LA, California, US
Artist / Band / Musician
Rockabilly / Alternative / Punk
Sympathy for the Record Industry
Because Elvis has become an international institution that can communicate across national and cultural boundaries, it comes as no surprise that El Vez the self proclaimed "Mexican Elvis" has come along. El Vez, aka Robert Lopez, has been kicking around the L.A. underground music scene for nearly twenty years. He first appeared in the early L.A. punk band the Zeros and then played in Catholic Discipline (which also spawned lesbian folk singer Phranc). While his records are excellent documents of the El Vez phenomenon, the only way to get the full El Vez experience is to see his live shows, which feature his band the Spiders from Memphis and the lovely El Vettes, cleverly named Priscilita, Gladysita, Lisa Maria, and Que Linda Thompson. The best cultural reference points to help describe an El Vez show are the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, a Tom Jones Las Vegas gig, the LSD episode of Dragnet, and Elvis Presley's '68 comeback special. Listening to El Vez is akin to hearing the live-band equivalent of sampling. An audience on any given night can be treated to half a dozen costume changes and might hear bits and pieces of at least 200 songs, not all of them Elvis recordings. For instance, one of his medleys featured "You Ain't Nothing But a Chihuahua" and an instrumental version of the Beastie Boys' "Gratitude," mixed in with the lead guitar riff from Santana's "Black Magic Woman" laid underneath Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," which melded into "En el Barrio" (aka "In the Ghetto") and finished up with the mandolin line that concludes R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."

Despite his use of humor, El Vez cannot be written off as a post-modern joke. His lyrics (many times rewrites of Elvis recordings or other popular songs) are very political and pro-Latino. Much like Rage Against the Machine, his songs are littered with references to the Zapatistas and other Mexican revolutionaries. Unlike the above-mentioned band, he does not beat the audience over the head with didactic polemics and testosterone-fueled monster chords. Instead, he relies on the obvious play on words ("Say It Loud, I'm Brown and I'm Proud" and "Misery Tren") and clever social satire (at the climax of "Immigration Time" sung to the tune of "Suspicious Minds" he shouts, "I've got my green card.I want my gold card!"). Based in East Los Angeles, he is involved in anti-gang programs and other community outreach programs a refreshing reminder that one doesn't have to lose his or her sense of humor to remain an activist.

Biography by Kembrew McLeod


Some Elvis fans do crazy things, like light candles on the anniversary of his death. Others do even crazier things, like drive to Graceland and stock up on Elvis shampoo, floater pens and and refrigerator magnets. But it is the rare and supremely loopy fan who actually becomes Elvis. In the realm of Elvis impersonators, El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, is king.

El Vez is a multiethnic, multicultural, multicostumed revolutionary who reinvents American rock from a socialist Hispanic perspective. "G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues" (Big Pop Records) is his latest manifesto, following "Graciasland" and "A Merry Mex-Mus." "Misery Tren" remakes "Mystery Train" via Pancho Villa, los zapatistas and an edict to "destroy los capitalistas." "Say It Loud! I'm Brown and I'm Proud!" filters James Brown through a California immigration nightmare. "I've worked all day with my hands and my feet / And all the time we're running from some governor named Pete." Throughout, a message of hope and unity rises to the fore. So love me tender, so love me long," sings El Vez. "Why can't we all just get along?"

Nutty Los Angeleno: Seven years ago, El Vez was Robert Lopez, an averagely nutty Los Angeleno working at an art gallery. He decided to mount an all-Elvis show; by the end of it, he was plotting a trip to Memphis and scribbling Hispanic lyrics to beloved old chestnuts. Lopez was enchanted by the world of wanna-bes. "In Memphis there was a place called Bob's Bad Vapors," he says. "From 3 in the afternoon until 3 in the morning you could see an Elvis every 20 minutes." Today the El Vez show is an extravaganza with pompom-toting singers (Lisa Maria and Prescillita), a rainbow of sequins, camouflage bell-bottoms with gold lame flares, pro-tolerance patter and a band that moves from "La Cucaracha" to "Wipeout" at the drop of a sombrero.

Lopez knows this is silly. But as a second-generation Mexican-American raised in Chula Vista, Calif., he has a right to be culturally confused. "In the '60s, my uncles had the continental slacks and slicked-back hair," he says. "They looked like Elvis in 'Fun in Acapulco.' I remember as a kid thinking, 'Elvis must be Latino, like us'." But Lopez was encouraged by his parents to assimulate. He lived in a white neighborhood and didn't hear Spanish until high school. "The whole trip to El Vez-ness was a search for identity," he says. "How brown can I be? What are my roots?" Lopez believes that beyond the kitsch factor, El Vez has potential to spread good will. He's tapped into an American ideal: that anyone can be Elvis, no matter which race, creed or jumpsuit size he is. "When you come to an El Vez show, you walk away proud to be a Mexican," he says. "Even when you're not."

By Karen Schoemer

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