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Chicano rock

Chicano Rock Music is rock music performed by Mexican American 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 did not sing in Spanish at all, or use many specifically Latin instruments or sounds, at least on what little we have heard. 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 and the Sunglows, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Thee Midnighters, and Los Lobos all have made music that is heavily based on 1950’s 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 Latin rock style.

Even such songs like Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs “Wooly Bully” and ? and the & Mysterians’ “96 Tears”, while not by definition “Latin Music”, may have a Tejano influence in their whirling keyboard runs and beats.


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 1960’s heard Sunny and the Sunglows “Talk to Me”, or Thee Midnighter’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” and assumed that the groups were black.

In the early to mid 1960’s, 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, Q and the Mysterians, and Thee Midnighters 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.

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