Javier Batiz – A Living Legend

In Mexico during the 60’s, there was a counterculture movement called La Onda (The Wave), which influenced artistic and political expression throughout Mexico.

According to Wikipedia;

‘The music of La Onda began with the importation of American and British rock and roll into Mexican music culture.

By the late 1950s, “youth from the middle classes began to form their own bands…practicing as best they could versions of hit songs in English by their favorite foreign rock ‘n’ rollers”…and it was only a matter of time before they were also inspired by the social activism of other modernizing countries.’

One of the major musical influences of La Onda can be traced back to a humble home just a few miles south of the Tijuana/ San Diego international border.

In the mid 1950’s in Tijuana, a young teenager, Javier Bátiz, was woken by his mother in the middle of the night.

Someone had left the radio on in the living room, so she asked Javier to turn it off.

When he entered the living room, what he heard on that radio was a song by blues guitarist T Bone Walker. He sat and listened, mesmerized by the sound, a sound that would not only change his life but would soon influence La Onda as well.

The radio program he heard was called Ray Robinson’s Record Rack. Broadcast on Tijuana’s Mighty 690, the station’s transmitter was so powerful it could reach all of the western United States.

Robinson’s show featured Rhythm and Blues with electric blues artists like B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, T Bone Walker and Elmore James.

This became the music Bátiz religiously listened to in the middle of the night. It set him on the path to learn how to play the guitar. He found that he was naturally gifted and quickly was able to recreate what he heard on the radio.

Further motivated by seeing Bill and Haley and the Comets in the movie Rock Around the Clock, Javier recruited his friends and started his own band, the TJs in 1957.

They soon had paying gigs on Avenida Revolución, in clubs that had for decades catered to tourists from the United States.

The TJs became the most popular band in Tijuana, playing at numerous venues like Mike’s, the Aloha Club and the Convoy Club. Sometimes their music sets were in-between stripper routines. Playing throughout the night into the wee hours of the morning, they continued to hone their skills.

Maria, the talented sister of Bátiz would later become a singer for the TJs at the age of 11, she became known as Baby Bátiz. With her spot-on renditions of the female singing stars from the U.S., the band’s popularity continued to grow.

Tired of performing just for tourists, the TJs would sometimes play on Sunday afternoons in a park just a few blocks from Javier’s house. It was there that music history would be changed.

In a 2020 interview, Carlos Santana was asked who as a youth influenced his path in music:

‘The gentleman’s name–and he’s still alive–is Javier Bátiz.

In Tijuana, my mom saw that my father (a mariachi musician) had gone to San Francisco, so I wasn’t learning to play music. I said, “Well, Dad’s not around, so I’m not going to learn to play as much.” So my mom was concerned that all the things he taught me would be wasted.

So she grabbed me by the hand, she took me to the park in Tijuana, and there was this band called the TJs and Javier Bátiz was playing guitar. He was a combination of B.B. King, Little Richard and Ray Charles, and he still is.

When I heard the sound of the guitar bouncing across the trees and the cars and the church across the street, I just said, “Oh shit.” It was like watching a flying saucer for the first time and I just knew right there and then that this is a doorway to my destiny…’

On seeing her 13 year old son light up watching Bátiz play, Santana’s mother immediately asked if the 16 year old Javier would give him lessons.

Starting the very next day Carlos showed up at Javier’s house, just a few blocks from his own, to begin his lessons.

Carlos then began spending all of his spare time hanging with Javier and the other members of the TJs. Even though he was sometimes bullied by some of the other older band members, Carlos persisted, absorbing all the knowledge that he could.

As Santana’s skills quickly improved, he too began to play in the bars of Tijuana. He even fulfilled his dream of playing with the TJs, albeit as the bass player. This gig was short lived, as Santana knew he was destined to play lead guitar.

In 1963, Carlos moved from Tijuana to San Francisco with his family to join his father. In just a few years, with everything he learned from Bátiz and playing long nights in the cantinas and stripclubs of Avenida Revolución, Santana was formed.

With the influence of the blues of Bátiz and the music of his Latin culture, the sound of Santana was a unique amalgamation. After playing at Woodstock the whole world was exposed to this unique sound born in the streets of Tijuana.

Around the same time, having exhausted all opportunities in Tijuana, Bátiz left for Mexico City. His electric blues styling was a definite departure from the pop rock that was popular in the capital city. His acclaim quickly grew and soon he was playing in the top clubs.

Baby Bátiz later joined her brother in Mexico City and began a successful career as well.

Musicians gravitated toward Javier, wanting to learn his style of music; he became an instructor to many, advancing the La Onda movement.

In Mexico, Javier Bátiz continues to be affectionately known as the Maestro, the teacher.

One of his prodigies was a drummer by the name Adolfo ‘Fito’ de la Parra, Bátiz taught him the blues beat and they began to play together. Fito left Mexico City and ended up in Los Angeles. In 1967, he joined the blues band Canned Heat.

In 1969, the now popular Canned Heat played at Woodstock. Fito was one of two Mexicans playing at the iconic festival; the other was Carlos Santana. Both musicians trained by the Maestro, Javier Bátiz.

In Mexico, Bátiz played throughout the country; he appeared on national television and his stardom continued to rise.

In 1971 that would all change.

Around this time the political aim of the La Onda movement was to push back against the oppression of the conservative one party government of the corrupt PRI.

Set for September 11th and 12th of 1971, the Festival Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro was created in the spirit of Woodstock and an extension of La Onda movement. This festival drew over 100,000 spectators.

Due to a disagreement with the promoters, Bátiz was not slated to play at Avándaro. At the last minute, Bátiz was invited to perform, but he became stuck in traffic on the way to the festival; he never made it.

Taking advantage of sensationalized news of drug use and other “immoral” behavior at Avándaro, politicians condemned not only the festival but the whole La Onda movement.

Soon music became highly regulated and censored. Musicians like Bátiz, who were part of the La Onda movement were harassed and sometimes jailed,

Bátiz struggled with his career. Shortly after, his beloved mother passed, with little incentive to return back to Mexico City and in an effort to keep his family home from being sold, Bátiz moved back to Tijuana with his wife Claudia Madrid.

While his prodigies in the United States prospered, Javier survived with the occasional gig and providing music lessons. For decades the Maestro has continued to train thousands in his studio next to the very same home, where late one night he first heard T Bone Walker.

In Mexico, Bátiz’s legacy is rightly celebrated by many and his career is currently in a resurgence. Thankfully, while just shy of his 78th birthday, Bátiz still retains the spirit of the teenager who played in the stripclubs of Tijuana.

On Cinco de Mayo, the legendary guitarist Javier Batiz from Tijuana, Mexico will make a rare appearance in the United States at Winstons in Ocean Beach.

Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Ocean Beach Luminosity Festival.

Limited tickets are now on sale.