Little Julian Herrera

Little Julian's Secret

This piece, about the “Chicano Jewish bigfoot,” won radio documentary of the year in the 2013 National Entertainment Journalism Awards.

NOTE: My research on Little Julian Herrera is the most comprehensive I know of, anywhere. If you are researching him and are interested in seeing the full transcript of interviews beyond what was published in this story (there is much more), please contact me.

LISTEN AT KCRW

Talk to a musician, a record collector, or a fan of East LA music of the 50s and 60s, and before long they'll bring up Little Julian Herrera. He's a mysterious and legendary part of East LA's musical history. He was the first Chicano R&B heartthrob, until one day he just disappeared. Some say he's still alive out there somewhere, and they're looking for him.

 

KCRW site comments (no longer visible on the site) - Script below 

blanchedeveraux @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

This was a very interesting story, but I have to say that based on his deceptions, crimes, and sub-par singing voice I don't understand why anyone cares so much about finding him.

Guest @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Notice on the ticket how it says "Closed Circuit Telecast." That was a screening of a recording of the Beatles' performance in Washington D.C. on February 11, 1964.

SMILEY @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Orale, didn't mean to get you panties all twisted up! "Still remember,still remember, I still remember, when I first met her" Yea,Yea Julian. We remember' you member!

Ben @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

25 weeks ago · 0 replies · 0 points

Sorry it's not what you wanted to hear, but some stories are not always appealing.

Teodoro Estebanez @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Shut the fuck up.

hlk @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

I find it extremely disturbing that his conviction of forcible rape is a "side note", along with his lying and repeatedly representing himself with false identities, preying on families that would take him in based upon his lies. Meanwhile this story seems to glorify him, and create some sort of mystical phenomena legend, about someone who is a rapist and a criminal. Are there not more important figures in life to try and research? I am quite shocked at the reporter's excitement in retelling this tale of this singer/rapist in such an excited fashion...it was very creepy to listen to, especially having to listen to his singing after learning all this. Seems our culture never tires of idolizing celebrities to the point of overlooking their criminal behavior, no matter their generation.

I expect more from KCRW in reporting. Glorifying a charlatan and rapist? For the sake of desperation to create (the facade of) an art story? There are plenty of historical figures and current figures worthy of discussion without resorting to creating a story about a criminal bum who happened to also like to sing. This story reminds me of women who fall in love with convicted felons in prison and write the letters and want to marry them.....

Ben @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Nice jams. Symbol of heaven, in exchange for your arms, but I remember Linda, yea, bet he does !

Ben @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Who knows how many times the story will be told. Glad it wasn't my daughter.

glennat @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Wondering how many times this story will be replayed. I think this is at LEAST the 4th time I've heard it?

Robert Fierro @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

No No! The Beatles Played in San Diego and at the Hollywood Bowl! I was there.. BUT what the cool story is is the "Cannibal and The HeadHunters" Played Both those gigs with the Beatles. Now that would be a cool story! That was a great story about Julian Herrera on KCRW!

SMILEY @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Oh,forgot to mention. Apparently Little Julian Herrera was not chicano/latino, he was middle eastern. But back then a producer would change a name to make it more appealing.

Smiley @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

We'll, Pops Grew up in the 50's and use to go to the El Monte legion stadium often. He said soon after after lLittle Julian Herrera recorded "I remember Linda" He soon dId some time for raping a girl named Linda. When he got out, he gained a tremendous amount of weight and never saw him again. Possibly thats the reason he never showed his face again?

Bob Carlson @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

A little tongue in cheek yes.

Chris Morris @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

To Bob Carlson: I hope you were being ironic in your post above, but I'll send this along anyway. The ticket for the Beatles' "concert" at El Monte Legion Stadium you posted above is obviously not for a concert -- the tip-off is the line at the top of the ticket: "CLOSED CIRCUIT TELECAST." From the look of things, that show was actually an airing of a pre-recorded Beatles concert. Such events -- which broadcast music shows, prize fights, etc. -- were gaining currency in that era. Maybe one of the KCRW staff missed the not-so-fine print, thus leading to the misinformation in the story.

