"Dr. Loco" José (Bennie) Cuellar, Ph.D., founder and director of Dr. Loco's Rockin Jalapeño Band, is currently Professor and Chair of La Raza Studies at San Francisco State University and Director of the Cesar Chavez Institute for Public Policy. Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas in a working-class musical family, he first learned clarinet from his uncle in the 5th grade. He played through his senior year, when he also served as President of the Brackenridge High School Eagle Band. In 1959, Bennie started playing clarinet and 2nd tenor saxophone with the legendary Dell-Kings. Cuellar traces his blues-based tejano sound to the early influences of such noted San Anto tenors as Frank Rodarte, Rocky Morales, Clifford Scott, and Spot Barnett. He developed his style between 1961 and 1964, while in the Air Force, by working with R&B bands in Alabama, latino jazz combos in Puerto Rico, rock groups in New England attempting to integrate the cool sounds of Stan Getz with the hot licks of Sam Butera. Upon discharge, Bennie returned home and worked briefly with several local groups before leaving to join Tom Cellie and the Charades on the Las Vegas circuit. He briefly lead his own Las Vegas group and then moved to southern California in 1966. There he played nights with Dick Pace and the Pacers and other groups for three years, while a full-time music student at Golden West College.
After transferring to Cal State U., Long Beach, where he received a B.A. in Anthropology (1969), Jose continued his graduate studies at U.C.L.A. He earned an M.A. (1971) and a Ph.D. (1977) in Anthropology. During the early 70s, Jose taught Chicano Studies at the Claremont Colleges, while occasionally playing saxophone with such roots rock groups, as Two-Third Minority (with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Tierra's Bobby Navarette). Dr. Cuellar stopped playing between 1977 and 1984, while holding teaching and research positions at some of the nation's more prestigious colleges and universities: including Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of Chicano Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder (1977-78); Visiting Professor of Chicano Studies at the UC. Santa Barbara (1978-79); Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies and the Center on Aging's Associate Director of Research at San Diego State U.(1980-1983).
From the mid 80's to 1990, he served as Associate Professor of Anthropology, Resident Scholar at Stanford University Chicano Research Center (1983-88), Senior Enthnogerontologist with Stanford University Medical School's Geriatric Education Center (1986-1990), Senior Scientist/Study Director with the Prevention Research Center (1988-90); and Lecturer in Chicano Studies at UC. Berkeley (1990). Dr. Cuellar's research has been partially supported by fellowships and grants from the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, The Administration on Aging, the National Institute on Alcoholism an Alcohol Abuse, and the Cowell Foundation. He has lectured extensively on ethnicity and aging, barrio cultures and concerns, and the cultural and musical heritage of U.S. Mexicans before a variety of audiences. His academic writings have been published in the American Anthropologist, Aztlan, The Gerontologist, The Journal of Gerontology, Generations, Research on Aging and Cowdry's Geriatrics.
Dr. Cuellar was encouraged in 1984 to start playing his saxophone again by musician friends such as Louie Perez and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Flaco Jimenez and Doug Sahm of the Texas Tornadoes. Cuellar formed several latino rock groups that immediately became popular in the San Francisco Bay Area including Jazzteca (1984-85) and the Contra-Contraband (1985-86). The persona of "Dr. Loco" emerged in 1987 when he formed Dr. Loco's Original Corrido Boogie Band. This group was well received by both the public and other musicians at the first VIVA CHICAGO LATINO MUSIC FESTIVAL. In 1989, José decided to dedicate himself to making Chicano music with a new group called DR. LOCO'S ROCKIN' JALAPEÑO BAND. The band includes nine musicians playing drums, timbales, congas, bongo, trumpet, trombone, accordion, bass, guitar, keyboards and Dr. Loco on sax and vocals. The Rockin' Jalapeño Band continues to perform at many prestigious festivals, clubs and events throughout the U.S. In 1991, Dr. Loco's RJB receive the Wammie Award (the S.F. Weekly's Readers Poll) for best "unsigned" band in San Francisco. Dr. Loco independently produced the band's first album, Con/Safos. In 1992, Dr. Loco's RJB released its second album, "Movimiento Music" on Flying Fish Records. Their most recent release on Flying Fish, "¡Puro Party!" has receive critical acclaim.
In 1990, while the Rockin' Jalapeño Band began to take off, Dr. Cuellar was hired as Chair and Professor at San Francisco State University for the School of Ethnic Studies' Department of La Raza Studies. He was appointed Director of the Cesar Chavez Institute for Public Policy in 1994. Since 1987, he received a number of teaching honors and community service awards. Dr. Loco was honored by KQED TV and Bank of America as " Hispanic Heritage Month Local Hero" in September of 1993; Mission Economic and Cultural Association's "Distinguished Service Award," in April 1993, "Profile of Excellence Award" by KGO TV in December of 1991. In October 1991, he received a City of Los Angeles "Service Recognition Award." He was honored by Stanford University's Chicano Students in 1988 with an "Outstanding Faculty Award" and in 1987 as Yale University's "Hector P. Garcia Distinguished Lecturer."
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