PICTURED: House Arrest, from left: Johnny Jacinto (alto sax/lead vocals), Dennis Akesson (tenor sax/backup vocals), Freda Ramey (lead vocals), Danny Torres (keyboards), John Grimaldo (guitar/band director), DaLaun Martin (drums/percussionist) and Jeremy Kirsch (bass guitar). Photo courtesy Freda Ramey
by Tim Pompey
If you could use one phrase to describe John Grimaldo and House Arrest, it’s old-school East Los Angeles with a beat. Featuring seven to nine pieces, including horns, the band’s style varies from rock to R&B to jazz to cumbia (a Mexican genre played specifically for dancing, which traces its roots to Columbia, Cuba and even German polka music). It’s a sound that Grimaldo describes as “raw, down-to-earth dancing.”
Grimaldo is from the San Fernando Valley, and recalls that, in the ’50s and ’60s, there was music everywhere. “Growing up in Pacoima, there was a band on every other block.”
Pacoima was also the hometown of Chicano rock pioneer Ritchie Valens . . . who happened to be best friends with Grimaldo’s father. And there were musicians in the family as well, like his grandfather, Ignacia Benavides and his sister, a recording artist in East L.A.
When he was young, Grimaldo came across an old, broken steel guitar a family member had tossed out. Determined to play like his grandpa, he mended the guitar using two-by-fours. According to Grimaldo, it was music that saved him from the clutches of the “Pachucos” (gang members) when he was in junior high school. “They found out I played music and left me alone,” he said.
Grimaldo’s cultural influences were two-fold: guitars and cars. In his day, they were inseparable. Like the Beach Boys and surf, he collected cars and wrote songs about his local car culture. He still drives his own classic, a 1950 Chevy Panel called Trigger.
He launched his music career in the 1960s with some original songs. As a Latino artist, it was tough to be taken seriously. Record companies considered his style of music a non-starter, and Grimaldo described being tossed out of the Troubadour when his band started playing Latin-tinged music.
Today, however, it’s another story. Grimaldo has found success with local band House Arrest, which he manages.
“It’s a unique sound out of East L.A.,” he stated. “It’s Chicano Soul — a mix of rock, R&B, slow jams and Latin music influenced by our roots.”
He points to bands like Tierra, Los Lobos, and El Chicano as examples of the “feel” and culture. Grimaldo also actively recruits members and subs from his decades-old network of musician friends out of East L.A.
Asked to explain the band’s sound, Grimaldo said, “The magic is in the horns. I always have a horn section. It’s rooted in traditional Mexican music, where horns of some type were always present. Fathers and families passed this down to us. You can hear it in TexMex, and you can hear the flavor in the acoustic guitar sounds of Los Lobos.”
Now in his 70s, managing a band is a lot of work for little pay, but Grimaldo loves the music. “I do it to keep people happy, to heal people, and to see smiles on their faces.”
House Arrest features John Grimaldo (lead guitar), Johnny Jacinto and Freda Ramey (lead vocalists), Dennis Akesson (tenor sax), Ed Weiss (trombone), Ray Cordova (keyboardist), Jeremy Kirsch (bass) and DaLaun Martin (drummer). John Grimaldo Jr. is the band’s sound engineer.
House Arrest plays every Sunday, 1-4 p.m., at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. For performances at other venues, check out the band’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/john.grimaldo.144.