One way or the other, the Beatles did not appear at El Monte Legion on March 14, 1964. According to Mark Lewisohn's day-to-day "The Beatles Chronicle," the group was at Twickenham Studios in England that week, shooting "A Hard Day's Night." So on this point, the story is wrong. Good to hear my friend Gene Aguilera holding forth on his favorite musical phantom, though, so thanks for the piece.

juan @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

little julian herrera was a gifted man,woooow i love his records,my favorite one ,YOUR CARELESS LOVE emmo records,a killer tune.

Cee Kay @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

I listen to every UnFictional espisode and Little Julian's Secret is one of my favorites, if not my favorite.

Markvs @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

You should apologize.

Bob Carlson @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Hi Paul

Here's the info:

Song: Halo Halo

Artist: Palov & Mishkin

Album: Think Twice

Paul @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Hey Bob, what is that music playing between 3:10 and 4:10 during the show?

jeff wilson @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Me and my best Chicano friend Ray Luna used to dance to these tunes back in the late 50's in Michigan and then we moved West as teens. He lived in El Monte and me in Tucson. These were the best of times.....Ray is gone now: Danzon my pachucho friend. I met Don Tosti 'El Tostino' and Lalo Guerro later in PS. where we retired in later life.

susan @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Great story, thank you Alex!

JayElle @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

I am a white, Jewish girl who owned Lonely Nights by Little Julian Herrera as part of my 45 collection. I used to slow-dance Chicano (maybe pachuco) style to that record with Bobby Rodriguez, my best friend's brother, at Palms Jr. High school, at parties in my home in Cheviot Hills and at the Rodriguez home in the Mar Vista projects. At night after my parents went to sleep, I would secretly listen to the Johnny Otis show on the radio like some kind of guilty pleasure for an 11-year-old A student. Thank you, KCRW, Bob Carlsen and Alex Schmidt for a great trip back in time and fabulous story.

PS: The Beatles, Leslie Gore, The Beach Boys at El Monte Stadium. WOW! Be there or be square!

Martha SanchezQ @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

This story kept me engaged! I loved the off beat topic, and the inclusion of history throughout different cultures and genres... Keep up the great work!

Ruben Dario @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

What a movie this story would make. Thanks.

Connie @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Great job! I was glues to my phone (on my desk at work)! And I'm not just saying that because I work here.

DMarie @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Just glued to the radio......another park, sit and listen story.....Thanks!!!

J. Todd Harris @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Agree - fascinating story.

Melissa M. @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

One of the many reasons I love KCRW. Thank you!

Veronica Gonzalez @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

I loved this story! Thank you! - Veronica Gonzalez - The Element Marketing & Publicity

GioMiCorazon @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Great Story!

RosieM @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

fantastic story!

Bob Carlson @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

Yes it's true! I got you a ticket...

http://images.topix.com/gallery/up-NKVJKIK8SNF58B...

prefabfan @ unfictional - Little Julian's Secre...

The Beatles played El Monte Legion Stadium? Oh yeah, I was there!! They had the Archies and Milli Vanilli open for them. PLEASE, better research.


POSSIBLE CUTS FROM GENE TO USE IN EXTENDED INTRO?:

THE EAST L.A. SCENE, TO ME IT’S LIKE A MIXTURE OF R&B, SOUL AND THE BRITISH INVASION. IT REALLY PEAKED AFTER LITTLE JULIAN HERRERA AND RICHIE VALENS AND IT KINDA PEAKED IN THE 60S ACTUALLY WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THEE MIDNIGHTERS, CANNIBAL AND THE HEADHUNTERS, THE BLENDELLS. ALL THESE GROUPS HAD TOP 40 HITS ON BILLBOARD. THEE MIDNIGHTERS HAD WHITTIER BLVD. CANNIBAL AND THE HEADHUNTERS HAD LAND OF A THOUSAND DANCES, THE BLENDELLS HAD LA LA LA LA LA, THE PREMIERES HAD FARMER JOHN. THEY’RE GREAT SONGS, THE SOUNDTRACK OF EAST L.A.

