Let the Battles of the Bands Begin!

Thee Mr. Duran and Ray Carrion bring back an L.A. musical tradition almost forgotten, Sunday, April 17

By Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: March 8, 2016

Let the Battles of the Bands Begin!

Battle of the Bands Facebook Page


¿Como qué "The McDonald's Music Minute" and American Idol?

I come from a generation where live music performances, by real musicians and singers earnestly putting in work and portraying their true talent of the art of music and singing was impressive and appreciated by real audiences that got what they paid for ... so I sometimes find myself scratching my head in wonderment, thinking "Where did it go and where is it going?" whenever I see what's being offered as music entertainment today.

I see the "McDonald's Music Minute" commercials and I say to myself, "REALLY?...they see THAT as exceptionally worth mentioning & giving attention? Why don't you come to the Chicano part of town and catch someone like Francesca Capasso throwin' down some Blues, or watch someone like Adelaide Pilar Benavides bump it with a trumpet"?

Where do they find these guys for the commercials, and where are they looking?

I sometimes watch a few minutes of TV's "American Idol" where the judges, comprised of fine looking Jennifer Lopez, all made up & attractively dressed, accompanied by two unshaven, uncombed, homeless looking, mediocre singers in dirty-looking, wrinkled clothes trying to convince America on national television that they are what's happening in music today ... after awhile I gotta change channels ... sorry Ryan Seacrest. (SO GLAD you're back to shaving & combing your hair, Bro.)

I know I'm old and a dinosaur ... and the two homeless looking guys are accepted by American TV more than I could ever be ... but the attention the American Idol contestants get, like a psuedo-screaming audience that would probably scream & applaud if they farted on stage, a massive expensive venue complete with light/smoke shows and a professional backup band of REAL musicians, wardrobe, makeup, voice coaching & singing lessons, luxury hotel accommodations, meals, transportation, and undue media & TV attention really does not reflect the struggle of up and coming music artists the show contends to portray....

...but hey! Who am I speak the truth, huh?

Just like stringing people along on drugs and cigarettes, if you are convinced and fooled into thinking a lot of people believe in & are doing something really cool, you just might be tempted to join the crowd and "follow the herd" ... inevitably becoming part of it.

¡Orale! You're probably thinking by now, "OK, old dude ...You got any different ideas?"... and I say, "Yeah...check this out!"

Years ago, back in the 1960's, English-speaking Latino music artists were seen as an anomoly because they were the first generation of Latinos singing Rock & Roll, Blues, Soul, Rock, and Surfer music in English on both coasts, and the American music scene began to take notice.

What happened to sombreros and Mariachi music, Pancho? Where's the barefoot Island seranaders, Maria?

Early greats like Lalo Guerrero, Richie Valens, Chris Montez, Rudy T and The Reno Bops, Sunny & The Sunglows, and The Champs began to change the music scene, as the social environment of America began to change, around the time of the start of the 15 year Viet Nam War.

East L.A., which for a short while, was the mecca for the new up-ans-coming CHICANO MUSIC sound, with such originals as Thee Midniters, Cannibal & The Headhunters, The Blendells, The Premiers, Mark & The Escorts, The Ambertones, The Atlantics, The Blue Satins, The Armenta Brothers, The Progressions, and many others, made the music that was the backdrop for a new generation of Lowriders, Car Clubs, Social Clubs, Teen Posts, dances, concerts, TV and radio spots that competed with the early Motown sound and the "British Invasion" of the Beatles & Rolling Stones, circa 1964-69.

This gave birth to one of the first American music explosions that occurred on both coasts, throughout Texas, and other southwestern states as a new generation of "Cool." Talent in Latino flavor came on the scene, replacing Desi Arnaz's "Ricky Ricardo" character as the then-accepted stereotypical profile of a "Cool" Latino-American music artist.

Unfortunately , the Viet Nam War took a lot of talent overseas ... and some didn't come back, but man!! ... a lot of good music was made and danced to!

In the late 1960's & early 1970's, the music scene again exploded with the advent & popularity of hard rock, acid rock, heavy metal, Tejano, Disco, Afro-Cubano,and Salsa music. Add to that the continued popularity of Boleros, Classic Soul, Blues, Classic R&B, Rock & Roll, Cumbias, Motown, and the Oldies but Goodies all playing on AM and now FM radio stations, and a new generation of Latino talent like EL CHICANO, SANTANA, TIERRA, MALO, Joe Bataan, Ralfi Pagan, LiL' Joe y La Famila, AZTECA, LOS LOBOS, and SAPO, took the helm and united Latino, Black, and white music lovers with their original recordings.

But before FM Radio, Star Search, the Gong Show, American Idol, Rolling Stone magazine, MTV, the Latin Grammys or any other media that afforded exposure to up and coming or established popular music bands, throughout L.A. and other southwestern towns, there was a friendly, yet almost tribal, music competition called "The Battle of the Bands," which was sponsored by music instrument manufacturers, record companies, & local TV & AM radio stations.

In 1968-69, I was a young teenager growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, just east of Los Angeles trying to grow a mustache when things like the Teen Age Fair at the Hollywood Palladium, AM radio stations in your car along with 8 track tape decks, TV Channel 9's 9th Street West Show" with Sam Riddle, Sunday cruises at Legg Lake in South El Monte, and the East L.A.College music concerts were happening.

