MACUILXOCHITL: “Five Flower,” the Aztec god of music and dance
By Francisco H. Ciriza
The current television trend that has provided us with American Idol and La Academia are perfect examples of how the world of entertainment and the music business in specific can be so deceitful. The deception factor is further bolstered by those individuals and groups that truly can’t hold a candle to true artists. We’ve all seen the pre-packaged boy and girl bands. The Latino market has been rich with these sorts for decades. It’s actually surprising the Latino television machine didn’t come up with La Academia sooner.
As Milli Vanilli proved in the eighties, entire albums and tours can be created behind the scenes with session players and singers and the supposed artist can be made to appear from thin air, or a few thousand audition as it were.
In the case of the Los Angeles based Tierra, the groups founders came together to form a band to back up the sounds by a band called El Chicano.
Certain circumstances had left a single member of El Chicano alone with only a solid recording in hand and the group’s name. The remaining members of the group had turned away proclaiming they were no longer interested. The recording was shopped around and when the labels took interest, a new El Chicano was quickly put together to reap the benefits of a recording contract.
However, the faux El Chicano, was short lived as the original members heard of the record contract and had a change of heart.
Earlier this week, La Prensa San Diego spoke to Tierra guitarist, Rudy Salas, now a thirty- year music biz veteran , who was a part of that crack version of El Chicano.
“Once the guys from the old band found out a record deal had been offered, they all came back,” said Salas by telephone from his home. With the old El Chicano
Rudy and his brother Steve, also known as the Salas Brothers, are well known and well respected in music circles for their role in the early days of Latino rock. Along with Malo, Santana, and El Chicano, Tierra represents the foundation for Latino music in this country, if not worldwide.
Since the group’ s inception in 1971, Rudy Salas has worked incredibly hard to keep Tierra firm, taking on every possible role including manager, booking agent, record promoter, and producer. He’s shined in just about every one of them even earning himself the distinction of being named among the top Record Producers of 1981 by Billboard Magazine.
The energetic, humble Salas produced the 1981 mega-hit “Together” for Tierra, and the group set a precedent by having three songs in the National Top 40 charts simultaneously, earning the group numerous awards, including, “Best Male Vocal R&B Group” in 1981, and a Golden Eagle award for excellence in the entertainment industry.
With all of the success at least in part due to Rudy Salas’ efforts, an interview with him will rarely, if ever, include him saying “I.” The group has experienced, endured, and survived more than its share of “Behind The Music” worthy stories. One might wonder why such a group rarely receives the attention but more importantly the respect it and its members deserve.
After the above mentioned success in the early eighties the band experienced a seemingly insurmountable moral defeat: The cancer-related and relatively sudden death of music business icon, Neil Bogart. Bogart had recently signed the group to his Boardwalk label and who was in the midst of doing for Tierra what he’d done with Kiss and Parliament before.
“When Neil died, his genius died along with him. They [Boardwalk Records] brought in a bunch of people who didn’t understand us and subsequently we got lost in the wrong bins in stores and were marketed in the wrong manner from then on and we were essentially left powerless,” lamented Salas.
However, where many might fade off into obscurity or worse, Salas and his band mates indestructible character pushed them forward and Tierra marched on. The group eventually went independent and most recently, signed and delivered on a four record deal with Thump Records, perhaps best known for their Low-rider Magazine affiliation and its rich catalogue of oldies compilations.
This past Wednesday, Thump officially released Tierra’s latest effort, Welcome to Café East L.A., which has the band holding down some serious grooves and offering a lively, bright and clear sound. Full of R&B feel and Latin based rhythms, this record, according to Salas, represents the band’s venture back into the known for its legion of ever-faithful followers.
“We really like this record and believe when people hear it; they’ll really want to support it.”
Rudy Salas and the rest of Tierra will be celebrating the release oif their new CD at an appearance this Saturday night at Chuey’s Cafe in Barrio Logan.