By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Before Joe Serrano, leader and drummer of norteño band Los Rayos de San Diego, wrote songs dedicated to his homeland San Ysidro, the small border community was only known in music history thanks to the popular corrido Camelia la Tejana.
But when more than 40 years ago Serrano transformed his love for San Ysidro into music, the good vibes that exist at ‘el pueblito’ could be heard all over the region.
“I wanted people to learn more about San Ysidro, about its people, about what happens here,” said Serrano, who’s originally from Tijuana.
Today, Los Rayos de San Diego, a norteño band founded by Serrano six years ago, continues delighting la raza in San Diego with its music.
They came out from San Ysidro
Without a doubt, Joe Serrano was born with music in his veins, because his parents were also musicians: His father was a soloist, and his mother was a member of the Hermanitas Serrano duet.
It is perhaps because of that musical heritage that Serranos’s musical career is characterized for being dynamic, always looking to innovate.
And indeed there have been changes: His first band was called Los Cientificos del Ritmo; later it was know as Los Reyneros de Monterrey, then it became Sabor Norteño, later it turned into Los Tremendos de Apaxtla, and now it continues with Los Rayos de San Diego, that Serrano himself founded.
“As you see, all those name changes mean change in band members, change in ideas, change in music, in costume, in places to play and in fans,” Serrano said.
Just like there were changes in the name of the band, he also migrated to the United States in 1958 from Tijuana. Serrano and his family settled in San Ysidro, a place that took central stage in his music career.
It wasn’t until 1970 when he organized his most successful band: Joe Serrano y su Combo Latino.
“El Combo Latino was a hit and a good hit,” Serrano recalls. “During those years we came out with several albums that had a lot of success, because people knew the songs.”
This band was known for playing cumbias such as “La sirenita” and “María la secretaria.” Also El Combo Latino had several tours around the United States and parts of Baja California. During long seasons the band would play at local night clubs, such as Club 21 in National City.
It was during this time that Serrano immortalized San Ysidro in several of his songs, such as “Mi pueblito San Ysidro,” which is a tribute to his homeland, and “La tragedia de San Ysidro,” a corrido about the 1984 McDonald’s massacre.
“Although I no longer live in San Ysidro, I’m still very fond of it,” said Serrano, who now lives in Paradise Hills. “I was living there when my children were born, it was there where I started having success in the music business, so I wanted to pay tribute to San Ysidro.”
El Combo Latino ended in 1989, when the band’s guitarist Fidel Velásquez died.
In 2003, Serrano came out with a commemorative Combo Latino album, which includes the band’s greatest hits.
Los Rayos get their chance
Without giving up and following its dreams in music, Serrano came back to create a new band, now changing to the norteño genre. On 1997 Los Rayos de San Diego are born, a quartet formed by the classic norteño instruments: The accordion (Ignacio Mena), the bajo sexto (Gregorio Mena), the bass (César Aguila), and the drums (Joe Serrano).
“Now we’re stronger than ever,” said Serrano, who owns a furniture repair company. “We’re looking to get on radio and we’re also available to play at parties and community events.”
Los Rayos de San Diego have released two albums, “Chicles y cacahuates” and “Mi primer amor”, which include several classic corridos, such as “El número uno” and “Se les peló Baltasar”.
In about a month they will release “Lo nuevo de Los Rayos”, the most recent production from this San Diego norteño band. The album will include the same norteño touch that’s found in Serrano’s music.
On March, 2004, Serrano celebrated his 42 anniversary of playing continuously in San Diego and he celebrated with a great party, organized by radio station La Invasora.
The event was a good remainder to all norteño fans that there’s still Joe Serrano y sus Rayos de San Diego for a while.
“I love music to death,” Serrano said.
For albums and events
If you need to bring music to a family party or a special event, or if you would like to buy any of the albums by Joe Serrano and Los Rayos de San Diego or El Combo Latino, you can reach Joe Serrano at (619) 279-6229.