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An Interview with Mark Guerrero

By Al Guerrero (no relation) a.k.a. AlDesmadre for LAeastside.com

(The interview was done by telephone in May 2009.  Introductory paragraphs by Al Guerrero.)

Legends of the Eastside-Mark Guerrero Part 1 

     Once upon a time, during the late 50’s to the 60’s and beyond, weekend nights at Eastside gyms, halls, and youth centers were taken over by dances featuring a young breed of musicians who got on stage and beat out the rhythms of Soul, Blues and Rock & Roll to frenzied crowds of teens making the scene.  That era and that music that became known as “The Eastside Sound” is woven into the historical and cultural fabric of Eastsiders. It has an identity, and a flavor that comes through in a rich shade of brown better heard while cruising in a car, or by spinning some scratchy 45s and dancing with your Haina.

     There have been recent noteworthy chronicles about this Eastside musical heritage such as the book “Land of a Thousand Dances” and the recent video documentary “Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles”. Nevertheless, I have always felt that the Eastside scene was worthy and deserving of something much more in depth. There were overlooked people, places and details that I wanted to help discover, chronicle and preserve for posterity. And, since it doesn’t look like Ken Burns will be undertaking that project anytime soon, I decided to take some steps in that direction on my own.

     I sought someone from that era who could tell me more about it from a front lines, first-hand perspective. “Who could paint a mental picture for me of what those times were like? I asked myself. Then, I recently came in contact with Mr. Mark Guerrero.

It’s a great joy and privilege to have the opportunity to interview you.

LAE: First, I’d like to thank you for the amazing work you’ve done in preserving all of those artifacts from those old days of the Eastside music scene.

Mark: You know what amazes me? How many Chicano music artists that had popular bands back in those days, they don’t have ANYTHING. They didn’t save a flyer, they didn’t even save their own records! How could you make a record and not save at least one? It blows me away. I saved virtually all of the flyers of gigs I did because I had a sense that I wanted to preserve all of this for the future. Thank God I saved everything, little did I know that some of it would wind up in museums and exhibits one day.

LAE: You just may be the one individual from that era that owns the definitive collection of  ELA music scene memorabilia. I was blown away by your website. Thank you for having the forethought to save and preserve these artifacts of ELA music culture history.

Mark: Thank you!

LAE: When I thought of doing this piece, I knew that I could find no better spokesman for that era than you. We’ve all seen the documentaries and books on the ELA music scene, but I wanted someone that was there and could paint a visual picture for us and give us a first hand perspective of what it was really like to be a part of those days. I was personally too young to have participated. But you can tell us what it was like to be a teen on the ELA scene in those days?

Mark: I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of something like that. It was like a little mini renaissance that exploded. I can’t really explain why some things happen in a specific geographical area and why there are so many bands and so much art that pops up at a certain point. But it was one of those magical times and places. One of the key elements was that there were all of these teenage dances. We don’t really get that in other eras. For some reason in the 60’s there were all of these teenage dances.

LAE: That was popularized on TV shows like “Bandstand”….

Mark: Yeah. If it weren’t for that big dance scene and all of these venues that were putting on weekly teenage dance events, where would the bands have played? The band scene got more talent to start coming out and the scene just grew on itself. My band, MARK & THE ESCORTS, we were only 14. 15, 16 years old during that period, ‘63 to ’66,

And we played virtually EVERY Friday and Saturday. We were just kids! 9th graders, 10th graders, you know. And we’d play gigs every weekend and get paid $50, we’d get like $5 or $10 bucks a piece, which at that age was pretty good! As we went on, we started making $40-$50 bucks apiece.

LAE: How’d you guys get gigs booked? Did you have a manager or just network yourselves?

