After sharing some of our heroes of Chicano rock, we wanted to continue the deep dive into Latin music in America with 30 heroes of Latin Rock. Not to be confused with Rock en Español, Latin rock is defined as “a music subgenre consisting of melting traditional sounds and elements of Latin American and Caribbean folk with rock music.”
From Chicano rock forefathers Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti to the artists of today, Latin rock has allowed us to take a popular and important musical genre and put our unique spin on it, with glorious results. And it’s the end of the year, so your rock playlists might need some updating! Don’t sleep on these amazing artists.
Without further ado, we wanted to share 30 artists who made their mark in Latin rock. Check it out, learn more about this Latinx excellence, and share the culture with others!
Whenever possible, it’s best to go as far back in the history of a genre and pay tribute to those who paved the musical way. When it comes to Chicano rock, Latin rock, and just Chicano music in general, the main trailblazer is most often credited as Tuscon native Lalo Guerrero, a.k.a the Father of Chicano Music.
Ritchie Valens, born Richard Steven Valenzuela, was encouraged (like many artists during the 1950s and before) to Anglicize his name for better marketability. But that so-called marketability was thinly veiled racism, to be honest. So it’s even more special that Ritchie Valen’s biggest hit song was one adapted from a Mexicana folk song. You know the one, “La Bamba.” Other legendary songs in Ritchie’s eight-month-long career included “Donna” and “Come On, Let’s Go.”
Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs was a band fronted by Domingo “Sam” Samudio, also consisting of Omar “Big Man Lopez,” Vincent Lopez, Carl Miedke, and Russell Fowler. They had major success with their hit “Wooly Bully,” which reached #2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, and held its spot in the chart for 18 weeks. The song mixed Mexican conjunto with rock and pop to create a unique sound. “Wooly Bully” became Record of the Year for Billboard, and the best-selling song of the year, even though it never made it to number one.
Danny Flores of The Champs
The name The Champs might not automatically ring a bell, but the band’s song “Tequila” definitely will. It hit number one and won the 1959 Grammy for Best R&B Performance. The song was written by Danny Flores, a.k.a. Chuck Rio, who is known as the “Godfather of Latino Rock.” If you haven’t already, add them to your playlist!
Hailing from Lincoln Heights, Eastside L.A., The Romancers were a Chicano rock/garage rock/R&B/soul group from the 1960s. They were the first East L.A. Chicano band to record an album and were the main influence of the mid-sixties East L.A. sound, paving the way for bands such as Cannibal & the Headhunters, and the Premiers.
Hawthorne, California’s Ekeziel Christopher Montanez sang in the rock, Latin, and pop music genres during the 1960s and ‘70s. In 1962, he scored his first hit, “Let’s Dance,” which peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 1963, Montez’s second single, “Some Kinda Fun,” went to number 10 on the U.K’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Call Me,” a ballad, reached #2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Sunny & the Sunglows/Sunny & the Sunliners
Chicano Ildefonso “Sunny” Ozuna was one of the founding members of Sunny & the Sunglows — which became Sunny & the Sunliners — a mostly-Chicanx group, that in the 1950s and ’60s blended Tejano, mariachi, R&B, soul, and more to create their winning sound. They scored a gold hit with their 1963 cover of the song “Talk to Me” (or “Talk to Me, Talk to Me”), and became the first Tejanos to appear on the iconic music show American Bandstand.
“Farmer John” is the hit song that put The Premiers on the map. The cover song, by the San Gabriel group, was released in 1964, reaching the 19th spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
The band Thee Midniters is another Chicano group who scored a hit during the 1960s with their 1965 cover of “Land Of A Thousand Dances.” It was a local hit, and reached #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The band also had success with the instrumental “Whittier Boulevard.” Thee Midniters’ Chicano rock went beyond just the sounds, with songs about Chicano issues, such as “Chicano Power,” and “The Ballad of César Chávez.”
Cannibal & the Headhunters
Hailing from the Ramona Gardens and Estrada Courts Housing Projects in East L.A., Cannibal & the Headhunters also scored a hit with “Land of a Thousand Dances.” Their version reached #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. When lead singer Frankie Garcia forgot the words, he added the “na, na, na, na, na,” which became the hook, and a the most recognizable part of the song.
Mark & the Escorts
Another Chicano band that paved the way for Chicano and Latin rock is Mark & the Escorts. Fronted by Mark Guerrero, son of the Father of Chicano Music, Lalo Guerrero, the Los Angeles teen band got their start playing surf guitar instrumentals. During the 1960s, they went on to record the following songs: “Get Your Baby,” “Tuff Stuff,” “Dance with Me,” and “Silly Putty.”
