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Excerpts from ©"Dog Town Days and Romancer Nights"
Up Coming Book By Max Uballez
It was 1961 I was working as an Upholsterer and I thought I’d spend my life with a mouth full of tacks. I would just play gigs on the weekends around town for extra cash. When I met Billy Cardenas he was hustling trying to break into the music business. He was a hard worker and we achieved much together. I looked to him as my big brother and trusted him as such. Together we launched what could be called a "rock n roll renaissance" in the barrios of East Los Angeles. It all began with my Mother and Ritchie Valens. Today they call it the “East Side Sound”. It feels good to know that someone noticed what we did and gave it a name. For me it was a wonderful time and I was a kid in a candy store.
I enjoyed singing but I never intended to enter the music business. Richard Provincio and I would perform at small parties. Richard played guitar and sax and I played rhythm guitar and sang. In the beginning it was just the two of us. Without a drummer, I developed a percussive style of playing guitar to compensate and accentuate the rhythms. This would later be called the “Chunka Chunka Rhythm Guitar” of the Romancers band. I also did gigs around town working with many different musicians. No formal groups or bands. I always loved music but composing, recording and producing records was something that I never dreamed of doing.
I decided to make a record for my Mother as a gift for Mothers day. Billy Cardenas had been hounding me to be my personal manager so he could make me the next Ritchie Valens. I had no desire to be an independent recording artist or the next Ritchie Valens. I wanted to record one recording for my Mother. We decided I should put together a band and work towards a record deal. We needed a name to work under and put on flyers and business cards. Something that was marketable. I decided to call the band The Romancers. Billy and I formed a partnership to promote The Romancers band. I figured I could earn some extra cash on weekends and work towards creating one record for my mother. We had a name I would put together a band as needed.
We soon realized that finding work for The Romancers was difficult. Most promoters only used bands that they managed. I formed The Romancerettes a girls club to promote dances featuring The Romancers. The Romancerettes were the promotional arm for the Romancers band. Our first dance and show was at the GiGi hall in Lincoln Heights the year was 1962.
Little did we know that this alliance intended to create work for ourselves? Would set in motion a grass roots movement for bands in the barrios of East Los Angeles that would evolve and grow.
“into a network of layers that supported each other." a creative ecosystem that "included musicians, youth social clubs, and community business owners (tailors, photographers, records stores) "each contributing much needed "financial support to the local economy.” (CHICANO SOUL Recordings & History of an American Culture by Ruben Molina pg55)
The Romancers band was a brand name that I worked under. I didn't have a bunch of gigs to guarantee work for a band. In the beginning The Romancer’s core band was Max Uballez vocals and Rhythm Guitar, Richard Provincio Lead guitar and Sax, David Brill Drums and Manuel Rodriguez Bass. These are the guys I would call first when I had a gig. The live line up was ever changing. I would embellish the group as needed. There was no allegiance to The Romancers or me. It was a free market and they came and went as they wished. When they were not available I would pull from the pool of musicians that I had worked with to fill the spots. I was always the leader of the Romancers band the band members were ever changing on live performances.
With this group of musicians I recorded. ‘You’d Better”, "Rock Little Darlin’’’, “I Found a New Love” with Robert and Rey," I’m Leaving it All Up To You” with The Heartbreakers and “Rock Little Darlin”. I recorded "Rock Little Darlin" in Cucamonga, Ca. at Frank Zappa and Paul Buffs studio. We soon developed a working relationship and I became interested in producing records. I returned to Cucamonga to record “Cradle Rock” and “Everytime I See You” with the Heart Breakers. For this session I used Frank Zappa on lead guitar on his composition “Everytime I See You”. Whoever played with me was on stage or in the studio was a Romancer. So you could say Frank Zappa was a Romancer for a day. Thanks Frank.
We were the only band at our first shows so we played all night. It was not difficult as I had a large pool of musicians to draw from. I would integrate other musicians into our set and I used them as needed for gigs. There were times that we had 10 or more musicians and on the stage. You might call it a controlled music jam. I used this rotating musician system through the Romancers band to eventually develop other groups. The Romancers became a Musical boot camp for what is now called “The East Side Sound”.
