Chapter 8 – Brown & Proud
Words of Wisdom: Chicano. Soy Chicano, ‘cuz I’m brown and I’m proud and I’ll make it in my own way!
The words of wisdom from this chapter come from Chulas Fonteras (Beautiful Borders), a documentary of what it means to live on the border of two countries and multiple worlds. The importance of identity comes across in a couple of ways. One is that we should be proud and not ashamed of where we came from. When we are young, we often feel that our background limits our personal growth and future opportunities. Whether or not this is true depends on the individual circumstances. Regardless, these early life factors only limit our growth and opportunities to the extent that we let them. The issue of speaking Spanish is a curious one. On the one hand, you have Latinos choosing to abandon a tremendous asset while families and youth of other races/ethnicities are trying to learn this very language. It doesn’t seem wise to squander this ability, but it happens all the time.
The other part of this chapter’s words of wisdom is that when you know what makes you “you” then that is the most powerful resource you have at your disposal. You then live your life the way you want to, express yourself that way you want to, and choose a life path that makes sense for someone who has your strengths. But if you lack an understanding of your identity, if you are not proud of who you are and what you stand for, then you are living your life based on what others think is good for you.
Before delving into the Latin Rock part of my story, I need to share a little about my work and experience in politics. As I’ve alluded to in early chapters, I have had the honor of serving as an elected official, specifically as a member of the Austin City Council and a trustee for Austin Community College. One of my city council priorities was to elevate Latino music to more prominence. When I was on the City Council, I helped establish the Austin Latino Music Association (ALMA), the “Idolos del Barrio” (Barrio Idols) Awards, Latino Music Month, and the Trail of Tejano Legends. ALMA partnered with Pachanga Fest during its first two years, and successfully nominated several artists for the Austin Music Memorial and one artist, Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, for the National Heritage Fellowship.
I share this for a couple of reasons, first that not all musical styles/traditions receive equal support and appreciation in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and second, that my experience working as an advocate for “musica” Latina led to many fun and special moments. When we were promoting May as Latino Music Month in Austin, we documented over 300 shows of Latino music per month, an average of about 10 shows per day. I would venture to say that’s meaningful and significant. Once I left the City Council, support for these programs waned, and they virtually disappeared from the musical landscape. It is a shame that this is true in a city calling itself the “Live Music Capital of the WORLD.”
So as not to end on that bitter note, I will note that my work with ALMA to recognize Austin Latino music legends was one of the most meaningful things I did as city council member. During the 15 years that ALMA has been in operation, we have awarded over 60 “Idolos del Barrio” (Barrio Idol) Awards, and in so doing documented to a good degree the history of Latino music in Austin, at least from the 1950’s onward. My proudest work has been to help document the career of Austin Tejano Music pioneer, Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, and to have submitted his nomination to the National Endowment for the Arts for the National Heritage Fellowship, a recognition that he was granted in 2014 at the age of 87.
I also continue to work with ALMA to try to build a small museum to honor Cowboy’s career, notwithstanding the local politics that have made even this endeavor a practice in futility.
I begin my homage to Latina/o rockeros with the words of one, Carlos Santana. This is a live rendition of the spoken word piece, “Brotherhood,” from the compilation, Viva Santana:
All around sweet brotherhood
Be kind to one another – brotherhood
No more us … and them
No more politics or denomination - brotherhood
No more lust or greed
Peace and life
No more war, violence or unnecessary pain
In brotherhood we’ll find joy
Sweetness, softness, soulfulness
Tranquility, serenity, dignity
Harmony , perfection
One mind, one truth, one life
It is no surprise that when discussing my experiences relating to being Chicano, the first artist featured is Carlos Santana. As we have seen and will see further examples of in this book, music has an ability to break things down to their very essence, to cut through the B.S. The words above are truly powerful and inspirational, and I thank Santana for sharing them with us.
