Rudy Salas’ name may not be readily reognizeable as a music icon in American pop culture, but for many his is a name that has been part of their family‘s music life since the 60’s and is synonymous with names like Carlos Santana, or Eric Clapton.
Once Rudy Salas decided to start his own band after being a “stand-in” musician for the group, El Chicano in the early 70’s, he never looked back and went on to have a remarkable career as a musician.
The band Rudy formed is Tierra, and the group performed in night-clubs all over the East Los Angeles area where Salas grew up. Tierra really ignited in the early 80’s with the release of two singles that made them a hot music property. They would go on to perform at the American Music Awards, on American Bandstand, and Soul Train. Tierra had arrived as a bonafied professional recording band.
Rudy and his brother’s early music influences included listening to music played often in the house. Since he did not speak fluid Spanish, he and his brother picked up the harmonies in the music his mother and uncle would sing at family gatherings.
They started playing neighborhood fiestas, and in the early to mid 1960s, the brothers were spotted by Mario Paniagua who was leader of The Percussions, Jaguars. When he was age 11, he appeared on "Where Lovers Go" by the Jaguars. Not long after that, Rudy and Steve recorded about three singles for Eddie Davis's Faro label as The Salas Brothers.
Salas, along with his brother, Steve, and bandmates ~ Rudy Villa, Conrad Lozano, and the late David Torres and Kenny Roman, are credited with helping form the East L.A. Sound that became a part of the fabric of Latin/R&B music.
Almost 50 years later, Tierra is still performing shows across the country and doing what they love to do, music.
I spoke with Rudy recently about his remarkable career as a songwriter and musician.
Q&A with Rudy Salas
Rudy, first let me thank you for taking the time out to let our readers a chance to read about your remarkable career in music.
RW) You are perhaps best known for your bands going as far back as the 60’s, El Chicano and Tierra. We come from that time in music where the band was everything, who were some of the musicians you listened to as a kid growing up?
RS) My musical influences and heroes were pretty diverse, growing up in a major metropolis like Los Angeles. My very first influences were my mom and my uncles. They would sing these beautiful Mexican ballads. Rancheras, boleros, etc. My brother and I learned the two part harmonies. That was a major influence on me when we were kids.
Then, as we became pre-teens, we listened to the Everly Brothers, and other Country and Country Rock. As we became teenagers, I listened to Motown, like Marvin Gay, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, etc.
As I became an adult, I listened to Rock, like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and then Carlos Santana came around, and I was electrified by his music, mainly because of his guitar work and style, and his blending of Rock and Latin music. My guitar influences besides Carlos, were: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Hendrix, George Benson, etc.
RW) Was El Chicano your first professional band, and what were some of your accomplishments with that band?
RS) Actually, I was never an actual member of El Chicano. There's a crazy story to that. When El Chicano's first hit "Viva Tirado" came out, the band that recorded it, didn't claim it, or wanted anything to do with it. A promoter and record producer by the name of Eddie Davis sold the master to MCA records, but didn't have the band to represent the name El Chicano. He got a hold of some musicians, including myself, and took us into the studio to represent El Chicano, and the song to record an LP. We had recorded 4 songs, when finally, the original guys that recorded it, reclaimed it after the song got on the charts (rightly so). So the company ended up releasing our recordings under the name of "One G Plus Three"(meaning one Gringo and three Chicanos) lol. But my brother and I were able to record on El Chicano's second LP "Celebration", where my brother Steve sang the lead on the bands second hit "Brown Eyed Girl". We did some touring with the band.
RW) You would later start up the Latin/R&B band, Tierra with your brother Steve? When and how did that come about, and you still tour with Tierra today?
RS) With the experience of recording with El Chicano, in 1971, I decided to start my own band. I brought in my brother Steve, as well as other local musicians that I worked with, Rudy Villa (who still plays for the band), Conrad Lozano (Who now plays for Los Lobos), the late David Torres (Who was the musical coordinator for the legendary Poncho Sanchez band), and the late Kenny Roman. We were more of a Rock band at the time, playing original music mostly reflecting the Chicano Civil rights struggle of the early 1970's. My uncle Art Brambila, who was a record promoter, got us a deal with 20th Century Records. It got great reviews, but very little air play.
