Monday, 19 January 2009 04:58

Rubén Molina writes book on Chicano rock bands

Latinos have always been part of the larger American music mosaic and now a book finally provides documentation. In this interiew by Ramon Hernandez, Ruben Molina details the contributions to rock by Latino musicians.

By Ramón Hernández

After countless books on California’s East L.A. Sound and its artists, a 55-year-old Californian has closed the gap between Chicano’s rock predecessors and actual first rock bands dating back to the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s all the way up until the early ‘70s giving countless early Texas rock, soul plus rock and roll bands their long due credit and recognition. His name is Rubén Molina.

This is by no means is meant to overlook or be disrespectful to Presidental Scholar Dr. Manuel Heriberto Jasso Peña, Ph.D, who put la onda chicana and Tejano music on the academic map at virtually every college and university across the United States with “The Texas-Mexican Conjunto, History of a Working Class Music,” “Música Tejana” and “The Mexican American Orquesta.”

While Molina’s “Chicano Soul” includes Tejano music pioneers such as Little Joe, Sunny Ozuna, Freddie Martínez, Augustine Ramírez, Rubén Ramos plus other Tejano artists, it is because of their rock’n’roll, soul and rhythm and blues recordings and that’s the extent of the coverage, that’s Molina’s appropriately and justified cut-off point.

For years, Texas soul and rhythm & blues-rooted artists and groups such as Freddy Fender, the Royal Jesters, Sonny Ace, Trini Lopez, Rene and Rene, Sam the Sham, Paula, Question Mark and the Mysterians plus Rudy and the Reno Bops were completed ignored and omitted in books such as “Barrio Rhythm” and “Land of a Thousand Dances” to name two of the books on early Mexican American rock groups.


Others on that list of Chicano groups who never received their due respect and place in musical history are Randy Garibay, the Dell Kings, the Dell-Tones, the Satin Souls (originally Whitie and the Escorts), Charlie and the Jives, Tito and the Silhouettes, the Broken Hearts, Jimmy Casas, Vince Cantú and the Rockin’ Dominos, Sal and the Centennials, Ricky Dávila and the Laveers, Henry (Peña) and the Kasuals, the Óscar Martínez Orchestra featuring Pepe Cavazos plus so many others, just their names alone could fill an entire book. And that’s exactly what Molina did. He filled the void left by many other musicologists.

 “I started collecting 45 rpm records when I was playing drums in Washington Irving Junior High School in Lincoln Heights and they only cost a quarter. That was in 1966 and I never bought albums because I always had this thing for 45s because you got the song that you wanted, it was very personal,” Molina said during an interview at his home in La Puente, California.

“At that time I was into soul, rhythm and blues; and Motown. Huggie Boy was the big DJ in the community and played nothing but R&B that local Chicano bands were recording. All the Chicano groups in L.A. were covering popular R&B tunes and oldies. Very few bands performed Spanish language tunes at the dances, but groups like Thee Midniters, The Romancers, and (Steve and Rudy) Salas Brothers (who later became Tierra) played Spanish-language tunes at wedding and quinceñeras.”

In 1972, Molina joined the U.S. Marines, but he continued to follow and buy musical releases recorded by Chicano rock bands, groups such as Santana, El Chicano, Tower of Power and later Tierra.

Although groups like Rudy and the Reno-Bops, the Dell-Kings (Los Blues), Mando and the Chili Peppers and Sunny and the Sunliners made the long trip to Los Angeles during the fifties and sixties Molina who was eleven-years-old in 1964 and never got a chance to see them until 1980 when East L.A. promoter and owner of Whittier Records Eddie Torres put together a touring group. Along with R&B legends like Tony Allen, Mary Wells, and Brenton Wood, several top Chicano artists as Sunny Ozuna, Rosie, plus Rene and Rene and Thee Midniters filled the bill.

“They met at the corner of Whittier and Atlantic Boulevards in East L.A. that’s where the artists boarded the buses, which took them as far north as San José (California),” Molina recalled. “They carried the Chicano sound to places like Bakerfield, Fresno, Oxnard and Delano where that sound is still popular. When they did their shows at the Montebello Ballroom we got a chance to see some of the great Tejano singers”

Before he knew it, Molina’s collection had grown to over 4,000 (45 rpm) singles mostly R&B,, doo-wop and Soul. The collection also includes approximately 600 recordings by Chicano artist from the 1950s and ‘60s. “Those have become my prized possessions” says Molina “I am really proud of being able to show the world the contributions that the Mexican-American has made to American pop music.”

In 2002, Molina self-published “The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music 1950 – 1975,” which is a 184-page encyclopedia with an alphabetical listing of 75 percent Black, some White and Brown musical groups and vocalists who wrote and created thousands of hits that appealed to the Chicano Low Rider crowd.

Three of those major hits were War’s “Low Rider,” “Cisco Kid” and “Cinco de Mayo,” written by Howard Scott, whose songs were inspired by his years growing up in the mostly Chicano neighborhood of Long Beach, California.

“That book was a tribute to the Low Rider movement and the style of music that it adopted. People were writing books on surf music, punk music and the English invasion. I thought why not us.” Molina said as he thumbed through boxes of 45 rpm records.

As for ‘Chicano Soul,’ Molina said he wrote that book “because there is a need for us to document our contributions to American culture. And to recognize those music pioneers that laid the path for future groups to follow. The book has sold over 1,500 copies in the U.S., Japan and Europe, where there’s a big interest in Chicano culture. I am proud to say that Chicanos here bought the book because they became interested in their own culture.”

Giving credit where it’s due, among the many people Molina cited as helping him when he began to amass all his information on Texas Mexican American groups in 2004 was Juan Mendoza in San Antonio, Joe Sílva, in Dallas; and George Reynoso of All That Music in El Paso.

Locally, Mendoza has been highly instrumental in getting all the artists together for the recent Patio Andaluz Reunion oldies concerts at Plaza Guadalupe and another show at the Josephine Theater. He has also been instrumental in getting Sunny, Rudy Tee and the late Dimas Garza to perform with the Austin-based Larry Lange and his Lonely Knights.

What makes “Chicano Soul” a coveted reference book is that it is chocked full of vintage photos, rare posters and color graphics of groups that produced the “Interstate 90 Sound” from Lake Charles, Louisana to San Antonio. This also translates into a trip down memory lane for the old school crowd and an insightful look at Chicano music history and a source of pride for today’s youth.

As a result, this book has created a demand for Molina to speak at Chicano Studies classes at universities across the country and on February 2, he and members of Los Lobos plus Los Lonely Boys will be the featured panelists at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame symposium on “The Direction of Chicano Music After 1958.”

The event, which begins on January 28th and is being billed as “50 Winters Later,” will be held at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. This is the venue where Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper held their last performance; and the city is the site of their fatal airplane crash.

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