The intent of this chapter is not to chronicle Santana’s entire musical career or life story. As with the other artists I reference, the aim is to focus on the songs he recorded/performed that struck an emotional chord. The interesting thing is that with Santana, the range of emotions that he was able to elicit in me was much broader because I can relate personally to his experiences: the frustration with personal challenges; being pissed off about injustice; feeling pride in who you are and where you came from; the excitement of new experiences; hopefulness in the future; etc. Other artists to be featured in this chapter that also helped give me life include other 1970’s Latino rock bands and more contemporary groups like Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys, as well as Austin-based artists, Alejandro Escovedo, Grupo Fantasma/Brownout, Patricia Vonne, and Manuel “Cowboy” Donley.
Chapter 8 Songs
Most Iconic Instrumental Song:
Jimi Hendrix - “The Star Spangled Banner” [Live @ Woodstock (1969)]
Favorite Songs that are Strictly Instrumental (on Spotify as part of "Great Guitar Solos" play list)*:
Scorpions- “Coast to Coast”
Metallica – “To Live is To Die”
Rush – “La Villa Strangiato”
Jimi Hendrix – “Peace in Mississippi”
Stevie Ray – “Little Wing”
Los Lonely Boys – “Onda”
*The criteria for selection in this category was “a guitar solo embedded in a song and lasting at least 90 seconds.”
Favorite guitar solos in a non- instrumental rock song (on Spotify as part of "Great Guitar Solos" play list):
Guns & Roses-“Sweet Child of Mine”
Pearl Jam-“I am Alive”
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Freebird”
Rush – “Working Man”
Iron Maiden – “The Duelists”
Most soul-piercing guitar solos:
Audioslave-“Like a Stone”
Audioslave-“Out of Exile”
The additional themes that I grabbed onto from Santana were: desire to help out your “carnales & carnalas” (brothers and sisters); the desire to change the system; the love of one’s history, culture, language(s) and family; the belief that you can and will overcome; the belief that there is beauty in everything and everyone. Because of the emotion that was elicited, his music made these things real for me. My non-emotional self may have at some point come to understand and recognized that these things were true, but I may not have felt the need to act, to turn the focus from me to people and communities in need.
I know there is a Latino heckler out there thinking to himself, “When is this pinche vato (loose translation: freakin’ dude) going to talk about his own culture/people?” and of course, “When is he going to talk about Santana?” With Santana, it was not a matter of if, but when, how and for what purpose he would be invoked. Well, the waiting is over. Coincidentally, the first song on the first Santana album is called, “Waiting.” The song is appropriate not just for where it is to be placed in this book but more importantly for how the first album and first song placed Santana in the history of the electric guitar. We didn’t even know that this style of music was something we were waiting for but we were glad that the waiting was finally over in 1969. I have to give Greg Rolie props for his vocals and work on the Hammond organ on those first three albums since it was so much a part of that early Santana sound. The Latin percussion ensemble of Michael Carabello, Jose “Chepito” Areas, and Marcus Malone were critical components of that distinctive sound as well.
I would do a disservice to this rock icon if I only presented him in the context of Latin Rock or “La Onda Chicana” (the Chicano vibe). His early style of playing was so unique in an era when there were so many top notch electric guitarists. One thing that puts him on his own level in rock music history is the lyrical quality of his playing, the level of intensity, and the fact that he often played in a different time signature than all other rock bands of the era, that of the Afro-Cuban traditions that he incorporated into his repertoire.
Best Guitar Solos and Instrumentals
My analysis of the best of Santana is solely focused on his instrumental work, so it is only fair that I lay out what I think are the best rock guitar solos and instrumentals. Keep in mind that this list is based on my limited collection and exposure to the rock compendium.
I wasn’t going to comment on my list of rock instrumentals since the lyrical content is limited, but a couple of themes surfaced that I just couldn’t resist commenting on. First, the band for which I had the hardest time picking a best guitar solo was Iron Maiden. All of the songs I picked were from the album Powerslave. I considered the all-instrumental song on the album, “Losfer Words,” and the guitar solo in the song, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” As I listened to the album several times over to try to pick between the two, I discovered that there were four songs with a guitar solo that met the criteria (i.e., that were 90 seconds or more in length). If I was going to highlight an album for guitar prowess, then this would be it. I ultimately selected the song, “The Duelists,” because I felt it was powerful but also efficient in its delivery (i.e., it was not part of a song of epic length).
