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The Opening of the "American Sabor" Exhibit in Seattle:  October 12, 2007

by Mark Guerrero

     On Friday, October 12, 2007, I flew up to Seattle, Washington for the opening of the exhibit "American Sabor:  Latinos In U.S. Popular Music" at the Experience Music Project Museum.  I was on the advisory board for the exhibit and a consultant for the Los Angeles section.  Words cannot describe the museum building, outside or inside.  It's an architectural marvel dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, who was born in Seattle, and was designed by the famed architect, John Gehry.  The word "Experience" in Experience Music Project comes from the name Jimi Hendrix "Experience."  I can only say that the modern, organic and wildly creative nature of the building, particularly on the inside, gives one the feeling that they could be having a very positive hallucinogenic trip.  That night was the V.I.P. party and the pre-opening viewing of the exhibit.  The party was held at the museum in the "Sky Church" room, which is huge.  It has a large stage with excellent sound and lighting systems.  The term "Sky Church" was used by Jimi Hendrix to describe a place for people to gather together spontaneously to make music.  I couldn't possibly describe the Sky Church and do it justice, but I came across an article written by an architectural writer that does a pretty good job of it.  This is how it's described in the Architectural Review by Catherine Slessor:  "Clad in the stainless steel dipped in an acid bath to generate a luscious purple iridescence, the Sky Church forms the shimmering, voluptuous heart of the building. Red and sky blue enameled aluminum panels, bead-blasted gold-tinted stainless steel, and matt stainless-steel cladding are employed on the other volumes, piling on the polychromy."  She also refers to it as "an architectural acid trip."  Getting back to my first "experience" in the Sky Church, a great Latin band from New York called Joe Santiago and the Salsa All Stars played while guests ate from a buffet and enjoyed the music.  Behind the band is a giant screen (40 ft. by 70 ft, the world's largest) on which images were projected.  The images were of photos and album covers of various artists who are in the exhibit.  It was amazing to see a photo of my dad, Lalo Guerrero, playing an acoustic guitar at such a large scale.  I also saw my own solo album, "On the Boulevard," as well as albums by friends of mine like The Romancers, The Premiers, and other bands from the East L.A. music scene of  the 60s.  To see these images so large while a great salsa band was playing in such an incredible, other-worldly room and building, was surreal, satisfying, and somewhat emotional.

     That night I met the three University of Washington faculty members, who were instrumental in spearheading the effort to have Latino music in the U.S. be the subject of an exhibit at the prestigious museum.  They were guest-curators Michelle Habell-Pallán, an associate professor of women studies (formerly with American ethnic studies); Shannon Dudley, am associate professor of ethnomusicology; and Marisol Berríos-Miranda, who has taught ethnomusicology, music education and Latin American studies.  Michelle is a Chicana from Los Angeles, Shannon an Anglo-American steeped in Latino culture, and Marisol a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent.  They worked very hard to help make the exhibit come to fruition.  Marisol was of particular value in the New York part of the exhibit, an area where she has a special connection and expertise, while Michelle made a special contribution in the area of the Los Angeles punk scene of the 80s, a scene she experienced first hand.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Santana.  Coincidentally, as I was leaving the hotel for the V.I.P. party, I ran into Jorge in the lobby, who happened to be with a gentleman I had met at a Cesar Chavez Foundation Dinner in Los Angeles a few months prior.  He introduced me to Jorge and we rode in the same cab to the event.  Jorge was to get up and jam that night with the salsa band and make a good accounting of himself.  I also had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time, author Pablo Yglesias.  I had been talking with him on the phone and exchanging e mails in regards to the "album cover wall" for the exhibit that he was in charge of putting together.  I loaned him several album covers that he chose from my collection for the display, including three of my dad's (Lalo Guerrero); "Torero," "Los Exitos de Lalo Guerrero," and "El Celoso y La Celosa," two of mine; "Tango" and "On the Boulevard," Tierra's first album entitled "Tierra," "Eddie Cano at P.J.'s," and an album cover and 45 record sleeve by Los Illegals, "Internal Exile" and "El Lay."  I also borrowed an album cover of East L.A.'s Village Callers' 1968 album "Village Callers Live" from the keyboardist of the band, Johnny Gonzalez.  It was an album cover Pablo was looking for that I was able to find for him.  Pablo Yglesias, who's Cuban-American and a graduate of Brown University, had compiled a book of Latino-American album covers called "Cocinando! - Fifty Years of Latin Album Cover Art," published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2005.  I had seen it in a local Palm Springs Latino book store and had browsed though it about a year before our paths were to cross.  He has since graciously sent me an autographed copy of it.  Pablo also was the DJ for night, playing some great Latino music when the band wasn't performing.  Also at the event was Ruben Molina, author of the books "The Old Barrio Guide To Low Rider's Guide To Music- 1950 - 1975" and "Chicano Soul."  I had met and spoken with Ruben on several occasions in L.A., but got to know him over the two days I was in Seattle because Ruben, Pablo, and I hung out quite a bit.

