Chicano rock-gods

(Reprinted by permission)

Tucked away in a remote corner of the Los Angeles, California, area, four young musicians reconvene. The sound studio-rehearsal space doubles as an office, and the otherwise pre-fab walls are covered with vintage movie posters, gold and platinum records and photographs, which tell the story of a rock and roll dynasty.

At once humble and playful, the members of Renegade seem more like the dudes that you grew up with than the band responsible for worldwide sales of more than 30 million units. Natives of East LA, Kenny Marquez, Luis Cardenas, Danny Flores and Tony De La Rosa don’t wear their early success with any sort of seriousness.

"For us, it’s always been about the music and having fun," says vocalist Kenny. The quartet, after a relative quiet during which members pursued personal projects and reflected on the whirlwind, launched the album that brought them into the spotlight as the first internationally successful rock band comprised entirely of Mexican-Americans.

The modest facility is ringed by an almost rural suburban landscape. Outside, a pretty blonde woman in suede leather chaps trots by astride a horse. It’s mid-day on Christmas Eve in San Dimas, and the horse is wearing a Santa hat. Inside the Renegade headquarters, the boys are obviously excited about their upcoming collective project, a long-awaited CD release and the full-fledged tour that will be mounted around it.

"That’s where our passion lies, in our live shows," remarks the wiry Kenny. And other than a Conga Room showcase last fall where they celebrated their global success with a peek at new material and a special appearance by Hollywood heavyweight David Hasselhoff, Renegade has kept a pretty low profile in recent years.

No longer the Tiger Beat pretty boys that emerged just after high school, the ensemble of hard-rocking troubadours bears witness to a volatile and high-energy brush with early rock stardom that saw them touring alongside legends like Blue Oyster Cult, 38 Special, Jefferson Starship and ZZ Top. In the aftermath of monster hits such as "Dance With Me," "Girls, Girls, Girls." and "Let It Out," Renegade has spent the last several months writing and rehearsing, honing a sound that is equal parts musical muscle and four part harmonies. "We all sing, write and play," says Tony De La Rosa, who alternates on lead guitar, often in the same song, with his extrovert band mate Kenny.

From their origins as a backyard-garage band, Renegade made no bones about who they were and where they were from. According to management, a staunch refusal to mask their ethnicity in exchange for increased opportunities was met with industry discrimination. Longtime Renegade manager and Allied Records chairman Kim Richards recalls how club promoters in Hollywood and along the Sunset Strip almost invariably agreed to book the band upon hearing the demo but then suddenly changed their tune when a photo of the group reveal that they were Hispanic.

"They thought that we were going to come into their clubs with knives and spray cans and terrorize their places," Luis told Tuscon Entertainment Magazine during a promotional tour for his successful solo record Animal Instinct. Cardenas, who formed Renegade with bass player Danny, holds a Guinness world record for the largest drum set. After teaming up, Danny and Luis recruited Kenny, who brought De La Rosa along. The chemistry clicked, says Luis. And Renegade was born.

Unfortunately, while the band’s growing popularity was useful in eradicating some of the barriers and resistance put up by an industry that wasn’t quite ready to fathom a brown baby glam-rock powerhouse in English, the band’s own desire to record in Spanish was definitely out of the question.

"We’ve always wanted to try our stuff in Spanish, because that’s part of our heritage as well," Kenny told the standing room only Conga Room crowd during the showcase. If the North American record industry was loath to accept Chicano rock gods, Mexico and Latin America had no trouble embracing their distant sons.

If scoring a gold album and a platinum single in Mexico with their English-language material were any indication, it was safe to assume that Renegade in Spanish would go over equally well, if not better, in countries where Spanish is the predominant tongue, reasoned Richards. The record label which distributed Allied product at the time was not, however, convinced. According to Richards, the major industry players and corporate stiffs involved felt that the language crossover would dilute the Renegade brand name.

Luckily, the recent explosion in Latino has given the industry reason to explore international, multilingual possibilities. And the boys in Renegade are utterly thrilled to announce that their upcoming record, There Goes the Neighborhood, will be issued simultaneously in English and Spanish. It is a first for the band and a groundbreaking step that further bridges and bonds the latter day rock en Espanol movement with the US-bred Latino rock that has its antecedents in groups like Santana, Malo and Tierra.

On the upcoming release, Renegade pays tributes to War with a cover of "The Cisco Kid," performed in English and Spanish. The amped-up, hard rock Renegade signature will undoubtedly convert the song once more into a rock and roll anthem, only this time, it is poised to make its way across the entire Western Hemisphere.

Much like the interactive ensemble spirit they demonstrate on stage where they are all highly accomplished lead singers, "los Renegados" emphasize collaboration in the studio. "We’ll each bring in an idea," says Flores, the intellectual of the group. "There’s really no one way. There are four influences and we really appreciate what everyone contributes." He, like his band mates, is relishing the prospect of going back on the tour. "It’s funny being on the road. Everything is a little more intense." He is more than sincere when concludes, "We’re dying to play."

Reprinted with permission of Ritmo Beat Magazine.