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Chicano rock is rock music performed by Mexican American (Chicano) groups or music with themes derived from Chicano culture. Chicano Rock, to a great extent, does not refer to any single style or approach. Some of these groups do not sing in Spanish at all, or use many specifically Latin instruments or sounds. The main unifying factor, whether or not any explicitly Latin American music is heard, is a strong R&B influence, and a rather independent and rebellious approach to making music that comes from outside the music industry.
There are two undercurrents in Chicano rock. One is a devotion to the original rhythm and blues and country roots of Rock and roll. Ritchie Valens, Sunny & the Sunglows, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Thee Midniters, Los Lobos, Malo, War, Tierra, and El Chicano all have made music that is heavily based on 1950s R&B, even when general trends moved away from the original sound of rock as time went by.
Another characteristic is the openness to Latin American sounds and influences. Trini Lopez, Santana, Malo, and other Chicano 'Latin Rock' groups follow this approach with their fusions of R&B, Jazz, and Caribbean sounds; but all of the groups and performers have some of these influences. Los Lobos in particular alternates between R&B/roots rock and the Tex-Mex/Latin rock style.
The 1958 hit song "Tequila!" was written and sung by the saxophone player Danny Flores (not to be confused with Danny David Flores, a former member of Renegade) and performed by The Champs. Flores, who died in September 2006, was known as the "Godfather of Latino Rock." One of the most celebrated rock pioneers was the short-lived Ritchie Valens, whose death is marked as the Day the Music Died. Songs by Chicano led bands like Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Wooly Bully" and Question Mark & the Mysterians' "96 Tears", while not by definition "Latin Music", may have a Tejano influence in their whirling keyboard runs and beats.
In the mid-1980s Chicano teen rock band Renegade landed on the international music scene, sporting a combination of heavy metal instrumentation with more pop oriented melodies, resulting in a new sub-genre, termed "commercial metal." The four teens — Kenny Marquez on lead guitar and vocals, Luis Cardenas on drums and vocals, Tony De La Rosa on rhythm guitar and vocals and Danny David Flores on bass guitar and vocals — have been referred to as Chicano rock gods, amongst Mexican-Americans. Renegade or Los Renegados as they are called in Latin-America, went on to sell more than 30 millions units worldwide, with a series of hits in Mexico, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent, the United States.
In places such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, and Dallas and Houston, Texas, the African-American audience was very important to aspiring Latino musicians, and this kept their music wedded to authentic R&B. Undoubtedly, many listeners in the 1960s heard Sunny and the Sunglows "Talk to Me", or Thee Midniters' and more famously, Cannibal and the Headhunters' "Land of a Thousand Dances" and assumed that the groups were black. Dick Hugg (aka Huggie Boy) and KRLA 1110 played a big role in promoting this music. Chicano rock music was also influenced by the Doo-wop genre, an example being the song "Angel Baby" by the Chicana fronted group Rosie and the Originals.
The roots of Chicano rock are found in the music of Don Tosti and Lalo Guerrero ("The Father of Chicano Music") Tosti's "Pachuco Boogie," recorded in 1949 was the first Chicano million-selling record, a swing tune featuring a Spanish rap, using hipster slang called "Calo". Guerrero also adapted swing and "jump" styles to Spanish language recordings—all this as rhythm and blues was beginning to emerge as a forerunner to rock 'n' roll. In the 60s there was an explosion of Chicano rock bands in East Los Angeles. One of the first to have a local hit, and even appear on Dick Clark, was The Premiers, with a cover of a Don and Dewey song called "Farmer John." It featured the beat from the popular hit, "Louie, Louie," which was in turn based on a Latino song, "Loco Cha Cha."
In the early to mid-1960s, the American audience was probably more open to Latin sounds than even today; because of the popularity of bossa nova, bugalú, mambo, and other forms. Also musicians who didn't conform to the rather limited range of early rock could find success as folk performers.
Trini Lopez, whose music was a mixture of folk, lounge pop, and R&B, was able to prosper before the Beatles came to America and Bob Dylan went electric. "Corazón de Melón" takes a Mexican folk tune, and like "Heart of my Heart", makes it into a relaxed, shuffling lounge tune. Trini mainly worked and recorded in a live setting (with a lot of audience participation), and soon the Beatles and The Beach Boys made studio recording effects dominant in rock, unfortunately making Trini's loose, breezy live-in-club style seem old fashioned all too soon.
The British Invasion challenged all American musicians, not just Chicanos. The Sir Douglas Quintet is said to have made the most 'English' sounding American music of the Beatlemania period (actually since the English were playing music that was more rooted in R&B than many white Americans of that time, the Quintet were actually sounding 'English' by keeping to an all-American R&B/Country sound). Indeed, producer Huey P. Meaux put the Sir in the group's name to emphasize the connection, but that was more a marketing change than a musical one. While none of these groups challenged the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for more than a brief time, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Question Mark and the Mysterians, and Thee Midniters made music that was more like that of the British groups than many other American bands, like The Lovin' Spoonful or The Beach Boys. Part of this was their love of pure R&B, and perhaps, in spite of being just as American as anyone else, these bands were treated as "outsiders" to some degree and their music reflects this unconventional point of view. Also, many of these groups produced music on a very low budget, often working on small labels, or even self-producing music; giving some of their work a rougher feel.
Chicano punk is a branch of Chicano rock with bands like Los Illegals, The Brat, The Plugz, Union 13 and the Cruzados coming out of the punk scene in Los Angeles. The rock band ? and the Mysterians, made up of Hispanic American musicians from Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan, was the first band to be described as "punk rock." The term punk rock was reportedly coined in 1971 by rock critic Dave Marsh in a review of their show for Creem magazine. Recent Chicano punk bands include Rayos X, Tuberculosis, Mata Mata, Mugre, Venganza and Asko from southern California, La Grita and La Plebe from Northern California, as well as Los Crudos from Chicago.
Chicano rock, 1990s-present
Many popular Chicano and Chicano-led rock bands began to emerge during the mid and late 90s such as Downset, Spineshank, At the Drive-In, P.O.D., Fenix TX, Unloco, Union 13, Voodoo Glow Skulls, MxPx, Adema, Los Lonely Boys, Aztlan Underground, Ozomatli and The Latin Soul Syndicate. In the early 2000s the progressive Latin-influenced rock band The Mars Volta came onto the scene.
- Loza, Steven Joseph (1993). Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American music in Los Angeles. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ISBN 0-252-06288-4.
- Monsalvo, C. Sergio (1989). La canción del inmigrante: de Aztlán a Los Lobos. Tinta Negra, México, D.F. ISBN 968-6336-01-X.
- Reyes, David, and Waldman, Tom (1998). Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano rock 'n' roll from Southern California. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque [N.M.] ISBN 0-8263-1929-7.
- "articles on Chicano Rock". Guerrero, Mark. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- "Chicano Rock! documentary". Wilkman. 2004. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- The Blendells
- Cannibal & the Headhunters
- Cheech and Chong
- El Chicano
- Los Lobos
- Thee Midniters
- Rocky Padilla
- The Premiers
- Question Mark & the Mysterians
- Rock en Español
- Mexican rock
- Chicano rap
- Latin American music
- Little Ray
- Tex-Mex music
- Brown-eyed soul