When Los Angelenos - The Eastside Renaissance originally came out in 1983, I was not aware of all the Chicano bands that were popping up all over my back yard. Sure, I knew about the groups that came out in the seventies such as Tierra, El Chicano and Malo because oldies radio had been playing them for years. The only thing that I listened to at the time that was similar to The Eastside Renaissance was Los Lobos’ now classic …And A Time To Dance. Although groundbreaking in many ways, Los Lobos’ music was rooted in Traditional Mexican music and Americana. It was the kind of music that could be easily digested by the readers of Rolling Stone as being adventurous. However, to a fifteen-year getting into punk…not so much.
A few years later, thanks to the Alex Cox’ underground classic film Repo Man, a whole new world was opened to me. The soundtrack to Repo Man contained punk groups I dug at the time such as Fear, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and The Circle Jerks, not to mention Iggy Pop performing the theme song. However it was The Plugz on the soundtrack that really knocked me out. It was Punk En Español and it had a sound all of its own. The songs “El Clavo En La Cruz” and their Spanish version of "Secret Agent Man (Hombre Secreto)" made it in every mix tape that I made during those years. Most of my friends that were into punk rock at the time didn’t get my fascination with The Plugz. They could never understand how excited I was that there was this band that were Mexicanos that sang in both Spanish and English.
The Eastside Renaissance was released on the Rhino Records offshoot label Zyanya. It was a joint venture between Ruben Guevara and Rhino president Richard Foos. Ruben was the former lead singer of the band Ruben and the Jets, a soulful rock band out of East L.A. who took their name from the Frank Zappa album of the same name. Frank Zappa produced their debut album as well. Zyanya released History of Latino Rock - Eastside Sound, Vol. 1: 1956-1965 and a Best of Thee Midniters compilation, capturing the sound of East L.A.’s past. After the release of the two compilations, Ruben suggested to Richard that they should release an album of current East L.A. groups. Ruben got support from The Brat and The Plugz to add a few previous released tracks. The Odd Squad and Felix and the Katz were suggested to Ruben by other artists involved with the project and Ruben produced a few of the other groups as well, such as The Royal Gents, Los Perros, Califas, as well Ruben's own group, Con Safos. Not all the music was punk or new wave. The Royal Gents was a Latin Funk group out of Pomona. Los Perros were a folkloric group and the groups Mestizo and Califas were a fusion of Mexican folkloric, Salsa, Rock and R&B, much like groups like Quetzal and La Santa Cecilia are today.
The press for the compilation was more than the label expected. Eastside Renaissance got rave reviews from Village Voice, The Boston Phoenix and The L.A. Times. The three compilations that Zyanya released in 1983 were reminders to the rest of the world that there was more to Chicano music than just Ritchie Valens. The cover art also captures a time and place. It’s picture of a mural done by the artists Gronk and Willie Herron of ASCO fame, with old school gang graffiti lettering surrounding the photo, done by Ruben himself. There are pictures in the back of all the artists involved looking so young and fierce. Some I recognize as people that are still active in the scene today. Some of the people in the photos turned out to be crooks and some turned out to be mentors. As you can tell, it’s not just a record for me; it is a piece of history…East Los Angeles Chicano history.
For some reason, Eastside Renaissance always seemed to escape me. I could never find a copy. Eventually it became out of print. I looked everywhere for it. I even went as far as asking Ruben Guevara himself if he had any extras copies. (He didn’t.) Friends would always come up on the record, usually finding it at a discount store somewhere. Recently I heard the crew at Mas Exitos bust out the song “C/S” by Con Safos during one of their deejay sets, I spoke to one of the Mas Exitos deejays, Ganas, about how cool the song is and how I have been looking for that album for years. I think he told me Chico Sonido found it a few days before, misfiled in the Soul music section at Amoeba. Damn, right under my nose! I was crushed to say the least when he told me that.
There is a customer named Roberto that I have befriended since I started working at Amoeba. He is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Most people wouldn’t know it. He is an academic but does not play the role. He is very unassuming. Roberto is from El Salvador and with Los Angeles' ever-growing immigrant population, he blends in with the crowd. He is the type of person that you can talk to about art, politics, world events and especially music. I have to say I received a mini-education talking to him over the last five years. I try my best to enlighten him with new music, but he usually has me beat by years. One day I ran into him while having lunch. We sat for the duration of my lunch hour talking about East L.A. history and the music. One of the subjects we spoke about was our love for the Eastside Renaissance compilation. He knew the songs well and the history behind it. He had the album. I told him about my trials and tribulations of trying to get a copy. Then we talked about other East L.A. records. It was a cool conversation. After lunch we went our separate ways and I didn’t think much more of it.
A few weeks later Roberto came to the store. He told me that he came upon some great LPs, one of them being Los Angelenos and wanted to know if I would be interested in having it! For some reason, I thought he was talking about a prog rock group with a similar name. At first I told him no because I was a little out of it at the time, but he insisted that I check out the LP. On my break I went with him to the security desk, where he had his bag stored. He pulled out a sealed copy of Los Angelenos - The Eastside Renaissance. He told me that a woman sold him a bunch of records and the album was in the pile. He remembered that I really wanted the LP, so he came by the store and gave it to me. It was finally in my hands, thanks to this awesome person. I couldn’t stop thanking him.
Many people I know have given up on the record store concept. Certainly, most record labels have, choosing to release albums far in advance on download sites before offering it to retail…if at all. Blog sites will upload out of print albums for downloading for free. You can find The Eastside Renaissance on many blog sites. I’m not one of those purests that feels that it's any less of a find if you find a rare album on the internet versus digging through every record store in the country. Still, I can’t help that the people who download music miss out on the human interaction of digging. Just from trying to find this one album, I got history. Not just of the album, but the stories that came from each person that the Eastside Renaissance album has influenced. From the person who helped put it together to the deejays that are reintroducing it to a new audience to a man who grew up 2300 miles away from East Los Angeles who loved it as much as I and helped me find this classic East Los gem…and that’s something you’ll never get from any download site.
Zyanya is pronounced “Zaan-ya,” like you would pronounce “Fania,” and means “always” in Nahuatl.
The Plugz were from the South Bay…Wilmington, Ca, to be exact, and not from East L.A.,