Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. His parents, Joseph Valenzuela (1896–1952) and Concepcion Reyes (1915–1987), were from Mexico. He was the second of five siblings with older brother Bob Morales, younger sisters Connie and Irma, and younger brother Mario Ramirez. Ritchie Valenzuela was brought up hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar,R&B, and jump blues. Valenzuela expressed an interest in making music of his own by the age of five, and he was encouraged by his father to take up guitar and trumpet, and later taught himself the drums. Though Valenzuela was left-handed, he was so eager to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right-handed version of the instrument. By the time Valenzuela was attending junior high school, he brought the guitar to school and would sing and play songs to his friends on the bleachers. When he was 16 years old, he was invited to join a local band, the Silhouettes (not the group famous for its hit song "Get a Job"), as a guitarist, and when the main vocalist left the group, Valenzuela assumed the position. On October 19, 1957, he made his performing debut with the Silhouettes. Valenzuela attended Pacoima Junior High School (now Pacoima Middle School) and San Fernando High School.