Whatever Happened to Sunny (Youngs)?
Published October 7, 2012 | By Ramón Hernández
Le Grand is now on national television and we have unable to locate Ruth. However, Sunny is back in San Antonio as Laura Youngs and last month the Houston-born Air Force brat came to the Hispanic Entertainment Archives to give us her story.
Sunny grew up in Canada, McConnell AFB in Kansas and Amarillo Air Force Base watching musical on television and going to concerts with her mother, Jackie. At eight her father, Pat Youngs, relocated his family to San Antonio before departing for Viet Nam.
“As for my early influences, my mom loved taking me to see Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones and others,” Sunny recalled.
“I remember swaying on a swing set singing “It Must Be Him” in 1966. Then my mom took me to Joske’s where Vikki Carr was signing autographs. Then we went to her concert where she asked me to come onstage and afterwards, backstage. So she was a big influence on me.”
Here she attended St. Peter’s Catholic School, where, after her coach suggested she learned to play an instrument, she learned to play guitar. And by twelve, she was able to play most church songs and wrote her own tunes.
“They were mostly love songs because that’s when you’re young and in love – you’re not pissed off yet,” she said with a laugh.
By the time she reached sixteen, Sunny, whose real name is Laura, was performing in coffee houses.
“One evening I was at a quinceanera and one of the musicians was flirting with me. So he let me sit in and sing ‘Shaky You Booty’ and I’m sure I shook my booty too. The result is that by the end of the night, he had hired me as the lead singer for Danny Martínez and RPM.
“The first two Spanish-languages tunes I sang were ‘Y Volvere’ and ‘Cuando Caliente el Sol,’ but I didn’t have a clue as to what I was singing. I didn’t record, but through him, I met and sang with George Rivas, George Prado, Clifford Scott and Sauce González plus the Felix Solís and Ramiro Cervera orchestras.”
At twenty, Laura became engaged to a U.S. Marines pilot and after he died, she was too heartbroken her songwriting days came to an end.
Life goes on for those left behind and along the way, she went to London, where she sang with Charlie Watts and met Keith Richards. In 1988, the then telephone company employee decided to go to Acapulco for a well-earned vacation. While there, she jammed with bands and orchestras at the various hotels and clubs singing Spanish tunes.
“I’m very spontaneous. So when I came back I quit my day job, sold my car and moved to Acapulco. I knew I have no job waiting for me, but I had that passion and a lot of confidence,” Laura continued.
The first door she knocked on was that of Juan De Pablos at the Hyatt Regency and he was skeptical of the Anglo blue-eyed blonde. That is, until Laura followed him up to the hotel’s ballroom where the Marcario Luviano Orchestra was playing. Little did De Pablos realize that Luviano and Laura had previously met and she had sold him with her interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” when she sat in with him during her vacation?
“When Macario saw me, he asked me to come up on stage and sing. Nightclub owner (now vice president of the Acapulco Association of Discoteques) Tony Rullan and his wife Linda were also there. I got out four lines of ‘Sabor A Mi’ and got a standing ovation. Juan even stopped smoking his cigar and when I got off I went up to him and said, ‘Do you still want to audition me?’
“I was so cocky. The end result is that I was set up with a suite overlooking the ocean and I sang two years, mostly in Spanish, with the Macario Luviano Orchestra at the Hyatt, who played an instrumental version of ‘Laura’ as my introduction.
“In some ways, that was the best time of life because I got to sing what I wanted and in Mexico, people love their music. Unlike jazz, everyone would clap and women would give me their earring.
“My Spanish was not fluent, but just being immersed in it and loving the language, it then came overnight. Again, I didn’t get to record, but that wasn’t even a factor because you’re in Acapulco where you look out the window and you sing, ‘life is good.’
After her stint at the Hyatt, Laura had a say so in how they designated a new club named Antigua where she also became the featured act. After she tired of the ocean paradise, she moved to Mexico City.
“It Chilangolandia and the whole onda was different. I remember sitting in a lounge and jamming with such singers as Marco Antonio Solís, Óscar Chávez, Chamin Correa and others until the sun came up, but everything was who you know; and after three months it was time to come home.
When Laura came back in 1990, she was greeted with a banner that read, ‘Welcome Back Laura.’ She jammed with the Sauce González and Jack Barber bands. Than Albert Esquivel became her booking agent, she got her to record at Texas Sunrise Studios in the Rio Grande Valley, met Mazz and appeared on the Johnny Canales Show.
“The night Betsy Escobedo came to see me perform, I wound up getting signed to RP Records by Manny Guerra when he was recording for CBS at the time José Rosario was working there. By now everybody was calling me ‘Sunshine’ and they cut it short to Sunny. Then, when Sunny Ozuna asked Manny not to do that, I came out as Sunny Youngs,” Laura said of her name change.
Her first 45 rpm single release under CBS Discos International was “No Lo Creo Más” and it received airplay as far as Spain. The flipside was titled “La Esperanza.”
“Then I did the Pura Vida Music Awards, performed at the Island Club and did a lot of festivals and big events with soundtracks, but my only problem was that I didn’t have a manager that knew more people than I did, but I made a name for myself because I’m a hustler.
“It’s supposed to be exciting to get a recording contract, but I had no say so whatsoever and as an artist, if you don’t feel the song, then you can’t interpret it properly. So I started getting bored because I didn’t like the songs that were picked out for me.”
Hence Laura, then known as Sunny, made a name for herself in record time during her short-lived stint in Tejano music.
When the blue-eyed Tejano songbird went back to Acapulco in 1992, the headline in the El Sol de Acapulco was that she was back in town, relegating the likes of Rocio Durcal and Emmanuel to the middle pages. Then she went on tour with an American Top 40 show band, opened for the Coasters in Las Vegas, moved to Dallas, did radio jingles for commercials and starting singing jazz.
“In 1996, I moved to Palm Beach, sang with the Norm Kubrin Trio, met a guy, fell in love and went away with him for seven years,” Laura said of her disappearance.
“In 2003, I moved back to the Alamo City, went to work as a commercial underwriter at Hartford Insurance and stayed under the radar for a while.”
To satisfy the music bug, she jammed but didn’t do anything notable until she joined Evolution, a ‘80s club dance band, in 2008. But she didn’t feel challenged and quit.
“I had to up my level of musicianship, so I went into a ‘search and find’ mode because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. All I knew is that I wanted to record and get back on the road.”
Laura’s turning point came when she met rock guitarist Roger Méndez, who was already rehearsing with Juan Ornelas, bass; and Robert Weathers, drums. So she decided to attend one of their rehearsals and audition them, but when Méndez started playing, she said, “Oh my God, they are auditioning me.
“The chemistry was there. Why rock? Because vocally, it’s challenging and I found it was right up my alley. I love it because I get to belt out the songs, especially with a range like mine.”
Their name is 12 Gauge and they are now working on releasing an entire rock album with some songs in Spanish. If the songs are anything like their cover of “La Negra Tomasa,” they are going to make it into the American mainstream.
Each member of 12 Gauge has a string of impressive credits and merits their own article. So let it suffice to say that the buzz for this group, which plays from classic hard rock to metal, is huge.
“We have been approached by a major label and our goal is to be an internationally touring band; and I’m going to give up my day job,” the now stunning redhead said with a lot of enthusiasm and conviction.
To become a 12 Gauge Band (featuring Laura) fan is easy. Just go see them perform at the Revolution Room on Broadway Street on Friday, October 5; or at Steely Nevada’s at 7530 Bandera Road on Saturday, October 20.
Laura belts out a song at Steely Nevada ‘s