By Ozzie Rivera
For years I had heard Andy Alonzo’s name mentioned in numerous settings, most recently when I wrote about the Latin Counts. His has been an illustrious career singing with a number of vocal groups over the decades. Now 79, he grew up around Vinewood and West Grand Blvd in the Michigan Ave area. While as a student at Condon Jr. High Andy, started singing Doo Wop with the Grenadiers, which he formed with friends Joe Marino and David Chavez.
When asked how he got into singing he credited his father who as soon as he would get into the car, would turn on the radio and started singing along. He sang in church, and though Andy says he had a good voice, his father never sang with any secular groups. Andy went on to say during his formative years (1953-55) parties were frequent and the record player was king! “And we enjoyed having fun.”
He went to a dance at Western High in 1959 so that he could listen to the Latin Counts, a group already the rage in southwest Detroit, only to find out one of the singers could not perform. After he asked if he could sit in with the group Johnny Dominguez accepted. Andy did quite well and remained with them for two years from 1959-61. For most of that period members were African Americans and Mexican Americans. It included Johnny Dominguez, Buford Glanton, Mike Brown, and Reggie Gaddis. The group would reunite almost twenty years later in 1980 and this time they were to stay together for a significant period. As he stated, “till 10-12 years back”. Andy credits singing with the Latin Counts as his “stepping board”, helping to expand his horizons and a major learning experience. He stated that his singing experiences with black singers, who he considered “his brothers”, was formative to his approach.
Upon leaving the Latin Counts he joined the Martinques, an African American group which was getting ready to release their first recording. He joined the group after their lead singer got into a horrible car accident was asked to replace him. The recording, “Tonight is Just Another Night”, already recorded, was about to be released and they needed someone to take the lead. Thus, he promoted the tune for about a year and a half in the Michigan “Chitlin Circuit”, a term often used to denote the small clubs that were part of the African American tour routes, a legacy of that period’s segregation practices which limited black singers’ venues. He remained with the Martiniques for a number of years. He would later go on to sing with the Motown recording group Originals led by C.P. Spencer and also the Royal Jokers a group who already had ten recordings. He was with them “off and on for a long time”.
His career was marked by his role as lead singer and “front man” with a number of bands throughout the Detroit area. This was during the period when renowned performers such as Mitch Ryder and Bob Seger were starting to make waves with their respective bands “doing the circuit”, often playing in the same venues in which Andy was performing.
He detailed a key moment in his career when Marty Coleman, baritone singer for the Valadeirs, a Motown recording group, and Charlie Bossaline another writer for Motown, approached him to combine forces with Joe Finazzo, former lead singer with the Seminoles to establish a new group. Andy turned to his former Latin Counts colleague John Dominguez and Paul Lachreio to form a Latin/Italian singing group called Act 4. They would then record with the Cub label, a subsidiary of MGM records.
Several times in the late 70’s-early 80’s Andy sang live on WDET, Detroit’s Public Radio. In 1979 Andy did so with his group Conquest on a few occasions. In 1980 he received a call from Stu Avig then lead singer of the Valadeirs to join him for another live broadcast at the station. Those sessions were noticed and Fred Zalinka, a host at WDET, called Andy but this time with a request to pull a Latin group together in order to showcase the Latin influence on Rhythm & Blues (R & B). Zalinka noted that many R & B songs had notable Latin influence, especially with the Cha Cha beat.
Andy then reached out to former Latin Counts members, Johnny Dominguez, Leonard Solano and Sal Prado to join him. The broadcast was well received and led to the Counts being booked at the Royal Oak theater along with the Spanielles and The Laredos, two well-known Doo Wop groups. The show was a success and set things in motion leading for a long stint for the Latin Counts. This popularity led to a major Detroit Free Press article. The Spinners and Temptations among other well- known groups would often go to see the Latin Counts in their live performances. The group was often asked to open for various Motown groups. As he noted, it “led to a long run”.
Andy also sang with the Valadeirs, a group he was associated with for a number of years. He recollected that once the Valadeirs were hired to perform in a major Baltimore concert. At that event Nick Marellini, former lead singer for the Shades of Blue, was introduced as their new lead singer. Upon returning to Detroit, they assumed the name as the new Shades of Blues. This group still performs. Alonzo’s current group is named the Klassics and includes two other singers, one a fellow Latino KC De La Garza.
He built this illustrious artistic career while working 31 years at Ford Dearborn Stamping. When asked how he could maintain such a demanding schedule, he credits being young and having “plenty of energy”. He is equally proud that even with that demands of a schedule he was still able to take care of his household and family responsibilities. He retired from Ford in 1996. A consummate musician he plays guitar, keyboards and drums. He continues to write, produce and arrange songs. He treasures the fact he has his own recording studio in his home.
When asked if he had any advice for aspiring singers he stated. “I would like to let young people know that if you aspire to be a singer, you must sit down with the music you want to learn and learn ‘what it is all about’. Because if you just go out there and do it without being an active learner about its different aspects, it is not enough. You have to learn all aspects of music.
When I was young, I would literally “tear a record apart. I would put the record on the turn table and learn all the parts. It is hard work. But it is gratifying”. Quite sage advice from a community treasure who has left a formidable legacy.
Bio: Ozzie Rivera, a retired social worker, is a cultural activist and musician who currently teaches on Afro Latino History and Culture at Wayne State University and social work at the University of Michigan.