As a boy in the late '50s, Ruben Guaderrama, guitarist of the band the Blazers, found himself caught in the middle of an East L.A. musical generation gap.
"I was getting this great mix from both sides," says Guaderrama, 41, during an interview with him and guitarist Manuel Gonzales in the latter's Monterey Park home. "My older brothers, they'd be playing their records, their doo-wop stuff, and in the living room my mom would be playing mariachis and nortenos ."
Now with the Blazers, he's updated that mix, blending the nortenos and cumbias he heard at home with the blues-rock sounds of Jimi Hendrix and Cream that he and his band-mates listened to on the radio as teen-agers during the late '60s.
The Blazers, who perform tonight at the House of Blues, wear these roots-rock influences on their collective sleeve, but they soulfully craft them into a seamless whole. On "Short Fuse," the band's first album, it plays rocking, "Blazerized" versions of traditional Mexican tunes and adds a south-of-the-border rhythmic texture to its bluesy originals.
If the band's style and story sound a bit like that of Los Lobos, it's not a coincidence. Members of both bands grew up in the same neighborhood and often played together at parties and jam sessions. They remain friends, and Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas produced "Short Fuse" in his home studio. The Blazers have a rawer, less atmospheric sound than their more famous friends, but Guaderrama and Gonzales are happy with the comparison.
"People tell us we sound like (Los Lobos) when we do the rock stuff," Guaderrama says. "It's flattering because they think we can play that well. It's the East L.A. sound. We grew up learning to play 'Johnny B. Goode' in the same neighborhood."
Guaderrama and Gonzales, who co-write the band's songs and English lyrics, started playing together at parties and weddings when they graduated from high school in 1971.
"We were doing Chuck Berry songs, Beatles songs, all the rock 'n' roll stuff," Guaderrama says. "(Mexican music) was always in the back of our minds because we grew up listening to it. . . . At weddings, we'd play a cumbia and 'Johnny B. Goode' and we were in. Everybody from the old country dug it and (so did) all the kids."
Guaderrama and Gonzales played in a series of mostly short-lived bands, both together and apart, before forming the Blazers in 1990 with bassist Lee Stuart, who's from West Covina, and a drummer who was replaced two years ago by Ruben C. Gonzalez. With its current lineup, the band's energetic live shows at local bars started attracting attention, and it was handpicked by Bob Dylan to open one of his 1992 concerts at the Pantages Theater.
When the Blazers heard a rumor that Cambridge, Mass.-based Rounder Records was interested in signing them, they quickly started an impromptu write-in campaign targeting the independent roots music label.
"We made postcards with Rounder's address on them," Guaderrama says. "If somebody liked the music, we'd give them a postcard and say, 'Write to Rounder.' "
The company signed the Blazers a year ago, and last summer the band recorded "Short Fuse" with Rosas. Released in March, the album has sold almost 10,000 copies, fairly respectable for a Rounder roots-rock act known mainly in Los Angeles and Austin, Tex.
Having recently returned from a short tour of the South, the Blazers will play some Los Angeles-area shows, including Jacks Sugar Shack on June 10 and the Palomino on June 25 in addition to the House of Blues tonight, before they go back on the road in July. This tour will take them to the East Coast and Europe, both for the first time, and the band hopes to win more fans outside of Los Angeles.
"The music business is so tough," Guaderrama says. "I don't know where we fit in. If we do fit in, I just hope people play it loud."
* The Blazers will play at the House of Blues , 8430 Sunset Blvd., tonight, opening a show also featuring C.C. Adcock and the Red Devils. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at the House of Blues or through Ticketmaster.