Few people recognize the name Danny Flores, but it would be hard to find anyone who isn’t familiar with his growling voice and saxophone – known to all from a single song: Tequila.
Tequila, the jaunty Latin-rhythmed ditty that saved Pee-wee Herman from a beating in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, went to number one on the American charts on this date back in 1958.
Both Tequila and The Champs, the group that recorded the song, have roots in the Santa Clarita Valley and neighboring areas.
The story begins with a Lancaster disk jockey and session guitarist named Dave Burgess who needed a B-side for a single he had written called Train to Nowhere.
On December 23, 1957, Burgess was working for Challenge Records recording backing tracks for another artist at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. Challenge was owned by singing cowboy Gene Autry, who also owned the Melody Ranch studios in Newhall at the time.
Also in the studio that day were a group of session musicians called the Flores Trio, which consisted of Danny Flores on the sax, Gene Alden on drums, and Buddy Bruce on lead guitar. Flores was the 28-year-old son of Mexican field workers from the Heritage Valley town of Santa Paula, California.
The scheduled sessions ended for the day and the musicians found themselves with some open recording time which they filled by jamming to create the B-side for Burgess’ single.
Flores crafted the song in three takes, tearing through the sax solos and growling out it’s single-word lyric, “Tequila!” (Since Flores was under contract to another record company, he was credited on the single as Chuck Rio.)
The song would most likely have been lost to history on its release had Train to Nowhere not flopped, prompting a Cleveland disk jockey to play the flip-side one day.
Tequila was already on the charts when the musicians decided to create a band, which they named “The Champs” after Gene Autry’s horse Champion.
Talk about getting the chart before the horse! (Sorry.)
The band never had another hit, but was successful enough touring to last until 1965. It had a revolving door lineup of members which at various times included Glen Campbell, Delaney Bramlett, later of Delaney and Bonnie, and Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts, who would re-emerge as the successful duo Seals and Crofts.
Flores left the band soon after its creation, but continued to play professionally for the next several decades before dying from Parkinson’s disease in 2006. He sold the American rights to Tequila early on and therefore never got rich off the song, but was still able to earn around $70,000 per year off of it from overseas markets.
Tequila, the one-word, one-hit wonder, eventually sold over six million copies worldwide.
Not bad for a throwaway.
(I will be conducting tours of Melody Ranch during the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival the last weekend of April. Click here for details.)