In my youth, in the interests of conviviality and scientific research into plant biology, intoxication and rock and roll excess I developed quite a taste for the distilled beverage of the blue agave plant otherwise known as Tequila.
I soon discovered that if you wanted fuel to impel you to leave the earth’s orbit and achieve a speedy exit from the tedious demands of sobriety before entering the welcoming arms of drunkenness there was no drink to match Tequila.Embed from Getty Images
I also discovered, as I deepened my research, that John Steinbeck in, ‘Tortilla Flat’ had very accurately delineated the journey a seasoned Tequila drinker takes as the bottle is drained. First a period of serious and concentrated conversation (which you always wish you had written down the next day) followed by the evocation of a series of sweetly sad memories.
Next, thoughts of old and unsatisfactory loves before the mind inevitably turns to thoughts of bitter loves. Recovering, you then move on to a general and undirected sadness at the state of the world before tumbling into a black, unholy, despondency.
Soon you begin to sing a song filled with longing for love or for death (if you’re Irish you have a deep treasury of such songs to draw on!) and then before you lose the power to sing or indeed to talk at all you launch into a verse or two of every song you’ve ever known while loudly encouraging all around you to do the same.
You are convinced as you unsteadily make your way home that there has never been such a glorious night of music and conversation since the heady days of Paris in the 1920s.
Dimly, in the morning, you recall that you had insisted on playing one record on the Jukebox seventeen times and orchestrating the mass singalong of that song’s title with relentless enthusiasm. The song was, of course, the ever intoxicating, ‘Tequila’ by The Champs – a Billboard Pop and R&B Number One from 1958.
Picture the scene. You’re in a bar in Texas or just across the Mexican border. The kind of bar where as you enter its Stygian interior you fear you have just lost the power of sight. But, somewhere in the deep shadows you can make out the figure of a burlesque dancer on a stage at the very back. And, behind the dancer a band seemingly comprised of recently released desperadoes adorned with knife scars who are here while they lay plans for their next bank heist.
It’s the kind of bar where everyone has a story to tell if you’ve got the money to fill their glass just one more time. Stories that might just be true and which you will store up to claim as your own on another Tequila night. Stories that you overhear while the band blast out a thrillingly vulgar tribute to the magical powers of Tequila – no words needed of course beyond the thrice repeated title. Tequila! Tequila! Tequila!
Tequila was a ‘B’ side and it may be the best ‘B Movie’ B side ever made. It was recorded just before Christmas in 1957 for the Californian Challenge label owned at the time by Hollywood Cowboy Hero Gene Autry. ‘Tequila’ was actually an afterthought to a session intended to find a hit for rockabilly singer Dave Burgess.
The session band included the Flores Trio of Danny Flores on Sax, Gene Alden on drums and Buddy Bruce on guitar with Cliff Hills on bass supporting Burgess on rhythm guitar and vocals.
They laid down Burgess’ own song, ‘Train to Nowhere’ and versions of, ‘Night Beat’ and, ‘All Night Rock’ before they rounded off the session by running down a tune written by Danny Flores featuring an entrancing mambo beat and a down and dirty sax solo topped off with irresistible shouts (from Flores) of Tequila!
Tequila was issued as the B side of Train to Nowhere but radio DJs soon recognised that it was Tequila that had the magic ingredients that make for a big fat hit. The Number One spot, sales of more than a million and a Grammy all followed as the world drank deep of Danny Flores immortal tune.
Danny Flores had grown up in Long Beach California and had taken on something of the mantle of a Mexican Hillbilly as he played the local blue collar bars. Mexican Hillbilly or proto Latino Rock, ‘Tequila’ was played with love night after night for decade after decade by Danny Flores until he died in 2006.
Danny knew that on some nights what you really need to light up your life can be summed up in a single word (All Together Now!) Tequila!
Great writing, Thom. Remind me to steer clear of the tequilla — even if I do still love a Margerita!
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My tequila days are long gone! Thom.
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