IT WAS LIKE THE CRUISING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD IN THE 60S. YOU HAD LOWRIDERS, WHITTIER BLVD, THE GOLDEN GATE THEAER ON THE CORNER OF WHITTIER AND ATLANTIC AND THEN THE BURGEONING CHICANO ROCK & ROLL SCENE. IT WAS A COLORFUL PLACE TO BE HERE, TO LIVE HERE

INTRO (Bob read)

Gene Aguilera has been looking for a musician named Little Julian Herrera for a long time. Last year he had a fresh lead when he got an e-mail from someone in San Diego. Guy said he’d found Little Julian – even put Gene on the phone with him.

IT DIDN’T SOUND LIKE LITTLE JULIAN AND HE DIDN’T REALLY SNAP TO THE ANSWER.

They e-mailed Gene a photo, but the photo didn’t look like Julian.

WHEN I PRESSED FOR MORE DETAILS, ASKING FOR PHOTOS OF THE TATTOO AND IT NEVER HAPPENED. THE WHOLE THING WENT COLD.

Little Julian Herrera wasn’t just any musician. He was the first Chicano R&B heartthrob, only he wasn’t Chicano. The hidden identity and apparent mystery has kept folks curious about him for years. Alex Schmidt tells the story.

 

There are lots of legends about Little Julian Herrera. Like the one that says he was murdered in Elysian Park. Or that he’s not well, hanging onto a job at a gas station in National City, California. I almost would not have believed he was real, if I hadn’t talked to people who knew him personally. Oh and there’s also this concrete piece of evidence – his music.

THIS IS HIS FIRST SINGLE RIGHT HERE. THESE LONELY NIGHTS.

[ RECORD PLAYING ]

That’s collector Gene Aguilera again. We’re in his meticulously appointed garage, covered in custom made wooden shelves that are filled with more than 10,000 records. Gene’s focus is on Chicano music and the music of East L.A. Among his rare pieces is the record we’re listening to now – Little Julian Herrera’s first single. It was released in 1956, 2 years after Elvis Presley released his first single, and 2 years before Ritchie Valens released his. Odds are you’ve never heard of Little Julian Herrera. But in certain circles, the man is infamous.

EVERY TIME I WOULD TALK TO A MUSICIAN, EVERY TIME I WOULD TALK TO A COLLECTOR, NO JOKE WITHIN THE FIRST MINUTE OR TWO OF OUR CONVERSATION THEY WOULD SAY, HEY, YOU EVER HEARD OF LITTLE JULIAN?

That’s Josh Kun. He calls Little Julian Herrera the Bigfoot of Chicano music, which is his area of expertise as a writer and researcher at USC. And just like people have tried to spot Bigfoot, there’s a search on for Little Julian Herrera. While I was working on this story, another e-mail came through to Gene Aguilera. This one was from an off and on co-conspirator in the search named Jim Sullivan, who’s a retired engineer living in Oregon. Here’s Jim.

I FIGURED SINCE HE WAS BORN ON THE EAST COAST, CAME TO THE WEST COAST, AND DISAPPEARED, MOST LIKELY HE WOULD WANT TO GO BACK TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND SURROUNDING AREAS THAT HE WAS FAMILIAR WITH. SO I STARTED LOOKING ON THE EAST COAST AND I BELIEVE THAT I FOUND HIM.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

[outdoor ambi]

Little Julian’s Los Angeles story starts somewhere near here, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of the L.A. River. Like I’ve said, a lot about his past is unclear. But here’s Gene Aguilera to sum up the legend of his arrival in L.A. 

HE HITCHIKED ACROSS THE U.S. AND ENDED UP IN BOYLE HEIGHTS WHEN HE WAS 13…HE GOT TAKEN IN BY A FAM IN BOYLE HEIGHTS WITH A LAST NAME OF HERRERA. HE WAS ADOPTED BY THEM AND TOOK THAT LAST NAME.