For Metallica, I had a hard time picking between “Call of Ktulu,” “Orion,” and “To Live is To Die.” If I’d used ferocity as a criteria, the selection would have been “Call of Ktulu.” In listening to the three songs, it became clear that the band was trying to say something meaningful through the musical composition for “To Live is To Die.” There is not much to say about an instrumental about a demon (“The Call of Ktulu” from an H.P. Lovecraft novel) or a song about a constellation. “To Live is To Die” is talking about a fatalistic view of life that people who are caught in the grind of our current system of production can easily adopt. The nine minute song starts with very grungy and staccato guitar riffs until the 4 minutes and 30 seconds mark where the song drastically changes tempo and mood. That middle section of the song moves me to tears almost every time I hear it. It is that emotional response that led me to pick it for the “best instrumentals” list and to write about. Why the tears? It’s a question that kept arising as I was writing this book with so many of my favorite songs. It’s disturbing to not know the answer to that question.
Another interesting thing happened as I listened to the song. I kept getting these images of a series of cartoons from my childhood that featured Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf. In each episode, Ralph is trying to get at the sheep and Sam thwarts his every attempt. It seems similar to Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, because Ralph Wolf never gets his sheep just as Wile E. Coyote never gets the Roadrunner. But in the case of Ralph Wolf, it is not the smarts of the potential victims (i.e., the sheep vs. the Roadrunner) that keeps him from getting his meal, it is the violent response of Sam the Sheepdog that does him in every time.
As an observer, you can’t help but root for Ralph because he gets pummeled several times over in each episode and literally never seems to get a meal. To make matters worse, the roles played by Sam and Ralph are portrayed as their respective jobs. They actually punch the clock in the morning, greet each other amicably and repeat the drill when they punch the clock at 5 pm as if they were friends. So, not only does Ralph never get to eat, he gets a barrage of physical abuse, and he has to smile at the end of the day and act like it is o.k. You begin to understand why after watching the show for some time you want Ralph to get the sheep, at least just one time. I don’t believe that ever happened.
The song, “To Live is To Die,” reminded me of the dynamic between Sam and Ralph in the cartoon series. The song appears to be a version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” except in this case it is from Ralph Wolf’s perspective. The songs starts with a melancholy acoustical intro, as if Ralph is waking up and not happy about his prospects that day. He punches into work, greets Sam the Sheepdog, and then the grind begins, evidenced by the grungy and staccato guitar riffs to which I alluded earlier. When the part of the song that saddened me hits, I envision Ralph getting home and just letting out his frustration at the vicious cycle in which he seems to be stuck. I imagine outstretched hands to the heavens asking for a reason as to why this is allowed to continue, eventually leading to his falling down to his knees (when the acoustic part arrives). The pick me up happens when what sounds like 10 electric guitars kick in and Ralph is somehow made whole.
I kept trying to figure out what happened when the lifting-up happened. Did Ralph pick himself up by his bootstraps? Did the Lord come to his rescue and fortify his spirit? I was not satisfied with either of these answers for some reason. I kept trying to figure it out. What was happening in this tale of life’s cruelty? The fullness of the guitars (that I describe as sounding like 10 guitars) appeared to be an army of support. Not a divine being intervening. Not the individual getting through a tough time, but a group of people helping an individual get through the tough situation. What I envision in the song is that Ralph’s family saw him in his distress and came to his side, prayed with him, and reassured him that he was not alone and that all would be o.k. The power of family was Ralph’s salvation.
The theory of hope that I present in Chapter 9 is all about the power of interactions between people. These interactions are necessary for our spiritual well-being. Somehow, a song that almost didn’t even make the list of “best instrumentals” led me not only to cartoon episodes of my youth but also created a linkage to one of the main foci of this book, sharing my theory of hope.
Best Instrumentals by Santana (Spotify playlist: Santana Favorites)
In my humble opinion, Carlos is the undisputed champion of the rock instrumental. In support of this claim, I offer the following 10 instrumental numbers from Carlos’ first three studio albums as the one and only exhibit. I would add that this song list probably constitutes the best guitar-infused work out mix of all time. I mean that, de veras! (…for real!)
“Para Los Rumberos”
“Incident at Neshabur”
All of these songs were on Santana’s first three albums and all were recorded between 1969 and 1973. A side-by-side comparison with any guitarist from that era or later could not match the intensity and originality of these instrumental numbers. I will stress that I am specifically referring to songs of an instrumental variety. The body of work of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, and Alex Lifeson are difficult to surpass in terms of guitar prowess and originality, but none of them in a three-album stretch can match the number much less the intensity of the above song list for Santana.
This collection of rock instrumentals by Santana has a surreal quality to it. These recorded songs may be the best representation of a live performance on tape. These songs sound like live performances but are actually studio performances and not recordings of songs performed live. Because of the diversity of The First Santana Band, I imagine that the live audience for these sessions were the deities that corresponded to the regions from which the band members came. There was no audience for these performance but the gods of Africa, the gods of Meso-America, the gods of Western Europe, and the gods of the Northern native tribes. Especially on the song, “Jingo,” you can imagine the drummers from all of these spiritual traditions playing in unison (for we all know that there was drumming before there was any other kind of music) and looking down upon the proceedings and nodding their heads in acknowledgement that “it was good.” Or, if there is one all-powerful God, then maybe the power inherent in these songs suggests that “it is good” when people of diverse backgrounds come together to commune and create.
Back to the question, what does Santana’s music mean to me? Santana helped me make sense of the world. I could enjoy and be proud of my culture as well as things outside of my culture. Like Santana, I was of Mexican ancestry but had musical interests that were outside of the norm for people like us. Like Santana, I ended up in northern California and, in this diverse surrounding, was able to grow in unimaginable ways. It was here that we both decided to give back to the community using whatever skills we had at our disposal. The skills we devote to our work are markedly different and the scale of the impact of our work is far removed, but the point is to have the commitment to serve others and not our own self-interest. I would argue that it is not the scale of the impact that matters but the sentiment that you are sending out into the universe.
Santana and groups/artists like Los Lobos, Freddy Fender, and Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeno Band, a Stanford-based sal-soul (i.e.,salsa with soul, a term I borrowed from the record label of the same name) orchestra who performed as a group when I was enrolled at Stanford, helped me to understand that our “gente” (people) could do things no other people could because of our broad interests and unique perspectives. Later, at the University of Texas, I was drawn to the likes of Conjunto Aztlan, Los Lonely Boys, Grupo Fantasma, Brownout, San Antonio-based Chicano Blues Man Randy Garibay, and Tejano Legend Manuel “Cowboy” Donley for the skill they used in meshing traditional and non-traditional musical styles, exhibiting a unique use of two languages and conveying superbly rich musical styles and flavors. The bands I’ve listed in this chapter thus far are all bands with members having backgrounds similar to mine or band members of other backgrounds who appreciate people with backgrounds similar to mine. In the end, isn’t this attitude all that is needed to create a society of mutual respect? Musicians seem more capable of working in this type of environment than society does.
Before giving examples of how cross-cultural elements can influence musical composition, I want to demonstrate these elements in a spoken word piece by Austin poet laureate Raul Salinas, writing about Austin visual arts icon, Raul Valdez. So, I suppose this is my homage to my favorite people who share the same name as me. Mi “tocayo” (namesake--this is how all of the Raul’s I’ve encountered refer to each other) actually recorded this song on a CD where his recital of the poem is accompanied by bass and drums, so there most certainly is a musical connection as well. The poem is taken from Raul Salinas’ poetry collection entitled East of the Freeway: Reflections de Mi Pueblo (reflections of my community).
