Study Guide

La Bamba Introduction

La Bamba Introduction

In a Nutshell

The story of "La Bamba" is one of the most infamous in all of rock and roll. Ritchie Valens, a Mexican-American teenager who grew up in Los Angeles, released his first record in August 1958. He met a tragic end in a plane crash in 1959, but despite the fact that his rock and roll career lasted less than a year, his music, including "La Bamba," paved the way for Chicano and Latin rock and roll. 

His first hit, "Come On Let's Go," told other young Latino musicians that they could carve out a place in rock and roll. "La Bamba" told them that they could reach mainstream audiences without abandoning their Latino roots.

It would take almost a decade, however, for other Latino musicians to follow Valens' lead. Ritchie Valens may have pointed the way for a Latin-rock fusion, but it would be years before artists like Santana and Little Joe followed.

About the Song

ArtistValens, Ritchie
Year1958
LabelDel-Fi
Writer(s)Traditional, adapted by Ritchie Valens
Producer(s)Robert Keane
Musician(s)Ritchie Valens (vocals, guitar), Rene Hall (Danelectro bass), Buddy Clark (string bass), Carol Kaye (guitar), Earl Palmer (drums), Ernie Freeman (piano)
Learn to play
AlbumLa Bamba (Single)

Music Video

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Influences on Valens, Ritchie

Little Richard
Bo Diddley
Buddy Holly
The Drifters
The Penguins
The Crows

Influenced by Valens, Ritchie

Carlos Santana
John Lennon
Jimmy Page
The Kingsmen
The Kinks

La Bamba Resources

Books

Beverly Mendheim, Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker (1987)
The first—and one of the few—biographical accounts of Ritchie's life, this book is worth checking out.

Images

Ritchie Valens
Here's a portrait of the young musician.

Donna
Donna Fox Ludwig, the inspiration for Valens' highest charting single.

Singer and Producer
Ritchie Valens and Bob Keane.

Websites

Ritchie Valens' Official Site
Valens' family maintains this website, which includes news, a little scrapbook, and a page devoted to Donna, the inspiration for Valens' hit song.

Video & Audio

Ritchie Valens, "La Bamba"
Recorded at Gold Star Studio in Los Angeles.

Los Lobos, "La Bamba"
Notice the accelerated rhythm at the end of the song typical of traditional renditions.

Traditional "La Bamba"
Performed by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan.

Latin Music U.S.A. (2009)
The PBS documentary that explores the place of Latino music in 20th-century America can be watched here.

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