Monday, September 28, 2009
The Village Callers were one of the best bands in East Los Angeles in the late 60s. They were also arguably the first band with members with roots in the "Eastside Sound" of the early to mid-60s to utilize Latin percussion. Their repertoire was a mix of r&b, Latin, and Latin jazz. They recorded an album in 1968 for Eddie Davis' Rampart Records called "The Village Callers Live." The album included an instrumental with a Latin jazz feel named after their manager called "Hector," which did very well at the time and has become one of the Eastside Sound's classic recordings. It's been reissued on several compilations, used in movies, and sampled by artists such as Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys. "The Village Callers Live" has also been reissued on the Vampisoul record label, which is based in Spain and internationally distributed, and on Barrio Gold Records, based in Japan. The Village Callers also have the distinction of having recorded a Latin rock version of "Evil Ways" before Santana.
The Village Callers were born out of a band in East L.A. called Marcy & the Imperials. Marcy Alvarado was a bluesy singer, guitarist, and band leader. (Marcy went on to get a masters degree from U.C.L.A, but passed away in the late 70s.) Gradually, Marcy & the Imperials evolved into the Village Callers, and the new members brought different influences into the mix. Ernie Hernandez (guitar) loved the music and style of guitarist Wes Montgomery. Johnny Gonzalez was into the blues organ style of Jimmy Smith. The music of Latin artists such as Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo were also added to the brew. With the new lineup in place they could play Latin, Latin jazz, rhythm & blues, and oldies but goodies. They became very popular in East Los Angeles, playing all the top venues such as the Big Union Hall, Roger Young Auditorium, and Montebello Ballroom. They also enjoyed a long run at the Plush Bunny nightclub in Pico Rivera, despite the fact they were underage. The Village Callers were an extremely dedicated band. They rehearsed five days a week, five hours a day. Already out of high school at this point, they also had a no drinking or smoking rule.
The manager of the Village Callers, Hector Rivera, knowing that the band was ready to record, invited producer and record company owner Eddie Davis to come and hear the band at the Plush Bunny. Eddie loved the band and wanted to do a "live" album recorded right there at the Plush Bunny where they were creating such excitement. The band's lineup on the record was Joe Espinosa (bass), Charles Masten (congas & sax), Johnny Gonzalez (organ & piano), Manuel Fernandez (drums & timbales), Ernie Hernandez (guitar), "Fuzzy" Martinez (sax), and Angie Bell (lead vocals). The Village Callers recorded most of their album, The Village Callers Live, in one night. It was recorded very simply with a few overhead microphones and a live mix. The band did go into a studio and record a few songs, including the classic break 45 "Hector." To add fatness to the record, the bass parts were tripled. The song wound up being so long that it was divided into "Hector Part 1" and "Hector Part 2" for the single. "Hector"-- with its hip Latin groove and Fuzzy's comedic spoken word contribution--caught on in East L.A. and began to get airplay on the big time am radio stations in Los Angeles.
Aside from the classic "Hector," the album also featured a heavy version of Willie Bobo's "Evil Ways," which was enjoying a lot of airplay, particularly in San Francisco. Word later got to them that Santana's producer heard their version on the radio and got Santana to record it. And that was that. (For further reading check out Mark Guerrero's website)