The San Diego Union-Tribune
Mexican rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Javier Bátiz believes divine intervention led him to start playing guitar in 1956 at the age of 12, shortly before he launched his groundbreaking Tijuana band, Los TJ’s. Now, at 77-going-on-17, Bátiz cites the same greater force for his longevity.
“What keeps me going is the blessing of God, who gave me the talent and energy to keep on going, because nobody stops me from being what I am,” said the veteran musician, who performs with his current band Sunday at Winstons in Ocean Beach.
Divine or not, Bátiz’s impact over the decades has been formidable for many listeners in Mexico — and for the array of notable musicians he has mentored. The latter group includes Canned Heat drummer Fito de la Parra (who is scheduled to sit in for Sunday’s show at Winstons), bass great Abraham Laboriel and a guitarist by the name of Carlos Santana.
“I knew I was going to be a musician from a very early age in Tijuana, where I saw Javier Bátiz,” Santana recalled in a 2013 Union-Tribune interview.
“A lot of people in Tijuana who read this will be really happy to see him get credit. He looked like Little Richard and played guitar like B.B. King. There were a lot of other guitar-slingers from Tijuana with that sound, but when I heard him I knew I would be a musician for the rest of my life.”
Speaking by phone recently from the Tijuana home where he was born and still lives, Bátiz laughed with delight when Santana’s quote was read to him.
“That’s my little brother — that’s Carlos!” he said, even though his interviewer had not yet identified Santana as the source of the quote.
“Carlos took my music, the way I play, around the world and became very famous and accepted. I’m so blessed he did.”
‘The guitar is like my third arm’
Santana began taking guitar lessons from Bátiz when he was 12 and then became the bassist in Los TJ’s. In the 1960s, Santana moved to San Francisco, while his mentor, Bátiz, relocated to Mexico City.
That Santana became an international star is as well-documented as Batiz’s continuing status as “the father of Mexican rock ‘n’ roll.”
A work commitment prevented Bátiz from performing at Avándaro, the 1971 festival billed as the Mexican Woodstock. But his career has been documented in books and honored in museum exhibitions. The street Bátiz lives on in Tijuana is named after him.
“My life is centered around my guitars, my wife, and me,” said Batiz, whose latest band sometimes features his wife of 32 years, Claudia, on drums. “I play every night and the guitar is like my third arm.”
Bátiz and his wife, Claudia Madrid, both contracted COVID-19 last year, he said, despite being vaccinated.
“It was mild,” Bátiz recalled. “But the pandemic was great for us — we spent a year and a half together in our house.”
As he has done for decades in the same Tijuana house, Bátiz is once again giving guitar lessons. He currently has about 14 students. They range in age from 7 to 22.
“I teach them to play the blues,” Bátiz said simply.
Proceeds from his Sunday concert at Winstons will benefit deported U.S. military veterans who live in Tijuana but can’t return to this country for a variety of legal reasons.
“They got thrown out of the states because they didn’t have the right papers or whatever,” Bátiz said. “They went to war as American soldiers, came back and got thrown out. So we’re trying to help them.”
Will this tireless guitarist ever retire?
“I don’t think so,” said his wife, Claudia Madrid. “If he doesn’t play, he’ll die. He’s always told me he wants to die, on stage, playing his guitar.”
“In a month, I will turn 78. But if you see me, I look like I’m 39,” he said.
“I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I eat very healthy and I don’t like to go to bars or football games. I play music, eat good food and watch TV with my wife, my kids and grandkids.
“When I play music, I sing, scream and take you to Mars. I’m so in love with music that I don’t want to miss a second of it. I want to die on stage!”
Javier Bátiz, with Sol Sacrifice
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Winstons Beach Club, 1921 Bacon St., Ocean Beach
Tickets: $20 (must be 21 or older to attend)
Phone: (619) 222-6822
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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