Morales left the tough-guy image behind A personal memory of Ritchie Valens' big brother

The author with Bob Morales | Photo by Susan McLean

By Lane Wallace

The Bob Morales who was portrayed as a tough guy in the 1987 movie “La Bamba” and the man I knew for the last three decades were the same person in body only.

Morales, brother of 1950s rock star Ritchie Valens, should have had his picture in the dictionary under “nice guy.” Morales, who died Saturday at 81 at his home in Moss Landing, was always friendly when I encountered him — not the slap-you-on the-back greeting, but with a warm hug.

If you befriended him, no matter how long ago, you were his friend.

Morales acknowledged that he had been a tough guy as a young man, but those days were long behind him when I met him in 1987 as a reporter for the Register-Pajaronian in Watsonville, the year “La Bamba” came out.

Because Valens’ sisters Connie and Irma, brother Mario Ramirez and mother, Concepcion, all lived there then, Watsonville was ground central for the family’s effort to get more recognition for Valens’ music.

Their work was successful — Valens, who died in a 1959 plane crash, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp with his likeness, back when a letter cost 29 cents to mail.

Dealing with the media was part of that effort, and Morales was a pleasure to interview — he would have new thoughts about his brother, even 40 and 50 years after the crash. And  he was always gracious, a term that applies to his entire family.

I last saw Morales at a soul music festival in Watsonville in June. It wasn’t hard to find him — he was the one walking around dressed in leather, with a big hat. The clothes changed, but I can’t think of a time when I saw Morales when he wasn’t wearing leather.

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Lane Wallace

About Lane Wallace

Lane Wallace is a former reporter for the Register-Pajaronian in Watsonville and the Monterey Herald.

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