Wax Poetics - Bittersweet Harmony - Lowerider

Wax Poetics - Bittersweet Harmony - Lowerider

Wax Poetics - Bittersweet Harmony - Lowerider

From the late 1950s to present day, doo-wop and sweet soul has been the unofficial soundtrack of the Chicano experience. Coming out of a landscape of racial inequality, Chicano lowriders found that these sentimental R&B ballads spoke volumes. Playing a crucial role in Art Laboe’s “Oldies But Goodies” radio broadcasts, California Chicanos loyally dedicated songs through the bad and the good—breakups and weddings, prison bids and coming-out parties, funerals and celebrations. Staying close to their roots, Chicanos have kept the tradition of lowrider oldies alive, breeding heavyweights in the record-collecting scene in the process.

“I love the rare soul music of individuals that never got their voices heard and never got radio play. Their music, their records only stayed within their region. And that’s kind of like us; our voices aren’t really heard outside our region and our neighborhood.”

The Homeboy Mad, Souleros Ball founder, Chicano activist, and Streetlow Magazine editor

Written by: Allen Thaye

Chicano lowriders in search of the perfect musical mood to enhance their slow procession look to the past and present for a certain sound and feel: desperate and delicate harmonies proclaiming love, hate, or reconciliation set to dramatic arrangements and a tough R&B rhythm track. For more than fifty years, lowriders, neighborhood record collectors, and local DJs have collectively cataloged an unfathomably deep canon of R&B, doo-wop, and harmony soul, collectively known as oldies.

“The car attracted the girls and the music got them in the mood,” writes Ruben Molina in The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music, “so the neighborhood record collector was just as important as the neighborhood grease monkey.”1 But you don’t have to have a lowrider to appreciate these songs. Swirling in and out of laughter and conversation at a family BBQ, lovingly dedicated by a wife over the radio for her incarcerated man, or drifting out of a slow-rolling, shimmering lowrider, oldies are the unofficial soundtrack to the Chicano

“If you’re a Chicano, you’re supposed to listen to oldies, have a lowrider, just dress like I’m dressed right now with the Pendleton, your brim hat, your Winos with your pantelon all creased up.” Soulero Sal is the youngest, at eighteen, of the informal Northern California network of Chicano soul music collectors. He’s still working on getting that lowrider, but he’s got all the other bases covered. When we met in October of 2010, Sal proudly confirmed that his 45 collection was exactly forty-five records deep. He lives in the predominantly Hispanic agricultural community of Salinas, and since graduating from high school just months ago, he’s been working at McDonald’s to support his record habit.

Some of the most impressive soul music collections are in the hands of Chicanos. Of course, not every Chicano is an expert in rare soul music, but it’s fair to say that the average Chicano from the barrios of Los Angeles, the Bay Area, or any number of smaller California and Southwest communities has a deeper knowledge of and greater appreciation for soul music than the average citizen, with or without papers. “When they ask for a song, they know what year it came out, who recorded it,” says Johnny Morris, a Los Angeles DJ on KGFJ. Once, he says, a thirteen-year-old girl called in to request “Fork in the Road,” the little-known B-side to the Miracles’ hit “Tracks of My Tears.”

“My parents used to always have parties at the house—I must’ve been, like, twelve years old, and a lot of the music they played was like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles,” says Tommy Siqueiro, Soulero Sal’s mentor and a San Jose local. “Ever since I heard that sound, I wanted to collect anything that had those oohs and aahs in it.” He wasn’t the only one. More than three hundred miles to the south, Ruben Molina had his oldies epiphany at about the same time:

I remember being picked up from junior high school by a friend’s uncle. He was a laid-back vato from East Side Clover who drove a 1954 Bel-Air dropped to the ground. He pulled up in front of the school, and as we piled in, the oldies streaming from his eight-track tape player filled my head. I don’t remember what song was playing but I knew right there, that was the sound for me.2

Today, both Tommy and Ruben are considered veteranos of the oldies scene, one in the North and the other in the South, and each playing a critical role in supporting and influencing the next generation of Chicano record collectors. The traditional tensions between the Northern (Norteño) and Southern (Sureño) Chicano communities in California and the considerable distance between Southern California and the Bay Area means that the scenes stay separate despite their shared passion for the same music.

