualChicano: Your website, markguerrero.com, is perhaps the richest resource on the subject of Chicano music on the internet. In the opening paragraph, this statement is made: “This website is dedicated to publicizing and promoting my music, as well as Chicano music in general, which doesn't get its share of attention in the mainstream media.” Why do you think this is and what strategies would you recommend to Chicano rappers that are either facing this now or are about to realize this soon enough?

A, Mark Guerrero:  A part of it is racism.  The word sounds harsh, but there’s nothing else to call it.  For the longest time, music by white artists dominated virtually all of the mainstream.  In the forties and fifties, black artists were confined to what they called "race records" and radio stations that played only black music.  Black artists did not really go mainstream until they started to make records that were more commercial and somewhat sanitized, such as Motown and perhaps Sam Cooke.  Nat King Cole is an earlier example.  These artists were great, but they were presented in a more palatable way to the general public.  Since then, it's been pretty much a black and white industry, with not much in between.  There have been very few, if any, recording stars of Asian, Native-American, or Latino heritage in the limelight.  In the fifties and sixties, Latino pop artists who wanted to break into mainstream show business had to change their names to increase their chances.  People like Andy Russell, Vickie Carr, Ritchie Valens, and Freddy Fender.  Other Chicano artists were in bands such as Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs and Question Mark & the Mysterions.  The public was not aware they were Chicanos.  My dad, Lalo Guerrero, wanted to record in English when he started out and found that he had to go into the Spanish language market.  When he was "allowed" to make a record in English, the record company changed his name to Don Edwards.  Of course, in the last ten years or so there are some Latino artists who’ve made it to the mainstream such as Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and Mark Anthony.  (Note that two of these four don't have Latino or Latino sounding last names.)  It’s a step in the right direction that some Latinos are now accepted in the mainstream, but somehow Chicanos are still on the outside looking in.  As far as strategies for young artists, I would only say to keep working on your craft and persevere.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: Your father, Mr. Lalo Guerrero, is well recognized as “Thee father of Chicano Music.” The perks here might be pretty obvious but were there ever any drawbacks to this?

A, Mark Guerrero:  Surprisingly, there were no perks when I was trying to get into the rock & roll business in the late 60s and early 70s.  The mainstream music business didn’t know who my dad was so there was absolutely no advantage.  There is some advantage in the Chicano community because he is an icon there.  But believe me, anything I’ve accomplished in the music business, even in the Chicano music field, has been through hard work and persistence.  Nobody’s going to hand you anything if you don’t have talent. You must be able to produce.  There are drawbacks as well.  People tend to sometimes overlook you because of a more famous father.  It can also be difficult working under a shadow as large as his.  He’s a tough act to follow.  However, I don’t try to compete with him, but do what I do to the best of my ability.  I write, record, and perform my music and try to keep his music and legacy alive at the same time.  I always do a couple of his songs in my set when I’m in concert.  I also devote a lot of space to him on my website. 

 

Q, VirtualChicano: There are so many greats when it comes to Chicano music. Who do you listen to when you feel like relaxing and hearing some really good music?

A, Mark Guerrero:  Of course, I listen to all kinds of music.  In Chicano music, I like to listen to my dad’s music.  I think it’s the best  body of work ever produced by a Chicano artist.  Los Lobos, Tierra. and El Chicano have made some excellent records I like.  I love the music of Hirth Martinez, who’s of Mexican and Basque ancestry.  He’s from East L.A. and made two phenomenal albums for Warner Brothers in the mid-seventies and a couple of albums in Japan in recent years.  He’s a great singer/songwriter and guitarist.  Currently, I like Los Lonely Boys from Austin, Texas.  They’re up for a Grammy for best new artist.  Los Lonely Boys are three brothers (Garza) in their early 20s who can sing, play, and write.  I think they’re the best young band around.    

 

Q, VirtualChicano: Please tell us how the October 16, 2004 Day of the Dead concert at the Anson Ford Amphitheater went.

A, Mark Guerrero:

            It went great.  It was one of those nights where everything fell into place for me and my band, Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán.  We played for almost an hour under a clear, beautiful night sky and every song was enthusiastically received by the audience.  I was in good voice and the band played great.  I did about ten of my songs and, as usual, two of my dad’s.  I also performed a song I wrote for the occasion called “Dia de Los Muertos,” which was the theme of the night.  El Chicano was to follow, but rain suddenly started to come down on the outdoor amphitheater so the rest of the show was cancelled.  I was very disappointed, as was the audience, that El Chicano didn’t perform that night.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: You earned a B.A. in Chicano Studies from Cal State L.A. How big of a role has your education played in your career?

