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(Historic Mexican-American Music Volume 10)
Remember when I said that if you just ignored the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, they’d go away? Well, those carpetbaggers appear to have retreated back to Oregon, and here’s your reward: the real zoot-suit riot, courtesy of Don Tosti’s Pachuco Boogie Boys. Recording pseudonymously as the Cuarteto Don Ramon Sr. to skirt the 1948 musicians’ union ban, bassist Edmundo Martinez Tostado and his band cut “Pachuco Boogie,” a jump blues with lyrics in calo, a slangy Spanglish with 15th-century gypsy roots that was popular among pachucos, the barrio
b-boys of the postwar era. The song, which now serves as the title track of the 10th volume in Arhoolie’s Historic Mexican-American Music series, launched a wave of similar recordings in the late ’40s and early ’50s, as Chicano bandleaders hit the studios of Los Angeles and San Antonio. The result was a volatile mixture of U.S. jazz and R&B, Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and Mexican folk and popular song. This little-read chapter in the history of American pop makes for a great party album, packed with tracks that celebrate hybridity and the high life. On Dueto Taxco’s “El Bracero y la Pachuca,” an unctuous romancer attempts to pitch florid woo at a local dance hall, only to be knocked back on his heels by the street talk of a pachuca, who invites him to get drunk, get stoned, and get hitched. Just as this song addresses the established format of the Mexican corrido ballad to the new hipster subculture, Las Hermanas Mendoza’s “Los Pachucos” updates a straightforward cancion with a detailed rundown of zoot-suiter style, from pegged pants to tiny tie to slicked-back hair. Even more impressive is the work of former corrido singer Lalo Guerrero, who savors blues-based forms on “Muy Sabroso Blues” and “Chicas Patas Boogie,” a foot-tapping travelogue that proclaims that the kids are dancing across the whole Southwest. If Arhoolie hasn’t quite whipped liner-note scribe Chuy Varela into similarly Americanized shape, he and the label are still to be commended for providing transcriptions and translations of all non-English lyrics, even for patter songs. Not that everything cries out for explication, though: When Tosti’s gang shouts, “Wine-o-boogie, boogie-wine-o,” it means the same thing in both English and calo. —Glenn Dixon