This month Mark Guerrero brings us another celebrated Chicano music legend, Chan Romero. A rock and Roll pioneer best known for the song “Hippy Hippy Shake,” which became a national hit in England in 1965.
Robert Lee Romero was born and raised in Billings, Montana. His parents, who were from Colorado, went to Montana for employment as migrant workers. Ethnically, he is a mixture of Mexican, Spanish, Apache and Cherokee Indian, with a little Irish thrown in for good measure. He got the name Chan from his grandfather, who affectionately called him Chano. Chano eventually shortened to Chan and it stuck. He formed his first rock & roll band in 1958 patterning his music after his idol, Ritchie Valens.
After the tragic plane crash that took Ritchie Valens’ life, along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, Don Redfield sent a tape of Chan’s music to Ritchie Valens’ manager in Los Angeles, Bob Keane. Bob loved it and flew Chan out to L.A. Mr. Keane thought of Chan as a successor to Ritchie Valens and signed him to a recording contract. Chan was living a dream come true, recording in the same studio with the same musicians on the same label as his idol. He was introduced by Bob Keane to Ritchie Valens’ mother, who was still reeling from the loss of her son two months earlier. She invited Chan to come and stay at her house, which became his L.A. home when in town over the next two years. He became part of the family, even sleeping in Ritchie’s room.
“The Hippy Hippy Shake” was released on Delfi Records in July of 1959, first in the U.S. and later in England and Australia.
It was also released in England on Columbia records, where it was picked up by no less than The Beatles, who performed it in the early 60’s at venues such as the Cavern Club in Liverpool and the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. In 1965, “The Hippy Hippy Shake” was a number one hit in England by another band from Liverpool, the Swingin’ Blue Jeans. In 1994, “The Hippy Hippy Shake” appeared on “The Beatles Live at the BBC” album. The song has endured and stood the test of time.
In 1964, Chan toured for six weeks with the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons as a member of Buddy Holly’s former group, the Crickets, substituting for Glenn D. Hardin. It was the same year that he first visited the Palm Springs area and decided he’d someday like to live there. He finally made the move to the desert in 1986. Since 1993, he’s divided his time between Palm Springs and Billings, Montana. A testament to the longevity of his music, On June 1, 2008, Paul McCartney opened his show in Liverpool, England with Chan Romero’s “The Hippy Hippy Shake.”
This article was based on an audio taped interview by Mark Guerrero with Chan Romero in May of 1998 in Palm Springs, California.
Tune in to the Chicano radio Network and check out Mark’s interview with Chan Romero every night in November at 7PM! And don’t forget you can hear Chicano music 24/7 on the Chicano Radio Network.