Things took off when “You Better” by Maximilian, broke on KFWB. The name Maximilian now had a market value. I began to promote the band as Maximilian and his recording Romancers Band. Nothing had changed but the name that we promoted.
As the musicians flowed through the Romancers they absorbed our style and we organized them into other bands. Richard Provencio, Frankie Garcia, Billy Watson, and Johnny Diaz were the sometimes core alternate Romancers band. They would become The Rhythm Playboys. Frankie ‘Cannibal” Garcia would eventually form Cannibal and the Head Hunters. Joe Whiteman and Billy Watson joined the Premiers. Billy Watson, George Avila also played with the Summits. Billy Watson also worked with me in the studio and would eventually engineer and produce Viva Tirado for El Chicano.
I also trained vocal groups Benny and Joe Rodriguez became The Heartbreakers, Sal Murello and Margie Cabrera became Sal and Margie; Sal Murello, would become the lead singer for The Blendells and record on Reprise Records. The Sisters recorded on Del-Fi records, Ersi Arvizu of the Sisters would join El Chicano. Yolanda Lea would sign with Smash records.
Ice Cream Changes
I am a self-taught musician so I do not read music. The Romancers could be called a garage band because we didn’t use charts or read music. I developed a simplified system to communicate as we rotated the musicians through our show. I arranged the majority of the songs into to two basic formats. The majority our ballads were four chord changes so I called them “Ice Cream Changes” and all they needed to know was the key and they could step in and play along. Sometimes I would do medleys of oldies that were fifteen to twenty minutes long using "Ice Cream Changes" and changing keys. I used three chords for all the blues type tunes and the up-tempo Chuck Berry type tunes. I would say “Berry Changes” and the key count it off and away we would go. I would set the rhythms with my guitar strum. This chord simplification for convenience sake along with the creation of my own rhythms would contribute to the foundation of “The East Side Sound”. “The Slauson Shuffle” was a three-chord change and would provide the template for The Premiers “Farmer John”. I wasn’t trying to develop a sound or style I just played the songs the way I felt them. I didn’t own a record player nor could I afford to purchase records to learn. So I would learn songs from the radio and sit down and play them from memory. I got most of the lyrics correct but I was making the music fit my feel. I was adapting the music to my style.
The Cost Of Education
We recorded a “You’d Better” demo for Bob Keane at Del-Fi records several months prior recording “You’d Better for Magic Circle Records. Bob never us called back so we decided to go to Magic Circle Records. After hearing “You’d Better” on KFWB released by Magic Circle Records, Bob Keane called Billy and said we had every intention of working with us and that we had a verbal agreement. He wanted me at Del-Fi. Billy went to explain this to Magic Circle and they pulled “You’d Better off the air. I recorded “Rock Little Darlin’” my adaptation of a Ritchie Valens song. Bob Keane released “Rock Little Darlin’” on Donna records it went on KFWB and then the stuff hit the fan. I guess Billy did not tell Magic Circle that I was going to record for Del-Fi and Bob Keane. I always let Billy handle the business and interaction with the record companies. So I really don’t know what happened when Billy talked with Magic Circle. When the dust settled I was restricted from recording as a vocalist for five years.
I had achieved my goal and I had recorded a record for my Mother. I could continue to do gigs and be an upholsterer. So why fight it? I am not good at playing the victim and this made me look like a victim and that angered me. I was not comfortable with the door to recording being slammed in my face. I called Bob Keane and shared my feelings, "I can't record as a vocalist, I have a band let me record a couple instrumentals" I said to him. He said "okay kid bring your band in let’s see what you can do". Bob scheduled a four hour session and he didn’t even ask what I intended to record. He only gave me a few days to prepare. I was not ready to record but the door was now open and I needed to run through it.
I just realized something. I called Bob Keane the president of Del-Fi records the guy who discovered Ritchie Valens. I demanded a recording session and "I got it". Without an audition! We had come a long way from the GiGi hall in just a few months and I was working on a first name basis with Bob Keane. Little did we know that this action would inspire a music movement in East Los Angeles?