For generations, oldies remained a well-kept secret within the Chicano community, leaking across ethnic and cultural lines via local radio shows, the twelve volume East Side Story LP/CD series, and innumerable legit and less-than-legit bootleg CD compilations. Just in the past few years, this sweet-soul secret has leaked out to the broader community of music collectors, musicians, and the general public. As Chicano collectors have infiltrated eBay and established a beachhead on YouTube and Facebook with video clips of their rare soul records, they are expanding the canon of classic oldies while exposing collectors and general soul music fans to the delicate beauty of these slept-on B-sides.

A quick listen to records by Raphael Saadiq, Lee Fields, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Amy Winehouse, Kings Go Forth, Mayer Hawthorne, Cee Lo Green, or even R. Kelly reveals a growing trend, however marginal, in popular music that favors soulful sounds, innovative arrangements, and an emphasis on sentimental songwriting. Andy Noble, bandleader of the contemporary sweet-soul group Kings Go Forth and rare-vinyl dealer, appeals to the oldies infidels. “Whaddya fuckin’ want?” he says. “Hip-hop-tempo bangin’ drums with four dudes just killing sweet harmonies. I mean, c’mon, most people our age have not grown up with that music, have not heard of it, and they hear it and it fucks them up. It’s so

From Pachucos to Chicanos

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying oldies over computer speakers, the hi-fi, or a crackly radio connection, but it goes without saying that oldies should ideally be experienced from the comfort of a classic lowrider with the windows down despite the fact that at a cruising speed of seven mph, there’s not much of a breeze. Whether you call them “lowrider oldies,” “Chicano oldies,” or just plain “oldies,” this musical tradition is inseparable from the Chicano culture and specifically its lowrider subculture. But before there were Chicanos riding around in lowriders to the sweet sound of oldies, zoot suit–wearing Pachucos cruised the streets in bombs—customized 1930s and ’40s sedans—on their way to juke joints to swing dance to raw jump-blues.

It’s convenient, but lazy, to imagine that the demographic mix in the Southeast U.S. has always been the same mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, Black, and Asian. But, as Ted West writes in Car & Driver magazine, “before the dust bowl and World War II brought hordes of new Anglos from the Midwest and South, Chicanos, like the Anglo pioneers, were simply ‘Californians.’ Until the 1930s, most Anglos spoke some Spanish as a matter of course. But in the wake of the Anglo migration, Chicanos suddenly became foreigners in their own land—strange, olive-skinned people ‘so stupid they couldn’t even speak English.’ ”3 This mass domestic migration to California naturally put a strain on the minority Hispanic population, especially in the young and thriving city of Los Angeles.

The younger generation of Mexican Americans borrowed and adapted styles from other recently migrated minority groups, like their appropriation of the zoot suit from the Black jazz scene. Their parents didn’t much care for their extreme fashion statement, and the U.S. government went so far as banning the style. Because of the war raging in the Pacific, basic commodities were rationed, and wasteful use of most staples was outlawed. By their very design, zoot suits required an unusually large amount of fabric, which, in addition to their unconventional style, brought negative attention to the Mexican American youth who wore them. Long before organizing migrant farm workers, Cesar Chavez wore a zoot suit. “The style hit California in 1937 or 1938,” Chavez said. “They looked kind of weird to everybody. From 1940 through 1944, people were wearing them a little more.”4 They called themselves Pachucos. With their flamboyant, arguably unpatriotic costume and its automotive counterpart—customized and lowered older-model family sedans—Pachucos were easy targets for the Anglo police force.5

“That was the beginning of low and slow,” said Victor Vega, an advertising agent for Lowrider Magazine. “Cruising in Mexico was done walking around the plaza, flirting with the girls. Here, we do it in our cars, on the boulevard, checking out the girls. In White culture they like their cars jacked up in the back and fast; we have to be different so we have them low. The U.S. is a car culture and whether you’re White or Chicano your car is an expression of yourself.”6 The same was true for Cesar Chavez, who not only dressed the part, but fixed up a couple of bombs: “The one we had for the longest time was a 1940 Chevy. In those days you went the opposite—we lowered the springs in the back. Fender skirts. Two tail pipes.”7 Pachucos transformed junked, hulking family sedans into slow-rolling sculptures of metal, paint, love, chrome, and grease.

