Sunday, July 3, 2011

Los Rockeros

Rock & Roll really took off in Mexico during 1959 & 1960, that first wave of bands was influenced by Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry & Little Richard. The second wave of bands hit in 1964 and they were heavily influenced by La Ola Inglesa (British Invasion) and American garage punk. The eras overlapped, the more talented bands took the change in stride, switching from Presley and Orbison covers to The Beatles and Stones without missing a beat.    

This is the second in a series and covers some of the pioneering rock & roll bands in Mexico. This isn't a definitive history of Mexican rock and roll bands. I've barely scratched the surface, for those interested in that genre there are some excellent blogs that are more informed and detailed. If you can read Spanish there's no problem, but if you're like me and have to rely on Google Translator....I wish you luck.


"Todos hablando de hombres ilustres y de Elvis Presley nadien habla jamas"
Los Teen Tops   Presumida
                                          Los Black Jeans/Los Camisas Negras/Cesar Costa
They started out as Los Black Jeans in 1958. With seventeen year old lead singer Cesar Roel, making all the girls go crazy with Spanish versions of American hit singles. They signed with Peerless Records and recorded their debut album in 1959, (world renowned tenor Placido Domingo was a backup singer on that recording)  Then they jumped to Musart Records and changed their name to Las Camisas Negras (The Black Shirts) Cesar Roel re-invented himself as Cesar Costa (in honor of music arranger Don Costa) Their music also changed as they went from covering Elvis to covering Fabian and Nat King Cole. Cesar Costa didn't take long to shuck his partners and go solo. He rapidly metamorphosed into the slick pop singer, television personality and movie star that has made him an entertainment icon in Mexico. 

                                                     Los Teen Tops/Enrique Guzman
Los Teen Tops formed in 1958 and shot to fame following an appearance on some CBS radio program broadcast in the U.S. Los Teen Tops were one of the few Mexican bands that "got rock & roll." It also helped that lead vocalist Enrique Guzman was one of the better Spanish language rock singers of that era. They hit the charts with their versions of Rock de la Carcel (Jailhouse Rock) La Plaga (Good Golly Miss Molly) Presumida (Stuck Up)  Popotitos (Bony Moronie) Los Tops rose to the top, leaving their competitors in the dust. Enrique Guzman would also turn his back on rock and roll to become a pop star, television host and star of the big screen. Effectively stopping the group's progress dead in its tracks. He was replaced by American singer Ken Hall (who sang in Spanish) Los Teen Tops became little more than a lounge act after that and faded from the music scene.


                                                    Los Hooligans/Ricardo Roca
Los Hooligans were not ruffians, they were clean cut young men who named themselves after a group that helped liberate Poland from the Nazis. Los Hooligans formed in 1960 and gained notoriety by winning a battle of the bands staged in Mexico by Columbia Records. Los Hooligans featured one of the most memorable voices in Spanish language rock: Ricardo Roel, the younger brother of Cesar Costa. There were two versions of the band, the first featured Ricardo, who would later change his name to Ricardo Roca. Then after Roca left to pursue a solo career, the second version featured Johnny Ortega as lead singer, very distinct vocalists.  The band's biggest hits were Despeinada (Tousled) Agujetas de color de Rosa (Pink Shoe Laces), Al Final (The End) Acapulco Rock and the delightfully weird Juanita Banana. Drummer Micky Salas who joined in 1963, later emigrated to the U.S. and became the drummer for famed 60's blues/boogie band Canned Heat.


                                   Los Rebeldes del Rock/ Tono de la Villa/Johnny Laboriel
Formed in 1957, as The Kings of Rock, they changed their name to Los Rebeldes del Rock (The Rebels of Rock) at the suggestion of a concert promoter. The early history of rock music in Mexico can be traced by a list of the band's lead singers. Los Rebeldes started out with iconic rock singer Tono de la Villa, who left to form Los Locos del Ritmo. Tono was replaced by Sammy Fournier, an adequate singer who was featured on the band's early recording. Eventually, tension between Fournier and the three Tena brothers who had founded the band (Americo, Waldo & Polo) would lead to Sammy's departure. Los Rebeldes were a mundane group of musicians, who covered American rock songs while offering nothing original or groundbreaking. That would change to some degree with their next lead singer, Johnny Laboriel.  No other lead singer could compare to Johnny, his vocals cut across language barriers. He was a natural rock & roll singer, also he was black which made him very recognizable in what was otherwise a racially homogenized scene. They recorded mostly American cover songs that showcased Laboriel's vocals, La Hiedra Venenosa (Poison Ivy) Melodía de Amor, (Melody of Love) La Chica del Calendario (Calender Girl) However, they never rose above being just a cover band. Los Rebeldes would keep going well after Johnny left to pursue a solo career in 1964.

       Los Locos del Ritmo/ Tono de la Villa
Formed in 1957 by Jorge Negrete and Tono de la Villa they rose to fame after a television appearance on Ted Mack's Amatuer Hour. Lead singer,Tono de la Villa gave Los Locos a distinct voice that set them apart. Tono also did what no other Mexican singer dared: he sang in English. This caused a sensation, even if his delivery and pronunciation were a bit odd. Los Locos also penned their own original songs, the band's biggest hit, the often covered "Tus Ojos" was written by group member Rafael Acosta. Los Locos also topped the charts with "Polvora" and "Chica Alborotada" and like everyone else they covered their fair share of American hit songs. In 1962 Tono de la Villa became ill and was rushed to a hospital in El Paso,Tx.  He was diagonsed with advanced throat cancer, and passed away a few weeks later. Mexican rock & roll fans were stunned, his passing had the same effect as that of Buddy Holly in the U.S.  For the duration of the 1960's they went through a series of lead singers and styles ranging from British Invasion pop to surf.  As the 1970's rolled around they were calling themselves Los Locos and playing psychedelic rock. To their credit they outlasted most of their contemporaries and over the course of their career actually showed some progression.