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.
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.
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.