[This article was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.]
SAN ANTONIO — Search the internet for video evidence of Ritchie Valens’s iconic-but-all-too-brief career as a Latino rock pioneer, and you’d find yourself searching for hours.
In fact, there’s only one bit of footage that’s easily found on YouTube—a brief performance by Valens in the 1959 movie “Go, Johnny, Go” that sees him crooning to some club-goers. That film is only 75 minutes long, features the likes of Alan Freed, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and was released four months after Valens died in a tragic plane crash at just 17 years old.
The real-life story of Valens was over right as its second chapter was beginning. But its first has had such a profound impact on pop culture – specifically the timely infusion of Chicano influence into rock ‘n roll as the genre was beginning to blossom – that it’s easy to forget the California musician’s professional career lasted less than a full year.
That brevity also made things a bit difficult for the young actor who would portray Valens 28 years after his death in the film named after his biggest hit, “La Bamba.”