Those with Hispanic parents or grandparents, especially in Southern California, can probably tell you the sounds they heard blaring from the radio most Sunday nights as Art Laboe’s “Oldies but Goodies” radio program ran through a catalog of funk, R&B, doo-wop and the enchanting rhythms of Chicano soul. A dedication going out to someone with the name “lil spooky” or “joker” was not uncommon (an indicator of the cholo/chola lifestyle adjacent to much Hispanic culture in the area at the time and Laboe’s legendary status as an intermediary communicator for the masses), and was usually followed by the romantic serenading or deep lamentations from the likes of The Delfonics, Ralfi Pagan and more.
This music featured smooth beats with a certain Latin flair that held up vocals often resting in a higher register. The combination of melody and vocals floating from the radio seeped into your soul, and the grand declarations of love or loss seemed world ending, and for those calling in to make a dedication in the hopes of winning someone back, it was.
On a quest to bring a certain prowess back into the Chicano soul and doo-wop of Southern California’s past, LA’s Latinx crooner Nick Pagan throws his heart in the ring, ready to make you feel the groove and heartache once again. Polishing off this sound and denoting it as “new-wop,” Pagan comes in with a certain charisma, and sometimes playful style. And, following his first career releases of last year, Pagan rides the sound with a new single, “Hardly Use My Hands.”
Lofty and full of conflicted love lyrics, Pagan leaves himself wide open in “Hardly Use My Hands,” vulnerable in his romantic deficiencies but curious to make a real try at love for the first time ever.
“This song is about the constant search for self,” Pagan says. ”I don’t care about age or any of that—level and acceleration of growth is determined by so many factors. And for me, I feel like I’m on a constant journey of discovering who I am and what that means in context to this reality. I’m determined to cover good ground this lifetime.”
The tune is simple, classic in its composition but with a modern perspective. Crunchy guitars overlay an R&B influenced melody, and themes from the older genre of music are intertwined with a modern pulse. Pagan delivers his music earnestly and with the utmost respect for the sound he incorporates, but there is a playful approach that finds its place in Pagan’s interpretation of an iconic musical style.
With his previous singles already garnering the attention of KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, Pagan continues to pave the way for his music, wedging himself in the mezcla of sound being perpetrated by young Chicano and Hispanic youth in and around Southern California. This new single comes after an array of potential paths Pagan has encountered in his life with a single experience as the catalyst for writing this piece of music.
“The ideas behind this song start at the Church of St. John Coltrane in San Francisco. It was a profound service for me, grounding and eye opening,” notes Pagan. ”A seven-year-old boy was holding it down on the drums, and I had my eyes closed. All a sudden the reverend was playing his sax right in front of me, in my sphere. I opened my eyes and was drawn immediately to my hands, and the preacher stopped blowing and said, ‘Let’s go to work!’ I had stopped playing music during this time, and was doing all kinds of other things like shining shoes, photography, working on a factory line. Sometimes it’s hard to accept what you’re meant to do, to get up and do it everyday with no fear. I don’t know if it’s hard for everyone, but it’s been a zig-zag wandering journey for me.
Words: Patti Sanchez