MARK: At first, it was just word of mouth. We’d get around, give out our cards and people would call us. Luckily we got into the cool circuit, and somewhere along the line we got picked up by Billy Cardenas as our manager. He also managed THE BLENDELLS, THE PREMIERS, CANNIBAL AND THE HEADHUNTERS, THE ATLANTICS, THE RHYTHM PLAYBOYS. He probably managed 15 or 20 of the best bands in East L.A. Pretty soon other promoters started calling us and we started working all the venues.

LAE: Did you play all over L.A.?

Yeah. We’d go out and play in Pomona or Claremont, but most of the time it was in ELA. There were certain clubs that we all played like the MONTEBELLO BALLROOM, THE BIG UNION HALL IN L.A., LITTLE UNION HALL IN East L.A., KENNEDY HALL, ST. ALPHONSUS AUDITORIUM. Also places like THE HUNTINGTON PARK BALLROOM, THE ROGER YOUNG AUDITORIUM and THE ALEXANDRIA HOTEL downtown.

At lot of those places at first used to have Mexican & Latin music, then some of the Eastside bands started to come out there and that was a lot of fun.

LAE: Can you give me a mental picture of what it was like inside some of these venues on a typical gig night with all the kids and the bands?

Mark: Every night there would be 4, 5 or 6 bands booked per night per venue. Each band would play like 40 minutes or so, pack up and leave and maybe go do another gig somewhere else. The kids that would come to the shows had their own style. Before the British Invasion, the two main styles were the “Cholo” or “Chuco” look and what was called the “Continental" style.

LAE: Tell me about the “Continental” style.

Mark: HA! HA! Continental that word means European and we took it that some of these styles originated over there. The way WE dressed at Griffith Jr. High and Garfield High School when I was there, the “Continental” kids would wear tight slacks, usually with little slit pockets and we would sometimes make them so fricken’ tight that you could barely get your foot through them! That’s the total antithesis of today’s look with the baggy, oversized clothes. Back then, tight was cool. We’d get these suede shoes with a buckle in green, blue or gray colors. Then we’d have these really cool collarless shirts, very stylish coats with a belt in the back. So people were either “Continental”, or “Cholos" with the khakis and the “Sir Guys”, the “Pendletons” and all that. Those were the two opposing styles, and then there were the “Nerds.” At the dances you’d get a mix of those styles, but with the British Invasion you started getting the look with the mini-skirts and wide belts, bell bottoms, real colorful striped & polka-dot shirts, girls with bangs and guys growing their hair longer. Guys started getting rid of the grease and pomade. About ’65, ’66 the British invasion was in full swing and that influenced the teenagers in East L.A. and the bands. Most of us bands were doing a lot of the typical r&b, soul & doo-wop, but we’d throw in Beatles, Kinks, Animals and the Rolling Stones.

Now, the Beatles were the most popular band in the world at the time, but not all Chicanos in East L.A. embraced them. I did, and as of today they’re still my favorite. But there were a few bands that played Beatles tunes. Our band did, also THE EMERALDS, THE AMBERTONES, THE BLENDELLS and even THEE MIDNITERS did some.

LAE: So the band sets consisted of mostly covers then?

Mark: It was virtually all covers. In the ‘60s, most of the bands were not writing their own songs. Even the ones recording were given songs. Billy Cardenas gave THE PREMIERS “Farmer John” to record, which was a song by Don & Dewey. THE BLENDELLS recorded LA LA LA LA LA by Stevie Wonder. Land of 1000 dances was written by Chris Kenner and Fats Domino and was recorded by CANNIBAL & THE HEADHUNTERS and THEE MIDNITERS. One exception was THE ROMANCERS, Max Uballez and those guys wrote some of their own instrumentals on the “Do The Slauson” and “Do The Swim” albums. Mario Panaqua of THE JAGUARS wrote “Where Lovers Go”, so there was some writing going on, but it was mostly cover material at the gigs. It wasn’t until the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that more artists started writing.

LAE: So most of the guys in these bands were locals from East L.A.?

