Spanish Rocks

Until recently, a mention of Spanish-influenced rock and roll would cause most people to think only of Los Lobos, Santana ("Oye Como Va" anyone?) or War's "Low Rider." Folks whose knowledge of rock history extended more than a few years into the past might also throw Ritchie Valens into the mix, the more pop-minded might point to Jose Feliciano, and the country-rockers might even try to make a case for Freddy Fender.

And that's about where it ended. For gringos, at least, "Spanish" and "rock" seemed mutually exclusive terms. Spanish music was, you know, that mariachi stuff.

But that point of view is changing, thanks mainly to the emergence of the Rock en Espanol movement, which was recently given a two-page spread in Newsweek, officially marking it as a trend to pop-culture vultures. Rock en Espanol is being advanced by a group of mostly young bands whose members are of Latin descent. Their lyrics are in Spanish and their subjects are related to their culture. And they're providing a fresh alternative to young Hispanics who, tired of the salsa and conjunto that moved their parents, yearn for something that rocks harder.

Those who would dismiss Rock en Espanol because they don't understand the lyrics would do well to pick up a Spanish dictionary (or better yet, find a friend to translate). And in Houston, they might well pay attention to what's happening in their own back yard. At the forefront of this music is Houston's Sugar Hill Studios, which has seen everyone from Bob Wills and the Big Bopper to Ted Nugent and the Who walk its floorboards. Sugar Hill is putting a lot of stock and time into Rock en Espanol in hopes that the movement can do for this city what grunge did for Seattle.

Among the acts that have made good use of Sugar Hill are Seres Ocultos and Tribu de Ixchel, which are joining together Thursday at the Satellite to showcase their sound. Founded in 1994, Seres Ocultos is the older of the two bands -- Tribu de Ixchel came together in the spring of '95 -- but both have established themselves as major forces in the local Spanish rock scene.

A key concern for many Rock en Espanol groups is the mixing of their American musical influences with their Spanish cultural ones. Most of the tracks on Tribu de Ixchel's accomplished Entre Mundos would, save for the Spanish lyrics, seem at home on releases by the Red Hot Chili Peppers ("Santa Chica"), Pantera ("Celos") or Stone Temple Pilots ("Ella Viene"). Likewise, though on their sophomore release Despierta the members of Seres Ocultos often sound like Latino relatives of Billy Corgan or the Cure's Robert Smith, their ska-pop bent ("Sueno Sin Fin") is just as evident as their Goth concerns ("Pensado").

This mix-and-match approach isn't unique to Tribu de Ixchel or Seres Ocultos; many Rock en Espanol bands think nothing of putting metal, ska, pop, ballads and straight rock on the same record, something that often makes them more diverse and experimental than many of their Anglo counterparts. Though in the case of Seres Ocultos the music is too often by the numbers, you've got to give these acts credit for trying things that many English-speaking acts would never attempt.

Thursday's showcase should give listeners a solid introduction to what Rock en Espanol is all about. And you don't even need to bring your old high school Spanish textbook to enjoy the same head-banging, lighter-flicking action you do at an English-speaking rock show.

-- Bob Ruggiero

Tribu de Ixchel and Seres Ocultos perform at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, January 8, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $6. For info, call 869-COOL.

Bugs Henderson -- When storied Texas-based guitar players are discussed, Bugs Henderson's name inevitably crops up sooner rather than later. A product of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, this veteran guitar slinger has won a legion of supporters -- among them B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Billy Gibbons -- during a career that began in the 1960s. Henderson's stunning guitar playing mixes references to Freddie King, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and the Ventures in a brash, in-your-face style. Speed is Henderson's trademark, yet his fingers rarely outrace his musical intelligence. And while it's his guitar that makes you pay attention, his drawling vocals aren't half-bad. Make no mistake: Henderson, a self-described "honky-tonk traveler," is a regional treasure, and he's more than happy to give you his all every time he straps on his guitar. At 9 p.m. Friday, January 9, at Billy Blues Bar & Grill, 6025 Richmond. Tickets are $8. 266-9294. (Frank-John Hadley)

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Frank-John Hadley
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero