One of the greatest pleasures and responsibilities we have at Lowrider Magazine is to share with our readers the stories of those select individuals who have truly taken our culture to the next level, making a positive impact on the lowrider community, as well as the world around them.
Johnny Lazoya truly defines all that is good about lowrider and custom car culture. A true pioneer, Johnny has been a figurehead in the lowriding scene for close to 40 years, serving as a promoter, lowrider, Lowrider Magazine staff writer, photographer, and most recently, a photographer immersed in Hispanic politics. His reach in the culture can be felt far and wide. Whether you’re a newbie attending your first Arizona Super Event Show, or a longtime enthusiast and subscriber of our magazine, chances are the name Lazoya is very familiar to you, as his hands have graced every aspect of our pastime.
We caught up with the 56-year old Johnny and visited his past and present ways of life, and had these words to say:
“I am not a painter, I am not an upholsterer, and I don’t do chrome plating. My expertise is to promote the Lowriding Culture or the custom car craft. The custom car craft was my first love and the lowrider culture my second, because I’ve always been really into the vehicles whether they were hot rods, lowriders or classics.
Growing up in Alhambra, California, my interest in lowriders developed in the 60’s. I remember when my sisters would have these parties and these amazing cars would creep low and slow right outside the house. They didn’t look like my parents’ cars, either. Back then, they would have the battle of the pipes. That included the flame throwers which were the most intriguing to me. They would battle to see who would be the lowest, and who could throw out the most spark from the pipes. We later moved to Hollywood, California, where I lived off the corner of Hollywood and Vine, where George Barris had his legendary shop. I saw the Bat Mobile and the Monkey Mobile get developed, and these were my nurturing seeds into the customizing world back in 1967.
Once I graduated, I moved out to Oxnard, California. In 1972 I joined a car club called the Stylistics in Ventura County. After a few years, it broke up and three or four new clubs branched out from the original crew-The Brown Sensations, The Originals from Fillmore, and New Image that I started. The bottom line for this new club was in the name-New Image. I wanted to break the stereotype that Hollywood had produced and the media had cast upon us. We all didn’t have the same lifestyle and our interests were different-some of us listened to Rock music, Motown as well as the oldies.
You could say that I actually lived a crossover lifestyle, and I wanted to project that image for lowriders. We felt a lowrider was a custom car, and the word “lowrider” is basically referring to a state of mind. Anybody can be part of the lowrider culture, and it’s not just about owning the vehicle. The vehicle itself to me has always been a custom car just like the Barris cars. Personally, I wanted to share a different perspective of lowriding-that we, as a culture, are multi-dimensional, and not one dimensional as we are often seen or portrayed.
We have always been multicultural, having various interests from the different races involved in the lifestyle. In 1974, when we started New Image, we wanted nothing but newer vehicles. When we were at the shows with our late model vehicles, we could show people that we had the same class, sophistication, and style as the classic bombs did. We quickly learned that we had a following and that, if we sponsored the dances, then people would come. It was good exposure for us, and we also learned to make money from it.
In November of 1978 when I was living in Oxnard, Sonny and his brother, Rudy, came to my house looking for me, but I didn’t know who they were. They told me they were doing a show in the area and wanted some local assistance with it. At that time I was not at all involved with the magazine. I was more of a promoter on the entertainment scene, and I was doing all the dances for the local car clubs. They were looking to do the show in November of ’78 but decided to postpone the show until May, in time for Memorial Day weekend. I asked them if there was anything that I could do in the meantime, and I started delivering the magazines in Ventura County for them. In just three months, I tripled their route circulation from $900 to $2700 in sales. Basically we already had a built-in or captive market from dropping off the flyers for the dances and car shows we were promoting, so I just followed my old route and redeveloped it to work for the magazine.
With the success that I had in Ventura County, they asked me to help with Los Angeles and San Fernando. I started to go further and further, moving into Central California, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, River Grand Valley, Austin, New Mexico, Denver, and wound up circling back into Phoenix. Eventually, I created the beginnings of sales development for the magazine, and we really set up and established a strong subscription route for the magazine.
At the time I didn’t know how to use a camera, so I used to set up photo shoots for different photographers that I would take with me. Unfortunately, some of the photography was marginal, and not fit for print. Sometimes, the photographer wouldn’t show up at all because he was out partying the night before, or even worse, he would end up paying more attention to the girl we were shooting than the vehicle itself.
Little by little, I started developing an interest in photography and tried learning from anyone I could. Robert Rodriguez, one of the key photographers for Lowrider, finally taught me how to use a camera in 1979. The first picture that I shot was in Glendale, Arizona, of a 1962 Impala nicknamed “The Deuce” that the magazine had bought from Lifestyle Car Club. The image appeared as a two page spread in Lowrider and was the first color picture that I took. Then, a German magazine named Auto Rarity came to the U.S. and visited Lowrider to purchase some images. After going over thousands of images, they eventually printed eight images. My color image of the ’62 was the biggest one, and this really inspired me to further my eye for photography and improve my skills.
I used to follow the “pisca,” as Sonny used to say back in the ’80s, meaning that I would follow the harvest into Arizona. While I was there, I was able to cultivate the market and concentrate on building and promoting the Super Events Super Show. We just recently celebrated our 30th anniversary show. This show is like a reunion, as there are some attendees that have been coming every year for 25 years. We have people from Texas, Los Angeles, New Mexico, Las Vegas-all engaging in dialogue with each other and becoming long distance friends to the point where some clubs have developed chapters just because of the Super Show. We call it a carnalismo or brotherhood.
I was fortunate enough to work with Sonny Madrid, who had the vision. Because of that, I developed the equivalent of a Harvard degree in lowriding. I learned a lot from Lowrider Magazine-it taught me different skills, communications, aspects of public relations, photography techniques, marketing tools, and showed me different perspectives of life and our culture. Through Lowrider Magazine I was able to learn to work with different groups, whether they were corporate, car clubs, or even politicians. It taught me that I could accomplish different things on different levels with different individuals. I realized something that I didn’t understand in my youth-that I could be all I wanted to be if I took the right risks combined with a little bit of vision.
Currently I’m a member of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) here in Arizona and we’re sponsoring our upcoming convention. I also have clients like The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and social community organizations like Chicanos for La Causa whose events are documented through my Latino Paparazzi company.
People need to understand the history of lowriding and Lowrider Magazine. They need to know that it didn’t start on MTV, but rather, in the ’40s and that a lot of blood, sweat and tears have been shed as people would get harassed and be racially profiled by police departments, leaving others to get away with murder because they had different skin color than we did or drove a different type of car. We need more positive images and more dialogue within the lowrider community. We need to properly recognize a lot of the individuals that are living the hall of fame lifestyle, and we also need to cultivate our younger generations, as these guys are the future. Today’s youth will become our future mayors and community leaders.”
Forever humble, Johnny does not wish to take credit for what he has done. This same unselfish school of thinking has led him to positively influence and shape the lowrider movement in ways too numerous for us to count. There are fewlike Johnny Lazoya who “walk the walk” in the past and now can “talk the talk” for the future.