A few years later, Julian was a teenager. Mexican American music was starting to emerge with an identity all its own.

[ DON TOSTI, LALO GUERRERO ]

East L.A. had a rockin’ music scene and Julian hung around. He met a few people, started performing and soon he was recording his own songs.

[ JULIAN TRK 6 ]

WHEN I FIRST HEARD LITTLE JULIAN I GO, WOW. THIS GUY IS A CHICANO GUY. HE’S PLAYING ALL THE VENUES HERE, EL MONTE, WHITTIER BLVD. I COULD RELATE TO HIM, HE WAS ONE OF US, YA KNOW.

Julian sang with swagger. His songs embodied the emerging lowrider culture of East L.A., and the romantic nights at clubs along the boulevard. He had become a celebrity in his own neighborhood.

[ OUTSIDE AMBI ]

HELLO, I MADE IT.

COME ON IN.

1

DOOR CLOSING, CHATTING QUIETLY

There aren’t many people left who actually knew Little Julian Herrera. One of them is vibes player Gil Rocha, whose tidy house is in Lancaster about an hour north of LA. In 1958, Gil was the first band leader to hire Ritchie Valens. TK Beyond the entryway to his home, on the wall in his living room, is Gil’s Ritchie Valens shrine.

[SHOWING STUFF ON SHRINE]

Valens and Rocha were famously from the more suburban San Fernando Valley. But Rocha would head to East L.A. several nights a week to get a piece of the action.

THE EAST LA CROWD SEEMED TO REALLY ENJOY OUR MUSIC. THEY REALLY ENJOYED BEING THERE, THEY WERE GONNA CLOSE THE PLACE AND THEY INSISTED WE KEEP ON PLAYING. AND THEY JUST SEEMED TO PARTY ALL NIGHT LONG… A LOT OF TIMES I WAS SO TIRED AND THESE PEOPLE I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW SAID, HEY COME ON OVER TO MY HOUSE, YOU CAN STAY OVER NIGHT WITH US. AND I DID, AND THE NEXT MORNING THE MOTHER WOULD COME OUT AND MAKE TORTILLAS AND BREAKFAST FOR US AND JUST LIKE I WAS ONE OF THEIR SONS. AND THAT’S THE WAY THE PEOPLE WERE, HOW REALLY GOOD THE PEOPLE IN L.A. ARE.

One night, in 1959, Gil Rocha was playing a gig at the Calypso Inn in East L.A. when an unexpected guest walked through the door.

JULIAN HERRERA SHOWS UP, SAYS HI, I’M JULIAN HERRERA…HE GRABBED THE MIC, SAID I’M GONNA SING YOU A SONG. EVERYBODY STOPPED AND LOOKED B/C THEY KNEW WHO HE WAS…HE SANG A TYPICAL POPULAR SONG OF THE DAY, JUMPED OFF THE STAGE AND STARTED DANCING, WHICH WAS REALLY, TO THE PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, HAD NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS TYPE OF PERFORMANCE, WHERE A SINGER DANCER TOOK OVER THE DANCE FLOOR.

WAS IT LIKE ELVIS PRESLEY?

NO IT WAS WILDER. B/C HE USED THE WHOLE FLOOR TO DANCE AROUND. HE’D WAVE AT PEOPLE AND THEY’D WAVE BACK, THE GIRLS WERE REALLY IMPRESSED. IT WAS DIFFERENT FOR THAT ERA.

Rocha pulls out a black and white photo he took of that moment. Little Julian is standing alone on the dance floor, with the band backing him on stage above. The photo is a little blurry, but Julian’s facial expression is ecstatic, almost hypnotized.

I WAS SITTIN THERE WATCHING, I LOOKED AT HIS FACE, WHEN HE’D SPIN AROUND HE HAD THIS BIG SMILE ON HIS FACE AND HIS BIG EYES LOOKING AROUND, MAKING SURE EVERYONE WAS ENJOYING WHAT HE WAS DOING. AND THEY WERE.