I put together a new set of Romancers for this instrumental. I decided to go with a with a smooth Latin Jazz Sax, Richard Provincio was not available so I decided to use a Freddy King Telecaster sound adding a cow bell for a Latin flavor. I composed “The Slauson Shuffle” and “All Aboard”. I used Manuel Mosequeda (drums) Chris Pacual (Bass) Armando Mora (Saxophone) And Andy Tesso (Lead Guitar) and I played rhythm. We had just rehearsed the songs just once but these guys were so good that we completed the recording in less that a half an hour.
In the sound booth after listening to the playback, Bob looked at me with a big smile and he said “What Else You Got Kid?”. The truth is I had nothing but I didn’t tell him that. The door was still open and I needed to take advantage of it. We had three and a half hours of studio time. I went back into the room and began putting things together. Every musician has what I call warm up riffs like doing vocal scales. I took their warm up riffs arranged them, added a few bars and a couple of solos and they got credit as composers. It was all their stuff I just organized and arranged it. “Huggies Bunnys” was a scale that Andy played to warm up I expanded it and we had a track. All the musicians I worked with were accustomed to me bringing in new music for gigs. I would hum their parts to them and we would play it that night. So this was not a stretch to do this in the studio. They were all great musicians. We recorded “Do The Slauson” album in about four hours. When it was released things exploded in East L.A. “Do The Slauson” was the first album released by an Eastside Band and that time it was a big thing in East Los Angeles.
“Jimmy Meza of the Atlantics recalls working with Max Uballez on the recording of Beaver Shot a minor hit for the Atlantics in 1965, “I remember exactly where we recorded Beaver Shot. We went to a mansion up in Pomona and in one of the rooms they had all of this recording equipment. Well, Max (Uballez) made it up right there on the spot. He voiced out the parts for the bass player, then he had me follow him on the guitar, then he told the horns what to do. I swear he created it right there on the spot.” (CHICANO SOUL Recordings & History of an American Culture by Ruben Molina page 56)
“Made in less than five hours, the Slauson Shuffle remains one of the most complete rock‘n’roll albums ever recorded by an Eastside band. It exceeds its modest ambitions - an LP for teenagers to dance to - by offering songs that even sound good when the party’s over.”
...David Reyes & Tom Waldman May 1998, from LAND OF A THOUSAND DANCES Chicano Rock “n” Roll from Southern California
EVERYBODY SLAUSON!!! is the shout heard everywhere as this new dance spreads from its birthplace in Los Angeles...The command to drop everything and Slauson begins the liner notes to a 1963 release on the Del-Fi label by the Romancers, a barrio band that happened to be king of the East Los Angeles sound. They were the first band in the area to record and album and in 1963 that was a big thing.
...Peter Gilstrap October 1997, New Times Los Angeles
I’m Gonna Miss You
“El Monte Legion Stadium, Saturday Night. Max Uballez and his recording Romancers band, Saturday night.”
The ad ran on radio station KRLA. I didn’t know it at the time but this ad was the tolling of the bell and foretold the end of my partnership with Billy Cardenas. Due to a personal dispute that Billy had with the promoter Hal Zager, Billy Cardenas decided to cancel the El Monte Legion Stadium engagement at the last moment. I disagreed with Billy I wanted to fulfill our obligations. Billy deciding to cancel a gig at the last minute, showed me how much Billy had changed and that concerned me. My friend and partner had become a dictator. As a result of this situation, Billy and I split and I continued with The Romancers at El Monte Legion Stadium. Andy Tesso and Armando Mora chose leave with Billy and never worked with me again. We had been planning a tour with Ray Charles to promote the “Slauson Shuffle” the tour was just around the corner. This breakup with Billy hit me hard and I didn’t have the spirit to rebuild the band for a tour.
There I was again looking at the road ahead and wondering if I should continue. We had developed a movement and I enjoyed being part of that achievement. I never enjoyed performing and I had begun working with Billy to make one record for my Mother. I had achieved that goal so why go on? Billy had become the face of our partnership and took the credit for all we achieved. He had become the East L.A. music mogul. That was okay with me. We all that knew we would never work in East L.A. again do to Billy’s influence. I will always appreciate these guys for staying with me and supporting me. Me, Manuel Mosqueda, Chris Pascual and Jimmy Pascual continued as the featured house band at the El Monte Legion Stadium. We worked with Chuck Berry, Little Stevie Wonder, The Motown Review, Johnny Guitar Watson, The Four Seasons and more. We did some gigs out at Rainbow Gardens in Pomona.
