In the early '70s, Alex Lora, singing exclusively in Spanish to his homeland's marginalized youth, helped give birth to Mexico's rock en espanol movement. Now, more than two decades later, the genre has spilled over the border to create a whole new music scene.
Having recorded 29 albums in as many years, Lora--a name synonymous with his current band, El Tri--easily ranks as the first Mexican rock en espanol legend, and he's proud of it.
"All the Mexican rock [en espanol] groups that exist today are our sons," the 44-year-old bassist-singer said by phone from his Mexico City home. "El Tri is the father of Mexican rock."
Lora and El Tri will achieve another first today when the band plays before an expected 9,000 fans at Santa Ana Stadium. The concert marks Orange County's largest rock en espanol concert ever, and it gives the county's scattered scene a reason to coalesce.
"For El Tri to play in Orange County at a stadium level is something that will open more playing fields for local rockeros," said Pino Yllescas, guitarist of the blues-rock band Ley de Hielo, which, with its respectable regional following, will help open the show. "It's also a rare opportunity for fans, who would pay anything to see such legends as El Tri."
El Tri typically fills 10,000- to 25,000-capacity arenas throughout Latin America. But at a recent Woodstock-style concert in Lima, Peru, they played for more than 100,000 rockeros.
That spring concert coincided with El Tri's latest release "Cuando Tu No Estas" (When You Aren't Here), which Lora dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Jim Gaines, a Grammy-winner who has worked with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Miller and Santana, produced the CD. Santana appears on its first single, "Virgen Morena" (Brown Virgin).
The current El Tri lineup includes veterans Rafael Salgado on harmonica, and Lora's wife, Chela, singing backup vocals, as well as Eduardo Chico and Oscar Zarate on guitar, and Ramon Perez on drums.
Front man Alex Lora's powerful stage presence and the populist appeal of his songwriting have earned him mythical status among fans over the years. (The band also earned something of a wild reputation after a mini-riot broke out during a 1991 concert at the Palladium.) But critics have called him opportunistic for focusing so heavily on the core of Mexico's poor, said Emilio Morales, publisher of La Banda Elastica, which documents the rock en espanol movement around the world.
More recently, the Mexico City native has shifted his attention to the Roman Catholic faithful; El Tri performed (another first) the "Virgen Morena" at Mexico City's Basilica of Guadalupe last summer. Again, detractors view the courtship of Catholics as another masterful marketing ploy.
Lora simply dismisses the criticism and keeps on writing.
Songs in "Cuando Tu No Estas" evoke the same raw emotionalism and simple blues found in El Tri's signature rock anthems, including "No Hagas Caso a Tus Papas" (Don't Pay Attention to Your Parents), "Oye Cantinero" (Listen Bar Man), "Abuso de Autoridad" (Abuse of Authority) and "Que Viva el Rock and Roll" (Long Live Rock and Roll).
"[Lora's] words are real powerful," said Raymond "Indio" Garza, the band's Los Angeles-based stage manager. "The way he writes the music is something people can relate to. Without El Tri, the rock en espanol movement wouldn't exist."
Lora's career began at age 15 when he started the group Three Souls in My Mind in 1968. For three years, the band--Lora, bass and vocals; Charlie Hauptvogel, drums, and Ernesto de Leon, guitar--sang in English, the popular style of the time. But for Mexico's historic 1971 concert at Avandaro, where more than 300,000 rockeros gathered, the trio played in Spanish.
"Rock had always been the property of the middle and upper classes," Lora recalled. "As of that concert, the people of Mexico embraced rock as their own because we could communicate to them."
After some 15 records, Lora left the group and began working under the name El Tri, which had been a nickname of Three Souls in My Mind. The new group's first release, "Simplemente El Tri" (Simply El Tri), came out in 1984.
By the time rock en espanol had its big boom in Latin America in 1987, Lora and El Tri were already soaring. Mexican bands like Caifanes--now Jaguares--and Maldita Vecindad, notable giants today, opened then for El Tri because it was the only band capable of drawing audiences.
"I take great pride in knowing that the seed that I planted almost 30 years ago is a little tree that we can harvest and nurture its many different branches," Lora said.
* El Tri and guests Ley de Hielo, Eclipse and Mountain King play today at Santa Ana Stadium, 602 W. Flower St. 5:30 p.m. $30-$45. (714) 438 1025.