Ruben Guevara

To some listeners, Ruben Guevara (sometimes referred to as Ruben de Guevara) is most important as the man behind Ruben & the Jets, the real group that followed in the wake of the 1968 Frank Zappa album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets and left behind two of the finest rock & roll albums of the early to mid-'70s. But Guevara is more than that -- indeed, he is a multi-threat musician, performer, writer, and producer, for whom Ruben & the Jets are but one small musical achievement in a nearly five-decade career. He was born in California, the son of a Mexican immigrant musician and composer -- also named Ruben Guevara -- who moved to the United States following a 1941 performance in Los Angeles for Cinco de Mayo. He met his future wife backstage at the performance, and the two were later married. The younger Ruben Guevara spent his early years in the Mexican enclave of Santa Monica and later moved to Los Angeles. He started studying music with his father and at nine formally took up the trumpet, and became proficient enough to join the California All Youth Symphony. He reached his teens just as rock & roll and R&B were sweeping the nation, and in high school he began singing R&B harmony vocal (i.e., doo wop) music, in the mold of the Penguins, the Flamingos, et al. With a friend, Pablo Amarillas, he formed the Apollo Brothers. His early influences included Don & Dewey, Little Richard, the Cadillacs, and, a little later, Ritchie Valens. The Apollo Brothers performed at various local venues and were good enough to make it onto local television.

Guevara continued studying music at Los Angeles City College. He played sessions, sang where he could, and made his way as younger musicians must. Then, in 1968, lightning seemed to strike nearby, if not exactly on his career, when Frank Zappa chanced to record Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, an album of doo wop-influenced rock & roll that -- between its style and its name -- attracted Guevara's attention. The following year, at a Zappa concert at the Shrine Auditorium, Guevara spoke to Zappa backstage and renewed the acquaintanceship a couple of years later -- Zappa suggested that Guevara form a group of his own, which he did, and then rerturned to Zappa to get permission to use the name Ruben & the Jets, which was too appealing to let go. He not only agreed, but promised to produce if the group were to do an LP. What followed, along with a California tour opening for the Mothers of Invention -- was For Real!, a glorious album by Ruben & the Jets, produced by Zappa through his In-discreet label and released by Mercury Records. A national tour followed, and then another album, Con Safos, with Denny Randell producing. The group was very popular in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and toured nationally with the Mothers and also with Three Dog Night (then among the most popular and biggest-selling groups in the country), and appeared in Los Angeles with Malo and the comedy duo Cheech & Chong, but according to saxman Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood, they spent too much time playing benefits in Los Angeles to make the kind of money that would allow them to stay together.

Guevara had a few false starts over the next couple of years, solo projects that failed to materialize, and also began to explore more seriously his Mexican roots, musical and historical. In 1976, he and former bandmember Johnny Martinez recorded doo wop versions of "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" for the American Bicentennial. Those songs became the first single ever released by a new Santa Monica-based label called Rhino Records. In 1977, he was seen playing trumpet in the band in the movie Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke (which also included a reference to Ruben & the Jets in its script). He and Cheech Marin began working together closely, which resulted in Guevara writing the title song for the movie Nice Dreams and working on the score of Born in East L.A. Guevara also showed up as an actor in the movie Gotcha! during the mid-'80s. He cut more music for Rhino Records, and ran the short-lived Rhino offshoot label Zyanya, which did a series of releases devoted to Latin rock, and led to a series of showcase performances by a brace of legendary L.A. outfits, including Cannibal & the Headhunters and Thee Midniters, and (naturally) Ruben & the Jets. Some of the highlights of Guevara's work for the label were later preserved on compact disc, on Reconquista!: The Latin Rock Invasion (1997). Guevara's work then shifted toward the writing of poetry, and also theatrical performance. He also produced an HBO special devoted to Latin music, entitled Caliente y Picante, featuring Tito Puente, Santana, Linda Ronstadt, Jerry Garcia, and Rubén Blades, among others. In addition, he has made key contributions to various art and multimedia exhibitions devoted to Latin music and history. ~ Bruce Eder

Top Songs