Chicano Rock

Chicano rock is the distinctive style of rock and roll music performed by Mexican Americans from East L.A. and Southern California that contains themes of our cultural experiences. Although the genre is broad and diverse, encompassing a variety of styles and subjects, the overarching theme of Chicano rock is its R&B influence and incorporation of brass instruments like the saxophone and trumpet, Farfisa or Hammond B3 organ, funky basslines, and its blending of Mexican vocal stylings sung in English.

The famous pioneers of the genre are Ritchie Valens -- the first Mexican-American star and one of The Beatles’ major influences, who died at 17 in the 1959 plane crash that also claimed Buddy Holly -- and Sunny & the Sunglows, who formed the same year Valens died.  Teenage Chicana vocalists like Rosie Mendez-Hamlin of Rosie and The Originals inspired the likes of John Lennon with her hit “Angel Baby.”

Chicano rock, like early rock and roll music, adopted the rhythm and blues-based style of African American music and utilized a then little-known new instrument, the electric guitar.  It also melded influences from Latin American music and included themes of the Chicano culture of the southwest.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Don Tosti and Lalo Guerrero used jump blues as a platform to develop what would become Chicano rock.  In the early 1960s scores of teenaged bands with dreams of becoming as famous as Valens practiced their chops in weekly battle of the bands hosted at churches, high schools and union halls. Noting the unique Latino feel to the way these bands played R&B, manager/producer Eddie Davis dreamt of creating a Latino-flavored Motown on their Rampart Record label.  The label bore three Chicano rock national hits:  “Farmer John,” “La, La, La, La” and “Land of a 1000 Dances.”  These hits, including “Whittier Boulevard” by Thee Midniters, influenced garage bands around the country and popularized the inexpensive farfisa organ used by other Mexican American-led bands like Michigan-based ? (Question Mark) and The Mysterians.

In the 1960s and '70s, Chicano popular groups like The Cannibal and The Headhunters, The Premiers, The Blendells, Sir Douglas Quintet, Thee Midniters, Los Lobos, El Chicano and others sustained the Chicano rock genre.

Evolving over the years, it is still present in many forms today from more traditional groups reminiscent of the early pioneers, like Los Lonely Boys to progressive artists like Quetzal, Rage Against the Machine, Mars Volta, and Texas-based Girl In A Coma among others. In its multiple incarnations, Chicano rock remains at the forefront of popular rock and roll music.

Girl In A Coma
Influenced by their conjunto musician grandfather, Selena, and Chicana punks of the 1970s and 1980s,...more »
Linda Ronstadt
Previous generations of Mexican American artists felt compelled to disguise their ethnic roots....more »
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
In 1962 while watching a bullfight in Tijuana, Mexico, Jewish trumpeter and A&M Records co-founder...more »
The Bullfight
In 1962, while watching a bullfight in Tijuana, Mexico, Jewish trumpeter and A&M Records co-...more »
El Monte Legion Stadium, San Gabriel Valley, 1960s
Teenagers of all races from all over Los Angeles flocked to dances featuring Eastside bands at the El...more »
As pre-teens, brothers Rudy and Steve Salas played in the Greater Eastside community rock ‘n...more »
El Chicano
El Chicano had a hit in 1970 with Viva Tirado. The song takes a jazz instrumental, adds an intense...more »
Mexican-American Rock: Land of a Thousand Dances
By the mid-1960s, East L.A.’s “Eastside sound” captured the attention of the nation...more »
East L.A.-based band Quetzal mixes Mexican and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, R&B, and alternative rock....more »
Los Illegals
In the early 1980s Los Illegals spotlighted the lives of undocumented workers via punk music. The band...more »
Rosie Mendez-Hamlin
In 1959, 14 year-old Mexican American Rosie Mendez-Hamlin wrote the melody and lyrics for Angel Baby....more »
Los Lobos
Los Lobos is one of most original, eclectic, and commercially successful Mexican American bands to...more »
Los Lobos Poster
Los Lobos helped East L.A.’s signature sound gain international attention....more »
Lyrics to "The Neighborhood"
Lyrics written by Louie Perez of Los Lobos....more »
Ritchie "Valenzuela" Valens' 1958 hit Donna, based on a cross-cultural love affair,...more »
Ritchie Valens
Born Richard Valenzuela, Ritchie Valens was the first Mexican American rock star, with four hit...more »
Canciones de mi Padre
Backed by Mariachi Vargas, one of Mexico’s finest mariachi bands, Linda Ronstadt’s Spanish-language...more »
Lysa Flores
Lysa Flores -- the former lead-guitar player for L.A. punk-pioneer Alice Bag's all-female group,...more »
Lalo Guerrero
Known as the “Father of Chicano Music,” Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero has a long...more »
East Side Revue Poster
The West Coast East Side Revue at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Featuring Cannibal and the...more »
Memory Dance Poster
In the early 1960s, the “Eastside sound” referred to the way Mexican-American teenagers in...more »
St. Aphinsus Youth Club Presents:
Teen Dance & Show...more »
The Latin Grammy Awards
Debuting in 2000, The Latin Grammy Awards honor artistic and technical excellence in the recording arts...more »
Los Illegals
Los Illegals, formed in 1979, were an instrumental Chicano band in the vibrant east L.A. punk scene of...more »
Mark Guerrero and Tango
Mark Guerrero with Chicano Rock band Tango....more »
Left to Right: Ernie Hernandez, Richard Rosas, Mark Guerrero, and John Valenzuela...more »