A, Mark Guerrero:  It has played a pretty big role.  It helped influence my songwriting and the somewhat academic approach to my writing on my website.  I say somewhat because I don’t try to make my writings for the website overly academic like a textbook.  I want to make it easy, clear, and entertaining for the reader.  My goal is to get the information across to people of all educational levels.  I got my college education in an unorthodox way which worked out for the best.  I had completed my first two years of college by 1969.  I then dropped out and went on to record for three major labels, Ode, Capitol, and A&M.  Six years after dropping out, I returned to college full time in 1976.  I had a whole new outlook on my education with the six year break and what I’d learned in the interim.  I also had found a subject I could relate to and enjoy, Chicano Studies.  I had written a few songs prior to my Chicano Studies experience that reflected my Chicano roots, “I’m Brown” and “Allesandro” on my first A&M album are examples.  “I’m Brown” had actually first been recorded and released in 1972 on Capitol Records.  “Allesandro” had a bridge sung in Spanish.  However, as a result of my Chicano Studies inspiration, I began to write many more songs with Chicano themes, both musically and in subject matter.  I wrote and recorded songs about the Aztecs and other Pre-Columbian peoples, immigration, Mexican visual artists, cruising the boulevard, and other songs relating to Mexican and Chicano history and culture.  I also began introducing more Latin rhythms and song forms into my music and used more bilingual elements.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: One thing I’ve noticed in your writings is that you and your peers do not seem to be plagued with petty rivalries. How important is it for someone to shed this type of mentality if they are to make it in the music business, especially in Chicano music?

A, Mark Guerrero:  It may appear that way, but unfortunately there are some petty rivalries.  There are a lot of artists who do have very good and mutually beneficial relationships and when many of us get together at concerts where we’re on the same bill, there is a lot of camaraderie and good will.  However, sometimes perhaps because of ego and/or competition, some artists tend to not help each other move ahead in their careers.  It could be that it’s so difficult for Chicano artists to find a niche, that they ferociously guard their turf for fear of losing what they have.  One of the things I’m trying to accomplish with my website is to bring us all together.  I’m trying to help as many Chicano artists as possible, whether they reciprocate or not.  I also want to document what we have accomplished against the odds.  For me, it’s about the music.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: What is “Chicano Alliance”?

A, Mark Guerrero:  The Chicano Alliance was a CD put together in 1998 by Edward Contreras , who at the time owned a label called R-Town Records.  It featured 36 songs by 30 artists including Tierra, Malo, El Chicano, Little Joe y La Familia, and two songs by yours truly.  It was for the benefit of two charitable organizations, Para Los Nińos and the Quetzalcoatl Scholarship Fund.  I don’t think new Chicano Alliance CDs are being manufactured, but copies of it can still be found around the internet, including on amazon.com.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: In what year did Mark and the Escorts begin jamming together?

A, Mark Guerrero:  It started in 1963 as a three piece band called The Escorts, composed of two guitars and drums.  We started out playing mostly surf instrumentals.  By 1964, we were known as Mark & the Escorts and by then were a six-piece band with a vocalist, bass guitar, and tenor sax added.  We did everything from rock to r&b to British Invasion songs.  By 1966, we were an eight-piece band, with Farfisa organ and baritone sax added.  The original nucleus of me on guitar, Ernie Hernandez on drums, and Richard Rosas on bass, stayed together throughout the 60s and into the early 70s.  Mark & the Escorts evolved into The Men From S.O.U.N.D., Nineteen Eighty Four, The Mudd Brothers, and Tango.  Mark & the Escorts recorded two singles on GNP Crescendo Records in 1965.  Nineteen Eighty Four recorded a single for Kapp Records in 1969.  Tango recorded and album and single for A&M Records in 1973. 

 

Q, VirtualChicano: When I first hit your website, I thought Radio Aztlan was internet radio. What is Radio Aztlan and what is the best way to find out about future appearances?

A, Mark Guerrero:  The name Radio Aztlán came from a song I wrote in 1989 about a fictitious Chicano radio station.  It was inspired by a real Chicano radio program with a similar name.  When it came to thinking of a name for my latest band, I used it because it gives the idea of being a voice from Aztlán, the Chicano southwestern U.S.  I also came up with the idea of the logo that goes with it, a pyramid with a radio transmitter on top.  I found out later, that there is a Radio Aztlán radio at UC Riverside.  The DJs and the station have supported me and my music and I’ve supported them too.  The best way to find out about future appearances of Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán is to periodically visit the “what’s new” page of my website, www.markguerrero.com. 

