A number of the greatest rock n’ roll riffs begin as a fluke. The three notes that became the “Satisfaction” sequence recorded by an inebriated Keith Richards as he fell asleep. Johnny Greenwood’s heavily distorted chord that interrupts the calm of Radiohead’s first hit, “Creep.” The open string progression of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”.
Our time in Mexico last week left us with a bit of a knowledge hangover. We explored a mezcal museum, spirits made with chicken, mezcal's craft distillation credentials, the worm, and stars that own tequila brands. Here are a few more things we learned related to the country's spirits:
- Is the Margarita an English Cocktail?
- Mixing Mezcal with Mariachi
But perhaps no rock song became so unexpectedly popular so fast as the 1958 Mexican-spirit-themed smash, “Tequila”.
A crew of five musicians came together in glamorous Hollywood two days before Christmas in 1957 to record an album on country cowboy star Gene Autry’s label, Challenge Records. After recordings for the three songs the group had originally congregated for were etched in vinyl, they launched into a jam whose melody was arranged by the saxophonist of Mexican parents, Danny Flores.
With a simple two-chord opening progression and a pseudo-mambo beat, the jam became a B-side for one of the other songs and the recording, along with its salacious sax solo and one word interjection, almost sunk completely into obscurity as the album’s A-side did not performed as hoped.
It wasn’t until a DJ on the other side of the country - in unglamorous Cleveland no less - gave the B-side some airtime that the impromptu holiday season jam took off. “Tequila” reached the top of the charts in March of 1958.
The group of musicians, who had enjoyed playing together so much that California winter day, had formed the band The Champs - named after Autrey’s horse, Champion - a month after the jingle bell jam session. With a surprise hit on their hands, a song that turned out to be their only hit, the Champs set to the touring circuit, appearing on the May 3 Saturday Night Beechnut Show where a sprightly Dick Clarke presented The Champs who belted out the two-minute jam right after Chuck Berry played his now famous Johnny B. Goode.
“Tequila” proved so popular at the time that it beat out Berry’s eternal B. Goode guitar riff to take home the Best Rhythm & Blues Performance at the first annual Grammy Awards in 1959.
Take a look as Flores plays his dirty sax and exults “Tequila!” on Dick Clarke’s variety show.