Around the mid-’60s, when the civil rights movement crested, a new kind of Mexican American emerged. In contrast to Pachucos, who were marginalized, seen as hoodlums and rebels, Chicanos embraced their indigenous heritage while forging a new political and cultural identity. What was once a racial slur, the word Chicano became a badge of honor distinguishing modern, politically aware Mexican Americans from their disenfranchised parents. “A Chicano is a Mexican American with a non-Anglo image of himself,” said Ruben Salazar, the Chicano activist and journalist killed by the L.A.P.D. while covering an anti-war protest in East L.A. in 1970.8 Salazar pits Chicanos against mainstream society, basically saying that they are anything that mainstream Anglo culture is not. Ted West echoes Salazar’s sentiment, referring specifically to how lowriders embodied this new political ethos:

“As surely as long hair and dirty clothes in 1967 expressed young America’s contempt for its government in war, 5.20" x 14" tires on tiny Cragars supporting a ’64 Impala with no ground clearance express the refusal of young Chicano American to be Anglicized. There has never been a clearer case of the automobile being used as an ethnic statement. You can look at it from an automotive engineering standpoint and say it’s an atrocity. But if you do, you haven’t seen it. This isn’t engineering, this is community consciousness.”9

Just as the automotive designs evolved dramatically from the 1940s to the 1950s, so did popular music. The stew of jazz, blues, and swing that thrived in L.A. during the ’30s and ’40s gave birth to thriving local rock and roll and R&B scenes, which were hardly distinguishable from each other in their early years. Young Mexican Americans were enthusiastic supporters, though rarely performers themselves, of these new sounds. Chicano music historian Ruben Molina writes, “This ‘cool’ sound was gathering a ground swell of support during the mid-forties among Chicano teens and musicians who did not feel the same appreciation for ranchero and mariachi music as their parents did.”10

Due to the massive influx of workers from the Southern states and Texas in order to man the factories cranking out hardware for the war in the Pacific, Los Angeles’ ethnic mix began skewing decidedly darker with Black, White, and Brown additions. Molina explains that alongside the Mexicans from Texas came “African Americans from the South and from Texas, so they kind of congregated at work, and the music kind of jumped over. Rhythm and blues slowly became part of Chicano culture.”

Cesar Chavez’s evolution from a frustrated and marginalized zoot suit–wearing, carrucha-driving Pachuco youth to a proud, lowrider-cruising Chicano activist represents the cultural and political shift within the Mexican American community during the middle of last century. The Homebody Mad, a Chicano activist and Streetlow Magazine editor, explains why for more than half a century Chicanos still celebrate the same musical aesthetic: “I think it was just the music of the time when we really found ourselves: the way we talk, the way we dress, you know, the cars that we drive, and the music we listen to.”

“In the early days, they [the Chicano audience] liked exactly what the Black audiences liked,” recalled legendary L.A. bandleader Johnny Otis.11 Otis and his band used to play every Sunday at Angeles Hall in East Los Angeles. Chicanos were big supporters of the African American music scene in Los Angeles in general, but a handful of White Los Angeles radio disc jockeys would soon discover the Chicano listener had a special appreciation for R&B and soul

Oldies But Goodies

Thanks to the White baby-boomer nostalgia vehicles like American Graffiti, The Big Chill, and Happy Days, and the near-monopolization of radio by Clear Channel, for most of us, the word “oldies” suggests a stagnant pool of overplayed Motown hits and bubblegum pop. Not so if you grew up in Southern California listening to DJs like Hunter Hancock, Dick Hugg aka Huggy Boy or the man who started it all, Art Laboe who was the first DJ to revive yesterday’s hits, in the process inventing the oldies format.

