Wild Records brings modern-day rockabilly to LA

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There’s a tiny little record label in Los Angeles. You probably haven’t heard of it. That is, unless you’re really into 1950s-style rockabilly music. It’s called Wild Records.

Omar Romero wears a suit onstage, his hair carefully coiffed into a pompadour, and he shakes his hips like Elvis Presley. He has full sleeves of tattoos on both arms, and when he’s not playing music, he serves as the head studio engineer at Wild Records. And like most of his labelmates, he’s Hispanic.

The founder of the label, Reb Kennedy, is not Hispanic. In fact, he’s an Irishman, raised in a working-class neighborhood in North Dublin. Reb bristles at his label being described as “Mexican rockabilly.”

“I never had any intention, of starting a Mexican rock ‘n’ roll label. Oddly, what happened was, in Los Angeles, the talent pool is coming from young Hispanic guys and girls.”

“We are a very unusual record label. Because the people who do know us, and the fan base worldwide, they call us the Wild Family. Now, it sounds ridiculous. It sounds corny. But it actually runs that way.” – Reb Kennedy

Reb Kennedy started Wild Records a year after moving from London to San Francisco, where he worked as a music promoter for rockabilly legends.

“After a while I loved working with the original guys, but I wanted to find something new and fresh,” Kennedy said. “So once a month I’d get in my car with my wife, Jenny, drive down to LA and go to small clubs, and I discovered Luis and the Wild Teens. They were a ramshackle unit, not the best players, and I’m being very kind. The enthusiasm and the energy on stage, though, blew me away. I’d never seen anything like it.”

He signed Luis and the Wild Teens and released this song, “La Rebeldonna.” It was the label’s first release:

The Wild Records studio is a one-room shack in Kennedy’s backyard, in a very quiet suburban neighborhood in Altadena.

“We tell the artists when we’re recording, we’re going to capture the best you have today. Not forever. Today. It only reflects on what they did that day. So that being the case, we want to get it out when it’s fresh. Fresh to the artist, fresh to us,” Kennedy said. “We want to capture the energy, we want to put it in the bottle, and then we want to release it.”

Wild Records founder Reb Kennedy in his home studio.
Wild Records founder Reb Kennedy in his home studio. Photo by Avishay Artsy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The documentary “Los Wild Ones” screens as part of The Santa Monica Pier’s Front Porch Cinema series curated by Film Independent at the Santa Monica Pier on Friday, Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Here’s the trailer: