East Side Love

Latino Rockabilly In Los Angeles FTW

Comments (0)


Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Attendees at the "Rumble on Pine" Rockabilly Block Party - TIMOTHY NORRIS
  • Timothy Norris
  • Attendees at the "Rumble on Pine" Rockabilly Block Party

The Moose Lodge lounge is rocking. On this recent Saturday night in Whittier, rockabilly culture is alive and well. You know the look: The ladies are in classic polka-dot dresses and signature Bettie Page hair, flirtatiously stirring their drinks. The guys have rolled-up pant cuffs, rolled sleeves, cigarettes and pompadours.

Everyone is dancing to the stand-up bass, drums and reverb guitar in this spacious hall. It's like a scene out of Grease, with one major difference: Nearly everyone here is Latino.

Rockabilly started with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash in Tennessee and was thought to be mainly the domain of whites. But the culture and the music have exploded in the past decade here in L.A. Why have young Latin kids embraced this music of the Eisenhower age?

See also: Our full Rumble on Pine Rockabilly slideshow

Nicholas F. Centino, a writer and doctoral candidate in Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara, says it's simple: The scene creates an identity for them. Not only is it different from the ranchera music of their parents, it's different from the EDM and Taylor Swift the white kids are listening to. It's something that's all their own, and, despite being more than a half-century old, it feels fresh.

Not only that but, despite popular conceptions, Latinos have been part of the scene all along. "If you look at the history of the genre, you will find that Latinas and Latinos have been die-hard rock & rollers since the early years," Centino says. The most famous, of course, was Ritchie Valens, of "La Bamba" fame. Born in the San Fernando Valley and fond of the pompadour hairstyle, he shortened his name from Valenzuela to Valens to broaden his appeal. Centino calls him, along with Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, a founder of rockabilly -- hillbilly rock & roll, if you will. (Both Valens and Buddy Holly, while touring together, died in a plane crash in 1959.)

During the '70s and '80s, rockabilly went through a transformation; punk and goth influences changed it from the '50s do-wop sound toward the faster-paced, horror movie-inspired subgenre of psychobilly, led by The Cramps and The Misfits The Meteors.

After a relative lull, rockabilly and psychobilly have gained speed in the L.A. area. Local indie Wild Records started in 2001 and features mostly Latino musicians. Its artists and others have performed at area rockabilly events including the Rumble on Pine Festival and Ink-N-Iron Festival in Long Beach -- as well as venues like the Moose Lodge, the Five Star and the Airliner -- before primarily Latino audiences. The men (in jean jackets) bring their women (in tight dresses) in their classic throwback cars. Everyone's tattooed from head to toe, smoking and drinking Sailor Jerry's.

"The newness of rockabilly is attractive because it goes against all the social norms of pop culture," says Johnathan Albarran Palomino, guitarist for Long Beach psychobilly band The Gunz, whose members are all in their early 20s. "Punk is getting too old, ska has stagnated, and electro is just a fad."

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Interpol - Mack Sennett Studios - August 26, 2014

    Interpol KCRW show at Mack Sennett Studios August 26, 2014 Playing several songs from their first release in four years, El Pintor, New York aught-rock band Interpol followed up a strong set at FYF Fest with an intimate show for KCRW last night at Mack Sennett Studios.  The new recorded work shows that...
  • 12th Planet Is Sick of the Dubstep Scene

    12th Planet is credited with bringing dubstep to America.  Ahead of his performance at Made in America in Grand Park this Sunday, August 31, we talked to him at the Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, where he is recording music for his new album. In contrast to his heavy sounds,...
  • Henry Rollins: American Bigotry Is Alive in Ferguson

    While most of America gets on with its business, Ferguson, Missouri, burns in archaic flames of exasperating, unresolved anger, for all to see. Once again, the world watches America roil in the mortifying echo of Jim Crow law brutality. Meanwhile, U.S. firepower explodes bodies of ISIS militia thousands of miles...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets