Monday, June 20, 2011

Mexico Rawks

Radio waves travel in both directions, while the Mexican border blasters were broadcasting country, Jesus and hillbilly blues north, U.S. stations were beaming a steady flow of rock and roll music into Mexico.

The first wave of Mexican rockeros were pretty lame, with few exceptions they were little more than Latino versions of Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson. The music was a steadfast formula of American cover songs, with lyrics that were sometimes straight translations or that reworked the originals. In Mexico, rock and roll was not about rebellion, it was pre-fab, and safe as mother's milk. The Mexican government's influence on most media outlets including major labels and recording studios, meant that everybody played it safe. Nonetheless, movie stars and teenagers alike twisted the night away.

Beatlemania had as big an impact in Mexico as it did in The U.S.  Mexican garage bands caught on quick, covering The Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds & Kinks, not with reckless abandon but with cool precision. The system that produced pop stars in Mexico back then wasn't all that different from the one in England.  Record Producers & Talent Agents sought out talent, groomed and hyped them, and then took their payment in cash and flesh. Just how sick and twisted, the star making process was in Mexico would come to light during the Sergio Andrade, Gloria Trevi scandal in the late 1990's.

Rock and Roll was progressing naturally in Mexico, however, there was social and political dissension brewing that would cause major changes in the music. In 1968, turmoil and student protests surrounding the staging of the Olympic Games swept the country. This led to a brutal government clamp down on protestors, that would culminate with the Tlatelolco massacre at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. With the death toll rising and student leaders being rounded-up, rock music became a unifying force for the counterculture movement, now it was about rebellion. 
The short lived protest movement's death knell came in the form of a three day rock festival held at Avandaro in 1971. Often referred to as "Mexico's Woodstock" it was far closer to Altamont, in both mood and impact. Festival attendees incurred the wrath of the government for a number of reasons (drugs,sex,nudity) But what really drew the ire of  the establishment was the large number of American flags present. Rock music was now public enemy number one, and all musicians connected to student unrest and the counterculture, found themselves blacklisted from government controlled airwaves.  

Los Apson   "No Soy Nada, sin tus besos"

Los Apson started out in 1959, put together by two brothers, Arturo & Francisco Durazo. Raul "El Cubano" Cota, Jose Luis "Lichy" Garcia and Gil Maldonado would round out the group. The name was an acronym for their hometown (Ap, Aguaprieta) and their home state (son, Sonora)  After recording an instrumental rock album, they added Frankie Gamez as vocalist and guitarist. Soon after that, they relocated to the Pacific coast city of Culiacan. They scored a regular gig at The Bonfire Bar and that's where they met Leopoldo "Polo"Sanchez who was the lead singer for Los Sluggers. It wasn't long before they convinced him to join Los Apson, giving them a unique line-up featuring two lead singers.

The band was a human jukebox, capable of playing any song in any style. With Raul Cota writing Spanish lyrics, they covered The Drifters, Roy Orbison,The Tokens, Chuck Berry and even Larry Verne. Then with the influx of British Invasion bands, Los Apson found another source of music to plunder. Their hit streak continued: Suzi Q, Satisfaction (Satisfaccion) Cottonfields (Cuando era un Jovencito) and Michael Row the Boat Ashore (Aleluya) Mr. Moonlight (Triste Luna)    The dynamic of having two lead singers had worked to the band's advantage. But, Frankie and Polo did not like one another, and neither wanted to share the spotlight. In 1964 the tension between them came to a head, with Polo leaving to launch his solo career.
"dame amor sin condicion, dame un poco de satisfaccion "
In 1965 Los Apson earned their first gold record, the future was so bright they had to wear shades (to hide their bloodshot eyes) Arturo Durazo hooked up with iconic ranchera singer Lucha Villa, their torrid love affair became fodder for tabloids.  The entire band was living the dream, mingling with movie stars and partying hard, before long they became known as the bad boys of Mexican rock. The group's reputation preceded them, several of their concert ended in riots with concertgoers wrecking arenas and fighting with police. 

Few Mexican garage bands stuck with rock music long enough to ween themselves of American and British cover songs. Almost without exception they transitioned to other styles in search of a larger audience. Los Apson were moving away from cover songs and rock towards a mature mainstream style. This was reflected by songs like: No Hay Amor and De Hoy en Ocho, both boleros, which has nothing to do with Ravel or classical music. It's a ballad style favored in Mexico where the singer pours out his heart to the girl of his dreams. Fuiste a Acapulco, was pop tropical, a style popular along the Pacific coast and would become the band's best known song. Por Eso Estamos Como Estamos followed the same formula and also topped the charts.


"dime que es mentira tu partida y que me quieres todavia "

It was a rosy jack world, so it seemed, but the thin fabric holding them together was coming undone. Having fickle Frankie as front man proved to be problematic. Gamez, demanded that the band be billed as Frankie Gamez y Los Apson, his band mates rejected his demand. By the end of 1966, Frankie also left to form his own group. The hits quickly dried up, they continued to record for Peerless Records until 1969, but they never had another hit after Frankie Gamez left the group.


In 1966 while hosting a popular television show based in Monterrey, Polo Sanchez scored a huge hit with a cover version of J.Frank Wilson's Last Kiss, called Ultimo Beso. When the show was cancelled after a four year run, he joined El Tribu, a band that mixed hard rock with Chicago style horns. Polo drowned in boating accident in 1974, cutting short his attempt at a comeback.

Frankie Gamez formed his own group Frankie y Los Matadores and enjoyed a run of success, albeit, nothing like that of Los Apson. Their first album featured a very nice cover of The Troggs, With A Girl Like You, and an ill advised version of Whiter Shade of Pale. However, everything they recorded after that was grupero music, a style that would never be mistaken for rock and roll.  

Years of hard drinking and carousing caught up to Arturo Durazo who died from a massive heart attack. His legacy beside having founded one of the top rock bands in Mexico, includes pioneering an oldies circuit that features Mexican rock & roll acts from the 1950's and 60's. This allowed several long forgotten bands to reconnect with their old fans, while introducing their music to a younger generation.

"sin ti, no soy nada, no soy nada"