Longtime R&B group Tierra has announced the passing of leader and co-founder Rudy Salas. Salas died on Tuesday at the age of 71.
Tierra was a revolutionary Latin music group from Los Angeles that started in the 1970s and is still a standard on El Paso oldies radio.
Tierra has performed in El Paso several times over the decades.
Here is an article by RamÃ³n RenterÃa that first appeared in El Paso Times on February 13, 2009.
A revolutionary group from the 70s still going strong
EL PASO – Rudy Salas, conductor of Tierra, laughs at the question: “Will you keep playing until you fall?”
Salas, 60, has been singing and playing guitar for almost 40 years with Tierra, the band once dubbed by Billboard magazine and others as one of the nation’s top R&B vocal groups, a label that doesn’t cover music. Tierra’s diverse musical palette.
âI’m giving myself another five years, but then again I can say, ‘Let’s go for another five,’â Salas said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I will do it as long as I have fun playing.”
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Tierra returns to El Paso on Friday, bringing his funky mix of rock, pop, jazz, R&B and salsa to the Valentine’s Dance Extravaganza at the El Paso Convention Center.
Salas is naturally optimistic. The group still draws audiences across the United States. Younger fans adopted Tierra’s sound. The band’s latest CD, “On the Right Track”, a mix of classic Tierra and more contemporary stuff, generated a positive buzz.
âThe group is a survivor,â Salas said. “One thing that keeps us going is the fact that people still enjoy our music and play it all over the country.”
Which may explain why Tierra’s next gig is in Las Vegas, and why Tierra’s distinctive Latin-flavored, sweet, and soulful sound still enchants fans like Mary Gonzalez, 55, a technician in the County of Adult Probation Department of El Paso.
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âI love their music,â Gonzalez said. “Some of their songs were very romantic slow dance songs at the time.”
Salas and his brother Steve first made a name for themselves in East Los Angeles with their double vocal harmony before launching Tierra in 1971. Tierra now stands as the first Latin band to have four songs on the national charts.
Tierra’s Latin R&B beat produced classic hits such as “Together”, “Gonna Find Her”, “Memories” and “Zoot Suit Boogie”, songs always in demand and aired on El Paso oldies radio stations.
“They still have a very loyal fan base,” said Mike Guerrero, host of “The Fox Jukebox,” a Sunday afternoon antique show on KOFX-FM (92.3). “They have people who have loved them for years.”
Tierra performed in front of an enthusiastic Fiesta de las Flores crowd at Cohen Stadium in 2008. And now the party is back.
How does Salas, the band’s lead songwriter, define the Tierra sound?
âI reject labels. We are a mixture of everything that has influenced us over the years,â he said.
The Salas brothers have been exposed to many genres of music in Los Angeles, from R&B to rock ‘n’ roll, salsa, jazz and Mexican mariachi, cumbias, boleros and rancheras.
They grew up listening to their mother and an uncle sing at family celebrations. And they idolized the harmony of Los Dandys, a trio that sang boleros. Their interests later turned to R&B music and artists like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Sam Cooke. Add in influences like Carlos Santana, the Everly Brothers, and James Brown, and you’ll get a good idea of ââTierra’s musical roots.
The new CD pays tribute to the rock legend Brown, who invited Tierra to tour with him and encouraged the group’s success.
Over the years, Tierra has performed at various prestigious venues, from Carnegie Hall to the “American Bandstand”.
Tierra’s ensemble includes Salas (vocals and guitar), Bill Mondragon (singer), Aaron Ballesteros (drums), Victor Cisneros (sax, flute), Steve Falomir (bass, choreographer), Jeff Lewis (trumpet), Roger Rivas ( keyboards), Rudy Villa (soprano sax) and Dale Villavicencio (percussion).
Mondragon will not be doing the El Paso concert. Steve Salas reunited with the group three years ago after dropping out for 11 years.
Rudy Salas recalled difficult times, having sometimes had to overcome prejudices and other barriers in the music industry. But he thinks that going on that long, keeping a fan base, and influencing other bands like Los Lobos made Tierra’s journey worthwhile.
âI will never forget the great moments, a golden age for us, the time when there were no other Latino groups,â he said. “It’s not so much about the money and everything that goes with it. We played and made great music. That’s what it is.”
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