Q. After recently watching "La Bamba," the movie about rock 'n' roll pioneer Ritchie Valens' short life, I was wondering what happened to Ritchie's brother Bob? -- Mark H., of Collinsville
A. Too bad you weren't in Tres Pinos, Calif., two weeks ago. You could have seen him for yourself when he joined sisters Connie and Irma and brother Mario to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film during a festival to raise money for the music program in Hollister, Calif., schools.
Sporting a white horseshoe/Zapata mustache and white 10-gallon hat with what art of flames racing up the front, "La Bamba Bob" looks as rebellious as ever. Yes, he still drives his beloved motorcycles and still loves his artwork -- although he has settled down to spoil his kids and grandkids. He's "still bad," his wife, Joanie, joked at the film's 20th anniversary reunion in 2007.
"Bob and Ritchie were both driven -- one with life, the other with music" is perhaps the best description you'll find of him on the family's Web site, www.ritchievalens.com.
Although he commonly is known as Bob Valens now, his real name is Robert Morales. He was born to Concepcion Valenzuela and her first husband four years before Ritchie came along on May 13, 1941.
In interviews, he says he was deeply hurt to discover that the man he thought was his father was only Ritchie's. He was also jealous when Ritchie rocketed to fame in just a few months in the late '50s. So, scenes in the movie like the one in which he throws away an art prize because he thinks his mother doesn't care enough ring true. Soon, Bob turned to alcohol, another fact he freely talks about today.
"They made me look good," he says of his film portrayal by Esai Morales (no relation).
Today, Bob apparently still practices his artwork, whether drawing or on his sewing machine. He is also one of the directors of the Hi-Tone Five Corp., which was formed by his mother, "Concha," in 1987 to safeguard Ritchie's legacy.
If you're wondering, Hi-Tone was an obvious name for the company. Ritchie used to call his mama Hi-Tone, because she liked to dress up. Bob and Connie designed the logo of a Concha shell surrounded by five musical notes representing her children.
Born in Cottonwood, Ariz., Concha had to leave school in the sixth grade, but still had the smarts to keep her family together through the toughest times. Just before she died in 1987, she formed Hi-Tone.
"Mama was strong and intelligent; she had perseverance and amazing insight," her kids recalled. "She saw her dream realized, her son Ritchie had finally received the tribute that was due him."
Connie was 8 when Ritchie died, a devastating blow to the girl who had looked to him as a father figure.
"Bobby and Ritchie would make her roll out tortillas, then would howl out in laughter at the shapes she would make," the family remembers.
After Ritchie's death in 1959, Connie wouldn't talk about him or listen to his music for years. Finally, in the '80s, she says she came to a crossroads, became a Christian and turned to God to start the healing process when she realized how much she had idolized her big brother.
Her younger sister, Irma, still remembers the many concerts Ritchie would give his two sisters in their backyard. After Concha died, Irma, who did her mother's hair, became a cosmetologist, entering beauty school on Feb. 3 -- the anniversary of the fateful 1959 plane crash in Iowa that killed Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) and her 17-year-old brother.
Brother Mario (Ramirez) was only 1 1/2 when Ritchie died, but he remembers Concha often talking about his brother's dreams and heard similar stories from Link Wray and Dion DiMucci. Today, Mario plays harmonica in his group, the Backyard Blues Band.
For pictures of Bob from that 25th gala, click on the poster you find on the news page at www.ritchievalens.com or click the Save the Music 2012 gallery at http://artbyjessicagilliland.printroom.com. You also can find out the latest on Donna Fox, Ritchie's sweetheart and subject of his hit "Donna."
What is the only song on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time not sung in English?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: Renowned aviatrix Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt apparently were birds of a feather. Not only were they close friends, but they both also liked to fly. So, on what is described as a brisk and cloudless evening in April 1933, Roosevelt, shortly after becoming first lady, stole away from a White House dinner with Earhart, took an Eastern Air Transport plane and flew to Baltimore. Later, Eleanor wanted to take flying lessons from Earhart, but Franklin reportedly put the kibosh on those plans. In any case, the plane trip is memorialized in Pam Munoz Ryan's children's book "Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride" (available through Amazon).
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com.