“I used to pass out a list of songs at this afternoon show of the Top 20,” Laboe explains of his famous live show from Scrivner’s Drive-In in Los Angeles that started in 1954. “And I would say, ‘You pick ’em, you dedicate ’em, and you get ’em.’ ” Laboe’s show appealed to young listeners over the airwaves, as well as droves of teens who packed into cars and cruised to the drive-in to make dedications in person. “So I was just playing whatever people would bring in, their own records sometimes, that kind of thing,” Laboe remembers. “Around late ’57, they were starting to ask me for older songs like the Penguins or Johnny Ace or the Dominoes, Little Walter, songs like that.” In an era when popular culture was evolving at a breakneck pace, the idea that a radio disc jockey would play old songs was unheard of. He started reincorporating some of these past favorites into his list of available request songs, calling them “oldies but goodies.”

Laboe’s revolutionary new format of including contemporary selections mixed with the tried-and-true oldies proved to only strengthen his already impressive share of listeners, and it wasn’t long before other DJs started biting his style. Laboe’s drive-in shows attracted a diverse cross-section of L.A. youth, depending naturally on which Scrivner’s Drive-In he was broadcasting from, but by the early ’60s, Laboe made a connection. “You’d see a car go by with all metallic blue just shining, and on the side it would say ‘Earth Angel’ or ‘In the Still of the Night’ or one of those ’50s song titles, mostly the ballads of the Black artists like the Flamingos and so on,” Laboe explains. “The oldies became anthems for the lowriders. They came to the drive-in, a lot of them, because they live in their cars in Southern California, especially Chicanos. And they started coming to my dances in El Monte.”

“The good times continued after the dances were over,” Molina writes about the impact of Laboe’s weekend dances. “[C]ar clubs would pack the streets around the dance halls showing off their cars and trying their luck with the girls, who came streaming out of the dance hall. Not only was El Monte Art Laboe’s weekend headquarters, it also became a magnet for Black, White and Chicano youth and aspiring rock ’n roll stars.”12 Bands like Thee Midniters and Cannibal and the Headhunters drew their inspiration from the combination of sounds favored by local oldies DJs and the British Invasion. Thee Midniter’s first and biggest hit, “Whittier Blvd,” was a brassy and raucous cover of the Stones’ “2120 South Michigan Ave.” Molina, who grew up in East L.A., says the live music scene fed off the oldies radio format. “The bands that were forming to make up the ‘East Side Sound,’ they had to know these songs, because when the dance was ending and you wanted that last dance with a girl, you wanted one of these songs. So all the bands knew songs like ‘Sad Girl’ or ‘The Town I Live In.’ ”

The arrival of the British Invasion simultaneously inspired young Chicanos to pick up guitars, and threatened the emerging radio genre that their community celebrated. “The music business is always a moving target, so it moved on,” Laboe says, referring to commercial radio’s capitulation to the aggressive come-ons of the British Invasion onslaught. “But the Chicanos embraced this doo-wop ballad type of music, sometimes called the ‘East L.A. Sound,’ and they still do.” The fact that the then nascent oldies format survived was as much to do with its charismatic DJs as it was the loyal Chicano audience. “None of [the radio DJs] were Chicano, but they quickly learned that we were their audience,” says Molina. “They learned how loyal the Chicano could be to something targeted at them.”

Art Laboe might have invented the oldies request-show format, but Huggy Boy is the first name off most lips. The appeal of Huggy Boy was as much about the sentimental ballads he featured as it was about his off-the-cuff interactions with his audience. The popularity of the oldies request-show format, according to Ruben Molina, has something to do with the macho Chicano culture and not wanting to directly admit your mistakes. So, if your woman catches you with some other chick, “you go to Huggy Boy, and you make a dedication,” he says. “And everybody’s listening, so next thing you know—bam—you’re back together with your girlfriend because she heard

Oldies Para Siempre

It’s understandable that the White teens would abandon R&B for the new rock sound, but what about the Blacks who up until that time were partying, cruising, and romancing to the same music as the Chicanos? The Homeboy Mad has a theory: “The only difference between Blacks and Chicanos—we definitely had a similar struggle, a similar history—but for whatever reason, Blacks are always redefining their culture every decade from rock and roll to doo-wop to soul to funk and so on. Chicanos are more about tradition, and we like holding on to our traditions. We don’t really like change too much. We like who we are, and we’re proud of who we are.”

