What happened to Los Angeles music legend Jonny Chingas?

For Image Magazine, Gary "ganas" Garay performs an acoustic mural for the late music legend Jonny Chingas.

(Ross Harris/For the Times)

In general, he is a shapeshifter. He literally changes his identity as he moves through life: Jonny Chingas. Raul Garcia, whom he passes on some records. Rudy Garcia. He has all these aliases. You can see him signing a contract and having to change his name to release the same rhythm and then change the lyrics. He was almost, sort of, anarchy vibes. But that’s just a musician who doesn’t break any laws. Maybe some copyright laws at some point. So he becomes all these different people, characters. How can you avoid the man and keep putting stuff out?

There aren’t too many authorities on the guy or people who knew him. It’s a bit like trying to find Batman. You know what I mean? We all know who this guy is because there are movies and stuff like that. But if you are Yes, really Looking for Batman? It’s something like that. Jonny Chingas is that phantom, that myth, that legend.

In the early 2000s I go to art school and come home to my apartment. There’s a vinyl record hanging on the metal grille on my door. It’s like an old Model T car with a little license plate that says “Se Me Paró”. I see the typography: “Pachuco Volume 1”. I realized, Oh damn! This is Jonny Chingas – the real deal! It’s no longer word of mouth. There is a physical object. I take it to my house and play it. I am hearing the song “Cholo” for the first time, hearing the song “Menudo” for the first time, hearing the song “Poquito Soul” for the first time, “Qué Pasa” and his popular “Se Me Paró”.

I’m really into rare grooves, rhythm and blues, soul records – so this one hits the spot. But it comes from a total Chicano, a Mexican-American look. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the strongest I’ve heard from Calo. Calo is a language used by Cholos here, derived from Spanish, English and sometimes even Nahuatl used by some nations in Mexico. I was just totally amazed by the musicality, by the language that was used on this record. I quickly understood that this person is speaking to a specific audience. He’s not necessarily trying to reach Central America. That is to the a certain people through that certain people. And on top of that the quality of the musicianship and the recording were of high quality.

Photo of"Pachuco Volume 2" – one of Jonny Chingas' classics.

Not all Jonny Chingas stuff is privately pressed. He did some music on Specialty Records, a huge, very popular rhythm and blues label. He was also with United Artists. And he was on CBS too. “Pachuco Volume 2” is one of his classics.

(Ross Harris)

From this recording I think What else did this guy record? This is a private press label that Pachuco Volume 1 is on: Billionaire Records. Not that all Jonny Chingas stuff was privately pressed. He had some stuff on Specialty Records, which is a huge, very popular rhythm and blues label. He was also with United Artists. And he was on CBS too. I started looking for more of this stuff. As someone interested in electronic dance music, early techno and house, I started seeing Jonny Chingas on a couple of these compilations – one is called Retro Techno Disco. There is a song called “Samba”. After that, I come across this 12-incher called “Automatic Lover” that’s cranked up even more on the dance top. Then I find Pachuco Volume 2, a beautiful cover featuring a pair of Stacy Adams shoes. Graphic design really appealed to me as a visual artist and lover of typography and graphic design. I’m just starting to find more: bass tracks (like Miami Bass; he has this track called “Mini Truck Lover”), rock songs, old school rhythms and blues. Oldies-but-goodies-esque melodies.

One day I went in search of Jonny Chingas in Mount Washington. There was a guy selling records in his front yard. I roll over to his crib. “Do you have Eastside stuff?” I asked. “Yes I do. Here’s a box, look at it.” I came across this track on Billionaire Records called “Night Stalker”. Being from Los Angeles and knowing the history of the Night Stalker – they caught the Night Stalker on the street my cousin lives on – I’m taking the track home with me. It’s a colored vinyl – red with black and white dots. Kinda murderous looking. And Jonny Chingas continues to rap straight away. He’s really spitting, man, and the beats are hitting hard. 808 strokes. Reminiscent of Arabian Prince on some NWA beats, Dre beats. Hard west coast rap beats. And he raps about Richard Ramirez, the serial killer, the Night Stalker.

