March 17

This Day in History

Music

Mar 17, 1958:

The Champs' "Tequila" is the #1 song on the U.S. pop charts

Written on the spot and recorded as an afterthought near the end of a session at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, the song—"Tequila" —hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart on March 17, 1958. It was the Champs' one, and only, pop hit. Half a century later, this accidental, one-word classic still sounds as fresh and irresistible as it did to the long-forgotten Cleveland disk jockey who rescued it from the cutout bin of history.

The reason "Tequila" needed rescuing is that it was never really intended to be a hit. It was recorded rather hastily one afternoon in December 1957 to fill the B-side of a single called "Train to Nowhere," by Dave Burgess. Burgess was a minor rockabilly guitarist in the Los Angeles area whose day job was as an A&R man with Gene Autry's fledgling record label, Challenge. After a session of laying down instrumental tracks for the country singer Jerry Wallace's next album on Challenge, a frugal Dave Burgess decided to use the leftover studio time to record his own B-side. It was not uncommon at the time for B-sides to be devised in the studio from some or other riff contributed by a session musician, and this one would be no exception. Saxophonist Danny Flores contributed the now-familiar melody and vaguely Latin, syncopated rhythm. He also contributed the low, growling vocal line, "Tequila," without which the song might truly have remained the throwaway it was intended to be.

It was only after the "Tequila" session that the musicians present that day came up with a name for themselves, inspired by the name of Gene Autry's horse, Champion. It was also after that session that Danny Flores came up with the pseudonym "Chuck Rio," under which he was given the songwriting credit on "Tequila." None of this would have mattered, however, had a Cleveland DJ not decided to "flip" the flop called "Train to Nowhere" one day in the winter of 1958 and treat his listeners to the first broadcast of "Tequila," which in short order went on to become one of the biggest B-side hits in rock-and-roll history and a #1 hit for the Champs on this day in 1958.

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