Poem Para la Dedication de un Mural - for my compa Raúl Valdez & los niños de “La Brooke” Elementary
beats the drumming of an active
walls and halls
manteles con flames
in hojas rojas
brotando de Nuevo
olores de flores
in ArcoIris Danza
Chanza que un día
caring and sharing
con niños of
Rainbow people spirits
not knowing of each other,
en la lucha
you & me
then, can understand
of World culture
que’s lo mero
Austin, 15 de septiembre del 1983
beats the drumming of an active
walls and halls
of the little school
in red sheets
with scents of flowers
in a rainbow dance
Chances are that one day
caring and sharing
with children of
Rainbow people spirits
not knowing of each other,
in the struggle
you & me
then, can understand
of World culture
which is the most
Austin, September 15, 1983
In the space to the right, I have translated the Spanish words interspersed in the body of the poem. You see that the “mezcla” (blending) of languages is done in a brilliant fashion and produces a result that cannot be replicated in any single language. Clearly, the poet felt it important to tell the story in this way, and a true artist must have the integrity to tell it in the way that it must be told. The blending of cultures and languages is also essential for telling the story of the two subjects of the poem (i.e., the artist, Raúl Valdez and the mural) because they share the same cultural underpinnings. It is this same dynamic that I attribute to Santana and other artists who approach music in a similar way.
Songs by Chicano/Latino artists many times include this intricate and seamless switching between languages and cultural references. Sometimes the changes are contained within an entire album or, as with the above poem, within one single composition. At times, the exploration of these cultural and linguistic elements happen as the musical career of an individual artist or band evolves over time. True art articulates truth or perceived truths about life and about the individual(s) attempting to convey these truths or perceptions of truth. A person who makes music their career will at some point have to grapple with anything and everything that they encounter in their insights and insides. And if a person finds diversity inside, then the art they create will necessarily be a reflection of that diversity. Otherwise, the communication will not feel real or complete.
Doing It Chicano Style
I pondered for a long time about what group to highlight for mixing language and styles like Raul Salinas did in the above poem: Lalo Guerrero, Freddy Fender, Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeno Band, Conjunto Aztlan, Chicano Blues Man - Randy Garibay, etc. It came down to Los Lonely Boys vs Randy Garibay (RIP) because they tend more than the others towards rock ‘n roll, with Los Lonely Boys (LLB) having a decidedly harder edge. I also really couldn’t pick between the two, so I’m selecting one album from Garibay (Chicano Blues Man) and two albums from Los Lonely Boys (their self-titled debut album and Sacred) because of the variety and quality of the compositions. I’ll start with a few techniques used by both artists. They both include tunes featuring harmonica (“Home” by LLB and “To the Bone” by Garibay) and accordion (“Texican Style” by LLB and “I’d Give Anything if I Could Be in Texas” by Garibay). “I’d Give Anything I Could to Be in Texas” by Garibay is done in a country-western style as is “Outlaw” by LLB. They both use a slow cha-cha-cha rhythm for “I Never Met a Woman” (LLB) and “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” (Garibay). On “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” by Garibay, you have to wait for the chorus to hear the 4/4 beat change to the Cuban rhythm.
They both do a great job of playing AND singing the rockin’ tunes and playing AND singing the sensual ones. You don’t find that kind of vocal prowess very often. If attempted by a male blues singer, it usually sounds like a blues singer singing a love song (i.e., super throaty and scratchy, like sandpaper). The rockin’ tunes for Garibay are “To the Bone,” “Cabeza,” and “Mean Ass Woman,” and for LLB, I’ll offer “Senorita,” “Real Emotions,” “My Way,” and “Oye Mamacita.” In more of a crooner style, LLB impresses on “More than Love,” “Velvet Sky,” and “La Contestacion” while Garibay shines on “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,’ “Funny Not Much,” “Que Me Puede Ya Importar,” and “Movida.” When you consider the albums as a unit, all you can do is marvel at the depth of the artistry that is shared. To say that the range of styles is vast is an understatement, but to delve more deeply would require several more pages of writing. Instead I’ll share a few highlights.
Although there is no denying that both of these bands are blues bands, the cultural background/interests of both groups of artists are woven expertly and seamlessly throughout the entire albums in complex ways. The Spanish language comes across as a critical element: some songs have only a word or phrase in Spanish, some have a Spanish chorus, some are all in Spanish, some are songs traditionally sung in Spanish that are performed in English and some are songs traditionally sung in English that are performed in Spanish. Latin rhythms add a unique element to the tapestry: cha-cha-cha, bolero, cumbia, salsa, etc. Yet somehow, the albums don’t seem disjointed. It is the subject matter tackled in the lyrics that we easily identify as having a blues character, providing the cohesion that would otherwise make these albums seem more of a parody of the blues than an authentic representation of the blues.
