Photo via Flicker
Photo via Flicker

The Los Angeles City Council Friday proclaimed the day as Ritchie Valens Day to mark the 75th birthday of the late Los Angeles legend and Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer responsible for such hits as “La Bamba” and “Donna” in a recording career cut short after eight months.

Born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima on May 13, 1941, Valens was raised hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar, rhythm and blues and jump blues. He expressed an interest in making music of his own when he was 5 years old.

Valens’ father Joseph Valenzuela encouraged him to take up guitar and trumpet. Valens later taught himself the drums.

One day, a neighbor came across Valens trying to play a guitar that had only two strings. He re-strung the instrument, and taught Valens the fingerings of some chords. While Valens was left-handed, he was so eager to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right-handed version of the instrument.

Valens joined a local dance band, the Silhouettes when he was 16 years old. In May 1958, he auditioned for Del-Fi label owner Bob Keane, who spotted his raw talent. Under Keane’s direction, Valens cut a few sessions at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles.

In his second session, he recorded the classic teen love ballad “Donna” and the song he would be most known for, “La Bamba.”

Valens was touring the Midwest on Feb. 3, 1959 when the plane he was in crashed in an Iowa cornfield, killing him, along with Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson, known as “The Big Bopper,” in what would become known as “The Day the Music Died.”

—City News Service

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *