When we think of rock-and-roll, we tend to think of the United States, Britain in a pinch. Peru? Not so much.
But the same power chords that energized the kids of America echoed all the way to Lima, where in 1964 Erwin Flores, César “Papi” Castrillón, Rolando “El Chino” Carpio and Francisco “Pancho” Guevara answered the call. They formed Los Saicos, a band whose passionate, garage-rock stylings captivated South America, only to evaporate when the group broke up after not much more than a year. Years later, the band’s songs were rediscovered by a new generation of music fans.
The oddest twist: For decades, half the members of Los Saicos have lived in the Washington area. Washington even sports its own Saicos tribute band, Los Sadicos, which is appearing Thursday at Hill Country Barbecue, opening for local garage rockers the Hall Monitors.
“It’s very nice to have a tribute band, to tell you the truth,” said Erwin, 72, who sang and played guitar in Los Saicos.
It was Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” that inspired a young Erwin. “The first time I heard that, to tell you the truth, I almost fainted,” he said. “I was catatonic. I didn’t know what happened. That was a break with the past.”
For singer and bass player Papi, 72, Elvis Presley was the gateway drug. “He changed my attitude, my way of being,” said Papi, who, after hearing Elvis, favored tight jeans, black shirts and black leather jackets.
“I got home one night and in my bed there was a Bible,” Papi said. One of his parents had put it there in hopes it would exorcise his rock-and-roll demons. It didn’t.
Los Saicos — the name sounds like “Psychos” but was adopted by dropping the “d” from “Sadicos,” which means “sadists” — sound a bit like the Sonics or the Kingsmen, bands from the left coast of North America, just as Los Saicos were from the left coast of South America.
The band released six 45s — 12 songs — and appeared before welcoming, if occasionally confused, crowds around Peru.
“I know that we could have gone places, gone to the States, gone to Europe, but we only played one year and then we dissolved, even without talking about it,” Erwin said. “We just stopped, period. . . . We were a bit tired of being together all the time.”
Erwin left Peru 45 years ago, after the country had slid into communism and his family’s assets — farmland, businesses — were redistributed. He came to the United States, studied physics, worked for NASA, then became a corporate officer. He lives in Arlington.
Papi came north in 1980 in search of economic opportunity. He entered the construction trade and lives in Stafford, Va. The two other members — Pancho and El Chino — have died.
About 20 years ago, Los Saicos’ music was rediscovered, first in Spain and then among proto-punk-loving Americans. That includes Edgar Elmore, a 35-year-old Peruvian-born media producer who lives in Woodbridge, Va. A few years ago he was taking a break from a gig at a fashion show when a gray-haired man beckoned him over and asked whether Edgar knew who he was. Edgar didn’t — it was Papi — but he had heard of the band the man claimed to have been in: Los Saicos.
“I thought they were like a myth,” Edgar said. “I didn’t think they were alive. Nobody knew where they were.”
They were in the Washington area.
Edgar formed Los Sadicos to introduce the music to a new generation. “I felt it would be something patriotic for Peru, because I’m American but also Peruvian,” he said. It was a way, Edgar said, “to tell the world not everything is invented here only. All of you around the globe can do these things.”
There’s a documentary on YouTube produced by Vice that recounts the story of the band and argues that Los Saicos were the first punk band. Erwin wouldn’t go that far.
Erwin will sing it with Los Sadicos on Thursday. And Papi will sing “Ana,” a surprisingly melodic number that lets him show off his Elvis croon.
“To be a Saico for the second time, I never dreamt of this,” Papi said. “For me this is like an incredible story that’s happening to me.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.