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Santa Barbara music pioneer Ernie Orosco remembered

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Santa Barbara community and the music industry lost a pioneer earlier this month.

On Nov. 3, Ernest Joseph Orosco, "Ernie" to everyone who knew him, passed away.

Orosco was a talented guitarist who grew up in Santa Barbara and toured the country with legendary disc jockey Wolfman Jack and some of the music industry's biggest performers.

NewsChannel 3 featured Orosco in Tipline Investigations in March and April of this year. We helped him get 12 months worth of pandemic relief benefits from the California Employment Development Department. Orosco said he relied on friends and family to survive while the state refused to give him his benefits. He said things got so bad he was forced to sell off some of his musical equipment, including his guitars.

Ernie got his first guitar when he was 10 years old in 1956 and started performing in front of Brownies Market. He recruited his brothers and their first gig together was playing on State Street during Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

The Orosco brothers, Ernie, Cory and Brian, formed the band Ernie and the Emperors and quickly made a name for themselves in the music industry. They became the first group from Santa Barbara to sign with a major record label, Reprise/Warner Brothers Records. In 1965, they released their regional number one hit, "Meet Me At The Corner."

Over the years, the band played with some of the top musicians of the day: The Isley Brothers, Sonny & Cher and Bobby Vinton. By the late '60s, Cory was serving in the Marines during the Vietnam War and Brian was in school. Ernie moved to Atlanta on his own and started making a name for himself in the Southern Rock scene. His list of accomplishments over the years are impressive.

He eventually came back home, reunited with his brothers and started performing again as Ernie and the Emperors and later as the Brian Faith Band. Cory Orosco died in 2017.

Ernie's last performance was at the Grapes and Hops event on Main Street in Ventura on Sept. 24, 2021.

During his first interview with NewsChannel 3 in March, Ernie, in a soft spoken voice, talked about his long fight with the State of California over his benefits. He described how he survived financially during these difficult times. The pandemic had shut down all of his scheduled performances and there seemed to be no end in sight.

Despite everything he went through, Ernie praised his friends and family, played the music he loved and always put things in perspective. He would always say when we spoke on the phone, "I know there are others out there who have it rougher than I do."

Ernie Orosco was 74 years old.

Services are planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23 at the Goleta Cemetery at 44 S. San Antonio Road. A memorial will follow at the Santa Barbara Carriage Museum at 129 Castillo St. The public is welcome at both to celebrate his life.

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C.J. Ward

C.J. Ward is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and the station’s lead investigative reporter. To learn more about C.J., click here

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