Los Illegals is an American Chicano punk band from Los Angeles, California.
Spawned by artist/muralist Willie Herron (keyboards, vocals), civil rights activist Jesus "Xiuy" Velo (bass), drummer Bill Reyes, and guitarist brothers Manuel and Tony Valdez (who also perform with their Mariachi parents & relatives).
The band struck a deal with a local order of radical Catholic nuns to open and run the legendary Club Vex at Self Help Graphics, Catholic Youth Organization building in East Los Angeles. There, they booked and introduced Eastside to Westside groups (such as The Brat, X, Bad Religion, and Thee Undertakers) to open up new horizons and enable themselves and others to play and tour with other major 1980s groups including The Clash, Bauhaus, The Motels, and Berlin. A visit to the club by Los Lobos (then an acoustic traditionalist Mexican folk group) convinced the band to rethink itself, return electric, and follow the path set by Club Vex. They were contemporaries of The Plugz from Texas and The Zeros of San Diego. The venue's street credibility kickstarted a music and art renaissance crossing cultural and geographical boundaries.
Released in 1981, the song "El Lay" featured Herron singing about his stepfather's arrest for washing dishes in L.A. The song became a Raza Anthem and brought the group's rising notoriety to Europe and Japan. Its cover art was meant to evoke the danger of the punk rock movement and the cultural roots of the group. The group was the first of the Club Vex groups to sign with a major label releasing Internal Exile produced by David Bowie's Mick Ronson on A&M records in 1983. The song "El Lay" was included in the album.But the relationship soon soured after the label rejected their next LP (Burning Youth) and partnership with UK's Stiff Record's producer Wally Brill (999, Elvis Costello) for its experimentation with Mexican instrumentation coupled with the band's unwillingness to use stereotypical icons (velvet Elvis paintings etc.) for publicity. Tied to a label unwilling to release it, and in debt for the LP's recording costs, they then illegally distributed it on cassette only in Mexico--for free.
They were one of the framers/promoters of U.S. Roc en Espanol in the early 1980s and one of the first Chicano bands touring into Mexico playing alongside and meeting pioneer rockeros like El Tri and Tijuana No, Jaguares and Maldita Vecindad gaining respect on both sides of the border despite the original hostility displayed against them. They were actually being pelted on stage in both the U.S. (being called "wetbacks") and Mexico (this time being called "Pochos"- not truly Mexican). They shared experiences and knowledge with the fledgling scene winning the first "Outstanding Roc En Espanol Artist" California Music Award (BAMMY) from the Critics and Readers polls of the BAM/Rocket and Tower Pulse magazines.
Outspoken diplomatically and politically, the band has finally been receiving its long overdue accolades and is featured in various prominent music history and university textbooks. Most notable are Barrio Rhythm, and Land of 1,000 dances: The History of Chicanos in Rock & Roll.
In film, its Agnes Varda's French Masterpiece "Mur Murs", the Soundtrack for Stand and Deliver, and with Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Laurie Anderson and Cassandra Wilson in the D.A. Penebaker documentary and soundtrack: Searching for Jimi Hendrix (Capital). Also appearing alongside Santana, War, & Los Lobos on the historical compilation Ay Califas! History of Raza Rock of the 70's & 80's (Warner/Rhino).
In the face of anti-illegal immigrant legislation they are on the move again this time as "cultural collaborators": beginning with the highly praised CD, Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals on Miles Copeland's ARK-21/Virgin label, then with Tijuana punk legends "Mercado Negro" for the Rockefeller US/Mexico Culture Fund sponsored compilation CD: MexAmerica produced by Ruben Guevara for Angelino Records, later with Emmy winning journalist Ruben Martinez and Rock en Espanol stars "Maldita Vecindad" for the theater piece "Border Ballad" (the companion to his Book "Crossing Over: Tales From the New Frontier"), also writing, and performing with new talent (i.e. the EMI soundtrack of the Showtime series "Resurrection Boulevard" as their alter egos "The Chizmosos"). Lately they co-produced a series of racially diverse SRO "no coffee or bongos" electronica/noise poetry theater performances ("The Spine of Califas") with of San Diego's legendary Taco Shop Poets and several other performers/artists to which a college tour, book, CD and short film are in the offering and planning stages. Currently the group is the subjects of two ongoing documentaries of their history as Pachuco punks one entitled "Destined to fuck up" and the other a National PBS documentary special on Chicano Rock & Roll for airing in 2006.
It has been said about the group that in this era of disposable pop culture where "commitment and consciousness" are words passed around and marketed all too casually, "Los Illegals have a history of actively and physically proving the power of music to unite people."
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license