July 18, 2008
By Augie Bareno
In the movie “La Bamba,” the scene where the plane crashes and richie Valens mother screams “Richie, Not My Richie,” was meant to symbolize the heights to which Richie Valens reached in his short but meteoric career as a Rock and Roll star and the explosion and fire came to mean the loss of hopes and dreams of every Chicano teenager in California and elsewhere, who believed that they could one day be like Richie Valens. To this day, we all instantly recognize the tune and lyrics to “Donna,” Richie Valens’ slow Jam Classic. Sadly, not many remember that before “Donna,” there was another very special girl, her name was Linda. She was popularized in a Southern California hit record by Little Julian Herrera & The Jets called “I Remember Linda.”
We all don’t remember Linda very much, because we forgot Little Julian Herrera, he was lost to the twist and turns of life. If he were still around performing today, he would no doubt be a star on the DooWop classic shows on PBS, or he would be giving a voice to his experiences and life. He would surely be honored and recognized for his contribution as a Rhythm and Blues pioneer and for helping created the Chicano slow jam oldies genre. Little Julian Herrera, if he is still alive , would be approaching his seventies. There are many people who wonder what happened to him these last 50 years and would welcome him back, if he is still alive or if verification of his passing was available, give his legacy it’s just attention.
Little Julian Herrera - What We Know
In the early to middle 1950s in Southern California, there was Little Julian Herrera & The Tigers. Little Julian a Doo Wop vocalist whose style and sound made him a very popular talent. Legend has it, that he was discovered performing at El Monte Legion Stadium by Johnny Otis and signed to one of his labels “Dig Records.” The significance of signing with Johnny Otis during those years was very important since Johnny Otis along with Alan Freed and Dick Clark were the major powers in the burgeoning rock and roll industry.
The relationship between Johnny Otis and Little Julian while important to both, sadly only produced a local hit and the hope for a national hit eluded them. In 1957 he moves to Hollywood’s Starla Records and records his first major hit “I Remember Linda,” followed by his other hits like “Those Lonely Nights, “True Fine Mama” and a few others. His popularity with all teenagers at this point, is very strong and he is sought after on a national scale and his fan base among chicanos continues to grow stronger every day.
1957 would prove to be a turning point in the life of Little Julian Herrera, his singing career and fame are at the highest level possible, yet the demons that would overtake him and send him on a downward spiral that he never seemed to recover from, although in the early 1950s, he would re-record some of his early hits, but to no avail. He is believed to just disappear in about 1962, out of the Los Angeles area.
Little Julian Herrera’s loss of fame, money and status would send him spiraling down, until in 1958, when he is located living and working around National City and Logan Heights. His presence in National City and Logan Heights would spark a mystery that still remains unsolved some fifty years later, and would open the door to a claim made that Little Julian Herrera was in fact Ron Gregory, a runaway Hungarian Jew from Massachusetts, who was taken in by a Mexican family, in Boyle Heights and thankful for their help, he adopted their last name. This was according to legend first advanced by Johnny Otis, who is believed to have been given a picture of Ron Gregory, by LA County Probation officers and verified it as Little Julian.
Throughout the years, no one has even come forward, purporting to be Little Julian Herrera, to disprove or prove any of the suppositions about his life or even to say whether he is still alive.
In National City, he is remembered for working at a Car Wash on National City Blvd., for picking string beans on the Otay Mesa, at House Parties and dances in OTNC. His time in Logan Heights is marked by performances at House Parties and working with many of the bands of the time.
The mystery that still haunts everybody who remembers him from back in the day and all of us who appreciate his musical contribution is, what became of Little Julian Herrera?
Over the years, he has been sighted in Ensenada, TJ, Rosarito, Phoenix, Albuquerque and so many other places, and each account talks about a man who does not want to be found or recognized, he is believed to show the suffering of a life of drug abuse. I for one would like to know what happened to Little Julian, so that we can bring him home, help him if he needs it, and get him the credit and recognition he deserves as a Chicano Music Pioneer. Little Julian come on home Brother, we love you.