That same solo and dance routine happened 3 or 4 times at the Calypso Inn while Gil was playing. As much as Julian enjoyed the stage, he loved to party. After the wild show was done, he’d reap his reward.    

HE JUMPED INTO THE CROWD, STARTED SHAKING HANDS, HE WAS GETTING FREE BEERS FROM THIS, I THINK THAT’S WHAT HE WAS REALLY DOING.

During the era when Little Julian was coming up, DJ Art Laboe was hosting near weekly shows at the El Monte Legion Stadium. Julian made many appearances there.

I USED TO BRING HIM OVER THE MICROPHONE WITH ME AND SAY, HEY EVERYBODY HERE’S LITTLE JULIAN HERRERA, THE GIRLS WOULD START SCREAMING FROM THE FRONT ROW, HE WOULD SCREAM FROM EAR TO EAR, AND WAVE AND ALL THAT… I REMEMBER ONE DAY, AS HE WAS WALKING OR DANCING AWAY HE WAS JUST ONE STEP AWAY FROM US SHOOING HIM OFF. I NOTICED THERE WAS A PINT OF BOOZE IN HIS BACK POCKET IN JEANS. THAT PICTURE JUST COMES TO MY MIND.

In the middle of this period of fame and partying, a cop shows up at the home of Julian’s record producer, legendary R&B musician Johnny Otis. The cop was looking for a Caucasian man named Ronald Wayne Gregory. The photo he showed Otis? It was of Little Julian Herrera and he was wanted for rape. Johnny Otis learned that Little Julian was in fact a Hungarian Jew from the East Coast. [DOES THIS NEED TO BE DISCLAIMED MORE CLEARLY?] L.A. court records with any amount of detail pertaining to the incident are confidential. But what is known is that Little Julian Herrera, or Ronald Gregory, was convicted of forcible rape at age 19 and sent to jail.

[ SYMBOL OF HEAVEN SONG ]

Little Julian’s arrest provided the first real crack in the portrait he’d created for himself. But there are hints that something wasn’t quite right.

HE SMILED A LOT. HE SEEMED TO BE HAPPY IN HIS SKIN, AS THE SAYING GOES. HE DIDN’T SEEM TO HAVE A JOB OR ANYTHING…HE WAS A LITTLE HARD TO FIND, HE DIDN’T HAVE A PHONE NUMBER AND YOU’D SEE HIM WHEN YOU SEE HIM, YA KNOW…HE SEEMED TO BOUNCE AROUND THROUGH LIFE, AND A LOT OF US WISH WE COULD DO THAT.

 

Yeah, Julian Herrera was bouncing through life, but on a much deeper level than Laboe imagined – he was bouncing through cities, through families, through identities. For insight I turned to Gayle Wald, a professor at George Washington University. She’s studied racial passing of the kind Julian Herrera tried.

I GUESS I SEE A COUPLE OF THINGS HERE. ONE IS THE GEOGRAPHICAL JOURNEY AWAY AND ANOTHER IS YOUNG PERSON LEAVING HIS FAMILY… OFTEN WE FIND INSTANCES OF RACIAL PASSING WHERE SOMEONE IS NOT JUST ESCAPING A PAST, BUT REINVENTING THEMSELVES USING THE CULTURAL MATERIALS THAT THEY SEE AS AVAILABLE TO THEM.

We don’t know what pushed Ronald Gregory, as a teenager, to leave his family on the East Coast and head to L.A. But Wald says that taking on a new identity has deep psychological impacts and motivations.

FOR SOME SUBJECTS WHO COULD CHOOSE WHITENESS, THE CLAIMING OF A MINORITY IDENTITY CAN FEEL EMPOWERING. IT CAN SEEM LIKE INHABITING THAT SPACE OF THE OTHER MAKES YOU FEEL DISRUPTIVE IN A WAY, MAKES YOU FEEL POWERFUL B/C YOU’RE ASSOCIATED WITH AN IDENTITY THAT YOU IMAGINE TO BE SOCIALLY OR CULTURALLY DISRUPTIVE.