     During that first night, I got my first look at the exhibit.  As one enters, the first part of the exhibit is the Los Angeles section, the part for which I was a consultant.  On a wall to the left are blowups of photos of a young Don Tosti playing the upright bass, Lalo Guerrero with his band in the 50s, and a flyer I contributed from the "West Coast Eastside Revue" show at the Shine Auditorium in 1965.  All these images were enlarged to approximately 4 ft. by 5 ft.  It was a good feeling to see the images on such a scale, particularly because I knew the late Don Tosti very well; the second photo was of my father, who passed away in 2005; and the flyer had the names and photos of singers and musicians I performed with in the 60s and at that very event with my teenage band, Mark & the Escorts.  It all hit close to home.  A glass case under the photos on the wall had artifacts such as Chan Romero's 45 rpm record of his classic, "The Hippy Hippy Shake," the itinerary for The Premiers first tour (provided by manager Billy Cardenas), several of the flyers I provided from the 60s East L.A. music scene that featured bands such as Thee Midniters, Little Ray & the Progressions, The Righteous Brothers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, The V.I.P.s, The Ambertones, Mark & the Escorts, The Men From S.O.U.N.D. (my second band of the 60s), and many others.  Venues where the dances on the flyers took place include the Big and Little Union Halls, St. Alphonsus Auditorium, The Montebello Ballroom, East L.A. College Auditorium, and the Shrine Auditorium.  I also loaned a 1965 "Survey of Hits" flyer from KRLA radio, which was one of the two major rock stations in Los Angeles.  Also in the glass case were five band cards of the era I contributed, including the original card of Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, The Blendells, The Jaguars, and Mark & the Escorts.  I also loaned a business card for Faro Productions, which was the production company of producer and record company owner, Eddie Davis.  In the middle of the Los Angeles section of the exhibit are vertical glass cases.  One has a vest and guitar which belonged to the late Ritchie Valens and another has a mariachi costume worn by Linda Ronstadt on her "Canciones de Mi Padre" tour in the 80s.  Another wall in the L.A. section has memorabilia representing El Chicano, Tierra, The Midniters, and others.  There is also a guitar belonging to Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos and original manuscripts of lyrics to two Los Lobos songs, including "Will the Wolf Survive."  Yet another wall in the middle of the space has posters and other artifacts representing the L.A. punk scene of the 80s, which includes items from Los Illegals, The Brat, and others.

     Around the first corner to the left is the album wall put together by the aforementioned Pablo Yglesias.  It has album-sized scans of approximately 100 record album covers, West Coast artists on the left and those from East Coast on the right.  The covers I provided were included on the wall, including my "On the Boulevard" EP and "Tango" LP, which was a rock/country rock album I made with my 70s band, Tango on A&M Records.  Attached to the wall are small mp3 players containing a song from selected albums that can be heard with headphones that are provided.  My albums are represented by my songs "On the Boulevard" and "I'm Brown."  There is also a kiosk where you can push buttons  and hear selected songs such as "Angel Baby" by Rosie & the Originals, "Viva Tirado" by El Chicano, "Suavecito" by Malo, and "El Lay" by Los Illegals.  There is also a computer screen where you can push buttons and see and hear interviews that I conducted with artists such as Rudy & Steve Salas of Tierra, Fred Sanchez of El Chicano, Little Ray Jimenez, Willie Herrón of Los Illegals, The Premiers, manager Billy Cardenas, and others.  Also included is a video clip of yours truly talking about what musically made up the "Eastside Sound" of the 60s.  I interviewed a dozen people for the museum.  The longer versions of the interviews will also be part of the museums permanent oral history archives.  There's also a video montage of selected bands and recordings from the mid-60s East L.A. music scene and a screen where one can see video performances of various artists, including one of my dad, Lalo Guerrero, singing his classic "Cancion Mexicana" with a mariachi.  Past the Los Angeles section of the exhibit, one can see sections on San Francisco, San Antonio, New York, and Miami.  I will not cover the details of those sections of the exhibit because I was not involved with those parts and don't have the same knowledge or expertise in those areas.  Suffice it to say that the other city sections of the exhibit are equally interesting and important.  I would also hope that you can experience the exhibit for yourself.  It will run through September 7, 2008 at the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, after which it will travel to San Antonio, Miami, Los Angeles, and other cities for thirteen week runs.  It's a world-class exhibit which gives great respect and honor to Latin music in the U.S.  It also gives a well-deserved legitimacy to our music by displaying its history in such a first-class and serious way in a major museum.

     The next morning Pablo, Pablo's former college roomate, Ruben and I had breakfast at the historic Pike's Place Market area in downtown Seattle.  It's the area which gave birth to the original Starbuck's, which is still there and in open for business.  We then made the long walk back to the museum to listen to some scheduled musical performances in the "Sky Church."  Performing were a salsa band called Tumbao and Totiyo y Amigos, an band made up of adults fronted by a 12 or 13 year old guitarist.  Most interesting was a demonstration performance by Michael Shrieve and Michael Carabello, Santana's original drummer and conguero.  They were accompanied by bassist Alphonso Johnson, who played on Santana's Abraxas album, and Adrian Arias, the son of Santana's original timbalero, Chepito Areas.  Michael Shrieve had the engineer running the board play a segment of Tito Puente's original version of "Oye Como Va" and then explained how the Santana band adapted it to their own style.  The rhythm section then played it the way they originally recorded it.  He did the same with "Black Magic Woman," first having the engineer play Fleetwood Mac's original version and then playing it the way they did it with Santana.  Shrieve and Carabello played as great as ever and Alphonso laid down the bass the way it should be done.  Adrian Arias, like his dad, is a phenomenal timbale player.  The four musicians tore it up musically and made for a very informative and entertaining presentation.  After the afternoon's performances, many of the musicians who had performed that day and the previous night, as well as  people involved in putting the exhibit together, gathered for some talk and drinks at a bar in the museum.  The exhibit's curator, Jasen Emmons, was there, as well as Marisol Berrios-Miranda, Pablo Yglesias, Ruben Molina, and many others.  I had the pleasure of meeting and complimenting Michael Shrieve on his extraordinary playing.  I had first seen him perform with Santana in the Woodstock movie in 1970, so to see him playing in person and better than ever thirty seven years later was quite amazing.  I also had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with a couple of salsa singers, Joe Santiago and Willie Torres from New York who had both sung with Tito Puente and other top salsa bands in the 50s and 60s.  I had an extraordinary experience in Seattle, seeing the magnificent exhibit, hearing some fantastic Latino and Latin-American music, and meeting and hanging out with some great and talented people.  I highly recommend "American Sabor: Latinos In U.S. Popular Music" and hope you get to experience it at one of cities where the exhibit will be on display.  If it goes according to plan, the exhibit will be running at various venues well into 2010.


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