“Tequila” by the Champs (1958)

In 1955, multi instrumentalist Danny Flores arrived in Long Beach, which had a thriving country music scene thanks to the Navy, by way of Bakersfield, where country legend Buck Owens was just getting started. Long Beach. Flores lived on Ohio Ave., then moved to Lakewood Village and eventually to Fountain Valley, continuing to perform at local clubs for decades.

tequlia_champs“I had a band. Instead of calling one guy here and one guy there, they’d just call me with my guys from Long Beach.” Burgess found them as the house band at Hollywood At the Pike. “When rock n roll started coming in, we did the same songs we were doing, changed the wardrobe, got rid of the cowboy hats, cowboy boots, same songs, nothing changed.”

Signed to Gene Autry’s just-established Challenge label, the band was named after Autry’s horse Champion, thus the Champs. The hit was supposed to be “Train To Nowhere.”

“We spent a lot of time on ‘Train To Nowhere,’ it had a lot of background singing. In those days you had to overdub and I had to put the horn first, then the piano and all those voices and it was worth it because that was going to be the side.”

Written by Flores as b-side to “Train To Nowhere,” “Tequila” was a nightclub break tune. “I’d been using this as a little riff before we’d take an intermission at the club. We’d have a ‘dum dum dum, we’ll be right back, we’re taking a short break’ and that became a song so we decided ‘let’s use that.’ We were going to spell it ‘Tekila.’ We didn’t want to spell it like the alcohol because we thought parents wouldn’t let kids buy it. The parents would say ‘what do you want to buy that record for?’”

“The way I wrote it is the way we used to do it in the 1940s, we called it mutuno, which means ‘jam, get lost, do your own thing.’ All stay in the same key and we’ll all jam, the trumpet players, the piano player, the sax player all take a solo, all in one key.”

When a cover of “Tequila” began to hit regionally, Challenge told DJ’s to “turn the record over” and play the hit side. In mid-February 1958, “Tequila” uniformly went to #1 locally and nationally.

In 1959, “Tequila” won the first Grammy for best rhythm and blues song and kept selling through the decades as did the growing list of all sorts of brands of tequila, the formerly obscure Mexican drink that started it all, but throughout the decades, Flores had to chase the song’s royalties, which eluded him until his death at age 77 in 2006.

“Penetration” by the Pyramids (1963)

In 1963, the Long Beach Polytechnic High School rock band called the Pyramids hit big with the surf-styled instrumental, “Penetration” b/w the vocal “Here Comes Marsha” on Best (102 – r/i on Best 13002), a label owned by John Hodge.

pyramids_penetration“John Hodge went to another school, used to live by the racetrack, he had a lot of kids in his family, he was a very poor kid,” said member Willie Glover. He said, ’I’m gonna make you a star.’ I said ‘okay.’”

“Two to 3 weeks later, we’re in the recording studio, we’re doing the Pyramids,” name chosen because one of the members was in an on-campus club called Sphinx. “I don’t know where he got the money from. As far as I can remember, we were called Willie & the Pyramids.

“We put the ‘Pipeline’ rhythm to ‘Penetration.’ That wasn’t supposed to be the hit. DJs were told to play ‘Here Comes Marsha.’ They flipped it over, played the instrumental, ‘boom.’

Though often grouped with surf hits, Glover recalled “the title came from a group member who was very sexual. He said ‘let’s think of all the titles that have to do with sex….‘Contact’ ‘Pressure’ ‘Penetration’.”

“Penetration” hit the local charts in October 1963, #6 on KRLA and Wallichs Music City and #13 on KFWB. On Billboard, it hit #18 on February 1, 1964

“Low Rider” by War (1975)  

The band War was an extension of the Creators, a soul band of mainly male relatives out of Compton, the Harbor area and Long Beach Poly.

Compton’s Lonnie Jordan of War recalled how their funky classic “Low Rider” came about. One-time Poly High and Long Beach City College student, “Charles Miller was the one who was singing, inspired lyrically wise, came in with the attitude of the song, the low voice. He had a bottle of tequila and lemon, sat down on a bench at Crystal studios, began to sing with this low voice, we looked at each other, how much has he been drinking?” Thus cruising’s best anthem, “Low Rider” b/w “So” was born and released on United Artists, hitting on KGFJ, #3 on September 1, 1975, then on the national R&B charts at #1 two weeks later; #7 on KHJ and #1 on Billboard.

war_low_riderThe picture sleeve used an image of Miller’s own lowrider car, “a 1949 Chevy or ’47 Chevy, it was pretty low. Those were some great times. We started going outside of Compton filming low rider rival clubs because we were influenced by the In Crowd Car Club, we took that film, and next thing I know the song had been influenced. We were trying to be film producers at the time, we took a Bolex camera and a Niagara sound system into E.L.A The car clubs were the Dukes and the Imperials. We filmed the different car clubs, took that film on the road with us and used that as a backdrop in England and Germany where people had never seen or heard of low riders.”

In June 1980, “Charles Miller was murdered. He had money on him, doing things he shouldn’t have been with drugs, he caught a young lady, at least her side of the story, he woke up and she was stealing money, she panicked and started stabbing him.”

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About the Author

Steve Propes

Steve Propes was born in Berkeley, California and has lived for decades in Long Beach, graduating from Wilson High School and Long Beach State College. Since the mid-1950s, Steve has listened to R&B and rock and roll on the radio and since 1960, actively in cruised Hody's and collected 45 rpm records. Hody's is gone; the records remain.

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