Yeah. Like CANNIBAL & THE HEADHUNTERS were from the projects. I think it was Ramona Gardens. The Salas Brothers who fronted THE JAGUARS and later formed TIERRA were from Lincoln Heights. I think they went to Lincoln High School.

LAE: What’s your experience with THEE MIDNITERS?

I interviewed Li’l Willy G. a few years ago. It’s funny, the original name of their group was THE GENTILES, which is hilarious.

LAE: You mean like a “non-Jewish” person?

Mark: Yeah! Can you imagine? I don’t know if they even knew what it meant. But it sounded cool. We’re the “GENTILES”. Li’l Willie G was in it and the Ceballos brothers and that group evolved into what became Thee Midniters. Their peak was about ’65 or ’66. They were like “The Beatles of East L.A.” in terms of popularity. They even wore the Beatle haircuts and the cool suits and girls would scream. Willie G. put it this way; “We kind of looked like the Beatles, but sounded like the Stones.” They were more r&b.

LAE: It seemed like the Eastside sound had more in common with the soul and r&b sound than other styles.

Mark: Thee Midniters have a song “Never Knew I Had It So Bad” that sounds more British invasion than most of the stuff they did. Also their recording of “Everybody Needs Someone To Love” they did more like the Stones version than the original r&b version. Also, they weren’t much of a “harmony” band. It was mostly Li’l Willie G on vocals. For a little while, Li’l Ray Jimenez was in the band at the same time and that was pretty awesome. I remember seeing them perform with both Willie and Ray. They were the two best singer/performers around.

LAE: How did the kids in the audience act at these shows you did?

Mark: It was a combination of dancing and rushing the stage when their favorite bands came on. Of course, once in a while a fight would break out! (Ha-ha!)

LAE: Was there much of a hard core fan base or even a “Groupies” scene?

Mark: Well,.. there was always a kind of groupie scene. We didn’t call them groupies in those days, that word didn’t exist in the early to mid-sixties that we knew of. We all knew that if you were in a band you had a good shot at picking up on somebody. And we all had our share. That was part of the appeal of being a musician. In those days when we were younger, it was more of a thing about making out in the parking lot or out in the car. But, uh,….it was very nice and um,…we did very well!

(Laughter)

LAE: Something I’ve always wanted to know.

Mark: Did you ever hear of the term: “Jetters”?

LAE: No.

Mark: Around ’65, there was a certain look girls had and they were called “Jetters”. I don’t know where that came from. If you ever interview another guy from my era, they’ll know what that is and they’ll probably laugh. The Jetters usually had bangs, straight hair almost like a bowl cut, and they wore mini skirts with a big wide black belt with a big buckle and a little tight top and that was the look of a “Jetter”. They were the “hip” girls of that era.

LAE: How would it go down? Would these girls hang out and approach you guys or go backstage?

Mark: Sometimes they’d approach you or sometimes you’d approach them. It was a pretty cool thing to be in a band in those days.

LAE: Any wild scenes ever break out at these gigs?

Mark:  Have you heard of the CYO Hall? We used to play there a lot too. It was on Brooklyn & Gage. Have you ever seen the building? If you ever get a chance, go around the back and go up the metal fire escape type stairs. It’s EXACTLY like it was then, even now. The stage is still there too. I was there in 2002 for a lecture/performance and I could not believe it. A couple of times recently, I’ve gone to East L.A. to visit the old venues. I took a friend of mine who was in the band THE EMERALDS in the 60s. We drove around and we actually got into St. Alphonsus, we walked in and looked around and that stage is still the same. Then we went to the Montebello Ballroom and we told a guy that was opening up, “Hey, you won’t believe it but we used to play here about 40 years ago! He let us in, and that was the same too. There was a stage downstairs and a little stage upstairs. During the shows the band downstairs would finish a set and the band upstairs would start up. They’d alternate so that there was no dead time. So physically everything is the same except that now they have all kinds of stuff on the wall and it’s now more of a Mexican music venue.