 

Q, VirtualChicano: I have an online mp3 player at planetazteca.com (no longer on line). Do you think you send us a track to upload for fans to hear and if so, which track will you send and why?   

A, Mark Guerrero:  It’s very tough to pick one song, but I would pick from the following three favorite tracks.  “I’m Brown”, which I wrote and  recorded in 1972.  It’s got some good lyrics with a message of brown pride backed by some emotional music.  I think the record has some magic and is one of my favorites.  Another would be “Pre-Columbian Dream.”  I think it’s one of my best songs and recordings.  It was written in 1977, recorded in 1981, and later covered by Herb Alpert instrumentally in 1983.  It’s a love song set in the Aztec pyramids of Tenochtitlán.  A third possibility would be “On the Boulevard,” which was written in 1979.  I’ve recorded four different versions of it since, the last being in 1988.  It reflects the boulevard cruising phenomenon which has been prevalent in many Chicano barrios for decades.  For me in East L.A. in the sixties, the cruising street was the legendary Whittier Boulevard.  “On the Boulevard” has been used in a documentary about Chicano muralists and is still one of the highlights of my live shows.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: How did it feel when Herb Alpert recorded “Pre-Columbian Dream”?  

A, Mark Guerrero:  It’s was a great feeling.  Whenever an artist you respect, records one of your songs, it’s a great feeling of satisfaction for a songwriter.  It’s also always very interesting to see how the artist interprets the song.  It’s always going to be different than the way the songwriter did it.  I’ve recently had songs of mine covered by Chan Romero, of “The Hippy Hippy Shake” fame, and the legendary Trini Lopez.  My dad has also recorded many of my songs over the years.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: My sister, Celia, used to drool over Chris Montez. I’m 44 and I had NEVER seen those photos of Redbone online or anywhere else. Have you ever considered putting a collection of your dad’s momentos together along with some of yours and making them available for public view on tour?

A, Mark Guerrero:  My brother Dan and I would like to eventually put all his memorabilia in a Lalo Guerrero museum.  The most likely place for it would be either his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, East L.A. (where he spent the 1960s and ‘70s), or his current home in Cathedral City in the Coachella Valley.  We’ve already donated my dad’s archives (photos, posters, recordings, videos, etc.) to the University of California at Santa Barbara.  However, that’s more for preservation and research.  It’s not a museum situation.  Currently, some of my dad’s trophies, awards, and copies of photos are in the Cathedral City library.  Also, some of his government proclamations are in the Cathedral City City Hall.  By the way, the street on which the city hall stands is called Avenida Lalo Guerrero.

 

Q, VirtualChicano: What are you working on right now, musically speaking?

A, Mark Guerrero:  I just finished the sessions for the Chan Romero and Trini Lopez  covers of my songs.  I produced and played guitar on both recordings.  I’m also finishing up a song for Carmencristina Morena, who’s one of Chicano music’s finest female vocalists. 

 

Q, VirtualChicano: Our young people have exceptional role models in the music industry. Your father, Mr. Guerrero, was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton. Yet, it seems to me that a lot of Chicano rappers are adrift. We have the role models and we have the young talent. Do you see a gap here and if so, what do you think can be done to help bridge this gap?  

A, Mark Guerrero:  Unfortunately, many young people don’t know the history of Chicano music, which is a great source of influence and inspiration.  That’s one of the reasons I put the time and energy into my website.  I’m attempting to chronicle the history of the artists and the music for the young people and future generations.  My website information will also become part of the archives at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  This will insure the information will survive.  So to help bridge the gap between young artists and the role models, have them visit my website and read up on the history! 

 

VirtualChicano: Thanks again Mark for the interview and for your patience. Please let me take this opportunity to wish you much continued success. Would you like to add any words regarding future appearances, or maybe add a comment?

A, Mark Guerrero:  To keep up with what I'm doing musically, as well as  many other Chicano artists in Aztlán, visit my website from time to time, markguerrero.com.  The website is always being updated with new information and my continuing effort to chronicle the history of Chicano rock and popular music.

<wow, all done J I cannot express my gratitude. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I really wanted to get it right. Thanks Mark,  and please give my best regards to your familia. Daniel H. de la Rosa>

(Note:  VirtualChicano.com is no longer on line)
 

 

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