Where and How 'Tequila' Evolved

By: 
Steve Propes

In the first Grammy ceremony held in May 1959, the winner in the rhythm and blues category had strong Long Beach connections, not to mention the Nu Pike. Pretty good for a self-described “Mexican Hillbilly” whose career was based on country and western music, the polar opposite of rhythm and blues by most definitions.

Danny Flores was born in the farming community of Santa Paula in 1929. “I picked walnuts, lemons and oranges, I loved it. Then I went to Bakersfield,” multi-instrumentalist Flores said. “I had to do country music. I was in the Latin field, but country people gave you a job six or seven nights a week.”

This was in the early 1950s, and already a young Flores had a combo. “We kept changing our names, the Rocky Mountain Boys from Colorado, the 3-D Ranch Boys or the 3-Ds.,” led by Flores on mainly saxophone backed with drums and a bass.

“We played country & western music at the Silver Dollar Coral in Pt. Hueneme. Every Sunday afternoon, we’d come to El Monte where they’d have jam sessions, the Cliffie Stone gang, Billy Strange from Long Beach. We’d come over to jam with them, wanted to meet some people. In Pt. Hueneme, all we had was Navy, Navy and more Navy.”

Then came Flores’ big first move. “They let me come into Bakersfield on one condition. As long as I played no piano so I wouldn’t jeopardize local piano players. I could play saxophone, accordion, anything I could get my hands on, but no piano. They’d recognize me downtown, cowboy hat, cowboy outfit, I was talking like ‘y’all’, ‘reckon’. Sometimes country folks don’t accept you because it’s a clique; but if you know those gospel songs, you’re okay. They’d say, who’s this Mexican guy who sings gospel songs? I knew them all, they kind of accepted me. We used to get a lot of guest stars to come into Bakersfield to play with us and Buck Owens at the Blackboard. Buck Owens told me, ‘you’re becoming a hit’.”

Fellow Bakersfield musician Cliff Crofford recalled. “The union ran Danny Flores out of town. Some musicians accused him of smoking pot. Buck Owens sent out a petition to keep him there, but he ended up in Long Beach.”

“We wanted to make a move.” After one of his El Monte gigs, Flores and his band stopped at the B&J Rancho “Home of Western Stars” on West Ocean Boulevard. Long Beach was also a Navy town, country was king. The various clubs competed for the best acts. “It was a hillbilly place,” Long Beach-based Billy Strange, who would later become a famed session guitarist as a Wrecking Crew member played there. “It smelled by soap, in the middle of nowhere by the Navy base. It was a little dive, but it was cooking, packed every night. Billy Strange went to a brand new club called the Western Corral on American Avenue. The owner of the B&J Rancho hired us. We rented a big house, no furniture, just party, party, party, on the corner of Elm and something. We developed a following. The offers started coming in from the clubs. The owner of the Western Corral called us. We were drawing people, so we listened to whoever had the best offer, we’ll take it.”

The late city council gadfly, Thomas Murphy said, “I opened the Western Corral, I had a partner, he never even drank until he met me. I put pictures of covered wagons on the wall. It’s where Acres Of Books is now,” the still-standing building, now empty. “We had a 14 piece girl band from Alaska. I remember one time they got up with sailors and marched up and down Pine Avenue and American Avenue. It cost me $500 to the policeman’s ball with Lawrence Welk.”

That’s when the Miss America pageant arrived and Flores moved on to Hollywood on the Pike. “Rock and roll was starting to come in, the trend was changing. Get rid of the cowboys hats and cowboy boots, same songs, nothing changed.

Murphy also had a piece of Hollywood on the Pike. “You had barkers out there screaming, big fans blowing up the women’s skirts, bells ringing, a noisy place. We did a lot of cooking, sold thousand pounds of shrimp. I think we invented hot dog on a stick. All the waitresses had to peel pounds of shrimp.”

“We went to the Silver Spur at the Robinson Hotel,” said Flores. “I was there for ten years. On Sunday afternoons, we did dance contests, we did rock and roll, Elvis Presley things.” Just doors away on Ocean, King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale, was discovered at the UA Theater as an Elvis emulator.

Flores signed on with Modern Records and recorded several singles like “Don’t Go Pretty Baby,” in the mold of Elvis, but nothing really sold. That’s where a talent scout from another record label showed up and changed the course of history for Danny Flores and for rock and roll.

The result, “Tequila” … and a Grammy.

steve@beachcomber.news

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