That’s not to say that any Chicano worth his Winos only rolls to harmony soul recorded before 1969. What Chicanos refer to as oldies is a loose term that describes a certain sound and tempo characteristic of songs found across a half dozen decades and about as many genres, but most particularly doo-wop and harmony soul. And the songs are typically ballads with evocative lyrics that tell a story. “It’s kind of like elevator music,” Molina says, “something cool that you listen to [while cruising]. And then when you’re alone, if the lyrics are really good, then it has a double meaning.”

Most of the time, oldies serve as a mellow soundtrack to pass the time as Molina described, but these songs can have a much more profound meaning when requested over the radio as a dedication or when played at weddings, funerals, or other significant family gatherings. “Ballads became an integral part of the ritual of a community that stages huge elaborate weddings, throws engagement and coming-out parties, and as early as junior high school celebrates the pairing of one boy to one girl,” write David Reyes and Tom Waldman in their book Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ’n’ Roll from Southern California.13

“The Hispanic community typically uses oldies song titles to express what they feel towards their loved ones, whether it be love or hate or let’s work it out. It could be any one of those three,” says DJ Tony C., who a few years ago fulfilled a lifelong goal of becoming an oldies radio DJ in his hometown of Salinas. On the weekly Saturday night request show he cohosts, “the line is constantly off the hook, people calling for dedications and requests.” Beyond the obvious role of providing a memorable soundtrack to any given Saturday night, his show serves as a lifeline to two isolated communities within reach of his radio signal. “A lot of the women who call in to my show have men who are incarcerated,” Tony explains, “and this is one way of getting to them and saying, ‘I love you, baby, and I’ll stay by your side.’ ”

The U.K.-born R&B dance scene known as “northern soul” represents the A-side to oldies’ B-side. Molina confirmed the analogy: “They’re like our brothers, man. You know, it’s just the working-class people, they get together on Fridays and play their records, but they like the A-side, the dance side.” Both genres developed in local communities outside of the national spotlight, allowing them to more freely incorporate a wide spectrum of popular styles into their playlists so long as the songs had that certain sound: strident and upbeat for northern soul and mellow and sincere for oldies.

“You got the Louisiana swamp-pop mixed with the Chicago soul and the Philadelphia soul,” Molina says. “Whatever was smooth and had this thing about it that was cool, that kind of became the lowrider sound.” Northern soul, like oldies, has an accepted canon of classics, cataloged first on Laboe’s Oldies But Goodies compilations and continued by Tony Boosalis’s twelve-volume East Side Story series. Also like northern soul, oldies is a living genre with collectors and DJs continuously adding songs to the canon through official and unofficial CD compilations, radio shows and more recently with collectors showcasing their rare acquisitions online. “East Side Story [compilations] are basically just like common oldies to us. That’s like puppy love to us,” Soulero Sal says. “We’re tired of hearing that, so we wanna hear other stuff, rare stuff that we never heard before.”

Lowriding The Web

“You should check it out and tell people to check it out: the whole culture of the Latino sweet-soul guys on YouTube,” says Andy Noble excitedly. One of his band’s early singles, “High On Your Love,” is already considered a lowrider classic thanks to this community of Chicano soul music collectors online. “That culture is alive and well online.”

