BACK TO THE 'HOOD
Fernando Viciconte spent his 1980s adolescence in Pacoima, a small town in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. There, the immigrant-heavy population thrived on barrio and Tex-Mex musical influences a shade or three removed from the pastel-colored flash of the MTV era.
"The Pacoima Radio Sessions," a soon-to-be released 1998 recording of a KBOO radio performance by Fernando Viciconte y Los Cochinos, finds the Portland singer, songwriter and guitarist paying homage to the sounds of his youth. (Viciconte performs as "Fernando" with his regular band).
"It's kind of a love letter to my hometown — mostly Mexican-American influences," the 49-year-old says on a recent Sunday afternoon.
The whole record is about growing up in Pacoima, hearing the oldies on the radio, mariachi music on the radio. There's a Ritchie Valens cover ... and (Tex-Mex music champion) Doug Sahm — that's what it's all about."
Originally staged to promote a record-release party for the "Pacoima" album, the band's passionate performance on KBOO's "Church of NW Music" show was recorded, but promptly forgotten as Viciconte and his bandmates pursued other musical projects.
That changed this past winter when sound engineer Marc Baker, the former show's host, came across digital audiotapes of the show. Enthused about the quality of the performance and recording, he contacted Viciconte with a proposal: How about re-forming Los Cochinos for some local shows to benefit the Oregon Music Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund?
Viciconte, who was inducted into the hall in 2016, thought the idea was splendid. He set about getting the band back together for two upcoming shows, one for Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, at Music Millennium on Northeast Burnside Street and a second on Saturday, May 5, at Star Theater in downtown Portland.
The latter show will be a full-on Cinco de Mayo/20-year anniversary celebration of "The Pacoima Radio Sessions," with most of the reconvened band —Viciconte (lead vocals, guitar), Dan Eccles (guitar), Matt Cadenelli (filling in for Luther Russell on drums and vocals), Joe Chiusano (bass, vocals), Warren Pash (Farfisa organ), minus Fla.-based percussionist Clayton Jones — performing the "Pacoima" album in sequence. Portland musician Paul Brainard will sit in on trumpet.
Viciconte says he's thrilled for the opportunity to perform with his former bandmates while celebrating the music of his youth and raising money to support fledgling music students.
"Everything is in Spanish on this record. It's a fun project for us," he says, recalling how the "Pacoima" record broke through to Portland audiences despite language and cultural barriers. "In 1998, (Portland) was much more Caucasian. The number of those who embraced (this music) was very small. When we released it, it went beyond our expectations. Seventy-five percent of the crowd was Anglo people coming to see rock Espanol."
The album sold thousands of copies, while publications like Willamette Week sang the praises of the band and its role in injecting Latin-inflected rock to the post-punk zeitgeist of the time.
"It shows how great Portland was," Viciconte says. "They didn't even understand the lyrics, and we're drawing 600 people and sold 5,000 copies because people loved it. I credit that to the open-mindedness of the people."
More of a Tex-Mex-flavored side project than a full-time band, Los Cochinos never toured. The members haven't all lived in Portland for years and last played together for a 15th anniversary gig. Still, Viciconte had little trouble getting the guys on board for the two upcoming shows.
"Warren (Pash) was in Nashville. Dan (Eccles) is here, and Luther (Russell) is flying in from L.A.," he says, noting that Pash co-wrote "Private Eyes," the 1981 smash by Daryl Hall and John Oates.
For Viciconte, who relocated from Los Angeles to Portland in 1994, reconnecting with his past continues a recent career renaissance. About 10 years ago, health problems stemming from an undiagnosed hiatal hernia essentially sidelined him as a working musician.
"They didn't really know what it was. It took them a decade," he reflects. "I feel blessed. It's kinda like starting a music career in your mid-40s. It's a unique experience."
His latter-day successes also serve as vindication for his youth-driven decision to drop out of UCLA — against his parents' wishes — to pursue music full-time.
"We didn't talk for a year. They're immigrants. They said, 'We came here and sacrificed so much, and now you're gonna be a musician? Are you an idiot?'" he recalls with a hearty chuckle.
These days, it's a rarity to not find his parents, who relocated to Portland years ago, at his shows — usually at a front table if not out on the dance floor.
"I wanted to get an education, don't get me wrong," he says. "But I felt like I was doing something for them, not for me."
While long-term plans for Los Cochinos are anyone's guess, Viciconte and Russell — who grew up about four miles from his future bandmate — wrote an album's worth of songs in seven days. They plan to release "Traitors Table" this fall.
"A lot of it was made up on the spot, while we were eating clam chowder, humming melodies," Viciconte explains. "Luther and I are both pissed about (President) Trump. We wanted to write about the divisions between people — on both sides."
Although the office gig he replaced with the flexibility of driving for Lyft helps keep him solvent, it's that passion for sounds, rhythm and rhyme that fulfills Viciconte's soul.
"I love writing songs. I love recording music," he says. "I will always do it — if they pay me or not."
Fernando Viciconte y Los Cochinos is reuniting for two upcoming Portland shows: 9 p.m. Saturday, April 21, Music Millennium, 3158 E. Burnside St., free; 9 p.m. Saturday, May 5, Star Theater, 13 N.W. Sixth Ave., special guest SAVILA and Trujillo, $15 advance, $20 at door, www.facebook.com/FernandoMusic.