LAE: Some things never change.

Mark. Yeah. But at the CYO, I do remember a couple of fights. It’s kind of ironic, you know, CYO, Catholic Youth Organization? But there were at least two or three times where we’d be playing, and then suddenly you’d see a chair fly by and you’d see a fight break out and get bigger and bigger. You’d keep playing usually, but sometimes we’d have to like, go behind the amps and hide back there to avoid getting hit! (Laughs) But I remember hearing about some big fights there. There was a rumor that somebody once got thrown out of the window and landed on a car or something. I didn’t see that myself. It got to a point sometimes where we’d say “Oh, it’s eleven o’clock- a fight’s gonna break out soon!”

LAE: Did you personally ever get physical?

Mark: No, not at any of the dances or with any of the customers. There were a couple of times where I got physical with some of my band members. Like, there’d be some jerk in the band who would freak out. There were a few weird incidents like that. If you had young, hot headed, irrational people in a band, sometimes there’d be fights within the bands.

LAE: What was the drug culture like within the band scene in those days?

Mark: Well, some bands drank a lot, and getting into the late 60’s, pot started to come around for sure. There were pills; reds, bennies, uppers & downers. Back in those days it was mainly booze and uppers and downers. But it all depended you know? Some bands were freakin’ raving alcoholics (laughs). Our band wasn’t. We started out so young doing the circuit, most of our guys weren’t drinking or doing anything at all. We just wanted to play.

There was also an interesting scene in terms of rivalries among the various bands. There was a lot of competition. It wasn’t all peaches & cream. Some bands were friendly with each other and had camaraderie. Especially us. We had the same manager as say, THE BLENDELLS and we got along great with them. I went to high school with a couple of those guys. We played with RONNIE & THE CASUALS, they were real cool. But there were also other bands around which we didn’t really even speak to or meet. It was all a matter of competition. Our main rivals were THE EMERALDS, because they were really good too and also did BEATLES stuff. Then there was a group called THE EXOTICS. They were real interesting. They went to Garfield High, we were the two biggest bands out of Garfield at the time. We’d play at the Garfield High School Sports Night, also assemblies, shows out on the field, and local dances. We were both really great bands but our styles were different. THE EXOTICS were the quintessential ROLLING STONES, KINKS, ANIMALS, and YARDBIRDS type of band. They were very good at the blues-based type of stuff. There were two Delgado brothers in it, Danny & Bobby. Their brother Eddie was the bass player for THE AMBERTONES. To this day there’s a Delgado Brothers Band. So we had a rivalry with them where they’d see us play and do a certain song, then they’d go out and learn it, and vice-versa. I ran into one of them recently and he remembered how one time they saw us and said “Wow! They learned “Day Tripper” by THE BEATLES! What are we going to do now?” THE IMPALAS were also a little bit of a rival. These rivalries would usually drive you as musicians to get better and it kept everybody sharp. BUT, once in a while it went over the line…..

One time we were playing at St. Alphonsus. At that time we were called THE MEN FROM S.O.U.N.D. We were in the middle of a set and everyone’s dancing, it’s all great and BOOM, our power went off and there was just drums playing. It turned out that one of our rival bands pulled the plug on us from behind the stage. The word was that THE IMPALAS were responsible. Another time, we played with THE EMERALDS at Garfield’s Sports Night and we were the band hired for it, playing four sets. It was our gig. But, unbeknownst to me, THE EMERALDS had been hired to play our breaks. So at one point, one of THE EMERALDS came up to us and said “Hey man, let’s share the playing time equally”. We declined because we’d been hired and paid to play four sets, so we were going to do that. So at the end of the night, their two biggest and baddest guys, these two tough looking guys, were waiting outside to jump us! Luckily, we had our own two huge guys that had just hung out to roadie for us that night. They happened to be African-American guys and they were HUGE. So these two rival guys were waiting for us when we walked out with these two big roadies. They took one look at the roadies and just walked away. That sort of neutralized the situation. That’s how emotional and passionate it was, to where they wanted to "kick our asses."

