Low-budget Beatles tribute keeps it real

Baja Bugs got together in '89 for a friend's wedding

Dude, is that Ringo? (no) But that's Hector Penalosa (left).
  • Dude, is that Ringo? (no) But that's Hector Penalosa (left).

For the 40th anniversary of the pioneering San Diego punk band the Zeros, cofounder Hector Penalosa has planned...not much.

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Baja Bugs

“There doesn’t seem to be a big brouhaha about it,” the singer/bassist says. “No one is thinking about it.”

Furthermore, he says glorifying punk rock like it was classic rock seems wrong.

“Punk rock has become part of pop culture...which was not supposed to happen.” It was the Hitmakers, the Zeros, and the Dils that launched San Diego’s punk big bang in ’76–’77.

“No one would touch the Zeros with a ten-foot pole because we were freaks. We couldn’t get a gig to save our lives. The whole reason that movement started was to protest the corporate-music moguls who created Barry Manilow and Fleetwood Mac. It’s interesting that what punk rock set out to destruct has become part of the business.”

Baja Bugs, "Ticket to Ride"

Penalosa seems to have more allegiance to his one-shot Beatles salute.

The Baja Bugs was never supposed to survive. We got together for a [1989] wedding for a friend who couldn’t afford an actual Beatles tribute band.”

He says there are two reasons the Baja Bugs keep crawling after 28 years: affordability and credibility.

“A lot of people don’t have a lot of money for a Beatles tribute band,” says Penalosa. Top-level Beatles tribute acts like the Fab Four get five figures per gig.

He says the Baja Bugs care more about making their live show sound like original Beatles recordings than putting on a play.

“We don’t wear wigs. We don’t call each other Ringo or use fake Scouse [Liverpudlian] accents, saying, ‘Hey John, what’s gonna be our next song?’ We’re not actors. We’re just musicians who care about the original songs.”

Yet he admits he’s in fanatic land. “Beatle fans are an interesting breed. They are very devoted, very obsessed with the Beatles. For that very reason we want to play as close to what they are accustomed to hearing in recordings.”

Penalosa won’t mention any names, but, “There are some [wannabe Ringos] who sing ‘Act Naturally’ and sound more like Buck Owens, and they can’t get Ringo’s drum patterns right.... The guitar riff in ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ is really hard and I’ve seen some bands massacre it.”

Penalosa says there are “11 or 12,” ex–Baja Bugs. “Our original drummer died two years ago.” He says one ex-Bug succumed to the bottle. “He would lean against the wall and piss himself while playing.”

The Baja Bugs appear Sunday at the grand opening of Thorn Brewing Co. in Barrio Logan.

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