Jerry Salas joined the legendary El Chicano in 1973, which were one of the most visibly successful bands to emerge from the East Los Angeles Latin-rock scene in the early 1970’s.
After creating a buzz in East L.A. in the late ’60s, El Chicano signed with MCA in 1970 and recorded its debut album, Viva Tirado. At that time the Band were led by Freddie Sanchez and were named The V.I.P’s but a quick name change to the more controversial El Chicano, heralded a new career arc.
The instrumental title song, which was written by jazz pianist Gerald Wilson, was released as a single and became El Chicano’s biggest hit; the recording reached number 28 on Billboard’s pop singles chart and number 20 on its R&B singles chart. On regional L.A. charts, “Viva Tirado” spent about 12 weeks at number One. “Viva Tirado” was inspired by Mexican bullfighter Jose Ramon Tirado and hit the right spot, it was an instrumental that occupied that hip zone, similar to others like Hugh Masekela’ “Grazing In the Grass’ and Ramsey Lewis’s “Wade In The Water”.
Santana ruled the roost in terms of Latin rock success and international exposure but El Chicano had a great grass roots following in the Mexican-American neighborhoods of the southwestern United States. After the Viva Tirado LP, El Chicano went on to record several more albums for MCA, including 1971’s Revolucion, 1972’s Celebration, 1973’s El Chicano, 1974’s Cinco, 1975’s The Best of Everything, and 1976’s Pyramid of Love & Friends. Jerry Salas also comments here “As far as Viva Tirado was concerned, don’t forget it was also on the Jazz charts at the same time as the others, this was a first. Also we did “This is El Chicano” in 1977 on Shadybrook Records, we should have got a hint by the name of the label.”
El Chicano’s second biggest hit came in 1973 when MCA released the brown-eyed soul classic “Tell Her She’s Lovely” as a single. Nationally, the tune (which features Jerry Salas on lead vocals) wasn’t a major hit; “Tell Her She’s Lovely” only reached number 40 on Billboard’s pop singles chart and number 98 on the magazine’s R&B singles chart. But in Mexican-American neighborhoods, the song was huge — among Chicano Baby Boomers, “Tell Her She’s Lovely” was a significant addition to El Chicano’s recorded and live canon.
The band made a long overdue return to the studio with 1998’s “Painting the Moment.” Which was essentially a solo effort by Bobby Espinosa. Released on Thump Records, this CD marked the return of original lead guitarist Mickey Lespron, who had not recorded with El Chicano since the 1970s. At the present time, El Chicano are touring with original members, Fred Sanchez, Bobby Espinosa, Rudy Regalado and Jerrty Salas.
Jerry Salas also leads a Christian band and has played large gigs in Brazil; both live and televised. He is also producing recordings for the Christian market.
This CD is a further testament to his wonderful “brown-eyed soul,” style of vocalizing as well as his strong rhythm guitar playing.
Recorded with family members, “Salas” is a strong outing which starts out with high register guitar and a strident vocal from Salas on the opener “Drive.” It has a poppy feel with a hot Latin groove. Nice congas and timbales, which are supplied by War’s drummer Sal Rodriguez, are brought high up in the mix. The albums ten cuts are mostly written by Jerry Salas, apart from one co-written with producer John Avila and “A Woman Like You” was written by Enrique Corro.
“You Will Always Be Loved,” has big chords and a synthesizer refrain on the intro. It’s a hopeful song that sings of trust and it has a jangling feel with nice flanged acoustic guitars and phased cymbal whooshes in the backing track.
“Shut Up,“ is a regga-fied piece that mostly works well, I usually have a problem with American musicians playing their “version:” of reggae, usually it’s too overplayed, especially by the drummers and guitarists. But here, Salas keeps it simple and simple is always best for reggae derived music. “Best Of Your Life.” follows and is piano-led plaintive song with Latino undercurrents to the song. Nice flanged acoustic guitar again from Salas and Bob Bobles bring an
melancholy vibe to a song of hopefulness and advice, to the broken dreamers among us. The song is sung by and helped with backing vocals from Salas’ family members.
This music is quintessentially Californian in scope and approach. There is that life-affirming aspect to the music, it must be the weather but this kind of music always has a very positive and vibrant feel within its grooves. And with the Latino feel present it is ideal music for hitting the open road on a gloriously sunny day. It brings to mind the more poppy end of El Chicano or some aspects of The Doobie Brothers.
“A Woman Like You,” is a straight-ahead poem to meeting that special woman, with another excellent brown-eyed soul vocal by Salas. The guitar is bright and fluent and dips in and out of the song with feeling.
“Because Of you,” sports another soaring vocal by Salas and
again is a love letter to his special woman. Tasty acoustic guitar adds depth and further lyricism. I love the way Latino male and female vocalists have that Afro American feel to their singing but yet it is a Brown pride version, a totally unique vocal style.
“Blood To Blood.’ is a slow-burner, which starts building to a Hammond B3 organ interlude, which further ups the ante with massed vocalising. “Everlasting Love, “ is a romantic poem set with a Godly theme to a acoustically based rhythm track.
Finally “Hiding My Emotions, “ is a rocker with two locked guitars high in the mix. All in all, a pleasing CD, full of generally mid-paced songs in a soulful setting. The production is good with no discernable nods to current production techniques. It’s a straight ahead recording with
obvious interest to all lovers of Salas’ work with El Chicano and enthusiasts of Latino rock style vocals.
Total CD playing Time = 46:34
Salas CD back Questions for Jerry Salas
(1) Is this your only solo recording, or are their any others??
“This is my first solo release though I’ve recorded a lot of stuff.”
(2) What are you favourite El Chicano tunes and why??
“Chachita” which was the B-side of “Tell Her” because it’s soooo moody & heartfelt, “Gringo en Mexico” because of the vocals & was so different from what we were doing at the time. “What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You” Just because it rocks so hard! We wanted to release it after “Tell Her” but MCA didn’t, it would have been a smash! Check out the number of plays on You Tube.”
(3) Can you describe what “brown-eyed” soul means to you??
“We named it The Brown Sound” we were always introduced as the creators of The Brown Sound. It’s nothing more than an appreciation of all music played with our own undeniable heartfelt style.”
(4) What do the songs on “Salas” mean to you??
“The songs I wrote for this CD are meant to uplift anyone who is going through or has gone through a hard spot in their life. In 2003 my wife of twenty years was on her deathbed made me promise to do just such a CD & I did.”
(5) Do you wish to talk about your Christian faith at all??
“My faith is the reason I was able to write what I did and raise two teenage girls as a single dad. My church family in Portland Oregon pulled me through my wife’s passing.”
(6) What are your musical influences??
“My father & older brother both played guitar & sang professionally, they were great teachers. I was also lucky enough to see Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and the Stones live in the late sixties to name a few, Gino Vannelli used to come see us at the Whiskey in Hollywood, I loved his jazz pop stuff as well.”
(7) What are your future music plans???
“I’m currently writing material for a new El Chicano CD as well as a new solo CD. I wrote and submitted a song with my nephew Sean Salas for the movie “Angels & Demons”, It didn’t make it but you can hear it on You Tube it’s called “Illuminati” Oh by the way, I’m also in the movie playing a Cardinal.”