Lalo, a son of Arizona, was a trailblazer who synthesized different genres of music such as boleros, corridos, boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues with the struggles of Chicanos, and by doing so, he created a new Chicano musical art form and a proud and inspirational legacy.
An interview by Jimmy Franco with Dan Guerrero, son of Lalo Guerrero.
Dan, can you give me some background on your father’s younger days and family background?
Lalo was born to Eduardo and Concepcion Guerrero in 1916 in the Barrio Libre section of Tucson which is now known as the Barrio Viejo. He was part of a large family and was named Eduardo Guerrero Jr., but was called Lalo by everyone who knew him. His father was a boilermaker who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Lalo developed an interest in music and films at an early age.. He would attempt to sing popular songs that he heard and expressed this budding talent in school plays and other programs.
How did your dad get involved in music?
My grandmother Concepcion used to sing and play the guitar so she taught young Lalo these skills. As he grew up, his mother became his one and only music teacher and his primary musical influence. By the time he was in his teens, Lalo had a quartet called Los Carlistas which was named after a neighborhood social club. This quartet often played at the Charro Cafe which still exists in Tucson, but is now located at a different site. My father also began to write songs and composed the classic ranchera “Cancion Mexicana” which was made famous throughout Mexico by the popular singer Lucha Reyes.
What were the early years of his career like in regard to the type of audiences he played for and the struggles that he encountered?
In 1938, a young Lalo and the popular Los Carlistas group, were chosen to represent Arizona at the World’s Fair being held in New York City. Lalo and the group drove all the way across the country in
Did Lalo encounter any discrimination or restrictions on his ability or opportunity to develop his career?
Of course. During this period of segregation within the U.S. there were certain venues and clubs, where despite my father’s talent, he was not allowed to play in due to the discrimination faced by Chicanos. I presume that it must have been frustrating for him to encounter such racial barriers that
How did the move to Los Angeles during the 1940′s provide your father with more opportunities to showcase his talent?
His decision to relocate his young family from Arizona to L.A. was
When did his career as a recording artist begin and with which songs?
He decided to record at Imperial records with a group named El
The style and lyrics of your father’s songs resonated deeply with many Chicanos during the 1950′s, where did he find the inspiration and material for many of the lyrics that he wrote?
My dad was essentially a historian through music. He wrote and performed his music for the Chicano community and others who appreciated his talent. The inspiration and lyrical content for his songs came from the culture and history that he observed around him and which he experienced on a daily basis. He created his own style of corridos that ranged from parodies of mini-skirts, tortillas and Santa Claus, to more serious lyrics about social issues that dealt with Cesar Chavez, the August 29th Chicano Moratorium and the death of journalist Ruben Salazar.
Were Lalo’s songs ever criticized by mainstream conservative music critics?
No, not very much except for the song Pancho Lopez. The reason is that his music was geared to a specific Chicano audience. Hit songs such as “Pachuco Boogie, Marijuana Boogie, Vamos a Bailar”, and other musical creations of his were essentially ignored by mainstream critics who dismissed them as part of a sub-culture type of music much like rhythm and blues was. Thus, his music was not viewed as a threat to the predominate music of the time that was performed by white musicians for a conservative white audience.
Many young Chicanos and blacks during the 1950′s listened to rhythm and blues music on the radio that was then considered “race music”, while white audiences primarily listened to popular music performed by white musicians. How did your father find his place culturally and musically within these different and separate worlds of musical genres and society?
He was able to innovate and fuse different musical genres and influences into his own style, and by doing so, he created a new bilingual Chicano form of music that
How should we view Lalo’s musical contributions and legacy within Chicano culture and within the broader American culture?
While he created a new Chicano musical form, his music was in essence a part of the mosaic of American culture just as blues and jazz are. In 1998, Lalo performed with accordionist-vocalist Flaco Jiminez from San Antonio at an American Music Festival held in Paris France. Participating U.S. musicians at this festival also performed blues, jazz and other American musical art forms. So, my dad and Flaco played Chicano-Tejano music, but it was viewed and appreciated by the audience as an integral part of the family of traditional American music. In a culmination to his long and productive career, a ceremony was held at the White House in 1997 in which President Clinton awarded my father the National Medal of Arts which is the nation’s highest arts award.
How did he subsequently influence other Chicano musicians in regard to style, lyrical innovation, and the ability to connect with an audience?
His persistence and courage in struggling to overcome prejudicial obstacles to his artistic talent and career opened the doors for
Before your dad passed away, I had the privilege of hearing him perform in Los Angeles and he still expressed the vibrancy and life that his music always projected. How was he able to do this at such a late age?
He was semi-retired and living in Palm Springs for a period of time
What do you think your dad’s reaction would have been to what is happening in Arizona with its present racial laws and restrictions aimed at Chicanos and other Latinos?
I am sure that he would have been very upset at what was happening in his beloved Arizona and would most likely have found a way to protest this injustice. I recently participated in a demonstration in Arizona against these racist laws with Dolores Huerta and Linda Ronstadt. I know my father would have participated and raised his voice and guitar in opposition to this growing repression against Chicanos and the violation of their basic rights in his home state.
Why is it important that we keep Lalo’s musical legacy alive and make it known and appreciated to a broader and younger audience?
My dad’s musical legacy is part of our proud history and it depicted the world around him that he observed and experienced. His music was constantly evolving in order to keep pace with changing conditions, musical tastes and people’s new experiences. Lalo’s lyrics and music projected a vibrancy andfeeling for life that resonated with people who saw him as one of them and who spoke, felt and understood them and their lives. My father was a socially conscious historian who expressed himself musically, and in doing so, he brought contemporary social issues to his audience in a creative and entertaining way. He was also very outspoken and proud to be a Chicano and loved his culture and utilized it musically while performing for his audiences. During the historical period that encompassed his early career, Chicano artists were extremely marginalized by society and the music industry. However, a proud and defiant Lalo Guerrero refused to have limits placed upon his talent and its development. Thus, his struggles paved the way and opened many doors for future Chicano artists as he loved to hear young talent and did his best to nurture it.
For more on the legacy of Lalo Guerrero log on to the web site: