I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while. Last August a stretch of the 5 Freeway was renamed for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ritchie Valens (Valenzuela). If you’re going north, where the 5 hits the 170 and until you get to the 118, look to your right and that’s Pacoima, where Valens grew up and hit international fame.

Very unlikely story. His recording career lasted just eight months in 1958, with two 45s released: “C’mon, Let’s Go,” and “Donna” and “La Bamba” on the A and B sides of his second and final one. The first reached number 42 on the Billboard charts, with “Donna,” surprisingly, topping out at number 2 while his signature “La Bamba” made it only to number 22 at the time. It was the first pop song to combine Latin musical influences with rock and roll and sung entirely in Spanish.


Washed up before his 18th birthday? Hardly. There’s no telling where his career may have gone had he not lost that coin flip.

He was on the plane with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper that went down in a snowy cornfield in Iowa “the day the music died,” because there was no room for all the stars on that tour to take the small plane to the next gig in Fargo. He “won” a coin flip with Holly’s Crickets guitarist Tommy Allsup, who went on to work with Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson and Asleep At the Wheel and lived to be 85. He opened a club in Ft. Worth in the late ‘70s and named it Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon, in honor of that lifesaving coin toss.

(Bassist Waylon Jennings had a seat on the plane but gave it up to the Big Bopper, who had the flu, to save him from sitting on a cold bus for hours.)

Valens was three months shy of his 18th birthday. No Chicano or Latino performer had ever crossed over successfully to the rock and roll charts until he did. Despite such an incredibly short career, his circumstances and the weight of his three hits made him an inspiration for young Latino musicians everywhere, from Carlos Santana to Selena, not to mention the Kingsmen (who sounded very East LA), Jimi Hendrix and the Ramones, who covered “Come On, Let’s Go.” Of all the “La Bamba” covers, we probably have to give the top prize to Los Lobos. The whole vibrant East LA ‘60s scene owes much to young Ritchie, gifting us with so many including Cannibal & the Headhunters (he forgot the lyrics while recording and thus the “na, na na na na…” that Wilson Pickett adopted for his hit version), the Blazers, Little Willie G & Thee Midniters, the Premiers. Don’t forget Michigan’s ? & the Mysterians, surnames Martinez, Rodriguez, Balderrama, Martinez, Lugo.

The Valenzuela family spoke only English at home, and Ritchie had to learn the Spanish lyrics to “La Bamba” phonetically.

What a cat. I may have to drive up to his freeway and wave to Pacoima in his honor.

NOT SO MANY live shows to recommend for this coming week, but I won’t bend my standards. You can save up your energy for the coming summer season’s avalanche of good music.


TONIGHT! — ARLO GUTHRIE (the second generation legend in his own right, will you get “Alice’s Restaurant,” all 18 minutes? — if not, “City of New Orleans” would do just fine), 8 PM, Saban Theatre, Beverly Hills, $48-$78.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS (great show, showmanship from the Rev, a masterful and urgently-performed history of R&B et al at Herb Alpert’s elegant jazz club), Fri, 6:30 PM, Vibrato Grill & Jazz, Beverly Glen, $20.

SLEEPLESS: The Music Center After Hours (the annual multi-media bash is going disco this year, sounds like a hoot), Fri & Sat, 11:30 PM-3 AM, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown LA, $30.

THE GEORGE KAHN TRIO (former Santa Monica-ish jazz pianist and composer — his wife Diana teaches voice for many years at SMC, his Samohi-grad son Evan has become a successful cellist — has a new CD out, ‘Straight Ahead” and playing the cool, intimate, “undiscovered” Alvas in Pedro), Sat, 8 PM, Alvas Showroom, San Pedro, $15.

ROOTS ROADHOUSE 2018 featuring WANDA JACKSON, 23 more including Jesse Dayton, Whiskey Shivers, the Cactus Blossoms, JD Wilkes with the Legendary Shack Shakers unplugged, the Frogtown Serenaders, High Life Cajun Band (as the “2018” might have clued you, they do this every year and as usual the Echo folks know what they’re doing, from punk to pop to rockabilly to reggae, and this is an exceptional lineup but even if you only heard Wanda you’d be good to go, she is the Queen of Rockabilly who transitioned to a successful straight-ahead country career, check out her smokin’ 1961 performance of “Hard Headed Woman” with her band featuring a double-necked guitar, a female fiddler, poundin’ piano man and even a trumpet, and I can tell you that even into her 80s she has the same punk spunk), Sunday, 3 PM, Echo + Echoplex, $13-$25.

BARBARA MORRISON (exceptional vocalist, a local treasure, you’ll sit there eating pizza and think, I could be at some swank jazz club or auditorium and be paying lots and not be as happy because, well, no pizza), Tues, 7 PM, PIPS Pizza Pasta Salads, no cover.

Dub Club with DON CARLOS (roots reggae master, original Black Uhuru with Garth and Duckie, later reunited), Wed, 9 PM, the Echoplex, $20.

BAND NAMES OF THE WEEK: Daddy Differently, Can’t Swim, Melted, Decent Criminal, Sumo Princess, Whiskey Shivers, the Abominable Twitch, Loud Forest, Cougar Getting Jr, Destroy All Gondolas, Illuminati Hotties.

LYRIC OF THE WEEK: “I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate he stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts when he drew that color line here at his eighteen hundred family project.

Beach Haven ain’t my home! No, I just can’t pay this rent! My money’s down the drain and my soul is badly bent!

Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower, where no black folks come to roam. No, no, Old Man Trump! Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!” — Woodie Guthrie (written in 1950 when he lived in Fred Trump’s notorious Brooklyn project, discovered among Woodie’s papers 50 years later; last year Donald tRump told the Washington Post, his favorite newspaper, “My legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy.”)

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com