For the first edition of his pioneering The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Oldies, Ruben Molina started by documenting his own impressive collection of doo-wop, harmony soul, and Chicano soul. Then he hit the car shows and record shows and met with other collectors to see what the gente were listening to in other barrios. Molina says the landscape has changed since the first edition primarily because of the Internet. “Before [the Internet], there wasn’t really any new stuff coming in,” he says. “It was basically the same kind of oldies. But then the record collectors started to look deeper into the Chicago sound, the New Jersey and D.C. sounds, things that never popped up over here on the West Coast.”

For collectors who started recently, the sounds they found on YouTube were revelatory. One such collector, known online as Soulera5150, has always been a oldies fanatic, but after exhausting the classic oldies found on L.A.’s K-EARTH 101 or bootleg CDs, she turned to the computer. “There’s gotta be more out there,” Soulera remembers saying to herself. “So I hooked myself up to YouTube, and I went in there and was like, ‘What’s this? I’ve never heard of the Flint Emeralds or the Fuller Brothers.’ I never heard of all these groups, so I started getting into it more and more, and I says, ‘I gotta have these records.’ ”

With every leap in technology, a new generation emerges to master it. A few Chicano record collectors from the Bay Area came together “to advance [their] collections and further one another’s knowledge,” and in the process, they injected some seriously rare and unheard soul into the vibrant online community of oldies lovers. They prefer to remain anonymous to avoid legal hassles around their influential compilations. The Homeboy Mad collaborated with these collectors for his Souleros Ball—a recurring event celebrating the musical side of the Chicano movement featuring the spinning of rare oldies—and says, “What they did is brought it to a whole new level as far as recording an actual sought-after 45 and putting it on YouTube to share the music with other people.” One of these collectors added via email, “I find it fascinating to see a rare piece of history spinning right before my eyes, not to mention the awesome label designs and color variations. To me, that’s what the YouTube soul scene is all about.” These mysterious collectors also coined the term soulero, which is rapidly becoming the household term for Chicano/an oldies collectors. 

Souleros Unidos?

“For me, it’s a badge of honor,” says Moe Arroyo—aka Moses and the Ten Commandments of Soul—about being a soulero. “I know I can walk up and down the street and somebody will say, ‘Hey, you wanna hear something different? Ask Moe, he’ll have it for you.’ ” In spite of his fair complexion, Moe comes from a Chicano family in San Jose. “I have five [half] brothers that are full-blood Mexican, and because my brothers were brown and I was light, I didn’t always fit in,” Moe says with his brimmed hat perched on top of his closely cropped dome and the ever-present box of 45s at his side. “But then one day, I started collecting these oldies, and it was a symbol of acceptance, because everybody started to see that I knew what this music was about.”

Like Moe, Soulera’s a recent convert to the black crack. “It’s like a freakin’ car payment or a house note,” she says, referring to the price tag of a rare soul 45. But every time she hears another must-have tune online or at a homie’s place, it’s only a matter of time before she’s compelled to scoop it up from a European dealer who certainly snagged it for the flipside. “That’s how we do it, and we don’t care. I could feed the whole family beans and rice for a week: ‘Where’s the meat, mom?’ ‘Can’t afford meat; Mommy bought a record!’ ”

The increased access to rare soul records from countless previously inaccessible localities, combined with the simplicity of sharing these nuggets online, is creating a stage for souleros to show off, to compete, and to interact about their shared passion for oldies. While it’s unlikely that a shared passion for oldies will erase generations of hostilities between North and South, a beef that runs deep and has origins in the California prison system, the very fact that there’s dialogue is progress. Tommy Siqueiro, one of the original collectors from Northern California, explains his personal philosophy towards this historical rivalry: “I try to promote unity between the collectors there and here. I think it’s the love of music or it should be a West Coast soulero thing. We should all share the music, not hide it from each other, because it’s all about love.”

“Most of the lowriders that I hung out with weren’t into fighting, they were into cruising around, getting high and picking up chicks,” Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong fame told Lowrider Magazine. “Which is right there for me.”14 Cheech’s generalization holds for a majority of lowriders, but the reality is that Norteño and Sureño allegiances run deep. The family identity that’s so much a part of Chicano culture can be a double-edged sword. It may bring people together, as seen with the loose network of Northern California Chicano record collectors or their counterpart in Southern California, but it can also fuel traditional rivalries. “With the Chicano,” Ruben Molina says, “it’s this never-ending loyalty, and I think that’s why there’s a lot of problems with gangs and stuff like that, because people are very loyal to something that they love, and they never get rid of it. It becomes a part of you, and it’s handed down.”

