Steve Salas, a cofounder of the Los Angeles R&B band Tierra and an activist in Chicano politics, died Thurday morning at age 69, according to his family. Salas had been battling myeloma for two years and recently contracted COVID-19.
Salas was born Jan. 5, 1949, in Lincoln Heights to Mexican American parents. Together with his brother, Rudy, they began performing at local parties.
“Steve and Rudy created the soundtrack for many people’s lives, and we are so grateful to everyone who loved their music,” band and family members said in a statement on Facebook. “The Salas Brothers left an indelible mark on the history of Chicano music with Tierra.”
Steve Salas was part of the historic student walkout at Lincon High School in 1968 that was part of the early stages of the Chicano power movement. After graduating, he received a full academic scholarship to Stanford University.
That stint lasted two years, and he returned to Los Angeles where he joined his brother Rudy as a member of the Chicano R&B group El Chicano. Steve Salas was a featured vocalist on a cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” that hit No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.
The Salas Brothers left El Chicano that year to form Tierra, which released its debut album in 1973. The group was part of the growing Chicano political movement during that period, its music fueling rallies and becoming an East L.A. soundtrack.
Tierra released another album in 1975, but broke through in 1980 with City Lights, an album that included a cover of “Together,” a song that rose to No. 18 in the Billboard Hot 100. In 1981, Tierra has two more singles in the Hot 100, “Memory,” and “La La Means I Love You.”
The band went on to play Carnegie Hall and appeared on TV’s “Soul Train,” “American Bandstand” and the American Music Awards. Despite the success, the brothers eventually went their separate ways, and never fully reunited.
No information on survivors or a memorial was immediately available. His brother, Rudy, died in 2020.
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