A favorite memory I have of the time is watching a young Chicano group called "The V.I.P.'s" from East L.A. winning first place and a Hammond Organ on the TV's 9th Street West Show's Battle of the Bands....the young keyboard player was named Bobby Espinosa, and the group would later evolve into EL CHICANO.

By all accounts from my older brothers, cousins, and family friends (R.I.P.) these were the times of the Battle of the Bands, cruising Whittier Boulevard, being drafted during the Viet Nam War, the beginning of the Chicano Movimiento ... and A LOT of people were brought together by the love of music!

To bring back the spirit of the times, along with a lot of great live music performances, Chicano Cable / Internet TV Music Guru Richard "Thee Mr." Duran and music artist/music producer Ray Carrion will be hosting what hopes to be the first of many Battle of the Bands in the Los Angeles area at the A MI HACIENDA Restaurant & Ballroom in Pico Rivera starting on Sunday, April 17th, from 3 to 8 PM.

"I remember I was attending Garfield High School in East L.A. back in the day in 1969," says Thee Mr. Duran. "The Battle of the Bands were what was happening at East L.A. College, if you were lucky to get in, because they were always packed to standing room only. Anyways, there was such good music, and different neighborhoods & high schools came out to support their local bands. It was a wonderful time. The 1969 finals came down to three L.A.Bands: The VELLORDS, ODYSSEY, and COLD DUCK. In the end, a young Chicano singer in starched Farmer John overalls, red tennis shoes, and a long haired Afro hairdo sang and danced his heart out across the stage to Sly & The Family Stone's medley 'I Want To Take You Higher/Hey Music Lover' ... that young singer was Hank Castro, and the winning band was COLD DUCK ... I'll never forget that. I would like to bring some of that excitement and electricity back that hopefully will strike a note with the younger generation of musicians, who sometimes ignore those who came before them. Sadly, a lot of Chicano music greats have left us. A lot of the music artists that are coming out are seasoned professionals who have traveled the road and paid their dues ... you're gonna enjoy this show!"

"I remember going to the Battles of the Bands at East L.A. College, the Teen Age Fair, and the St Alphonsus Church basement hall in East L.A.," says Steven Chavez, East L.A. Revue Radio Station owner and former manager for Cannibal & The Headhunters, the Montclaires, and The East L.A. Revue All Star Band. "I had just come back from Viet Nam ... guys were growing their hair long, the girls were wearing tight miniskirts with high heels, a lot of people were turning into hippies and listening to Jimi Hendrix and the DOORS ... but the Chicano music bands were still pumping it out and packing houses for some great dances & memories. It's too bad nobody filmed those concerts ... they would be a nice reflection of Latino-Americana of the time. These shows coming out are really gonna rock! What a great idea!"

"Man! This so cool! Brings back a lot of memories & good times! Some bands today don't realize the struggle and hours of rehearsal some of those early bands put in to make it to the Battle of the Bands," says veteran performer and 1969 Battle of the Bands winner Hank Castro. "Screw the Beatles! We all wanted to look and sound as cool as the Midniters, Headhunters, Majestics, LiL' Ray & The Progressions, and others that got the girls all screaming and dancing! I remember that some of the first battles took place at Legg Lake Park in South El Monte on Sunday afternoons. Everybody was either in a Car Club or Social Club, and wore matching jackets or t-shirts. The objective was to see how many matching jackets & shirts a band could get to fill the dance area. From there we moved to the Teenage Fair at the Hollywood Palladium where they had 4 stages ... and pretty much every band from Southern California was entering ... it was fantastic and electrifying. This should be a great experience what Ray & Mr. Duran are putting together."

"I was young and still living in Ohio when all the original battles happened," Ray Carrion tells LatinoLA. "When I got here years later, bands like SANTANA, AZTECA and EL CHICANO were already established, so I was fortunate to have met and performed with members of all three ... but then, as time went along, the more time I spent in and around L.A., the more privileged I was to meet and perform with so many talented music artists and bands, I can't begin to name them all. From the Inland Empire, to Orange County, to the San Gabriel & San Fernando Valleys, to the coastal region, to Santa Barbara to all four corners of Los Angeles, Southern California is bursting with so much talent that doesn't get the love & recognition on the radio or TV they truly deserve, and A LOT OF THEM don't get paid what they deserve."

"My idea was to have an event that would re-define the great bands and music of Southern California, and the impact they have and have had on the entertainment industry and Latino community & audience for many years. A lot of music pioneers need to be recognized for their musical contributions ... sadly, a lot of their generation is starting to leave us and this world."

The first four bands chosen to "get it on" are all L.A./Southern California heavy hitters:


Master of Ceremonies will be Thee Mr. Duran.

Comedy will be provided by the one & only Mr. Rudy Moreno.

I am honored to serve as House DJ for your dancing pleasure, and I can truly say, this is going to be a momentous occasion.

GET OUR TICKETS EARLY! Call 323-895-2863 or 323-807-8054.

See y'all there!

About Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the Microphone & The Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul
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