Tag Archives: Music

MIGRANTS: Hernan Hernandez, Los Tigres del Norte

Today is the birthday of Hernan Hernandez, bass player and singer for Los Tigres del Norte.

I toured several times with the band to shows around Mexico, seeing parts of the country that I’d never have seen had it not been for their great generosity. I was already a huge fan by the time I met them, and knew the words to many of their songs.

They remain, I think, the best band out of Mexico — The  Only Band That Matters, isn’t that what they used to say about The Clash. Same with Los Tigres. Great chroniclers, amazing reps of migrant Mexico, too. Here’s a story I did from those years on Los Tigres for LA Times Magazine. Always wanted to write a book about the band….

Anyway, one night, Hernan was sick from, I think, food poisoning. They took him to a doctor.I think he got some intravenous fluids, but was still sick.

They went to the show, in a town in Puebla. Got there late. The crowd was rowdy, throwing rocks. But then the band went on and played for four hours or so. Just an amazing show.

Hernan played the whole show, sweating, sick, faint, barely hanging on. Reminded me of Michael Jordan during that playoff game years ago. Never forget that night. A real pro….Happy Birthday, Hernan!


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Filed under Culture, Mexico, Migrants

CULTURE: Earl Scruggs, RIP

Earl Scruggs, great banjo player and musical spirit, has died at the age 88, the LA Times reports.

Apart from being a monster instrumentalist, he also was a guy who looked to play with all types of musicians, not just bluegrass folks. King Curtis, Elton John, etc. I remember being stunned as a kid at a guy who spoke with his deep Southern accent yet sought out hippies and black people with whom to play.

This was a rare thing, then.

For a few years there, he was almost a hippie, at least by bluegrass standards, with his hair down just about to his collar.

Here’s a video of Flatt & Scruggs on the Grand Ole Opry.

RIP Earl Scruggs.




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CULTURE: Tijuana Opera’s upcoming season

The Opera de Tijuana has announced the first of its events for this upcoming season.

They include Madame Butterfly on May 18 and 20.

Also thrilled to see that the company will continue with what has become one of the truly fabulous arts events in Mexico: the Opera Street Festival.

It takes place on July 7 on Calle 5 in Colonia Libertad, likely the world’s most unexpected place to hear opera. (I wrote about this in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream. There’s an NPR report I did on the topic with my MC homey Franc Contreras producing, as well.) You can see the border wall from the stage and the singers compete with the graffiti and the old American cars rumbling by. Expect 7000+ people.

A real event.

The city’s opera scene has  a cool story behind it, involving a group of Russians musicians imported by one music-obsessed Tijuanense in the early 1990s — but that’s a long story and one I’ll tell later, or which you can read in my book.






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Filed under Culture, Mexico

CULTURE: Cenzontles with David Hidalgo and Jackson Browne

This weekend I spent time in a recording session with Los Cenzontles (the Mockingbirds), along with David Hidalgo, of Los Lobos, and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, as they recorded the band’s new CD, Regeneration.

An amazing time. Many thanks to Eugene Rodriguez, of Los Cenzontles, for inviting me. I’d never watched a record get made, let alone with two of my musical heroes. We had chats about music, about immigration, New Orleans and Bob Dylan. They now all have my book. :\) Read on, guys!

Los Cenzontles are an amazing story. The brainchild of Eugene and Astrid Rodriguez, they’re a Mexican roots band that spawned a youth center in San Pablo, near Berkeley, and which in turn spawned an expansion of the band.

Cenzontles now have several CDs out and have played with other roots music heroes of mine – Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, in particular.

I felt a little dazed to be around these guys. Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky was one of the soundtracks to my 1970s and his voice remains once of the most distinctive in pop music, I think. (He also has the good taste to continue to play with Claremont’s own master instrumentalist, David Lindley; their Love is Strange CD is very greasy.)

Los Lobos were the band I listened to most in the 1980s. Hidalgo is a deeply musical cat, I always thought, and his tenor voice remains one of the greatest in rock n roll. (For the coolest grungy garage band tune, listen to Georgia Slop.)

I turn to both guys’ music often.

The three songs they recorded sounded like the best of good music — sweet and raw: Adios California, a ranchera in Spanish, The Silence, an elegant song about the drug violence in Mexico, with a sweeping vocal by David Hidalgo, and Jackson Browne adding the harmonies; a third song, collaboration among the band, Browne and Hidalgo, is about the border, which Browne is singing, but isn’t finished and is untitled. Still, so far, it sounds great.

The band will be raising money to complete the album and I’ll post more when they do. Hopefully, by then they’ll have a chunk of The Silence I can put up. Either way, can’t wait to listen to Regeneration.

Meanwhile, what’s your favorite song by any of these guys?



Filed under Culture, Los Angeles, Southern California

BUSINESS: Kelvin Anderson and VIP Records

Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records

Here’s my story on Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records, and the last of the great independents in what’s become now the old music industry.

He marketed music via boomboxes and car stereos and championed a host of young kids, rappers from Long Beach streets, some of whom, like Snoop Dogg, went on to change the music.

So punk rock!

Now Anderson is downsizing his store and says he’ll probably only stay in business a year.

You can read the story at the link above, and listen to a podcast interview I did with Anderson regarding the early days of the store and gangster rap and how a music that took over started from a small little drum machine.



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Filed under Southern California

BUSINESS: Kelvin Anderson and World Famous VIP Records

Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach

I’ve been spending time lately with Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach, a ferociously independent record store.

Anderson’s store is a landmark, one of the places where rap began in Southern California, and a store that hung on long beyond others because it mastered the art of customer service, knowing what people wanted, and got them in touch with emerging artists who didn’t get any radio play.

But he’s downsizing now, moving from the space he occupied for 33 years and this will probably be his last year, the last independent record store around. “You can’t compete with free,” he told me.

Anderson was there at the beginning of one of the three great DIY musical forces to come out of LA. In Hollywood, it was punk in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, from Paramount came Chalino Sanchez and Mexican drug ballads, narcocorridos.

Anderson helped mid-wife gangster rap, which emerged in the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, from the garages of Compton then Long Beach came West Coast gangster rap — first with NWA, then with Snoop Dogg and his 213 crew. 213’s first demo was recorded on a drum machine in VIP’s backroom.

Anderson’s advertisement was getting new cassettes in the hands of those with big car stereos and ghetto blasters — “street promotion.”  (Gangster rap was so punk rock.)

Yet I wonder whether these kinds of geographic movements of intense garage band creativity are as possible nowadays, even as technology has allowed everyone to be a DIYer, all from a laptop computer, and avoid entirely the control of major record labels.  “It’s people’s attention span,” Anderson told me.

Hope to have a podcast of an interview with him (a first for me!) that’ll go with the story on VIP’s downsizing, which I hope will run in a few days.



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Filed under Business, Los Angeles