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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.
|Writer(s)||Traditional, adapted by Ritchie Valens|
|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|
|Album||La Bamba (Single)|
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.
Here's a portrait of the young musician.
Donna Fox Ludwig, the inspiration for Valens' highest charting single.
Singer and Producer
Ritchie Valens and Bob Keane.
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.
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.