Of course, as a kid, Little Julian may have just gone where he could find love and support. That happened to be in the community of East L.A. And he undoubtedly found love of a kind when adoring crowds screamed his name from beyond the stage.  

[ sound effect of screaming crowds or something ]

As unique as Little Julian’s experience seems to be, it’s actually not. Cultural passing happens pretty frequently in the music world. Mezz Mezzerow was a Jewish jazz musician who married a black woman and famously declared himself a “voluntary negro.” In L.A., during Little Julian’s era, well-known DJ Huggy Boy was white but blended into the Latino community. Even Julian Herrera’s own record producer, Johnny Otis, mixed 2 cultures: he was born Greek but lived comfortably in the African American community around LA’s Central Avenue. Where Julian lived – 1950s East L.A. and Boyle Heights specifically – was a uniquely diverse melting pot. It was one of the earliest Jewish communities of Los Angeles, and also one of the first Latino and Japanese communities.

[ Memories of El Monte song ]

The LAPD, though, didn’t love race mixing. At the time, there were age restrictions on attending concerts in the city of L.A. These laws became tools for keeping different groups of kids apart. So the El Monte Legion Stadium became a magnet for musical activity. It was within LA County but outside the city. Young kids who happened to be white, black or Latino were able to listen to music together. At various times, the El Monte Legion Stadium hosted James Brown, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and of course Little Julian Herrera.

[ REMOVE? >> This song was written by Frank Zappa and recorded by The Penguins – a sort of tribute to the special time and place of cultural energy that those concerts embodied. ]

[ YOU WILL CRY MUSIC ]

This one of Julian’s songs, You Will Cry. In most of his songs, when he sings in English, he seems to use the accent of a Spanish speaker. In this particular song, he sings in Spanish.

[ DOWN MUSIC ]

Little Julian took the cultural mixing a step further than most. He hid something. 

[ DENNY’S AMBI ]

Even people who were close to him had little notion of it.

HOW ARE YOU?

FINE SWEETIE.

I met sax player Bernie Garcia at a diner in West Covina. Though Bernie and Julian were friends, it was news to him when I explained that Julian Herrera’s name was not actually Julian Herrera. He also had no idea that Julian had spent time in jail.  

DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT LITTLE JULIAN’S FAMILY?

NOTHING. I NEVER HEARD HIM TALK ABOUT MUCH EXCEPT A FEW GIRLS HERE AND THERE, THAT WAS IT.

DO YOU THINK HE KEPT TO HIMSELF?

YEAH I THINK HE KEPT TO HIMSELF. CAUSE MOST MUSICIANS ARE OPEN ABOUT STUFF LIKE THAT AND FOR WHATEVER HIS REASON WAS, YEAH. IT WAS PERSONAL TO HIM.

After he got out of jail, Little Julian sought out the adoring crowds once again. He played shows, recorded new songs. But things did not go well. There are rumors that Julian was drinking and violent, that he slept several nights in the basement of the El Monte Legion Stadium. One day in 1963 Julian called up his friend Bernie.

HE TOLD ME HE HAD SOME LEGAL PROBLEMS AND HE HAD TO GET OUT OF TOWN FOR A WHILE. I SAID YEAH, MAKES SENSE.

Julian had set up a series of gigs in Tijuana and asked Bernie to join him. Bernie said yes. After a wild week of performing and partying, he decided it was time to head home. He didn’t know it at the time, but this exchange would be the last confirmed sighting of Little Julian Herrra.

AFTER I LEFT THE GIG, HE CALLED ME UP AND ASKED ME IF I WANTED TO RECONSIDER. I SAID I’M GONNA PASS PAL. AND THAT WAS IT. HAVEN’T HEARD FROM HIM SINCE… I THOUGHT HE WAS GONNA MAKE IT AS A BIG R&B SINGER AND I THOUGHT THAT’S WHAT HIS AMBITIONS WERE. I BET I WAS RIGHT TOO. I BET I WAS RIGHT.

