SALAS BROTHERS CONCERT CELEBRATES EAST L.A. SOUND
The Salas Brothers
The East L.A. Music Scene
Google Map of East L.A. Music Scene Sites
CYO Hall/Self Help Graphics & Art Building
In August 2010, the Conservancy partnered with Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park to present a free concert with the renowned Salas Brothers, one of the seminal bands from the golden age of Chicano music in East Los Angeles and founders of the Latin funk band Tierra.
Brothers Rudy and Steve Salas reunited with Tony Valdez for an on-stage conversation before the concert. Now an award-winning reporter for KTTV-Fox 11 (and a longtime Conservancy volunteer), Valdez emceed most of the brothers’ concerts in the early to mid-1960s. He reprised his role for this special performance.
Music lovers from all corners of Los Angeles converged on historic MacArthur Park for an evening of picnicking, reminiscing, and discovering – or rediscovering – one of the great sounds of Los Angeles.
The Salas Brothers
Blending traditional Mexican music with R&B, salsa, funk, soul, and rock, the Salas Brothers helped shape the “Eastside Sound,” a genre unique to Chicano youth of the 1960s.
Rudy and Steve Salas of Lincoln Heights were only thirteen and eleven years old (respectively) when they recorded their first single. The brothers had grown up singing traditional Mexican rancheras and boleros before they tried their hand at rock and R&B. They were a part of a wave of Chicano teenagers who combined traditional Mexican musical rhythms with the popular American music of the period.
They recorded their first single, “Darling (Please Bring Your Love),” in 1964 at the Rhythm Room in Fullerton for Eddie Davis’ Faro Records. They later fronted the Jaguars and became a key part of the Eastside Sound.
In 1973, the Salas brothers combined their youthful experience and recording chops to form the nationally recognized Eastside band, Tierra. This group combined R&B, rock, and salsa, but also adapted boleros such as “Gema” and “Sabor a Mi” to fit their style. They also used their music to make social statements about the Chicano experience. The group had local hits with “Barrio Suite” and “Gonna Find Her,” but achieved national recognition by reaching number eighteen on the national charts with “Together” in 1980.
The Salas Brothers and Tierra continue to make new music, packing performance venues now just as they did school auditoriums forty years ago.
The East L.A. Music Scene
The "Eastside Sound" borrowed from R&B, salsa, funk, soul, rock, and traditional Mexican music to create a genre unique to Mexican-American, or Chicano, youths. The first major Chicano music star was Richie Valens, who achieved hits with “Donna” and “La Bamba” only to die tragically in a plane crash in 1959. Other influential bands from East L.A. included Thee Midniters, The Romancers, Li’l Ray, El Chicano, Cannibal and the Headhunters, and Tierra (founded by the Salas Brothers).
The local music scene was heavily influenced and promoted by Eddie Davis and Billy Cárdenas, who co-owned the Rhythm Room in Fullerton and Rainbow Gardens in Pomona. Cárdenas managed many of the bands, and Davis established Rampart Records in 1958 and would produce most of the genre’s records.
The two would collaborate notably with Cannibal and the Headhunters, whose members grew up in Ramona Gardens and Estrada Court housing projects, to produce the hit cover version of “Land of 1000 Dances.” Cannibal and the Headhunters would later open for the Beatles at the legendary Shea Stadium concert in 1965.
Thee Midniters were known as one of the most important bands to come out of the East L.A. scene. They became popular after producing their own cover of “Land of 1000 Dances” and the anthem “ Whittier Boulevard.” More importantly, they owed their existence to the CYO hall on old Brooklyn Avenue (see below).
The East L.A. music scene relied on community centers, as many of the Eastside bands played at venues such as the Paramount Ballroom, Montebello Ballroom, El Monte Community Center, and Kennedy Hall.
The Google map below highlights sites like these that fostered the Eastside Sound.
View 1960s East L.A. Music Scene in a larger map
More About the Chicano Music Scene
CYO Hall/ Self Help Graphics & Art Building
One of the community centers that fostered the East L.A. music scene was the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) building at 3802 Cesar Chavez Avenue (formerly Brooklyn Avenue) in East L.A., now home to Self Help Graphics & Art.
In addition to being an indispensable community center for local youth, CYO was the place to go hear local bands – including the Escorts (later Mark and the Escorts), Thee Midniters, Cannibal and the Headhunters, the Premiers, and the Salas Brothers – who went on to national and international fame for introducing the then-burgeoning East L.A. sound into mainstream rock & roll music.
Photo by Edgar Garcia
In 1979, the building became home to Self Help Graphics & Art, which created a new on-site club – the Vex – in 1980. The Vex fostered a new genre combining punk and New Wave, hosting bands such as The Illegals and the Plugz. From the Salas Brothers to The Illegals, community centers like this one have provided the space in which East L.A.’s musical and artistic community could find its voice and original style.
More about Self Help Graphics & Art
Ben Quiñones. “Naa Na Na Na Naa: How the West Coast Eastside Sound Changed Rock & Roll.” LA Weekly, December 29, 2005.
Stephen Joseph Loza. Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993).