by Ritchie Valens
There is a distinct Latin feel to Ritchie Valens's rendition of "La Bamba." In addition to singing the song in Spanish, he builds the song on a Chicano beat and laces the instrumental with mariachi-type vocal shouts. But the song also has a distinct rock and roll feel. This is largely due to the heavy electric guitar riff that introduces the song and maintains a persistent presence even after the start of the vocals. It was a successful fusion; the rock and roll feel of the song made it a success on the pop charts, and the strong Latin feel made the song important within the history of rock and roll.
Valens achieved his Latin-rock fusion with the help of some first-rate musicians. Rene Hall (Danelectro bass), Buddy Clark (string bass), and Ernie Freeman (piano) were all accomplished studio musicians. Drummer Earl Palmer was eventually elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Guitarist Carol Kaye, who played rhythm guitar on "La Bamba," was among the most sought-after bass players in Los Angeles. She worked with Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and Quincy Jones.
Valens's rendition departed in significant ways from the traditional "La Bamba." For starters, in most traditional renditions, the tempo speeds up toward the end of the song. This was because "La Bamba" was a dance as well as a song, and the dance called for rapidly accelerating footwork. In addition, most traditional renditions, usually performed by Mariachi bands, used entirely different instrumentation and ground the song in a different beat.