By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Then came the real breakthrough - kids began to play his cassettes on their car stereos as they cruised the boulevards. Soon their friends would be asking about him and heading to the swap meet for his tapes. "That's what made Chalino," says Orozco. "In Tijuana, Guadalajara, Las Vegas - they'd all have Chalino going in their cars. That was his radio. It began here in Los Angeles. They'd leave from El Parral with their stereos going at full volume."
In January of 1992, Chalino sang at a private quinceanera - the traditional coming-out party for 15-year-old girls - in Compton. When word leaked out that he would be performing, hundreds of people tried to crash the party. Windows were broken, and the police came. He was becoming famous. But the Chalino legend really began later that month.
As a singer known as a valiente, Chalino would occasionally be challenged by men in the audience. On January 20, Chalino was booked into Los Arcos, a club in Coachella, 20 miles east of Palm Springs. His arrival was something special for the isolated, predominantly Latino desert town; Los Arcos was packed. Chalino later told police that someone gave him a 10mm pistol as he walked in, hoping he would wear it onstage, as was his custom. But according to Hernandez, the gun belonged to Chalino. "He always took a gun to a show. It was always loaded."
Coachella Police Sergeant Vince Singleterry says that Chalino "explained the facade, the showman, the corridos, the macho thing with the gun, the tough-guy attitude. That was expected, especially of somebody from Sinaloa. But he seemed like one who hadn't been bit by the fame and stardom. He still had the presence of mind to say that that was the showman part of him and he was really a normal person."
There were some, however, who took the showman part of him seriously. Shortly before midnight, as Chalino was taking requests, Eduardo Gallegos, a 33-year-old unemployed mechanic high on alcohol and heroin, jumped up on the short stage and, from a few feet away, fired a .25 caliber pistol into the singer's side.
Chalino pulled his gun, leaped from the stage and, as he ran through the crowded dance floor, fired at Gallegos, who cranked off another few rounds. People rushed the doors and smashed windows, trying to escape. Someone took the gun from Gallegos and shot him in the mouth, then the crowd wrestled him to the ground. When it was over, seven people were wounded, including accordionist Hernandez, who was shot in the thigh. Rene Carranza, a 20-year-old local, was hit in the leg and bled to death as friends lugged him to a car and drove to a hospital. Other victims were said to have been taken by friends to Mexicali, 90 miles to the south.
The shooting made ABC's World News Tonight the next day, bolstering Chalino's reputation as a valiente. While he convalesced, sales of his cassettes shot up, and he finally began to get radio play - though DJs would air only one of his love songs, "Nieves de Enero" ("Snows of January"). At his first appearance following the shooting, at El Parral a few weeks later, hundreds of fans were locked out when the club had to shut its doors - at 6 p.m.
But the Coachella shooting may have taken its toll on Chalino. In the months that followed, he did two strange things. To his friends, he gave away his prized gun collection. And to Musart, he negotiated the rights to his music. Chalino had always been wary of business dealings with people he didn't know, yet he now spoke of letting a company promote him while he concentrated on his nightclub act, which was netting him $10,000 and $15,000 a weekend.
His wariness of businessmen did Chalino in. He demanded up-front money instead of royalties. Who could say whether there'd be any, after all, and in any event, who could trust a record company to keep track? So he committed what his friend Angel Parra calls "his greatest error." He sold Musart all rights to his songs - with no provision for royalties later - for a lump sum of 350,000 pesos, the equivalent of $115,000 at the time.
Chalino's royalties today are worth several million dollars. His widow, Marisela, and their son and daughter, though not penniless, must rely on relatives for financial help. "The quantity of money that this man lost was incredible," says Musart's Fernando Gonzalez. "I think he was already thinking that he was going to die."
In fact, Chalino had been receiving threats since the shooting. "The atmosphere in the bars and cantinas is dangerous, and he knew it," says Marisela. "He did what anyone does when you realize that you can die at any time. He put his life in order. He never thought his records would sell as well as they did, or would have helped us out as much as they would have. He never felt like an artist. He never knew the magnitude of what he would become." a
Still, things appeared to be going well. With the Musart money, Chalino bought a home for his family in Paramount - an L.A. suburb that had become a kind of second Sinaloa. He was singing live again. And he'd been offered the relatively huge sum of $20,000 for an engagement in Culiacan, Sinaloa's capital city. Marisela didn't want him to go. Culiacan was a dangerous place; he knew L.A. better. But Chalino had asked for and received half the money in advance. He had to go.