God save La Reina

Where was Gloria Ríos when I needed her? When all I had was Freddy Fender to turn to for a South Texas, Spanish-language rock pioneer.

All of a sudden, she’s recognized as the Queen of Rocanrol, and I (and a long list of colleagues) didn’t know it. And she did it with original tunes!

“At our exhibit, one of the first things you read is a comment on the fact that, in the country of machos, it was a woman who first yelled rock and roll,” says journalist and historian Arturo Lara, curator of the Gloria Ríos exhibit celebrating 50 years of Mexican rock at the Instituto de México (it runs until January).

Why is it, then, that when she died in 2002, none of the Mexican rock magazines gave a fuck? Two theories:

a) She was from San Antonio and, you know, she really was no rocker. She was to rocanrol what Pat Boone was to rock and roll. Wrong: Even though she looked like a cabaretera, her onstage moves were plenty daring for the times. For less than that, they vilified Elvis.

b) She was a woman. OK, I’ll grant you that. She was hot.

So who the hell was Gloria Ríos? Born in Agua Dulce, Texas in 1928, she went to Mexico alone at age 16. According to her daughter Regina (who still lives in San Antonio), it was Pedro Infante himself who gave her encouragement and promised to help her. Her big contribution to rock en español is that she recorded the first original Spanish-language rock songs in March 1956: “Tú y tu tía” and “Cuá cuá,” written by Mario Patrón and utilized on the soundtrack of the movie Juventud desenfrenada.

She acted in 11 movies (two of which she also choreographed) and recorded 12 rock-and-roll songs, most of them originals. Among the treasures at the San Antonio home of Lara (who also happens to be Regina’s husband) are a 1955 cover of Impacto magazine with Gloria’s photo and the headline GLORIA RÍOS: LA REYNA DEL ROCK AND ROLL. And there is a caption: “Epileptic and crazed, Gloria dances for us to the rhythm of the furious rock and roll.” That don’t sound like Pat Boone to me.

Lara’s and Regina’s labor of love is bearing some fruit: the Mexican edition of Rolling Stone magazine has set the record straight and now, little by little, more serious rocanrol writers are giving credit to Ríos.

Of course, there are doubters.

“Did she have the attitude?,” ask El Tri’s Alex Lora, Mexico’s greatest living rocanrol legend. “Did she have that I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude? The truth is, she did her thing and has her identity like any other representative of our race. But to say that she was the pioneer, it’s a little difficult, isn’t it?”

Not for me: The vinyl is there, the footage is there. She was special, and I wish someone had told me about her before 2002.

In her last years, Gloria saw how the revival of Mexican rock in the late ’80s emerged without even a mention of her legacy. She would see people calling Alejandra Guzmán “La Reina del Rock” (this time, the word “Reina” is properly spelled). But she wasn’t bitter, even though she was the one who taught Silvia Pinal, Alejandra’s mother, how to dance rock and roll.

“She was never bothered by that,” says Regina, daughter of Gloria and Adalberto González “Resortes,” one of Mexico’s greatest comedians. “She felt she gave what she had to give and knew when to retire on time.”

Which doesn’t mean Regina will sit back and watch her mother be forgotten. Now that the tale of Gloria Ríos is alive again, Regina and her husband want to make sure it stays that way.

“Our work is cultural, not-for-profit, and my husband spent 13 years of his life on this. This `exhibit` is the beginning, done with lots of effort and love. Our wish is that she is recognized as a San Antonian, and that she is included at the Museo Alameda.”

I’ll keep searching, but for the time being, Gloria Ríos gets my vote.


LATINTRÓNICA IN SA: If you’re into guys in front of DJ mixers, you could do a lot worse than Barcelona’s The Pinker Tones. After two albums (The BCN Connection and The Million Colour Revolution, on Nacional Records) and a new remix CD (More Colours! The Million Colour Revolution Revisited, with remixes by Soda Stereo’s Zeta Bosio, Kinky, and others), the duo of Mr. Furia and Profesor Manso have earned accolades from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Spanish-
language music press. They produce a fierce mix of electronica, funk, pop, and bossa that’s fun and danceable but smartly produced.

For their Wednesday, November 14, show at Club Rio (281 & Bitters, 10 p.m., $10), they bring DJ Niño to help them out, and they hope to be able to use their visuals (in SA, you never know). “In Latintrónica, the music is driven by musicians more than DJs,” said Mr. Furia on the phone from London. “And we tend to use a lot more `Latin` pop music, while in the Anglo scene popular sounds are pretty much left behind. Our thing live is like a rock show with a DJ format.” We’ll see.