In 1980, we were playing at a night spot in East L.A. called the Pasta House. Tierra became a very popular local band, so we got and endorsement with a beer company. I decided that we would use the money from the endorsement to go into the studio and record an LP. It was called "City Nights".
After we recorded the LP, I virtually ran around in my van, and had the graphics, pressing, packaging, promoting, etc. done virtually on my own. I really didn't know what I was doing, but I gave it a shot.
Then I started shopping the LP to record companies. They all turned me down initially (they told me to go to a Spanish label, before they even listened to it, because of the name "Tierra). So we put out flyers to the clubs and venues that we played at, telling people to call the radio stations to request the singles "Gonna Find Her" and "Together". Before we knew it, the song got on the national Pop Charts before we even had a label. All of a sudden, the same companies that turned us down were bidding for the record.
Finally, Neil Bogart of Casablanca fame came down and we signed with his new company Boardwalk Records. In no time, we got on "American Bandstand", "The American Music Awards", "Soul Train", "Solid Gold" etc., and the rest, as they say, is history.
RW) Do you think the days of band led music are gone, or do you think that will come back some day?
RS) I truly think live band music is resurging again. It's one of the natural forms of music, and it'' never dies. Up until the Pandemic, I was able to see proof of that at the Tierra concerts, by the diversity in the audiences that attended. More and more of the younger generation were going to our concerts and shows. That's an exciting phenomenon. New generations are appreciating our music, and old school music in general.
RW) While doing some research on you, I read where you are credited with being one of the main influences of what is called the “East L.A. Sound’. What is the East L.A. Sound, and what are the genres of music, and who lose would you say has been a big influence on that sound?
RS) The Eastside Sound was a very distinguishable sound that came out of East L.A. in the 60's and early 70's. It combined Rock, R&B, and Latin, with a Chicano Flair, which gave it it's own unique sound. Bands like ,El Chicano, Thee Midniters, Cannibal and the Headhunters, The Premiers, and of course, The Salas Brothers (My brother and I). We were all a part of that golden age of music that came out of East L.A. back then.
RW) When you look back over 40 years of doing music, what you say about the music of today, are you happy with what’s out there currently?
RS) I see some new exciting talent on the horizon. But to tell you the truth, I'm not too thrilled about what's being played on the radio today. The music that they play today doesn't seem to have the energy, passion, and inspiration as the music of the past. It seems that the more that technology advanced the musicians relied more on the technology, and less on the creativity. Dynamics and passion seem to have taken a back seat to repetition and gimmicks. I may get in trouble here for saying this, but that's just my opinion. That's why I'm producing some great new talent that I'm very excited about.
RW) Who are some of the young artists of today you like?
RS) I really don't keep up with a lot of the music being played today. The last "current" artist that I really got into was Bruno Mars. But I'm in the studio producing some great young talent. JD Musgrove is an 11 year old phenomenon, who can do it all. And of course, Elvia Cadena, who has a fantastic voice, and a classic style, that I think is going to blow the whole mass audience away once they hear her. We just released a song that I wrote and produced for her on Round 2 Records. We see a bright future for both of these artists.
RW) If you had anything you would do differently, or could change, what would that be for you in your music career?
RS) There are so many great memories that I have of this long musical journey, I can’t really pick a favorite. A couple of things that stand out were, when we headlined at Carnegie Hall. I remember when my brother and myself were kids singing in our room, my mom would tell us that one of these we were going to be singing at Carnegie Hall (we had no idea what or where Carnegie Hall was). So when we got the booking, we flew my mom and dad to New York to see the show. I remember watching my mom in the front row with tears of happiness over a New York standing ovation.
Another moment that stands out is when James Brown asked us to back him up when he came to the West Coast to do some TV shows and Concerts. We were so excited that we even wrote and recorded a song about it (it’ll all be in the book, lol).
RW) We were speaking earlier about because of this current pandemic with COVID-19 pretty much shutting down many of your live show engagements, that yiu and all musicians who do tours, have had to re-adjust and continue in other ways. What have been some other things Tierra has been doing to stay connected with your fans after having to cancel so many shows?
RS) I don’t think I would change much. If Tierra ended today, I would be so proud of what the band has accomplished through out the years and the legacy that everyone associated with Tierra has left for our fans and to the world. The only thing that I wish I would have done differently is learned more of the business of this crazy Music Industry.