[ DOWN DENNY’S AMBI ]

But Little Julian never did become a huge star. A few people I talked to were downright confused why I would even be asking about him – Art Laboe for one. Laboe admits that Julian was talented and innovative. But he’s seen plenty of talented people who never made it.

A LOT OF TIMES PEOPLE SAY, HE DIDN’T GET HIS JUST DUE, BUT HE MAY NOT HAVE WORKED AS HARD AS HE COULD HAVE. IOW, I DON’T KNOW IF HE WAS AMBITIOUS ENOUGH, OR WHAT. THERE WASN’T A LOT OF SHOW BUSINESS FIRE IN HIS BELLY THAT HE WANTED TO BE THAT SUCCESSFUL. HE LIKED THE FAME, HE LIKED TO BE KNOWN, HE WAS ABLE TO MAKE A NAME FOR HIMSELF AND HE LIKED THAT. BUT HE DIDN’T SEEM TO BE ABLE TO GET IT INTO SECOND GEAR, YA KNOW?

Getting into second gear may have been difficult without family support systems, a home, a phone, with a hidden identity and legal problems. Then again, after he got out of jail, Julian did try to make a comeback. So why didn’t it work out then? 

IF HE CAME OUT OF JAIL AND TRIED AGAIN, IT MAY HAVE BEEN TOO LATE. THEN IT WAS TIME FOR THE BEATLES. MUSIC CHANGED QUITE A LOT AFTER ELVIS. YOU HAD THE WHOLE ENGLISH INVASION, AND DURING THAT PERIOD IF WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A VERY FERTILE TIME FOR SOMEONE LIKE LITTLE JULIAN TO MAKE A BIG IMPACT.

Maybe you’ve heard of this academy award winning documentary called Searching For Sugar Man. In one way, that story is similar to Little Julian’s. It features a musician who seemingly disappeared, and the folks who are looking for him. But in another way, Little Julian’s story isn’t at all like Sugar Man. In that film, the artist, Rodriguez, is located. Turns out, he has a huge fan base in Africa that he never knew about. The stories we’re told about talented people getting their just due are affirmed.

Julian’s story is a lot more like the sad ending in The Great Gatsby – someone comes from nothing and pushes hard to make it big, only to have those efforts come crashing down. By the time Julian disappeared, most folks didn’t notice he was gone.   

[ QUICK BIT OF KNOCKING SOUND ]

Now, though, people are looking. Jim Sullivan, the retired engineer in Oregon, had found an address for Ronald Gregory at an apartment building in Boston. The person living there apparently had the same birth date as Little Julian Herrera. It seemed likely that we’d found him, so we sent a reporter out.

[ SOUND OF ANSWERING ]

A young woman opened the door. No Ronald Gregory. I called Jim back to break the news.

OH GOSH, THIS IS FRUSTRATING. OH MAN. WELL I GUESS BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD. JEEZ.

At this point I had talked to Jim several times. For the first time, he revealed that this search for Little Julian is just the latest in a long history of seeking out celebrities. When he was a teenager he called Mae West and had a long conversation with her. He reached out to Mel Blank. And he developed a long running friendship with Dean Berry of Jan and Dean. It’s a sort of obsession with understanding fame and entertainment, as he explains it.

I GUESS I’M CURIOUS WHAT MAKES A PERSON GET INTO ENTERTAINMENT, WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS, WHAT ARE THE REWARDS, ARE THE REWARDS WORTH THE PITFALLS. STUFF LIKE THAT. IT’S MORE OR LESS LIKE TAKING PIECES OF A PUZZLE AND PUTTING THEM TOGETHER AND THE OUTCOME IS, IT’S FINISHED.

It seems fitting that Jim’s interest is in the nature of celebrity. Fame treated Little Julian well, for a time. Then, it didn’t. We may never fill in all the holes in Julian’s life story. And there may be no good answer for why he had just a touch of success as the first Chicano R&B heartthrob. But if Little Julian Herrera were alive today, he’d be 73 years old. For now, Jim Sullivan continues to search.