From a cultural point of view, Garibay’s “Cabeza” stands out. The word itself is in Spanish and means “head.” Before the rock ‘n rollers, especially, let their imaginations start running away with them, it refers to a cow’s head and, specifically, a favorite Mexican dish made from anything and everything from a cow’s head called “barbacoa.” The chorus says it all, “we like tongue and brains.” These component parts were most certainly parts of the “cabeza” that were included in the mashed up version of this dish we enjoyed back in “El Valle” in the days of my youth. Now, a barbacoa taco only has the cheeks. Other parts must be purchased separately. My grandpa’s, Abuelo Tomas’, favorite part was the eyes and my mom’s favorite part were “los cezos” (the brains). I just ate it and tried not to think about the component parts. I’d just focus on the fact that it tasted so good! It is a dish I highly recommend!
The Latino-ness that is conveyed by Garibay and LLB is not of a traditional Latin American culture, but truly a Mexican-American culture, a background that I share with them. I’ll call it a Chicano culture or Chicano sensibility. It is an identity and lifestyle that emerges when you have a cultural and historical background that is shunned by the society around you and that you, either by force or as a survival mechanism, must find a way to deal with if you are going to successfully navigate life. What emerges from the melding of histories and cultures is something unique, as was evident in the poem by Raul Salinas that I shared earlier. Chicanos draw not just from the English and Spanish languages but also from indigenous languages. Chicanos must reconcile not only American and European ways of thinking and behaving but also indigenous views of the world and our relationship to it. All of this is in our blood (our genetic code), on top of the social and cultural environment in which we are enveloped. There is a beauty to this “mezcla” (mixture) but often times it creates a conflict of identity as well as a conflict between what our gut tells us is important and what American culture tells us is important.
The blues for African-Americans and for those who are drawn to its art form, like Garibay and LLB, provide a way to deal with these conflicts in culture and priorities and helps us to acknowledge that we are not alone in having to deal with all of this cr@p. There is a mourning that comes across in the blues because of the struggle for survival that so many have had to endure for so many years, but it is combined with an appreciation of life. The Creator has given us this gift of life. Although we mourn the difficulties that we and/or those around us must endure, we must also rejoice for this life and the realization that the mundane things of this world are not what truly matters. So, my view of the blues is that it represents both mourning and rejoicing but not always in very literal or obvious ways. This is, after all, how messages are typically transmitted via art.
Most of the Garibay and LLB songs I’ve mentioned before have dealt with the rejoicing part of the equation (even in the “love that was lost” kind of songs, since there is still the rejoicing in having had the special experience of being in love). In the Garibay and LLB albums that I am highlighting, the mourning or frustration comes across in Garibay’s “Still Singing the Blues” and “Chicano USA” and in LLB’s “Orale,” “One More Day,” and “Living My Life.” In “Chicano USA,” Garibay talks about fighting for his country in Vietnam and coming home only to find that discrimination is still pointed at him regardless of the medals he earned and the sacrifice he made to this country. He states that the “pat on the back” turned into “a kick in the ass.” But, in the song and in life, he refuses to deny his culture and heritage. He’ll defend his family and his culture at all costs, and he’ll even defend this country again if the need arises.
For being so young at the time of writing the songs in the album, Sacred, Los Lonely Boys sure do a good job of mapping out the preferred posture when it comes to dealing with adversity. While the details are a little vague regarding any specific adverse situations, it is not really necessary. Things are messed up out there for so many people, and, if you don’t see it, then you’re not paying attention. LLB talk about “knowing love,” “knowing pain,” “hearts a breakin’” and “lives being taken,“ but they still keep their heads up, pointed up at the sky. It is hard to see a way forward when you’re looking down and not looking to see if there is a path you can take. Even if there is no existing path, a new path can always be carved.