End of Part 1

Legends of the Eastside-Mark Guerrero Part 2

LAE: Were there many girl bands at that time?

Mark: The only girl band I can think of is The Four Queens. In fact, Billy Cardenas managed them. Billy also managed my band, Mark & the Escorts, as well as The Premiers, The Blendells, and many other Eastside bands.  I don’t think The Four Queens made any records, but they used to play shows on the Eastside circuit. We played on the bill with them at St. Alphonsus Auditorium in 1965.  The Sisters weren’t a band, but a three part vocal group like The Supremes, the Arvizu sisters. Ersi Arvizu later became lead singer for El Chicano for a time and has a solo album out now produced by Ry Cooder. She was also on Cooder’s 2005 album, “Chavez Ravine,” which also featured a couple of tracks by my dad. There were other female vocalists in East L.A. back in the 60s, but I can’t recall any other girl bands.

LAE: So how did your dad feel about you and your music and playing in bands?

Mark: He was proud and happy about what I was doing, but was pretty much hands off because he was so busy performing. He had his own nightclub in the 60’s and was sometimes out of town playing shows. However, he did like my band. In fact, when we were about 14 years old he used us in the studio on some of his records and we played at his nightclub a few times for Sunday tardeadas. He also took us on the road a couple of times during that time. We played San Jose, Stockton, Bakersfield, and Indio. We’d open for him and were somewhat of a novelty because we were so young. It was amazing because we were doing rock & roll and surf tunes and the audiences were mostly Mexican, not Chicano! A Spanish speaking kind of audience, but they liked us.

LAE: Did your dad like your music?

Mark: He always praised my songwriting and musicianship. He’d say: “You’re just like me all over again.” We wrote a lot of songs together. I also participated with him in writing a lot of his “Ardillita” children’s songs and arrangements and we recorded and played live events together. In the late 90’s, I formed a band to back him up which we called Lalo Guerrero with Mark Guerrero and the Second Generation Band. We played a bunch of shows and I’m so glad we had a chance to do that. He was already in his early 80’s and we both wondered why we didn’t do it earlier.  You can see a lot of those performances on you tube.  My you tube page is youtube.com/markguerrero49. 

LAE: What was life like at home? Was there much family jamming going on?

Mark: Not so much jamming because when I was younger I was into rock & roll and he was doing his thing, which was totally different. I was doing English language music and his was mostly Spanish. But in the early 70’s, as I got more culturally “Chicano” and wrote songs like “I’m Brown”, pretty soon it all started coming together and we began playing together more and became closer musically. But growing up I did see him around the house writing songs and things like that.

LAE: So did you get started musically by the example of having a musical dad around the house?

Mark: I’m sure it had an effect and an influence on me.  But what really got me started was that in East L.A. in the early 60s, many 12 year olds had guitars. Usually cheap Mexican acoustic guitars you could buy in Tijuana, but it was cool. They’d be out on the porch learning Honky Tonk and La Bamba. I had friends who had guitars like that so I asked my dad to buy me a guitar in Tijuana. On our next trip down there he bought me this little guitar for $8 and showed me a few chords. If you read my dad’s book, “Lalo My Life and Music,” he says that by the time we were driving back home, I was playing and singing “La Bamba.” That’s a true story.

