Wednesday, September 17, 2014

dirt city archives: ¡UN GRITO ELECTRICO !


Not long ago, the musical road between the ‘burque and El Chuco (that’s El Paso  to you) was well traveled. It was easy to see Paseños such as Faction X, Not So Happy, Stressed Out or Fixed Idea. Since many Tejano punks were from El Barrio de Ysleta with familia across the border, they also opened that path to exciting Juarez outfits like Setenta Dos Horas. 

tthe bandido folks were as sweet as could be and didn't seem to mind the noise, despite the fact they played shakira and olga tañon videos all day. i was never sure what was in it for them. the crowd never bought much food and one night, cheap as it was,  some "punk" pendejos skipped out on their taco bill . i think pauli ( who set up these gigs) covered the cost.

One night in Chuco at some show in the now-defunct Cantina La Tuya, my greatest regret was having to decline an invitation by Los Beads to a later show en otro lado, over the Rio Grande, down in Juarez. A gabacho like me couldn’t have asked for a better escort but being on the New Mexico State payroll I had to work early next morning with a clear head sin crudo.

As consolation,  I did make it to the local record shop where I picked up some loco --oops-- local Texas discs like the Old El Paso Punk Rock 
7" comps. I also got a CD by a new  Chuco band called At the Drive-In, about twenty minutes before they got famous. Never cared much for them but the real treasure was the memorial Rope/Fall On Deaf Ears  7" split by Drive -In friends who had died in a car wreck. Que en paz descanse.

The best of the Chuco bunch,  the Chinese Love Beads, called three cities -- El Paso TX, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Albuquerque, NM --home. De veras, the international border created by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo never held much authority on Chuco’s south side anyway.

if my house ever catches fire, i'm running for these first.

Unlike the slew of stateside garage punks who styled their look and sound after some imagined ’60s throwback, the Love Beads were twice as raw and ten times as real. When you grow up in the barrio, glorifying the trash side of life (as privileged suburban white punks tend to do) is not important. Your lo-fi wail is your grito, your passion-filled declaration of who you are and where you’re from.   

The Chinese Love Beads were tough without having to try. Sometimes a four piece, sometimes a trio, the band was always fierce as chinga. The three-man line-up is the one I knew best. Frontman Ernie “Guido” Ybarra howled vocals that were as distorted as a Danelectro Shorthorn guitar played through a gritty tube amp.  He thumped grimy basslines while Pauli B. (now Pablo Novelas of the Dirty Novels) slashed some of the most furious riffs he’s ever played. Except for singing a few vocals, he was  pretty quiet, far from his current stage persona. Drummer Mikey Morales (later of proto-emo band Siva) punched the largest set of pots I’ve ever seen, sounding like John Bonham and Neal Peart rolled into one robust package. I also caught a show or two with early drummer Tony Leal (now in Part Time) but it was Mikey's shows I saw most. Despite the fact that they gigged with Scared of Chaka, the Drags and all the other reigning 'burque punks, they never get the same recognition. ¡Qué dolor!

rock and roll amidst the bagel ovens

The band released a few 7” singles on its own label Discos Yucky Bus/Vaselino Productions but my ferocious favorite is the self-titled one recorded, mixed and distributed in the late nineties by Bob Tower (Mind Over Matter Records& Books). Side B’s Dragon Lady ‘69 never fails to get me out of my chair and jumping around the room. Although I can’t zip it up anymore, I still wear my old blue-collar jacket and its Chinese Love Beads patch con orgullo mucho.


Postscript: In 2013, the Beads reunited for the their first show in seventeen years at Tricky Falls, a Chuco club partially owned by Luis Mota who used to book here for the Launchpad. I was on my annual xmas trip  to the see the old folks back in Vermont and regretfully had to decline but I would've made the peregrinación to El Paso on my knees if I wasn't. It would've been  a tough decision though because the freakin' Mindy Set were playing their first show in six years in Albuquerque that same night. What a lump of coal in my musical christmas stocking!

The good news was that I whined about it so much, Los Beads agreed to gig one more time (with Tony back on drums) at one of my Low Spirits sponsored Garage & Wax Nights, with Pauli's latest band Elevator Boys and the venerable Jonny Cats. I can now die a happy boy. 

originally appeared in reduced form in Weekly Alibi

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