Rudy Salas, Leader of Chicano R&B band Tierra, Passes

Tierra members  Rudy Salas (center) - leader, lead guitarist and vocals; Rudy Bub Villa - sax, vocals; Victor Cisneros - sax, vocals; Dale Villavicencio - percussion; Jeff Lewis - trumpet; Joey Navarro - keyboard, vocals; Tony Banda - bass guitar; Chris Trujillo - drummer; Will “Rize” Rivera - lead vocals.

To the shock of  Tierra fans everywhere, the news moved quickly on Facebook pages as one more blow to end this horrendous year.

But as much as all had hoped it wasn’t true, it was clearly written  in bold on Tierra’s official site on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, they had lost the center of the band.   

“It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Rudy Salas, the leader and co-founder of Tierra, early this morning. We have lost our rock, our creative spirit, husband, father, grandfather (and soon to be great-grandfather), uncle, brother and leader of Tierra whose history spans nearly 5 decades. Millions have enjoyed Tierra’s music and we are deeply grateful for the outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and family. Because of the pandemic, we cannot immediately announce funeral arrangements but we will keep you informed in the future. In the meantime, please respect the privacy of the family and band members as we grieve. Please keep us in your prayers and thoughts in this difficult time.  Sincerely, The Salas and Tierra Family.”

“When I heard the news it was one more blow too much, and the tears just poured,” wrote Elia Esparza, editor for Latin Heat Magazine.

Gloria Alvarez, former editor for Eastern Group Publications wrote: “Another loss — Rest In Peace Rudy, we know you’ll be singing in heaven.”

Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara, musician, producer, and author of “Confessions of a Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer,” described Salas as a “giant of Chicano music.”

“He was a giant as a guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, and as a seminal pillar and architect of the Eastside Sound of the 60s, with his brother Steve, as the Salas Brothers. They later co-founded Tierra in the early 70s and had national hits including Together (1980), reaching #18 (Billboard), #9 (Billboard R&B) and #1 in Los Angeles,” noted Guevara. 

While it may not be known to many, beyond the music, Salas had a proud family background of activism that seeded his deep pride in his love for music and his culture which he blended into a unique sound that many referred to as “Chicano Soul.” His father, Rudy Salas Sr., was an activist/organizer in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and early 70s, which inspired Rudy and Tierra to always be available for community fundraisers and rallies. 

Tierra played at various special events and “Concerts at the Park,” public events in the City of San Fernando for decades to the joy of residents living in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

The band, because their music spoke to the community, built a loyal fan base some of whom followed them wherever they played. Salas and his fellow band members connected with the crowd who loved them and he appeared to love them back.    

“We were always assurred of a large crowd and an appreciative crowd who danced and sang along with the band,” said Virgina Diediker, former Cultural Arts Supervisor for the City of San Fernando.  

“Hearing the news of his passing was very sad and upsetting. It’s a big loss for the community and for Chicano R&B music. It’s the music that I grew up on and like so many of us, I still have all of their CDs,” Diediker said. “He was always nice and pleasant to contract with the City of San Fernando for our concerts.”

Tierra was also strongly connected to the Northeast San Fernando Valley because San Fernando High School graduate and singer Issac Avila became a later member of the band and was a popular lead voice on Tierra’s very successful and much requested song, “Together”: 

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=jii9HQ23k1A&feature=share

When Avila passed, he had a sea of faithful Tierra fans and motorcycles and custom cars, including low-riders that accompanied the mourners from St. Ferdinand’s Catholic Church to San Fernando Mission Cemetery.

Fans of Salas hope to say their goodbyes with a grateful public service, too. 

To stay in business over five decades is no easy feat and they like all other entertainers were strongly impacted by the pandemic.  Shows that were booked for 2020 were canceled and in April they were forced to turn to their fans on a Go Fund Me Page for donations.

The page also noted that the band  would be do all it could to keep playing by providing Tierra’s music online with virtual performances.  

Earlier this month, the band released it’s latest album, titled “Keep it Going,” on Dec. 4  In addition to the newly unveiled album, Tierra offered a multi-disc Christmas box set released on Nov. 27, exclusively available on www.ThumpRecords.com.

The Salas family has asked for privacy at this time and a cause of death has not yet been publicly announced 

“Rudy led Tierra for nearly 50 years, an amazing feat for any bandleader, leaving his music and heart forever etched in the soul of East LA – and the world,” Guevara said.”

For more information on Tierra, visit: www.TierraMusic.com. You can also follow Tierra on Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/tierramusic.

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