After that I find a track called “LAPD” which is about Rodney King’s beating. That’s when I really thought, I have to search for everything: every cassette, every CD, anything on YouTube. I’ve searched everywhere, obsessed, because there was something in me that said this person needs to be cataloged – and deserves – to be spoken about critically within music, but also outside of music. The political, socio-economic, hood realm, art realm, music realm. Someone who understands all of these things. This is how that person needs to be thought of, explains. Through all these nuances about his practice.

Murals in Chicano neighborhoods tell stories. They are made up of many different images and times or whatever to create that image to tell that broader story. As a lover of music and history, a practitioner of fine arts in Chicano culture, Latin American culture, it dawned on me: I can make this acoustic mural. With the same approach, but this can exist in pure sound. I’ve always wanted to put out a mixtape. But I wanted it to archive Jonny Chingas’ story. A cassette you would put a mixtape on is electromagnetism. So I thought This is an electromagnetic mural.

I put it on a double cassette, which also references the early Eastside raver culture – those parties were taped and those parties were long. They put out these double cassettes – it was always kind of shocking to me to see that extra large jewelry box, two pieces in the flyer, the date it’s from and so on. I took this format and expanded it. I just went full force. There’s a painting. I made 100 copies of this double cassette. And I just gave them to friends who were into Jonny Chingas – some hardcore crate diggers, some gallery owners, some artists. It was never for sale.

Photo by DJ Quik featuring "image" beside him

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This bond was the vehicle to learn new things. It is actually what helped me gain more information and knowledge about Jonny Chingas and his practice. Recently I performed the Sonic Mural “Jonny Chinga’s Sonic Mural” with vinyl and cassette tapes for the first time at the Sonido Del Valle record store [at 2108 1st St.] in Boyle Heights, where Jonny Chingas is best known. The performance took place on Saturday, February 19, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. After my performance I opened the turntables for the public to bring and share their own Jonny Chingas records, tapes, pictures and stories. J Vibe – collaborator of Jonny Chingas, beatmaker of “LAPD”, beatmaker of “Too Much Work, Too Little Sex”, beatmaker of “Mini-Truck Lover” – finally went to the performance. I don’t even know how he found out. But he rolled up and he broke knowledge with us.

Artist, DJ Gary "ganas" Garay holds photos of Jonny Chingas, the late LA legend.

Artist Gary “Ganas” Garay holds photos of Jonny Chingas, the late LA legend. “Jonny Chingas paints a picture of what it’s like to live, to be in a barrio and to walk through the barrio,” says Garay. “He can give you a sense of what the barrio is, how the barrio thinks, how the barrio feels, what it is — a true reflection of the Eastside, Southwest brown neighborhood.”

(Ross Harris)

While performing it, it hit me: Man this is amazing! I have a feeling it will hold up. I talked about the tracks during the performance in case people didn’t know this stuff – I want to give this information: Jonny Chingas was a conceptual performance artist, news reporter, multi-instrumentalist, entrepreneur, record label owner, Mexicano, Chicano , husband, father. A real bohemian. future thinker. Jonny Chingas paints a picture of what it’s like to live, to be in it, to walk through the barrio. He can give you a sense of what the Barrio is, how the Barrio thinks, how the Barrio feels, what it is – a true reflection of the Eastside, Southwest Brown neighborhood.

I’m really proud of the Jonny Chingas Sonic Mural. The only unfortunate part of the project is that I learned about other things I would like to include.

Gary “Ganas” Garay (born 1977) is a multidisciplinary artist, performer, DJ, and record collector based in Los Angeles. His artistic practice is informed by his lived experiences of crossing the US-Mexico border and recognizing and drawing attention to the rich and dynamic culture of everyday life. He is the founder of the music collective Mas Exitos, host of the dublab program Mas Exitos con Ganas and co-founder of Discos Rolas, a record label and community project dedicated to the cosmic sounds and musical histories of Latin America. What happened to Los Angeles music legend Jonny Chingas?

Russell Falcon

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