April 13, 2007

Los Straitjackets: Paying a Tribute to the Pioneers of Rock en Español

By James Klein

Los Straitjackets are an instrumental rock band. In their performances, they always wear Mexican professional wrestling masks. Although mysterious, the band plays its own songs and versions of “covers” with a perfection that is difficult to surpass.

Now, Los Straitjackets have released a new CD that revisits the beginning of Rock in Español. The CD has the appropriate title of “Rock en Español, Volume One”. Produced by Cesar Rosas, guitarist of Los Lobos, and with invited guest on vocals, the CD is a tribute to classic Mexican rock music.

“As a young Mexican growing up in East L.A., the music of this CD are the songs that I heard in the street,” says Big Sandy, one of the invited guests. “This project reinterprets that era for a new generation.”

As told by Phast Phreddie Patterson of Goldmine Magazine, Mexico’s contribution to rock music has been overlooked in the U.S. There is evidence of rock and roll in Mexico as early as 1955, when Pablo Beltrán Ruiz made the album “Mexican Rock and Roll” for RCA Victor. A Mexican rock group known as Los Llopis was also active during the fifties.

Los Straitjacket withBig Sandy. Photo by Greg Allen.

In 1961, one of the architects of rock music, Bill Haley, moved to Mexico and worked there for several years. Throughout the sixties, several local groups formed and became popular—including Los Locos del Ritmo, Los Ovnis, Los Teen Tops and Los Rebeldes de Rock. Their Spanish-language versions of American hits were very popular, especially in Mexico City and often on Spanish-language radio that reached across the border into the US.

Most of the songs heard on Rock en Español were originally in the United States. They were Top 40 hits for American or English bands like The Kinks (“All Day And All Of The Night”), the McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy”) and The Troggs (“Wild Thing”), R&B luminaries Jackie Wilson (“Lonely Teardrops”), Arthur Alexander (“Anna”), Brenton Wood (“Gimme Little Sign”), and Barbara Lynn (“You’ll Lose A Good Thing”), country stalwart Marty Robbins (“Devil Woman”), and ‘50s jive-bombers the Coasters (“Poison Ivy”) and Larry Williams (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Slow Down,” and “Bony Maronie”).

However, these songs were also recorded in Spanish by Mexican rock bands like Los Yaki, Los Freddys, Los Apson, Los Rockin’ Devils, Los Teen Tops, Los Locos Del Ritmo, and Rebeldes De Rock.

“The lyrics of the spanish versions are often very different and it shows how the Mexican bands made the songs their own,” explains Big Sandy. “It was a whole different scene.”

Although this is their first CD in Spanish, Los Straitjackets have been playing as a band for a long time. They are Eddie Angel (guitar), L.J. “Jimmy” Lester (drums) and Danny Amis (guitar). They began to playing in Nashville in the summer of 1988 but they did not return until 6 years later as Los Straitjackets.

In February of 1995 they recorded their first single, “Gatecrasher” and in March of that year they released their first album “The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of The Straitjackets.” In the summer of 1995, the band did its first tour by United States. In June of the 96 they recorded their second CD “Alive The Straitjackets;” “The Velvet Touch of The Straitjackets” came in 1999, and was following by the CD “Damas y Caballeros, The Straitjackets” in 2001. These were followed by other CDs including “Sing Along with Los Straitjackets.” “Tis the Season For Los Straitjackets,” “Supersonic Guitars in 3-D,” “Play Favorites,” and their most recent “Twist Party.”

Like the men behind the wrestling masks themselves, why this band decided to make Rock en Spanish, Volume One” now is a little mysterious. The only things we can do are listen, learn, and enjoy.

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