Souleros Ball Revue

Chicanos have single-handedly kept alive the careers of countless R&B and soul performers long after their fair-weather fans moved on to the next fad. Barbara Mason, Gene Chandler, and Brenton Wood all speak candidly about the support of their loyal Chicano fans. Legendary R&B bandleader Johnny Otis said, “I would have had less of a career if not for the Chicano audience. They were the most loyal and responsive, and they would show up everywhere we went.”15

For Joe Bataan, an Afro-Filipino New Yorker without a drop of Latin blood, the enduring support from his Chicano fans is a pleasant surprise. Back in the early ’90s, following a long spell away from touring, Joe Bataan returned to the West Coast to find that “kids were getting tattoos of my songs on their arms,” he says. “They were telling me stories of how they grew up with my music. Then I started to realize, my popularity in Southern California hadn’t diminished, but it had really grown.” Both lesser-known and better-known artists, like the Young Hearts and the Moments, are still singing to enthusiastic audiences thanks to shows organized in part by Ruben Molina in the south and Tommy Siqueiro in the north.

While nostalgia and tradition are a major part of the oldies culture, eager ears are always looking for new artists with that old sound. Mayer Hawthorne, Kings Go Forth, Lee Fields, and even the Australian combo Cookin on 3 Burners are contemporary favorites, as are the headliners for the fifth Souleros Ball. Myron & E, whose Timmion Records B-side “I Can’t Let You Get Away” is a lowrider favorite, headlined the July 2011 show.

The Homeboy Mad came up with the idea to organize the first Souleros Ball to showcase the musical side of Chicano culture. Each ball has been bigger than the previous one, drawing more DJs and collectors and lowrider car clubs to listen to rare soul 45s, dance, and have a good time. It was a first having a contemporary soul act playing an oldies event, but the real stars of the show were still the souleros and their impossibly rare records. “It’s all about bringing us all together and keeping our culture alive, and the rare soul music plays a huge part in that,” writes the same Bay Area soulero who prefers to remain anonymous, “and I don’t think it will ever come to end.”

Soulero Sal debuted behind the turntables at July’s Souleros Ball. Tommy Siqueiro says of his protégé, “He’s the next generation. I’m inspired by him, because he calls me viejo and looks to me as a father of music, and he wants to be like me. And if being like me means collecting records, being a good guy, and staying out of trouble, then more power to him.” Tommy, who jokingly refers to himself as “a businessman by day and a cholo by night,” says that collecting oldies has kept him out of gangs. “I’ve never hurt nobody,” he says, “never been in prison, never been in jail. I just love music and love lowriders.” .


1. Ruben Molina, The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music 1950–1975 (Mictlan Publishing, 2002), page 7.

2. Ruben Molina, page 7.

3. Ted West, “Low and Slow,” Car & Driver magazine, August 1976.

4. Paige R. Penland, Lowrider: History, Pride, Culture (Motorbooks, 2003), page 11; originally quoted in Lowrider Magazine.

5. Edward James Olmos’s first starring role in the film Zoot Suit is a very dramatic interpretation of this era.

6. Wayne King, “Low Riders Are Becoming Legion Among Chicanos,” New York Times, 6/9/81

7. Penland, page 11; originally quoted in Lowrider Magazine.

8. Ruben Salazar, “Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?,” Los Angeles Times, 2/6/1970.

9. Ted West, “Low and Slow.”

10. Ruben Molina, page 4.

11. David Reyes & Tom Waldman, Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ’n’ Roll from Southern California (University of New Mexico Press, 2009), page 11.

12. Ruben Molina, pg. 6.

13. Reyes & Waldman, page 11.

14. Penland, page 102.

15. Reyes & Waldman, page 11.