Sir Douglas Quintet
The Sir Douglas Quintet came from San Antonio and scored a hit with “She’s About a Mover,” which reached #13 in the U.S. and #15 in the U.K., on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Part of the “Westside Sound,” the group is also known for songs including “The Rains Came” (#31), “Dynamite Woman” (#83), and “Mendocino,” which reached #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
? and the Mysterians
Michigan garage rock band ? and the Mysterians had a bit hit with “96 Tears.” The members, including lead singer ?, a.k.a. Rudy Martinez and his brother Robert were the children of Mexican migrant farmers.
The Blendells were one of the many bands from East Los Angeles who crafted that unique Eastside Sound — a mix of genres including rock, blues, soul, doo-wop, R&B, and Latin music. And, like most Chicano rock bands, they recorded cover songs, achieving success with their 1964 version of Stevie Wonder’s “La La La La La.”
Born Baldemar Huerta, Grammy Award-winning musician Freddy Fender was the San Benito, Texas-born son of migrant workers. He gained fame singing songs across several genres (including rockabilly, Tejano, country, and pop) in both Spanish and English, including a Spanish cover of “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” “Vaya con Dios,” and “Before The Next Teardrop Falls.” “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” hit number one on both the pop and country Billboard charts, marking the first time in history an artist’s first single reached the top spot on both charts. It is also the first bilingual song to make it onto the country charts.
There is probably no bigger Latino rockstar than Carlos Santana. Born in Jalisco, but raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, Santana fronted his namesake band, mixing Latin and African sounds, rock, jazz, blues, to create something fresh. He is also known for his guitar skills, and being an integral part of the Latin Explosion of the late 1990s as a solo artist.
Yaqui, named after the Indigenous Yaqui people of Mexico, is another notable East L.A. Latin rock band, who released their self-titled album in 1973. According to Mark Guerrero’s website, the members of the band were: “George Ochoa, lead vocals; Eddie Serrano, lead vocals; Ronnie Reyes, lead guitar; Art Sanchez, bass; Ray Rodriguez, drums; Larry Cronen, keyboards; and Rudy Regalado, timbales and percussion.”
Carlos Santana’s brother, Jorge Santana, fronted the band Malo, along with Arcelio Garcia. The San Francisco-based band infused Latin influence into their sound. Their hit, “Suavecito,” has even been referred to as the Chicano National Anthem.
One of the Chicano, Latin rock bands to emerge from San Francisco’s Mission District, Azteca was fronted by brothers Coke and Pete Escovedo, who had worked with Santana. The band created its Latin jazz-rock fusion sound with 15 to 25 band members on stage at any given time, including the legendary Sheila E., daughter of Pete Escovedo.
Next up on our round-up of Latin rock heroes is the 1970s band Sapo, who also hails from San Francisco. Two of its members, Richard Bean, and Raul Rekow, in fact, were former members of Malo, with Bean being behind their hit (and Chicano Anthem) “Suavecito.” According to GetSongBPM, Sapo “originally had ten pieces including congas, timbales, drums, two guitars and a four-piece horn section.”
El Chicano made sure to let the world instantly know who they are, and where they are from, with their name. The band’s sound included brown-eyed soul, rock, salsa, jazz, and funk, and they had three songs that landed on Billboard charts: 1970’s “Viva Tirado – Part I,” 1972’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” and 1973’s “Tell Her She’s Lovely.”
Cruzados was a Latin rock band from the ’80s that was active from 1984 to 1988. Before then, they were known as Plugz, one of the first Chicano/Latinx punk bands in Los Angeles, and the first D.I.Y. punk band in Los Angeles. As Cruzados, the group released two studio albums, 1985’s Cruzados, and 1987’s After Dark.
When Los Lobos covered Ritchie Valens’ hit, “La Bamba,” in 1987, their version became the first of only three Spanish songs to become number one in U.S. history. It hit #1 in the U.S., and in other countries, including the U.K., Australia, France, Canada, and Ireland. The East L.A. band, who is still together, releasing new music, and touring, was nominated for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 (for the Class of 2016).
Tito & Tarantula
Chicano rock, blues, and stoner rock band Tito & Tarantula is the third musical venture of Humberto “Tito” Laviria, who also fronted The Plugz and Cruzados. Two of the group’s best-known songs appeared in Robert Rodriguez films: “After Dark,” which was in the Robert Rodriguez film From Dusk Till Dawn, and “Back to the House That Love Built,” which was heard in Desperado.
Los Lonely Boys
Chicano rock band Los Lonely Boys, who describe their sound as “Texican Rock ‘N’ Roll,” had a #1 hit with their wildly popular debut jam “Heaven.” The single sold over 2 million copies, spent a whopping 76 weeks on the charts, and also won the group a Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal Grammy, in 2005 (it was also nominated for Record of the Year).