Photograph courtesy of
Chris Lynch at
El Vez is breaking out his jumpsuit and his blue suede sombrero and asking his audience to forget the election and to drop democracy! He says it’s time to submit to the new revolutionary regime, with his new tour and slogan “El Vez for Prez” coming to Maxwell’s on Sunday Sept. 8 at 9 p.m.
El Vez may not be the “King,” but he’s undoubtedly “El Rey” of Mexican-Americana. For the last eight years, he has wowed crowds worldwide with revues that combine the histories of American music and Chicano culture, putting the tequila in musical shots, and the Memphis in the Mariachis.
But before his was a king, his name was Robert Lopez and he was contributing music to the punk scene. While in high school in San Diego, Lopez joined the southern California punk band The Zeros. And when he relocated to Los Angeles in 1978, Lopez remained punk, and joined the bands Catholic Discipline, featured in Penelope Spheeris’ 1981 film, Decline of Western Civilization,and Bonehead.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when Lopez was a curator and publicist at Melrose’s La Luz de Jesus Gallery that he received a sign for his calling. Having organized shows for radical artists like Gary Panter and Robert Williams, Lopez finally conceived El Vez at an opening of Elvis-related folk art in 1988.
Lopez was inspired. “On a dare, I went to Weep Week, the annual celebration of Elvis’ birthday, in Memphis,” said El Vez.
He presented himself as “the Mexican Elvis,” and he scammed his way into a booking at the Elvis impersonator mecca, Bad Bob’s. By the time El Vez stepped off the stage, a Los Angeles Times reporter had picked up his story for a feature, and he quickly was hired for appearances in the nationally syndicated NBC kids’ TV show “2 Hip 4 TV” and in the series “Hunter,” all before playing a single gig in his hometown.
Since then, El Vez has brought “Elvis Love” and “Chicano Power” to cities big and small, re-conquering the Southwest, the original 13 colonies and all territories in between, all the way back to the Old World. But he hasn’t done it alone. El Vez is backed up by his Lovely Elvettes – Gladysita, Priscillita, Lisa Maria and Que Linda Thompson – and the dangerously-schooled Memphis Mariachis.
The magic behind El Vez is his music. He shamelessly quoted the Elvis catalog right from his very first recordings. In his first live album “El Vez is Alive,” he introduces “En el Barrio,” – a takeoff on “In the Ghetto” which blends Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and the Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling.” In “Graciasland,” released in 1995, El Vez created his own version of “Blue Suede Shoes” entitled “Huaraches Azules.” He then took Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary” and stitched it together with “The Godfather Theme,” “Maggie May” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” to create an anti-gang tune, “Now or Never.”
But the wildest part of El Vez is not just his music, but the visual component to his live act. El Vez assembles numerous outfits, with some shows featuring as many as six costume changes. Some of the ensembles include an orange bell-bottom jumpsuit made of Mexican blanket fabric; a white 1970s-style suit with a sequined “Virgen de Guadalupe” stitched on the back; and a patriotic red, white and green suit with the Mexican eagle and serpent hovering over the crotch.
El Vez has recently been signed to Big Pop Records and has released G.I. Ay Ay Blues. El Vez sings songs like “Say It Loud, I’m Brown and I’m Proud!” while proclaiming himself an “Original Hybrid” in “Soy un Pocho.” He counts the ways that immigrants in the U.S. are “Taking Care of Business.” A neglected character from the Mexican Revolution gets “Dolls-ed up” in “The Arm of Obregon.” Other classics are “Mexican American Trilogy” and an Andrew Lloyd Webber spoof called “J.C. Si Lowrider Superstar.”
Lopez encourages all his followers to jump on the bandwagon, and join him for his campaign tour “El Vez for Prez.” According to Lopez, “Just like any other hard-working immigrant, you can put me on stage, behind a counter, in a picket line or [at] head of the Revolution.”