Elvia Cadena’s New Single Release Penned by Latin/R&B band, Tierra’s Rudy Salas
“The Best Thing That Ever Happened to You” Sung by Elvia Cadena, is a Women’s Anthem Song
RW) What’s next from Tierra and you musically? Are you guys in the studio? Will there be any new singles released, or an album any time soon? Or, are you producing any new, young talent?
RS) Tierra was hit very hard, as was everybody else, by the Covid 19 Pandemic. Our last gig was on March 4 at Stateline, in Primm NV. By the following week, almost my entire calendar year was canceled out (And we had been booked solid for the whole year). So we decided to use Social Media. We started to do individual Live Streams. It worked out OK. Then when things loosened up a bit, we did a full band Live Virtual Concert. We had over 50,000 viewers. Our Facebook was filled with praises from all over the U.S. and beyond. Unfortunately, we didn’t emphasize our Go Fund Me. So it wasn’t exactly a financial success. That’s fine. At least everybody knows that Tierra’s back strong.
I mentioned the new talent that I’ve been producing. And I’m using some of the Tierra players on the recordings. But as far as the band goes, we are going to do some more virtual live concerts, until further notice. Although, we have dates on hold, I really don’t think things are going to open up until next year because of the virus. But we’ll be in the studio working on our next project. Being in a quarantine state enabled me to put my creative juices to work, and allowed me to write some new songs. So we’re looking at putting together some new recordings in the mean time. Look out for it.
RW) Where can people find you on social media to follow Tierra music?
RS) People can go on our Tierra Facebook page and find all the info they need on Tierra, or they can go on Tierramusic.com, our website. They can also go on Chicano Rock Records, which is our (my wife Joanna and myself) Record Company page.
RW) If you were asked to give the commencement speech for a future graduating class of music students, ready to enter the real world of professional music, what advice or words of encouragement would you share with them?
RS) I would tell people to follow their dream. And don’t give up on that dream, no matter what. Pursue your dream. If you don’t, you may never know what could have been, and you may regret it later on in life. I was able to live out my dream. And I’m so glad I did. And although I’ve made some good money throughout the years in this business, I’m by no means rich, or even well off. And it certainly has been very hard during this horrible pandemic, and we are now struggling, like everybody else. But I was, and still am, able to make a living and feed my family and pay my bills doing something I love to do. Playing music. The great thing is, my wife Joanna is very supportive. She handles all of Tierra’s social media. Success is not only measured by wealth. It is also measured by happiness in making a living out of doing something you love doing.
Thank you Rudy Salas. This has been a real honor for me to interview you and I wish you many more years of great music!
The History of the East L.A. Sound
- THE SOUND OF EAST L.A.: GOD'S CHILDREN AND THEE MIDNITERS
The Stones met Sly Stone when Little Willie G. stepped up to the microphone in the late 1960s/early 1970s to assert ‘Chicano Power’
Other Musical History Rudy Salas was involved with, “Eastside Heartbeats, A New Rock ‘N’ Roll Musical”
Tom Waldman co-wrote the 1998 book Land Of A Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ‘N’ Roll From Southern California with David Reyes. Waldman wrote a script based on the music scene of East L.A. in the 1960s. Waldman then asked Jim Holvay and Rudy Salas and other songwriters as well to compose music for the play. The tunes were to feel like Cannibal & the Headhunters’ "Land of a 1,000 Dances" but original. The songs, sung by an unknown group following their dream and opening for a group like The Beatles at a venue similar to the Hollywood Bowl in 1965. Jim Holvay worked with David Reyes, Rudy Salas, Steve Salas (Rudy's brother) and Tom Waldman resulting in the sountrack for Eastside Heartbeats-The Musical.
— Source: Wikipedia
“City Lights” the album, and the two songs that made Tierra a hit band.
Still Going Strong since 1971!
Pursue your dream. If you don’t, you may never know what could have been, and you may regret it later on in your life.”
— Rudy Salas
Robert Walker (author) from Los Angeles, CA. on July 15, 2020:
I want to give a huge shout-out to Charlie Perez of Round 2 Music label in Riverside, California for telling me about Rudy Salas, who penned a song for one of his artist on the label, Elvia Cadena.
What an honor this was Charlie! Rudy Salas is a remarkable musician and songwriter. Thank you.