“Romancers played a number of gigs at the Rainbow Gardens. For Eddie Davis seeing Max and The Romancers perform was nothing short of a musical revelation. They confirmed what he had suspected about Chicanos and rock ‘n’ roll. “When Max and his guys came to the Rainbow Gardens, then I heard my sound,” Davis said.... The Romancers were playing rock ‘n’ roll the only way they knew how. Without attempting to develop a sound, they developed a sound, at least in the opinion of an “outsider” named Eddie Davis. After hearing the Romancers, Davis spent the rest of his career, indeed the rest of his life, trying to recreate his definition of Chicano rock ‘n’ roll and Chicano R&B in the studio.
...David Reyes & Tom Waldman...May 1998, from LAND OF A THOUSAND DANCES
Chicano Rock “n” Roll from Southern California UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS
Working with Paul Buff and Frank Zappa in Cucamonga had peaked my interest in producing records and writing songs. My focus shifted from playing live shows to recording. I went to work with Bill Lazurus at Crown records. Setting up the studio, producing and recording tracking vocals for Jerry Kole and other cover artists on the Crown records label.
Soon after my split with Billy, Eddie Davis called me. He wanted my help in recording The Premiers he wanted that “Romancers Sound”.
"Max, was the man behind the curtain". George Delgado......The Premiers
So I started working with Eddie in the studio. I really enjoyed working in the studio producing. Watching the artists go out there and succeed holding their records in my hand, hearing them on the radio. Knowing I was a part of that creation was most important to me. I preferred being in the background. I could see a future in this. Eddie asked me why I was only recording instrumentals. I explained that I could not record as a vocalist due to legal problems. Eddie said “Max Uballez cannot record as a featured vocalist but I think it is okay if he sings for The Romancers band". Eddie gave me a legal loophole to jump through and I took it.
Talk a little bit about Max Uballez. He seems to play an important part on your records. You named a record label after his wife, Linda.
Max Uballez was an extremely talented musician. He was the leader of the Romancers, Billy Cardenas’ first group. He was just great. I made a lot of mistakes with Max. He wrote songs like crazy. He had a song for everybody and everything. He could coordinate for me because I’m not a good musical producer in the sense of bringing the musicians together. He knew how to get things out of them.....Eddie Davis, Rampart Records October 1992, from The East Side Sound liner notes.......Dionysus Records.
In the 1960s, Max Uballez was a rare commodity in Chicano rock and roll from Southern California; a homegrown songwriter. Max wrote songs for the Romancers, his own group, for Cannibal and the Headhunters (Land of 1000 Dances), The Premiers (Farmer John). Rampart Records Eddie Davis, the leading producer of Chicano rock and roll at that time, would come to rely on Max's creativity the way Berry Gordy relied on Smokey Robinson at Motown. Max produced and arranged Cannibal and the Headhunters famous recording of "Land of a 1000 Dances," complete with the "Na Na Na Na Na" opening.......Tom Waldman..review "Me and You I Do" 2016
My deal with Eddie was simple and made on handshake. I would retain all my rights to my masters and my publishing. He would release my Romancer Recordings on Linda Records (named for my wife Linda) Linda Records was mine. I felt I could trust Eddie and most importantly this would provide an outlet for my music. He had offered me the pathway to sing on record again, compose and produce my own music. I didn’t want to get tied up in contracts again. I was writing songs and they were not of any use stacked in a drawer or locked in a closet. I could provide songs for all of the Rampart records artists.
Cris and Jimmy Pascual left the band when we completed our engagement at El Monte Legion. I put together a new Romancers band. Bob (Albert) Hernandez, Manuel Rodriquez, Manuel Mosqueda, Ralph Ventura and Caesar Valverde. The recording Romancers, of course I played Rhythm Guitar and did all our lead vocals. They all sang background vocal harmonies. I later added Johnny Diaz on rhythm guitar and background vocals. So I could spend more time in the recording booth producing the Romancer Records. The Recording Romancers band on Linda Records could play anything I asked. I will always appreciate them. Ralph Ventura did the lead vocal on "Dance With Me" on the second Blendels release on Reprise records backed by the Romancers.
