For the past two years, 29-year-old Melissa “Lil Smiley” Dueñas has searched for the stories behind the iconic 12-volume vinyl record set titled “East Side Story,” which is a compilation of classic Chicano lowrider jams from the 70s and 80s.
The record set, with a cover featuring red and green borders on a white background, is revered for its compilation of lowrider classics of R&B, doo-wop and soul. The cover photos also show an intimate snapshot of 1970s Eastside Los Angeles Chicano/a culture.
Yet, what remained a mystery to Dueñas were the people in the compilation’s album art: Chicano/a youth and their classic cars. Nameless, but for sure, firme.
Dueñas started her @eastsidestoryproject Instagram account in 2015 as a way to update the journey as she searched for these people, but also as a way to crowdsource leads on their identity. The project led her to meet Mr. B, the creator of the actual vinyl series.
She also met OGs who posed in the photos, and friends and family that knew them.
#FBF to the time when I was taking photos of the location of #eastsidestoryvol3 and an older Chicano asked me where I got my ESS record because thats him on the cover!!! Heard some crazy stories from David aka Horse. He's pictured in the bottom right corner. Launching our Kickstarter in a week to hopefully get enough funds to film and share all ESS stories with everyone who grew up cherishing these albums! 📸: @chavatakesrealterriblepictures
“It kind of affirms who they are,” she says. “When people see the East Side Story Instagram, they get excited because it really holds a fond place in their hearts. It’s become this place for this collective narrative to really unfold.”
The East Side Story Project successfully made its Kickstarter campaign goal last year to continue the story through an upcoming documentary web series. In the meantime, Dueñas shares her love for lowrider classics on her Sunday online radio show.