DANNY FLORES (aka CHUCK RIO)
Born Daniel Flores, 11 July 1929, Santa Paula, California
Danny Flores is probably better known under his stage name Chuck Rio, an original member of the Champs. Their # 1 hit “Tequila”, written by Flores and credited to Chuck Rio, is one of the best-known rock ’n’ roll instrumentals of all time.
Flores was born in July 1929, just a few months after his Mexican parents had migrated northwards to California. Life wasn’t easy during the Depression years. As a kid Danny toiled alongside his parents and hundreds of other Mexican field hands in the fruit fields of Ventura County. After a day’s hard work, the Mexicans would sit around the fire and take part in community singing, usually with guitar accompaniment. Danny soon learned to play guitar by observing the musicians and by the time he was ten, Flores had caught the music bug. Over the next five years he also learned to play the piano, the drums and the saxophone, the latter instrument being his first love. His primary influence as a sax player was the Sicilian-born jazzman Vido Musso.
In the late 1940s Flores moved to Long Beach, where he would live for most of his life. By 1952 he had formed his own quartet, the 3-D Ranch Boys, which included bass player Van Norman, who would later become one of the Champs, until his untimely death in a car crash in December 1958. The 3-D Ranch Boys played a variety of music genres - jazz, country, pop and Mexican music. Flores sang and played sax and piano. After cutting vocal singles for two Pasadena-based labels in 1955-56, Flores signed with Modern/RPM Records in Hollywood. At least seven titles were recorded during a session in Culver City in February 1957 (a mix of rock & roll and ballads), but initially only one single was released, “No Matter What You Do”/“Trying To Forget” (RPM 491). A few other songs (“Don’t Go Pretty Baby” - credited to “Danny Boy” - and "Bye Bye Baby” - credited to Chuck ’Tequila’ Rio) would later be issued on Modern’s new Kent imprint, after the success of “Tequila”.
In the summer of 1957, Flores teamed up with Dave Burgess, a singer/songwriter/guitarist who had already recorded extensively for several labels, most recently for the new Challenge label (initially billed as Dave Dupré). The pair hit it off and went out, briefly, as Danny and Dave, backed by Flores’ band. This group also began to do session work for Challenge. At the end of a Kuf-Linx session they stayed in the studio, fooling around with a few riffs that Burgess had improvised on the spot. Producer Joe Johnson (also co-owner of Challenge) liked what he heard and invited the five musicians to return on December 23, 1957, for a formal session. Most of the time was spent on “Train To Nowhere” (written by Burgess), the intended A-side of a single. Also recorded were “Night Beat” (included on the Champs’ first LP), "All Night Rock” (the tape of which has never been found) and, during the last 10 minutes of the session, a song that Flores had brought to the session, a Latin-styled ditty called “Tequila”. The song was recorded in three takes, with handclaps and vocal inter- jections (by Flores) overdubbed later. The group was dubbed the Champs and “Tequila” was credited to “Chuck Rio”, to avoid a conflict with Modern, where Flores was still under contract as a vocalist.
On January 9, 1958 the same team backed Burgess on a vocal disc, “Maybelle”, and six days later Challenge released the first single by the Champs, with “Train To Nowhere” as the plug side. However, disc jockeys soon discovered “Tequila” on the other side and on March 28, 1958, “Tequila” reached the # 1 position on the Billboard charts, staying there for five weeks. The song also spent four weeks at the top of the R&B charts and went on to win a Grammy for Best R&B performance of the year. Of course, this success created an enormous demand for personal appearances. Guitarist Buddy Bruce and bassist Cliff Hills had no desire to go on the road and were replaced by Dale Norris (guitar) and Joe Burnas (bass), the latter in his place soon replaced by Van Norman.
Conflicts between Flores and Burgess over leadership and the band’s musical direction led to Flores’s departure in June 1958. He was tired of the constant touring and thought he could earn as much playing clubs and doing session work in L.A. Flores was signed to a separate artist contract and had a few releases (as Chuck ‘Tequila’ Rio) on Challenge and its Jackpot subsidiary, which went nowhere. There were also instrumental singles on Jackpot, credited to “The Originals” and “Chuck Rio and the Originals”. But the Champs had found a new sax player (Jimmy Seals) who could reproduce Rio’s trademark “dirty” sax sound to a tee, so he was in effect competing with himself. The Champs would release 29 singles and four albums between 1958 and 1965 (all on Challenge) and scored several more hits after “Tequila”. Session work was the main source of income for Flores, who had signed away his rights to “Tequila”; it was not until the early 2000s that he finally received royalties, albeit only for sales in Europe.
Throughout the 1960s, Flores kept on recording as Chuck Rio, also briefly for his own Tequila label. In 1963 he teamed up with an instrumental band called the Persuaders, who came across like the Champs on speed. They recorded an LP for the Saturn label (“Surfer’s Nightmare”), credited to The Persuaders featuring Chuck ‘Tequila’ Rio. In 1970 a blood disorder directly linked to his abuse of alcohol landed Flores in hospital. With the support of his new wife Sharee (22 years his junior) he overcame his addiction. In the mid-1970s Danny and Sharee began performing as a duo ; they have appeared in Las Vegas and in prominent clubs all over the country. They and two other musicians also performed as Chuck Rio and the Champs in the 1980s and 1990s. Flores continued to perform across California until 2001, when his Parkinson’s disease worsened. He died in September 2006, aged 77, as a consequence of complications of pneumonia.
More info about the Champs :
CD : Chuck Rio - The Tequila Man (Ace CDCHD 688, 1998). 30 tracks from 1956-1964, five previously unissued. Liner notes by Rob Finnis.
Acknowledgements : Rob Finnis.
Dik, January 2017
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