To me, the song, “Orale,” brings it all home. The word, “orale,” is an awesome word. It can be used in so many circumstances and convey so many different attitudes depending on the situation. It is almost as versatile as the “f” word, without causing the shocked reaction that people have to the use of that particular word. Orale, ostensibly, means “allright then” or “o.k. let’s do this.” It can convey: understanding (Orale. I get it, now. I understand); the acknowledgement of a response (So, are we going to do this? Yes. Orale!); and defiance or fearlessness (Oh, you want a piece of me? Orale! Let’s go!). In the song by LLB, what is being defied is the adversity of life: “Don’t need no more hurting. Don’t need no more crying. Hey, everything is alright, so I say “Orale.”
I will end this section with a focus on Garibay and the concept of gratitude, which comes across in several songs on the featured album. By the time he recorded Chicano Blues Man, he most likely had already been diagnosed with cancer. Several songs here pay homage to many things of importance to him. In “Fender Bender,” he pays tribute to Austin, Antone’s night club, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in one fell swoop. I’ve mentioned the song, “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” (a cover of the Righteous Brothers’ hit), a few times, but I hadn’t mentioned that he incorporated the familiar Cuban song, “Guantanamera,” into the composition. One of the verses from “Guantanamera” he changed so that it says that instead of being “un hombre sincero, de donde crecen las palmas” (a sincere guy from where the palm trees grow), he is “un vato Chicano, del hueso de San Antonio” (a Chicano dude from the very core of San Antonio). But he keeps the rest of the verse: “y antes de morir yo quiero, cantar mis versos del alma” (and before I die, I want to sing these verses straight from my heart). Although you don’t quite realize it at first, the word, “Guantanamera,” is never actually uttered or missed.
I got a chance to meet Garibay at the KOOP Radio studios once and had the chance to see Garibay perform on three occasions, the most notable being at a gig at Antone’s where he opened for Doug Sahm (RIP). The energy was just off the charts for that show. Garibay got the crowd going so good that Doug Sahm actually came out and started his set early. So, the crowd got more than their fair share of Sahm, a curtailed dose of Garibay, but one hell of a night at Austin’s Home of the Blues. Garibay’s horn players backed up Sahm, and Garibay got called out to share the stage (after all, they’re both from “el hueso de San Antonio”). We lost both Sahm and Garibay a few years after they shared the stage at Antone’s, so that show remains one of my favorite memories when reflecting on the hundreds of live music shows I’ve attended.
I got to hang out with Garibay backstage before the show at Antone’s. He was just the most down to earth person, and looked like any other cat from the West Side of San Antonio (in dress and attitude). As we Chicanos might say, “era bien de aquellas” (he was one cool dude). I am always amazed at how people who possess what I would consider to be genius can appear to be just as normal as the rest of us. When combined with great humility, great talent is very easily overlooked. But we know and we remember our “carnal!” There really should be a Randy Garibay museum and an annual Randy Garibay Blues Festival! Maybe one day!
In the end, Randy Garibay was about the blues. It defined him and sustained him for many, many years. The ease with which he could compose, sing, and play so many different styles of the blues and early styles of rock ‘n roll was just inspiring. In the first song of his album, Chicano Blues Man, Garibay expresses his gratitude to the blues itself in the song “Still Singing the Blues.” In just a few verses, he conveys in a most sentimental way, why it is that musicians do what they do. The vocals are heartfelt, and the guitar work is as smooth as silk.
I’ve been singing the blues
in smokey places, all my life
New York to San Antonio
With a guitar on my shoulder
Oh I’ve never been alone
And I’ve seen good time and bad times
the sour and the sweet
Never felt like quitin’ and I never missed a beat
And I’m still here to spread the news
Still here, and still singing the blues
I live a life, most would shout about
Had a battle with the bottle,
Johnny Walker knocked me out
Flat on my back, kept coming back
I’m not too sure, I’m doing for myself
And, I still love singing the blues, in smokey places
Look out at the crowd and check out those smiling faces
And I’m still here to spread the news
Randy’s back and still singing the blues