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Lava and the Hot Rocks Ready to Erupt

February 17, 1994|JENNIFER OLDHAM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Gonzalezes were tired of waiting for fame and fortune to arrive for their family band. So tired that they decided to create their own fame using their own fortune.

After refinancing their Maywood home and taking the money that Hector Gonzalez received from a company buyout, the family independently produced Lava and the Hot Rocks' first commercial album last fall.

Their gamble may have paid off.

Frustrated with being denied by several record labels, Hector, 40, his wife, Miroslava (Lava), 38, and their son, Alex, 18, changed the band's eclectic style to alternative adult contemporary. And with their first, soon-to-be-released album, "You Damn Mexicans Are Too Loud," the band has found its niche.

"It's been hard to get into the Mexican market because they don't consider us Latin. Even being of Mexican American heritage, we weren't recognized because we aren't immigrants," Hector Gonzalez said.

The band began its tumultuous journey through the Los Angeles music scene 13 years ago after Hector Gonzalez's barber introduced him to an attorney who recommended their demo album to former concert promoter Jerry Rissmiller.

"Musically they knocked me out," said Rissmiller, who agreed to become their manager.

He said their blend of Latin elements and big-band sound leads to a bluesy jazz beat that is commercial and unique in a world where it is "very difficult to get air play on any radio station, regardless of ethnicity."

With Hector on bass, Alex on drums and Lava on vocals, the group also features Mel Steinberg, 44, on saxophone, Alfred Ortiz, 23, on percussion and Karl Carrasco, 41, on keyboards.

The family writes songs by improvisation. Hector Gonzalez said he comes up with a rhythm and runs it by his son, who adds his ideas. Then they tape the piece and give it to Lava Gonzalez to write the melody and the lyrics.

Hector Gonzales describes themes for the band's songs as "home-grown." Lava Gonzalez said the bluesy songs she sings offer a unique way to discuss life: tales of love, war, pain and relationships. Many of their songs are inspired by her heritage--she was born in Chinipas, Mexico, and moved to the United States when she was 1--and by the family's attempts to make it to the big time.

Hector Gonzalez, who won an Emmy Award as a sound engineer for his work on the 1984 Olympic Games coverage, said his connections at ABC and CBS allowed the band to make money while it looked for its niche. Those contacts and some late-night club gigs gave the band exposure during an Academy Awards wrap party and other industry get-togethers.

The band has a busy summer schedule, starting in June with the Troubadours of Folk festival at UCLA. As part of the festival, the band will travel with 35 other acts to Scandinavia and the Virgin Islands. And in August, Lava and the Hot Rocks will join five other groups on a three-month, 30-city tour. One of the band's upcoming local outings will be Friday at a Red Cross earthquake relief benefit at the Reseda Country Club.

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