I want to point out that back in the Mark & The Escorts and Men From S.O.U.N.D. days, I never mentioned who my dad was. I kind of hid from it because I didn’t want to use it or benefit from his name. Once in a while a show flyer would read “Mark Guerrero, son of famous orchestra leader Lalo Guerrero” and I’d be mortified, real embarrassed. I just wanted to make my own way and be one of the guys, not the son of a celebrity. When I started recording on major labels in the late 60’s and early 70’s, none of the people at the record companies even knew who my dad was so it wouldn’t have been of any benefit to me anyway in that scene. It was during the late 70’s that my dad started to become more popular with college students and better known in the mainstream. He was also starting to be looked upon as a Chicano icon.  By that time I was doing more Chicano music so our music started to come together to where we could perform “live” together.  I was also more secure about my own work and career that I could embrace it when his name came up in an interview or in publicity in relation to me.  I also realized by then there was no escaping it anyway.  I once heard Ziggy Marley say when asked about his father, the great Bob Marley, that they are one and “it’s all the same man.”  I loved that.

LAE: You definitely proved that you were your own guy musically.

Mark: Thanks.  I’ve worked hard and done my best.

LAE: I noticed that in your background, you spoke of attending Griffith Jr. High and Garfield High. That indicates that you must have lived and grown up in the East L.A. area. I point this out because typically, many Eastside Chicano families who find some measure of success tend to move out of the barrio to places like Montebello, Monterey Park, and beyond.

Mark: Like the Jefferson’s, “movin’ on up?”

LAE: Yeah, it’s seems that your dad kept it ‘real” and maintained his home & family in the old neighborhood.

Mark: There are two reasons for that. One was that we loved it and were comfortable there. It was home and we were happy in the barrio. The second was that as famous as my dad was, he was never wealthy. The Chicano music business was, and still is, pretty limited as to how much money you could make. He wasn’t a mainstream artist like Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. Also, my dad was never a businessman. He was always an artist. A genius with his head in the clouds who only cared about making music and earning a living. He was never out there trying to make millions and he wouldn’t have known how to do it anyway. Amazingly, he never had an agent or a manager. He simply took opportunities that came to him. His whole career was like that and he got ripped off a lot, by record companies, business associates, even family members. For example, when he had a huge hit with “Pancho Lopez” in the 50’s, it was also a hit in Spanish in Mexico, where they even made a movie about it that generated all kinds of money. My dad gave power of attorney to a relative down in Mexico City to collect his money down there and this guy just bought an apartment building and made a nice living off of it. My dad didn’t notice because he trusted his family and was just so busy up here doing his thing that he never thought about it. Ten or fifteen years later my dad discovered that this relative had used the money and never forwarded any of it.

LAE: oh, man…..

Mark: When he was with Imperial Records, he made about 200 recordings for them and helped make the company successful that went on to later sign Ricky Nelson and Fats Domino. My dad used to get $50 a side from them and no royalties. So he’d record four songs at a time, which earned him $200 bucks, which was relatively good money for the late 40’s and he was thrilled to get it. But the company would be selling 50,000 of his records or more and cleaning up. So he got no royalties and they got the publishing rights too. When my dad had his first major success with “Pancho Lopez,” he had two partners who would fly to Europe on an expense account and live it up with the proceeds. I think my dad wound up with $30,000 off of the hit song, with which he bought his nightclub. But he got ripped off left and right because he was not a good businessman and he was trusting. So he never got wealthy, but we were always comfortable. He always made a good living.  I would say we were middle class. We could have moved to a little nicer suburb, but didn’t want to.

LAE: Where exactly did you guys live in ELA?

Mark: It was on McDonnell Avenue between Whittier Blvd. and 3rd Street, north of 6th Street.

LAE: Your dad was obviously a local hero in the community. What was it like for you guys?

Mark: I don’t remember a lot of fans showing up at the door, but I do remember that a lot of people would come over to visit. We also had a lot of celebrity guests come to see my dad, Chicano and Mexican actors and boxers. My Godfather was Enrique Bolanos, the #1 lightweight contender in the world. He always gave me a dollar when he came over, which was a lot of money back then, especially for a 7 year old. He was a really nice guy.

LAE: What’s the status of the house now?

