Any respectable rockabilly guy's gotta have a hot set of wheels, and Marco Polo's no exception. Peek in his garage, and you'll find a 1968 Galaxie convertible. "A convertible's really good because then I can push my pompadour aaall the way up," he says. (Polo previously owned a 1938 Cadillac and a 1961 Cadillac. He says his pompadour was so high that he had to drive with his head hanging out the window.)

Speaking of pompadours, how do rockabilly guys get their hair to stand up like that? "I use hairspray," Polo says. "I just put a handful of hair gel in and then flip it forward. And I use two cans of hairspray."

Figueroa, on the other hand, uses hair grease from local shop Go Kat Go, which sells retro and vintage wares. The rest of his fashion sense is pretty simple — cuffed blue jeans and T-shirts. By contrast, Polo's closet is overrun with pointy-toed shoes and creepers, zebra-stripe and leopard-print zoot suits (popularized by the Mexican-American pachuco subculture in the '30s and '40s), and flashy blazers.

Polo's bandmates in Curse of the Pink Hearse sometimes have bandannas hanging from their pockets. The bandanna is another piece of rockabilly fashion with roots in Hispanic culture, growing out of farm fields and folklorico dancing and into the '60s Chicano movement and outfits of Mexican-American street gangs like the Norteños and Sureños. "Rockabilly now uses bandannas, but the bandannas came from Mexico City in the 1940s," Polo says. "The bandanna started in Mexico."

Figueroa and Polo, who grew up 10 years apart in different countries, have different views of what it means to be Latino in today's rockabilly scene.

Figueroa, who grew up in south Phoenix, says he sometimes gets lip from people for being a Latino rockabilly guy. "Some people do see that stereotype, and say, 'Where's your lowrider? Aren't you listening to War?' There's so much more to me than that," he says.

But overall, Figueroa says the rockabilly scene today is accepting of everybody. "I don't feel like I'm a minority at all," he says. "I feel like I'm part of something that's beyond race. But at the same time, I do like how we fit in. We're the ones that add a little spice, and that's cool."

What's important to Figueroa is that pioneers of Latino rockabilly get their dues, which is why he books acts like Mario Moreno and the Ramblers for AZ Rockabilly shows.

Moreno, 54, is actually known as "the Ritchie Valens of south Phoenix," a big compliment considering that everybody in Phoenix's Latino music scene seems to remember exactly what they were doing the day the Valens biopic La Bamba opened.

Johnny Flores, who drums for "hillbilly blues rock" band Krimson Chord, went to the opening-day première for the first of his 12 viewings. Moreno was playing a Ritchie Valens tribute show for Lowrider magazine. And Marco Polo was getting kicked out of the movie theater for bringing his guitar and passionately singing along to the musical sequences in the movie.

Polo grew up in Mexico City, where he was exposed to the Mexican versions of popular American singers. "Before I heard Johnny Cash, I heard the Mexican Johnny Cash. Before I heard Gene Vincent, I heard the Mexican Gene Vincent," he says. "I listened to the Mexican Elvis Presley — his name was Bebe Hernandez — before I knew of Elvis Presley, because my dad was very into rock 'n' roll."

He was also influenced by old crime and spy movies starring Mexican luchador El Santo, and his uncle, Alfredo Escopeta. "My uncle, in the 1940s and '50s, he was like a boogie-woogie dancer. He was famous in Mexico City," Polo says. "He could do the splits, up and down. I grew up watching him as my inspiration. He told me, 'Chicanos, they wear hats. In Mexico City, we wear pompadours.' So he had a huge pompadour, and he listened to mambo, rockabilly, cha cha, Latin."

He says his uncle also met Bill Haley, who'd moved his band to Mexico City in the early '60s, where they were known as Bill Haley y sus Cometas and had a huge hit with "Twist Español."

"Bill Haley rockabilly in Spanish is the fuckin' best album," Polo says.

When Polo moved to Phoenix in 1987, he fell in love with the city. "Phoenix changed my life," he says. "South Phoenix, to me, was like the capital of Latino rockabilly."

Still, Polo says he felt like an outsider and struggled to buck the stereotype that he was yet another brown-skinned troublemaker.

"Being a Latino in America, I didn't come here to cause problems or become one more in the pile," he says. "I didn't come to add to the problem. I came here to make a difference. And I think I did it, artistically."


The sun's setting Saturday night at the Tres Días festival, and Marco Polo's getting ready to perform with Curse of the Pink Hearse on the stage inside F1 Race Factory. Polo takes a drag from his hand-rolled cigarette. He's wearing a gold silk shirt, leopard-print pants, and matching leopard-print shoes. He's also now sporting a lip-print from a fan in bright red lipstick who kissed him on his cheek.

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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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