At the "Chicano Rock" Documentary Premiere
October 9, 2008
by Mark Guerrero
On Thursday, October 9, 2008, there was a premiere for the
documentary "Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles"
at the legendary Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
The theater, which was opened in 1918 as a movie and vaudeville
house by Sid Grauman, later of Grauman's Chinese Theater fame,
went through many incarnations throughout the 20th century.
In 1945, it began hosting shows which featured great black
artists such as Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Lionel Hampton.
Starting in 1950 it became a film and stage venue for Latin
American audiences, where Latin artists such as Javier
Solis, Maria Felix, Miguel Aceves Mejia, and my dad, Lalo
Guerrero, performed. In 1993, the theater was taken
over by a church and used for religious services until 1998
when it was closed and shuttered. Restoration began
in 2005 and the theater reopened in February of 2008 to once
again be a venue for movies and live shows. The "Chicano
Rock" documentary produced, written, directed, and edited
by Jon Wilkman, had been many years in the making. It
finally has a broadcast date set for December 14, 2008 on
PBS so this event was as much a celebration as a concert and
A live show was organized to go with the screening of the
documentary. It was put together mainly due to the efforts
of Max Uballez, formerly of the pioneering East L.A. band
The Romancers, along with drummer/band leader Robert Zapata
and yours truly. Phil Reyes and his crew did the sound
mixing. The show was hosted by KTTV's Tony Valdez, who
goes back to the golden age of the "Eastside Sound"
when he sold records at the Record Rack on Whittier Boulevard.
I used to buy records from him myself. Valdez is very
intelligent and articulate and always brings a lot of class
to any event with which he's involved and this night
was no exception. Ruben Molina, author of the book "Chicano
Soul," secured the opening band, Pachuco Jose y Los Diamantes,
who dressed in zoot suits and performed two of my dad's classic
recordings, "Chicas Patas Boogie" and the swing-styled
rocker, "Tin Marin de do Pingue." They're
a very good band with the right look, style, and sound to
best put across the pachuco music of the late 40s and early
I came on next backed by Zapata's group, Frankie Garcia's
Cannibal & the Headhunters Band. The band members
were Ron Reyes on guitar, Art Sanchez on bass, Dave Goldstein
on keyboard, and Robert Zapata on drums. When they've
backed me before the keyboardist is usually Karl Carrasco,
but he was unable to make the show due to a previous commitment.
Dave Goldstein, who is also a member of the band had never
played with me before. I e mailed him the songs the
day before the show and he came in and did a great job with
no rehearsal. I also brought in Steve Alaniz to play
tenor sax. I sang and played guitar and keyboard on
the two songs we performed, my dad's "Los Chucos Suaves"
and my song "I'm Brown," which I originally recorded
on Capitol Records in 1972. Rudy and Steve Salas of
Tierra followed with their version of the Righteous Brothers'
"My Babe" and the classic Mexican love song, "Gema."
Rudy played guitar and Steve bass while they sang their beautiful
harmony, backed by Robert Zapata on drums, Ron Reyes on guitar,
and Dave Goldstein on keyboard. These are songs they
did back in the 60s when they were known as the Salas Brothers.
In those days they regularly performed with The Jaguars.
It was like deja vu. I used to perform on the bill with
The Jaguars with the Salas Brothers in 1964 and '65 on the
East L.A. circuit with my band Mark & the Escorts.
Frankie Garcia's Cannibal & the Headhunters Band came
on next, with their lead singer Charlie Muñoz, who sang with
The Ambertones in the 60s. They did a version of James
Brown's "Out of Sight" and closed with "Land
of a Thousand Dances." Charlie went out into the
audience and got Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo, an original
Headhunter, to come up and join them on the song. It
was a great moment. The show was very good and very
well received by the audience.
Tony Valdez interviewed some of the performers on stage in
front of the curtain immediately after their performances,
including yours truly, Rudy and Steve Salas, and Robert "Rabbit"
Jaramillo. He asked me about my website and work chronicling
the history of the "Eastside Sound" and Chicano
music in general. We also talked about the East L.A.
circuit of the 60s and some of the mainstream stars who sometimes
played at some of the venues, such as the Righteous Brothers,
Sonny and Cher (then Cesar & Cleo), The Turtles, and others.
He also spoke with Rudy and Steve Salas about the 60s and
70s music scene in East L.A. and "Rabbit" Jaramillo
about some of his experiences with Cannibal & the Headhunters,
including their 1965 tour with The Beatles. Tony also
brought out Max Uballez for a short interview. Max was
leader of the pioneering East L.A. band, The Romancers, and
a behind the scenes producer of many East L.A. classic recordings
by the Premiers, Cannibal & the Headhunters and others.
Max was also part of the production team for the "Chicano
Rock" documentary and one of the organizers of this event.
The show was followed by the screening of the documentary,
the aforementioned "Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East
L.A." It's is very well done, with first class
graphics and an excellent narration by Edward James Olmos.
The documentary tells the story of Chicano rock, mainly from
what happened in East L.A., beginning with my dad, Lalo Guerrero.
It then follows the story from Don Tosti, Ritchie Valens,
the Eastside Sound of East L.A. of the sixties, the evolution
of Chicano rock of the late 60s and early 70s, the punk scene
of the late 70s and early 80s, and beyond. The story
is put into the social and political context of the times;
the Viet Nam war, the East L.A. riots, and student walk outs.
It also chronicles some of the racism encountered on the road
by some of the Chicano artists in the early 60s. The
artists featured in the documentary, in addition to the ones
just mentioned, are The Premiers, Cannibal & the Headhunters,
Thee Midniters, Mark Guerrero, El Chicano, Tierra, Los Illegals,
The Brat, Los Lobos, Ozomatli, and Quetzal. The documentary
was well received and enjoyed by the audience. After
the screening, a finale of "Land of a Thousand Dances"
was performed by the Headhunters Band, joined by yours truly,
Rudy and Steve Salas, "Rabbit" Jaramillo. and David
Castañeda, who sang with Cannibal in the 70s.
Many musicians with roots in the Eastside Sound of East L.A.
in the 60s were present at the event. These included
Little Willie G., Larry Rendon, and Jimmy Espinoza of Thee
Midniters; Jerry Salas, Bobby Espinoza, and Mickey Lespron
of El Chicano; Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo and Richard
"Scar" Lopez of Cannibal & the Headhunters;
Bobby Hernandez of The Romancers; Henry Hernandez of The Ambertones,
Bobby Delgado of The Exotics; Trini Basulto and Ernie Hernandez
of Mark & the Escorts; Ralph Gandara of Thee Royal Checkmates;
and members of The Showcases, an African-American singing
group, who influenced Cannibal & the Headhunters.
Also in attendance were authors Tom Waldman and David Reyes
("Land of a Thousand Dances"), Steven Loza ("Barrio
Rhythms"), and the aforementioned Ruben Molina ("Chicano
Soul"). It was a great event that was part concert,
part premiere screening, and a hell of a reunion of East L.A.