I worked with Eddie using the style he desired, his "Sound" for the East side groups. With The Romancers I was free to experiment and record what ever I wished. I could go to the studio when ever I wanted. The Romancer recordings on Linda cover a wide breath of styles. The band sounds different on each recording. These guys could play anything. I hear now that the Romancers records on Linda are a collector’s item. This band deserves to be recognized for their work. These guys were just great. It pleases me to know someone enjoys our music. I thank you record collectors for keeping what we did alive. We only recorded one cover song on Linda. Tony Valdez gave me a record by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua "My Heart Cries". He suggested we learn it. The lyrics reminded me of the Spanish Rancheras, love as big as the universe. I wanted to record it using Mariachi violins but we did not have a budget for that. So I developed two background vocal lines that intertwined like lovers and as usual these guys came through in the studio. Eddie Davis was a Romancer on background vocals also, we Romancerized "My Heart Cries".
“My Heart Cries” was originally recorded as a duet by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua. The Romancers’ version has a lovely, floating feel, accomplished by Max Uballez’ lead vocal, the mix of British invasionlike harmonies, a melodic guitar riff, and pounding drums. “My Heart Cries” is quite simply one of the best records - ballads or otherwise - ever made by an East L.A. group. It is everything that Chicano rock ‘n’ roll musicians have tried to do for the past 40 years.
...David Reyes & Tom Waldman...November 1997, from Brown Eyed Soul vol 2 liner notes RHINO R2 72869
“The Romancers remake of My Heart Cries a song previously recorded by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, made am impact on the local charts. A tune about the universal power of love that the Romancers worked into what some could argue is the greatest two minutes and twenty-seven seconds to come out of East Los Angeles.” (CHICANO SOUL Recordings & History of an American Culture by Ruben Molina pg 56)
The Ritchie Valens Factor
A Romancer by night, I worked as an upholsterer by day. I will never forget the moment I heard “You’d Better” on the radio for the first time.
An upholsterer fills his mouth with sterilized tacks and transfers the tacks directly onto a magnetized hammer. It is similar to splitting sunflower seeds in your mouth and spitting out the shells. It is called spitting tacks, yet there is no spitting involved. You raise the hammer to your mouth, place the tack on the magnetized head, and then drive the tack into the wood frame. This is done so the upholsterer can hold the fabric in place with his other hand. There I was at work, with a mouth full of tacks, when I heard the disc jockey announce, “and here’s one that’s headed for the charts! Maximilian says “You’d Better.” Time stood still. With a mouth full of tacks and a heart filled with joy, I felt the doorway to success swing open. My eyes filled with tears. I froze on the spot. Immobilized, I stood there with tears streaming down my cheeks. Everyone stopped work and stared at me standing there, pointing to the radio, tears flowing, unable to speak. I wondered why they changed my name.
Radio Station KFWB held weekly meetings to discuss new programming. Our promotion man Russ Regan played “You’d Better” for consideration and there was a unanimous vote to add it to their play list. When the program director looked at the record and read Max Uballez on the label he hesitated. Max Uballez was too ethnic and stood in the way of our getting airplay. Quick thinking promotion man had the secretary type a label to cover my name and I became Maximilian. “You’d Better” by Maximilian was released on Magic Circle Records. It went on the play list on radio station KFWB the first day it was released. I was a minority like Ritchie Valens now I understood Billy’s, Ritchie Valens obsession. Until then was unaware of the doors closed to Mexican minority’s.
I would characterize the East L.A. sound as this shuffly rhythm guitar thing that Max Uballez, as far as I’m concerned, invented. Even Thee Midnighters used it. You weren’t playing East L.A. rock and roll unless you had that....Tony Valdez...Reporter and host of KTTV’s Midday Sunday show Los Angeles.
We had started a movement and generated income for our community. We opened the doors to Major Record Labels and Top Forty Radio Stations and my Mother got her Record. My upholstery days were over and my work in the Entertainment Industry was just beginning...........
Max Uballez ©2016 All rights Reserved--Chuy de Cabra Books
Excerpts from Dog Town Days and Romancer Nights, Up Coming Book By Max Uballez