The rockabilly festival is Figueroa's most ambitious event so far — 36 bands on three stages, plus pinup girl and car contests. It was his first attempt to take rockabilly out of Valley clubs and into the regional spotlight. If it didn't bring out enough people (and it didn't — attendance was lower than the projected 10,000, organizers think, because of the unseasonably warm weather) it could not only be financially disastrous for him, it could weaken his chances of finding more local bar owners to help support the scene. Nobody wants to take chances in the middle of a crappy economy.

"They're not doing it for the love," Figueroa says. "They're doing it for the beer sales."

As of press time, it was too early to say for sure what the financial outcome of the weekend's festival was.

Marco Polo gets down at a rockabilly fest.
Jamie Peachey
Marco Polo gets down at a rockabilly fest.
Fernando Figueroa, the man behind AZ Rockabilly promotions.
Jamie Peachey
Fernando Figueroa, the man behind AZ Rockabilly promotions.

But the biggest loss for Figueroa sits in his driveway — a 1953 custom Chevy named "Bella Luna." The car's deep blue paint job magnifies the plethora of scratches and dents all over its body. For the past 12 years, it's given Figueroa the rides of his life. One year, at the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival in Nevada, he set a record for having the most people on a moving vehicle, when 30 people kicked up their creepers for some cruisin' on Bella Luna.

Figueroa spent years creating a car that's totally unique.

"It's customized so much that you can't tell what it was originally. I changed out the headlights, the taillights, chopped the top, made the windshield really small," he says. "In a way, I was trying to make the car represent my personality. And my personality is more this rough guy, full of action, ready to make something happen. And that's what I wanted for the car — not perfect, rough around the edges, but still strong."

But unlike its doting owner, Bella Luna's been sitting idle for the past year or so. Figueroa's income goes toward supporting his family and keeping AZ Rockabilly afloat, so Bella's had to take a back seat.

"The car's a crying shame right now," Figueroa says. "Right now, I'm just giving it a little break. I'll get it back up to par. The reality is, I just can't afford to fix it. But I feel this emptiness. Without having the car, I feel like there's something missing."

Indeed, custom cars are an essential component of the rockabilly scene. And while the influence of Latinos on rockabilly music has become esoteric knowledge, their influence on the car culture that permeates today's rockabilly scene is undeniable.

The lowrider culture that emerged in Los Angeles in the '50s and '60s revolved almost exclusively around working-class Chicanos who would fix up and modify old cars. They discovered it wasn't necessary to spend thousands of dollars buying a new car that everyone would notice — they could buy an old beater and turn it into a custom lowrider with minimal money and a lot of hard work. It was this "everyman" hot rod ethic that drew Figueroa into the scene. He grew up riding around Phoenix in his father's 1963 Chevy, and he knew that someday he wanted a ride that would make people point and smile, too.

When he grew older, he started attending car shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and was inspired by the middle-class lowrider culture. "They had cars that weren't the most expensive. They weren't candy paint jobs or cars I could never afford," Figueroa says. "They were cars that you could piece together, spray paint together, whatever it took to make it happen. And people were enjoying themselves and feeling like kings. When I was exposed to that, I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna bring it back home.'"

So Figueroa founded the Los Desperados car club in Phoenix in 2003. Originally, the club comprised exclusively Latino members, but now it includes everybody, Figueroa says, pointing out that the new president of the club, Mike Kauder, is Anglo. "Our car club is diverse. It's not just solely Latinos," he says. "You can't just judge people by how they look."

That goes for cars, too, because until the past decade or so, lowrider culture was looked down upon. "Before, there was a lot of violence, gangs, this and that associated with lowriders," Figueroa says. "But lowriders aren't looked down on anymore as gang-banger vehicles. They're looked at as customs. Now, the candy paint job with the metal flaking isn't laughed at; it's actually something that's on the ground that's cool. Pin-striping before was looked at as a Latino thing — now it's for hot-rodders, and there are different versions of pin-striping. It's a good mesh. It's a blend that was so needed."

There are numerous car clubs in Arizona, including Los Desperados, the Sinners, the Invaders, the Rattlers, the Hell City Saints, and the Red Devils. Many of the members show off their rides every Thursday at The Blooze Bar on 32nd Street, and at the bi-annual "Cruisin' Central" event, which has been going on in Phoenix since the '50s.

Musician Mario Moreno credits the car clubs for bringing Latinos to today's local rockabilly scene. "Those greaser guys really like rockabilly, and the car culture goes hand in hand," he says. "You can't have one without the other. For the rockabilly guys, it's a lifestyle. It's not, 'Let's play dress up and go out.' Like those guys from Los Desperados — they're for real. They live it. It's not bullshit."

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7 comments
sierra19urias
sierra19urias

first of all the original drummer for the jokers was Robert Urias on base luz gonzalez they are the ones who created the jokers and as for the fabulous jokes well that was just another band that could NOT come up with a name

ethompson11
ethompson11

LMAO ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? MARCO WAS AND STILL IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CLOWNS IN THE PHX SCENE.. HE WASNT ONE OF THE FIRST ROCKABILLYS IN PHX... HE WAS ONE OFT HE FIRST HATED... WHO IS THE CLUELESS OWNER OF THE CLUB WHO STATED HE WAS? THAT MAN SHOULD BE SHOT.

James Bailey
James Bailey

Hadley Murrell, . . . "One of the biggest beefs I have is the guys who were really the foundation of music in Phoenix have not been recognized by the Arizona Music Hall of Fame. I really think that's a shame."

I want to thank Hadley for the above statement. If he had not stated it, I would never have went to the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame website www.azmusichalloffame.org and found a number of Chicano musicians from Arizona actually HAVE been inducted there - along with a lot of other really talented people from Arizona. For example, there's a Chicano Artist from Arizona EDUARDO "LALO" GUERRERO who is a member there. The FATHER of Chicano music.

In addition, under "future" inductees, WOW, there's Calderon Ballroom! AND numerous other hispanic/latino musicians and entertainers there.

I believe that Mario Moreno is an inductee in the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame as is Tony Uribe from Tucson. http://www.azblueshof.com

After getting that wonderful history of Hispanics/Latinos/ Chicanos in Arizona music history from the New Times article and then getting "the rest of the story" from the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame and the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame, I felt I had really been enriched.

So, thank you Hadley for your highly inaccurate statement - It led me out of ignorance and into a new appreciation for hispanics and latino/latinas in Arizona music history.

OH - BTW - My lead singer's is from Puerto Rico and is the daughter of Rufus Thomas!

Moral of the Story - Don't believe everything a DJ says - double check those vatos!

Belle
Belle

Awesome article! Viva "Razabilly"

Wolf
Wolf

Thank you !!!!!

 
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