Mark: It’s still there. I was just over there recently. The house is still the same except that the owners grew a hedge that covers the entire front of the house and they put bars on the porch. In the late 80’s, my brother Dan and I went back there to see it and actually had the guts to knock on the door. A lady answered and we told her we grew up in the house and our dad was Lalo Guerrero. She invited us in and we walked through. What a mind blower that was! I lived there from birth to 16 years old and to walk through those rooms we grew up in was pretty profound.  The rooms were the same, but seemed smaller. They didn’t seem so small in our memories. When we were kids, our backyard was big and had a little above ground cement swimming pool, a patio with ivy trellises, an iron framed swing set, and an old incinerator made from a World War II bomb! That’s when it was legal to burn trash. Growing up, that backyard was for me a huge wonderland, even though it was un-landscaped and wild. When my dad made some money with his night club, he had some apartments built in the back, so that was pretty big-time for East L.A.! The building had two units upstairs, two garages downstairs, and a small room also downstairs that my dad used as an office and sometimes a place to escape and write songs.

LAE: What were your favorite neighborhood hangouts growing up? Where’d you go to grab a snack or just go for fun?

Mark: Remember the Hat? The original Hat? And then there was the Monkey-Uddle!!
The original Hat was on 3rd Street and Ford. Right up the street from Humphreys Avenue School. I used to go there as a kid and you could buy 12 hamburgers for a dollar! They were about the size of today’s small McDonald’s burgers. I loved the Hat but the Monkey-Uddle was my favorite! I loved those burgers! It was just north of Whittier Blvd.

LAE: Yeah, I remember that little shack just north of Whittier Blvd. on Kern Avenue.

Mark: They used to have Delaware Punch! Did you ever have that? Oh my God, that was my favorite soda man! It was purple and non-carbonated. I would have a hamburger with a Delaware Punch. Man, I was in Heaven. The guy who used to make the burgers there was a real old white man named “Pops”. He was in his 70’s or 80’s, white hair. There he was in his white apron at the grill. I can still picture him.  He was a really nice guy.

Another fast food favorite of mine was Bea’s El Burrito on 3rd Street as it dips down, between McDonnell Ave. and Arizona Street. My thing was their taquitos de guacamole. Man, you’d get six for a dollar. I’d go there all the time. My family did all of our shopping in ELA. I’d go with my mom to Kress, J.C. Penny, and Jonson’s Market.  To answer the other part of your question about where I went for fun, when we were kids my friends and I would go to the “plunge,” the public swimming pool by St. Alphonsus church on Atlantic Blvd.  I also played little league baseball at Belvedere Park and Rosewood Park. My dad would also take me and a bunch of my friends to play football and baseball at Garfield High School on weekends. Of course as we got into our teens we went to house parties and local dances.

LAE: Also, the Center Theater had a snack bar & grill that you could access from the street.

Mark: Yeah, the Center Theater was the funkiest of the three theaters on Whittier Boulevard. It certainly wasn’t the cleanest. But we still went there. Of course, the other two theaters were the Boulevard Theater and the Golden Gate Theater on the corner of Whittier & Atlantic, which was the nicest one. I remember seeing The Beatles movie, “A Hard Days Night,” at the Boulevard Theater.  I also played there with Mark & the Escorts on the bill with Little Ray & the Progressions in front of the screen before the movie. Another fast food favorite of mine was Bea’s El Burrito on 3rd Street as it dips down, between McDonnell Ave. and Arizona Street. My thing was their taquitos de guacamole. Man, you’d get six for a dollar. I’d go there all the time. My family did all of our shopping in ELA. I’d go with my mom to Kress, J.C. Penny, and Jonson’s Market.  To answer the other part of your question about where I went for fun, when we were kids my friends and I would go to the “plunge,” the public swimming pool by St. Alphonsus church on Atlantic Blvd.  I also played little league baseball at Belvedere Park and Rosewood Park. My dad would also take me and a bunch of my friends to play football and baseball at Garfield High School on weekends. Of course as we got into our teens we went to house parties and local dances. 

LAE: Where’d you buy all of your hip clothes?

Mark: The clothing stores that were real hip when I was in junior high were Kirby’s, Gold’s, and Roberts. I’d sometimes go downtown to Flagg Bros. to get the latest shoe styles. The record stores were the Record Rack, Record Inn, and Story Music. Story music was the most conservative, a traditional music store with instruments for sale, records, and music lessons in the back rooms. The Record Inn was all records. I remember the owner Mike Carcano. He was the guy you went to because he got joy out of having the rare records that nobody else had. You could order anything and he’d get it for you. The Record Rack had Tony Valdez behind the counter. He had a lot of the Eastside sound records over there too. Tony went on to be a popular newsman and television personality. I patronized all three record stores.

LAE: What about the Sound of Music store?

Mark: That record store didn’t come into being until after I moved out of East L.A. I go there now whenever I visit East Los Angeles.  They have a great selection of CDs and vinyl and a lot of “Eastside Sound” recordings.

LAE: Did you ever participate in the cruising scene on Whittier Blvd.?

Mark: Yes, I did. The height of it was around ‘64 to ’67. In the mid 60’s it was just jammin’. I was the perfect age to go cruising in my own car. Sometimes I’d go with my bass player Richard Rosas, who is now Neil Young’s bass player. He had a cool ’57 Chevy. I had a ’62 Impala, two tone turqouise and white. We’d cruise up & down, usually in his car, with the music blaring. The guys were mainly there to meet girls and show off their cars of course. By ’67 we were getting into the hippie phase, growing our hair long, starting to smoke pot, and listen to the Doors and Buffalo Springfield. So, one night we went cruising down there and the cops stopped us and started harassing us mainly because we had long hair. I remember the cop shouting to one of the guys in our car, “you look like an animal”. That was pretty scary. Luckily they didn’t beat us or arrest us, but they did verbally abuse us. That was the only bad experience I ever had cruising the boulevard.  Overall it was a great experience, which I tried to capture years later with my song “On the Boulevard.”

LAE: Tell me about the “Eastside Sound” as it moved into the 70’s and 80’s.

Mark: With me, I was part of the Eastside sound starting about ’63 with Mark & The Escorts and then we became The Men From S.O.U.N.D. in ’66. By the late 60’s, we started going west and playing at clubs like Gazzarri’s and other Hollywood venues away from the Eastside scene. Then we recorded for Kapp Records (MCA) in 1969. What happened in the early 70s was many of the bands and musicians with roots in the 60s “Eastside Sound” evolved into bands like El Chicano, Tierra, Macondo, Yaqui, and my band, Tango.  The late 60s/ early 70s was the period when many bands from East L.A. began to “Latinize,” bringing in Latin percussion, starting to sing some songs in Spanish, and having names that reflected our heritage. All the bands I just mentioned also secured major label record deals.  In the late 70s/early 80s, bands like Los Illegals, Los Lobos, The Brat, The Plugs, and Odd Squad emerged. I knew some of the guys from Los Lobos and played with Los Illegals in 1985, but only heard about the other bands.

LAE: I’ve always felt that arts & culture from the Eastside is worthy and deserving of its own shrine here in Los Angeles. Hopefully we’ll see it happen in our lifetime.

Mark: Hopefully, there will be a museum in East L.A. someday.  Meanwhile on the music side, documentaries like “Chicano Rock: The Sounds of East Los Angeles” are good even though they’re somewhat limited. They can only give so much information in an hour or whatever allotted time they’re given. The same with books such as “Land of a Thousand Dances,” which have space limitations in regards to number of pages and number of photos. There are so many people that are truly deserving of recognition who should not be forgotten. That’s one of the reasons I try to write about as many deserving artists as I can on my website, markguerrero.com. I’m doing my best to keep Chicano music and the “Eastside Sound” flame burning.

LAE: Thank you Mark, for your time and memories.

Mark: My pleasure.
 

 

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Mark Guerrero
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