El Chicano – “Viva Tirado”

Who are El Chicano?

El Chicano are an American music group formed in the 1970s, whose repertoire include chicano rock and “brown-eyed soul.” They released singles that figured on the US Hot 100: “Viva Tirado” (from their 1970 debut album of the same title), their cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Tell Her She’s Lovely”. Aside from the chicano rock and brown-eyed soul, they also incorporate other genres such as funk, blues and salsa. Still active, they have been performing up to the present, with new members playing together with the original musicians of the group.

The Origins of the Song “Viva Tirado”

El Chicano, which first appeared in LA in the late 1960s, was founded by Freddie Sanchez as a group known as The VIP.  Their new name, which was changed soon after they were founded, was inspired by the term “Chicano,” which refers to people of Mexican ancestry who live in the US. The rising Chicano awareness in America at the time served as inspiration for this.

Heavy keyboard components were integrated into these colorful mixes, and their music combined elements of rock, funk, soul, blues, jazz, and salsa. El Chicano’s lineup altered as they released a number of albums over the following four decades, but the song we are listening to today is the title tune from their debut album, Viva Tirado, which was released in 1970 and also served as a single.  Viva Tirado is a jazzy, soul-rock adaptation of Gerald Wilson’s original song about a bullfighter, which was published three years earlier in 1967 and first appeared as a 45 on New York label Kapp Records.

It is one of the rare times when I can genuinely say that I like the cover, and it seems like a lot of others felt the same way because the song performed exceptionally well on LA radio and spent thirteen weeks at No. 1!  The band even covers the song Light My Fire on this album, so it is clear to understand why the keys on this record have been likened to those of the amazing icon Ray Manzarek.

A first look at El Chicano: chicano rock and brown-eyed soul

The origins of El Chicano hailed form Los Angeles, California formed in the 1970s. They are one of the more well-known bands performing chicano rock and brown-eyed soul. A “brown-eyed soul” music is a type of soul fused with Latin elements, as opposed to “blue-eyed soul” which is performed by non-Hispanic white musicians.

Chicano rock, simply put, is a type of rock music that has strong Latin American music and R&B influences, specifically originated and performed by Mexican-Americans (“Chicanos”). The band was founded by Freddie Sanchez, originally under the name the VIP’s. The lineup would change over the years, but the original members consisted of Sanchez, Bobby Espinosa, Mickey Lespron, Andre Baeza, and John De Luna.

Although they have been compared to Mexican-American guitar legend Santana with whom El Chicano share similarities in many ways, Santana isn’t the band’s only influence. El Chicano mined their own style from a lot musical inspirations — such as fellow Chicanos and soul group Cannibal and the Headhunters, soul-jazz artist Pucho and salsa legends such as Tito Puente. This explains of the band’s genre-bending tendencies — they could play jazz, funk, soul, salsa and blues as well.

El Chicano’s stint at MCA Records, and their first solid hit “Viva Tirado”

After creating a buzz on the local scene, El Chicano was signed to their first recording contract with MCA records in 1970. The group’s first hit was their jazz-soul-rock version of Gerald Wilson’s original tune “Viva Tirado.” (from their 1970 debut album of the same title). “Viva Tirado” peaked at #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #20 on the R&B singles chart.

Viva Tirado LP was released on Kapp Records (MCA’s subsidiary label) in 1970. It eventually became a chart crossover success, peaking at #51 on the Billboard 200, #17 on the R&B album chart, and #8 on the jazz album chart. The album also contained the group’s rendition of the Herbie Hancock jazz standard “Cantaloupe Island.”

While “Viva Tirado” didn’t make El Chicano overnight sensations, the single otherwise made them popular enough to earn the group a devoted cult following. The group released other albums on MCA — Revolucion (1971), Celebration (1972), El Chicano (1973), Cinco (1974), The Best of Everything (1975) and Pyramid of Love and Friends (1976). El Chicano also released a cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” which registered at #45 on the Hot 100 in 1972.

Inspiration of the lyrics

Any experience, a real or imaginary person, a concern, a delight, the urban, the daily, the unfortunate, the extraordinary, and the unique. From the street, the bars, heartbreaking affairs, love, loneliness, or the companionship of others. The electrifying blue sky, the terraces in the summer, the smell of fresh-picked olives, the inhalation of delicious and long-forgotten resentments, a revolution within, rolling the streets, half-lies. Fortunately, some of the words continue for our peculiar refrain here and there as they come and go.

Members of El Chicano

  • Ersi Arvisu, lead vocals – 1970
  • Eddie Avila , drums (2010–present)
  • Andre Baeza, congas – 1970
  • John De Luna, drums – 1970
  • Bobby Espinosa, organ – 1970; died February 27, 2010
  • Max Garduno, congas
  • Danny Lamonte, drums
  • Mickey Lespron, guitar – 1970
  • Brian Magness, bass
  • Joe Perreria, bass
  • Rudy Regalado, timbales – joined c. 1971; died November 4, 2010
  • Walfredo “Wally” Reyes, Jr., drums, congas (2010–2012)
  • Joseph Baeza, congas (2011–2013); died October 18, 2016
  • David “Chango” Chavez, congas (2015–present)
  • Jerry Salas, lead vocals, guitar – joined in 1973
  • Rudy Salas,vocals – 1970; died December 29, 2020
  • Steve Salas, vocals – 1970; died February 10, 2022
  • Freddie Sanchez, bass – 1970

El Chicano Discography

El Chicano is a Los Angeles, California-based Latin rock band. After forming in the late 1960s, the group has put out a number of albums. They have the following discography:

  1. Viva Tirado (1970)
  2. El Chicano (1970)
  3. Revolución (1971)
  4. Celebration (1972)
  5. El Chicano 4 (1973)
  6. Cinco (1974)
  7. The Best of El Chicano (1975)
  8. Pyramid of Love and Friends (1976)
  9. This Is El Chicano (1976)
  10. The Best of Everything (1978)
  11. The Very Best of El Chicano (1998)
  12. Painted Chariot (2000)
  13. The Best of El Chicano: 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection (2002)
  14. The Best of El Chicano: 20th Century Masters – The Christmas Collection (2003)
  15. Live! Viva Tirado (2005)
  16. The Best of El Chicano: 20th Century Masters – The DVD Collection (2006)
  17. Timeless (2018)

Later career

The group’s only other charting single, “Tell Her She’s Lovely,” didn’t become a big hit as it only reached #40 on the Hot 100 (#98 R&B) in 1973. But over the years the song has become a brown-eyed soul classic.

When El Chicano ended their association with MCA in 1976, they moved to different labels such as Musicdisc and Columbia. They became relatively inactive (at least in terms of recording) during the 1980s and 1990s, but late in the latter decade they returned to the studio. Result was another album Painting the Moment, which was released in 1998. In 2004 they came out with a compilation, Masters Collection.

Despite the ever-changing lineup, El Chicano continues to be active in the music scene. However, El Chicano’s original keyboardist and co-founder Espinosa died in 2010, and former long-time member Rudy Regalado also died later that year.