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Al Reed’s Visit to SA Was a Flashback to the Past

Al Reed is among the last of the Mohicans when it comes to true Chicano rock’n’roll music legends.

This means the January 1958 Fox Tech High School graduate – born Albert Gonzales — preceded the Royal Jesters plus Little Joe and Sunny Ozuna, who with Isidro López are considered to be the “Founding Fathers of Tejano Music,” in recording his first single.

“My Padrino (Godfather) sparked my interest in music when he gave me a guitar and my first performance was when I sang Hank Williams’ ‘Jambalaya’ during a talent show at Ira Ogden Elementary School,” the 72-year-old vocalist said during an interview at Mi Tierra Café.

“I remember I would stand in front of the mirror with my guitar and pretend to be singing in front of an audience,” he continued.

There was still much discrimination against Americans of Mexican descent during the 1950s so the Anglo looking hazel-eyed vocalist, who admired blues musician Jimmy Reed took his last name and shorted his first name to become Al Reed.

In 1955, Mando and the Chili Peppers had their own radio show on KCOR and they invited Reed to perform live, but his band had broke up so he asked Rudy Treviño Gonzales, who headed the Reno Bops to back him up on a couple of rockabilly songs.

After he put a second band together again, he was invited to appear on the “Scratch Phillips” Monday night television show on KCOR-TV.

“I was sick with the flu,” Reed recalls. “And when he asked me for the name of my group, I said, ‘The Blue Notes because this morning I woke up with the blues.”

Reed, Joe “Moco” Sánchez, guitar; Felix Velásquez, bass; “Big” Ralph Sánchez, saxophone; and Raúl García on drums; made up the Blue Notes.

They, Rudy and the Reno Bops, the Lyrics, Sonny Ace and the Rhythm Rockers, later the Del-Sharps, would perform at high school teen canteens, the San Fernando Gym, the Fox Tech Gym, Patio Analuz, the Tiffany Lounge, the Tourist Club, Mr. Brown’s Cadillac Club on Navarro Street and the Fort Sam Houston NCO Club. Also the Northside Lounge, which was across from El Chamizal and La Cita Nightclub across from the Alameda Theater.

As Reed, Ace, who looked up to rhythm and blues singer Johhny Ace, went from Solís to Ace and changed his first name from Domingo to Sonny.

Those were also the days of Mike (Villa) and the Bel-Airs, Little Sammy Jay (Jaramillo) and the Tiffaniers plus Rickie (Arguello) and the Keys. The onda chicana came later. There was no chicano music in 1956. It was either rock’n’roll or rhythm and blues.

A showman at heart, during this period, Reed would wear red, green, yellow, baby-blue colored suits and blue suede shoes, long sideburns and a pompadour.

“I wanted to be a big star so I went to see Bob Tanner, owner of TNT Records and convinced him to record me. However, it was for one side of a single. I wrote ‘I Love Her So’ and Sonny Ace wrote and recorded ‘Darling of Mine.’

The 5-feet-8-inch tall songwriter’s inspiration for this 1957 tune was his then-girlfriend, Annie “Maybellene” Garza.

That single became a double-sided regional hit and it was picked up by Dot Records whose roster included Pat Boone, Eddie Fisher, Liberace, the Mills Brothers and years later, Barbara Mandrell and Freddy Fender. This turned Reed and Ace’s single into a national hit.

This is the same year when Rudy Tee recorded “Cry, Cry” as a 78 rpm single for Rio Records.

At the height of his success, Reed decided to move to California and he asked Annie to make the move with him. However, her father wouldn’t hear of it.

“He relented when my mother told him, ‘Let them or they’re going to elope.’ I was 15 and he was 19 when we got married and left that same night,” said his wife of 42 years.

Marriage plus the birth of JoAnn and Sandra brought his musical career to an end. However, that didn’t stop him from getting up on stage and sing with different bands and stay in touch with his 1950s colleagues throughout the years.

When the Dell Kings – Randy Garibay, Cleto Escobedo, Frank Rodarte and Richard Garza — moved to California, they stayed at Reed’s home in Santa Ana.

Last week, Rudy Tee and promoter Juan Mendoza presented Reed with a plaque in recognition for his musical contributions. Reed’s wife, Annie, his daughter JoAnn, his grand-daughter Kristal and Rudy’s wife Linda were in attendance during this plaque presentation from Henry Parrilla and the Citizens of San Antonio.

For those readers who are lost in the ‘50s, there are plans to have an Edgewood Canteen Reunion of stars featuring Sunny and the Sunliners, Joe Bravo, Bobby Mack of the Sunglows and Rudy Tee. More on that as information becomes available.