The beautiful thing about music is that it can be played anytime, anywhere, and has the unique capacity to lift us out of the darkest of times. For Rudy Rios and Bella Gomez, that happened in an alley near 40th and Pacific during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were neighbors when we were younger, so what we did is we met up in the alley, we would get an amp out, and we would play music,” explains Gomez. “And my mom would record videos and post them to YouTube, Facebook, wherever.”
With the whole world shut down and nothing to do, Gomez and Rios, both students at San Pedro High School at the time, were able to use their newfound group, Bella and Rudy, to provide some much-needed entertainment and connection for their friends.
Rios recalls, “We had close friends who could come over if they were comfortable with it.” Rios and Gomez kept their gigs safe by sticking to pandemic-era safety standards. Gomez points out that even the two bandmates were careful to be safe by keeping their distance from each other when they performed. “We actually practiced social distancing (while playing), like six feet apart.”
Gomez and Rios met during a much simpler time. Their musical connection was born on the stage of the Warner Grand Theater when they were both performing in an Encore Theatre Group production of The Wizard of Oz. Rios says, “We were really young. I was 11 years old, and she was 9.” He laughs and adds, “She was the mayor of Munchkin City, and I was the coroner.”
After reconnecting musically in the alley, the duo started playing music together all the time, and with COVID-19 safety regulations beginning to ease, they landed their first show. Gomez says, “We had our first gig at [The] Corner Store, and then we had more people reaching out to us. We decided to start a music page.”
The Corner Store gig and the music page led to more shows. The duo soon found themselves securing regular slots entertaining diners on Saturday nights at the Lighthouse Café in San Pedro and two Thursdays a month at Jimmy E’s restaurant in Signal Hill.
Rios says, “When people see me before a gig or something, they’re like, ‘Hey, what kind of music are you going to play?’ I’m like, ‘Whatever you like. We take requests.’” Gomez adds, “We have a mix of a lot of different music. We could play Pearl Jam to Jack Johnson to Fleetwood Mac.”
Although the duo plays regular dinner shows and has performed at many First Thursday events in Downtown San Pedro, they are not the only places they have appeared. A highlight includes a gig at the world-famous Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Their next big gig is opening for Ambrosia during Fleet Week. They have also formed Sudden Stranger, a full band with friends Adam Fuller on guitar, Jack Ghekiere on drums, Isaac Sharp on bass, and Shaun Luera subbing in as the alternate bassist. Sudden Stranger has a show at The Sardine on June 1.
The duo has dreams of making a living playing music. It has become such a big part of Rios’ life that he recently quit the Long Beach City College baseball team to focus on music. He says, “I quit baseball this year. It was hard because I’ve been playing my whole life, but I want to perform everywhere, anywhere, make it as far as we can. Especially doing it together.” Gomez adds, “I want to be well known enough where our music can reach people, just touch people.”
Although Rios and Gomez have started to write their own songs, they still love performing cover songs that their audience can instantly recognize. Rios explains, “When we play Billy Joel and there’s like a 60-year-old couple that we never met before, we’ve never talked to them, we can make a connection with them. Music really takes people back to a different time and place in their life.” Gomez adds, “It’s a universal language.” spt
For more info about the band and a schedule of upcoming shows, visit bellarudymusic.com.