Rocanrol Rebirth

After some gigs -- say, Dylan at Newport or the Ramones at London's Roadhouse on Bicentennial Day -- things are not the same as they were before. These are the gigs that transcend considerations of quality and enter into history. Nobody can remember if Dylan's first electric set rocked or not, or if the Ramones were particularly hot that night. What we remember is the way whole music scenes changed forever, or in some cases were born.

Another such gig was Los Caifanes's set at the Houston International Fest in 1993. That year the festival saluted Mexico, as it will again in April. Los Caifanes, the so-called U2 of Mexico, took the City Hall stage on May Day at half past three in the afternoon, and approximately an hour later, they had sown the seeds of rock en español in Houston. Like-minded Hispanic rockers from all over town met and networked. As then-music editor Brad Tyer put it in the Press seven years ago, "There were club owners there and DJs and video crews and 'zine writers and amateur musicians and professional musicians and promoters and all sorts of the riff-raff that constitutes a rock and roll scene."

Tireless rock en español promoter and De Sangre manager Raul Rodriguez tells the same genesis story today. "It was a meeting of the masterminds of Spanish rock and roll here in Houston," he says, and adds enthusiastically that "it's gonna happen again next year."

We're sitting late on a Wednesday night in the darkened Earthwire studios, and Rodriguez -- who also goes by the handle DJ Woo -- has just finished another installment of his weekly rock en español /metal/rap-rock/hardcore Webcast Alternative Scream 2. His co-host, De Sangre keyboardist Rezor-TZ, sits nearby and occasionally chimes in, as does Rodriguez's sidekick, a lean, gringo biker originally from Los Angeles appropriately known as the Thin Man. In the background, DJ Murray Fontana spins his Private Universe show, an avant-garde montage of noise and an addled John Lennon conversing with himself.

Rodriguez believes that the galvanization that occurred ten years ago will repeat itself with a new generation. The scene is a bit dull now, especially when compared to the mid- to late-'90s heyday when bands like Tribu de Ixchel, Moscas and De Sangre were drawing a thousand or two heads a night to the International Ballroom and the Lone Star Amphitheater. According to Rodriguez, the one-two punch of Pace Concerts poorly promoting shows at the Lone Star Amphitheater and Galavision pulling the plug on live remotes from Houston rock en español clubs is to blame for the current funk of the scene.

Nevertheless, he remains optimistic, some would say wildly so. "The rock en español scene in Houston is gonna be what Seattle was to rock and roll," Rodriguez says. It's an analogy he returns to often. "Most of the people are not gonna get Houston's best-kept secret right away," he says. "Most people in Seattle had never heard of Kurt Cobain until Nirvana went national. Most white people in Corpus Christi had no clue who Selena was. This woman is selling millions of records, and nobody knew who she was until she got killed. When that happened, then the white people were like, 'Oh, she was from Corpus Christi?' Excuse me, she sold two million records. Uh, yeah, she's from Corpus."

But why will it be the rock en español of Houston? Why not the other metropolis on the other coast of Aztlan? "I love L.A. to death, but the reason Houston is gonna win over L.A. is the fact that Houston bands unite, and the L.A. bands fight."

Rodriguez speaks fondly of Sugar Hill Studios president Dan Workman, who engineered many of the city's seminal rock en español sessions back in the mid-'90s. So Racket called Workman to get his assessment of the scene then and now. "It's always been so fascinating to me, because it lives on this edge of being a cultural phenomenon, but at the same time, it's regionally something we can all relate to," he says. "I grew up listening to Spanish and predominantly Mexican music in Houston just by osmosis. You can't live in Houston and not absorb a lot of that. I've always liked Latin jazz, and I thought Santana was just amazing as a kid, and I got into Latin-based rock and roll. So I brought that influence to the table and I became the token gringo."

Workman says interest in the scene has waned, though the quality hasn't. "I was very involved about six or seven years ago, but the scene never reached critical mass at that time. In the last three years, I've only been involved in one rock en español record, and that was Tribu de Ixchel. And that was just a superior record." Though Workman isn't given to fits of hyperbole, even concerning projects he worked on, he once compared Tribu de Ixchel to U2. "Unfortunately, the band couldn't get the appropriate attention for it, and so it hasn't really done anything."

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax