This month Mark Guerrero returns with his Chicano Music Chronicles, this time showcasing Max Uballez, pioneering songster and leader of the sixties music group The Romancers.
Before the Premiers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, and The Blendells, there was The Romancers. The Romancers were the first East L.A. Chicano band to record an album and were the main influence of the mid-sixties East L.A. sound. They were also the first East L.A. band to work with Billy Cardenas and Eddie Davis, who went on to record many other Eastside bands throughout the 1960s. The Romancers made two albums on the Del-Fi record label and many other singles for Eddie Davis’ Linda label. The main figure in the Romancers’ story is Max Uballez, the leader, chief songwriter, and rhythm guitarist. Max was involved in the production and/or wrote songs for many recordings by The Romancers, as well as other top Eastside bands.
The Romancers got their name from flyers and posters promoting East L.A. dances which read “Dance and Romance” this Saturday night, etc. They thought “Dance and Romance to The Romancers” would sound good, and it did. The name came about after they were involved with their manager, Billy Cardenas. According to Max, the first Romancers were: David Brill, drums; Andy Tesso and Richard Provincio, lead guitar; Joe Whiteman, sax; Manuel “Magoo” Rodriguez, bass; and Max Uballez, rhythm guitar. They lived in the Lincoln Heights district of East Los Angeles and attended Lincoln High School. Max Uballez looked and sounded a lot like Ritchie Valens, whom he admired. Once Max was playing a gig in Pocoima, California, where Ritchie had grown up, shortly after Ritchie’s passing and caused a near riot when he sang Valens’ song “Donna.” A guy who was supposedly related to Ritchie became enraged because Max sounded like Valens. I can only guess that the irate party guest thought Max was trying to steal Ritchie Valens’ act. Max and his band had to pack up immediately and get out of town for their safety.
In 1963, The Romancers (Max Uballez, rhythm guitar; Andy Tesso, lead guitar; Chris Pasqual, bass; Armando Mora, tenor sax; and Manuel Mosqueda, drums) showed up to record for Del-Fi Records with two songs written by Max, “Slauson Shuffle” and “All Aboard.” After recording the two songs, Bob Keane asked “do you have any more?.” They hurriedly wrote seven songs, added three covers, and finished their first album in five hours total. The album called “Do the Slauson” still sounds good today. “Do the Slauson” sold well and the Romancers had no shortage of gigs. The Slauson, by the way, was an extremely popular dance in East L.A. in the early 60s. It was a line dance similar to the Stroll. The success of “Do the Slauson” prompted Del-Fi to follow it up with another Romancers instrumental album entitled, “Let’s Do the Swim.” The Swim was another 60s dance craze, which really wasn’t as popular on the Eastside as some other dances. However, it served as another good hook for a new album. “Let’s Do the Swim” sounded a lot like the previous album and was released on Del-Fi’s Selma label. Although the “Slauson” album had better songs and a special magic, the “Swim” collection sounds as if the band is playing with a bit more confidence, particularly Andy, probably because they had the experience of the first album under their belts.
As a result of The Romancers’ success at Del-Fi, other Chicano artists recorded for the label such as, The Heartbreakers, Ronnie & the Pomona Casuals, and The Sisters. Max Uballez and Billy Cardenas helped create and record these artists for the label. On one memorable Del-Fi session, when The Heartbreakers recorded the Frank Zappa song “Every Time I See You,” the Romancers backed them up with Zappa on lead guitar. Max was a major figure in East L.A. rock in the mid to late 60s, writing songs for The Romancers, The Premiers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, and The Atlantics. He also co-produced The Romancers’ Linda singles with Eddie Davis, and recordings by Little Ray, Cannibal & the Headhunters, and others, with Billy Cardenas. Max didn’t receive any written production credit on the original releases in the 60s, but has been rightly recognized on CD reissues in the 90s. His biggest hit was “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Cannibal & the Headhunters, co-produced with Eddie Davis. This was the national hit record that got Cannibal & the Headhunters on the Beatle tour in 1965.
Max Uballez, went on to form a band in the early 70s called Macondo that made an album of the same name for Atlantic Records. It featured mostly original material written or co-written by Max and was, for the most part, Latin-flavored rock. He subsequently began to work with younger Chicano artists such as Quetzal, Lysa Flores, and most recently, La Banda Skalavera. Max is currently president of XELACOMEDIA, a full service music promotion and production company. He lives in Martinez, California, and commutes to L.A. frequently to work on his musical projects. Most of The Romancers’ music is still available today. You can find most of their singles included on Varese Sarabande’s 1999 four volume CD set, “East Side Sound,” Volumes 1 thru 4. On this show Mark will be playing recordings by Max’s bands, The Romancers and Macondo, in addition to songs he was involved with by all the aforementioned East L.A. bands.
Sit back and listen to Mark Guerrero’s interview with Max Uballez every evening in October at 7PM on the Chicano Radio Network.
This article is based on audio taped telephone interviews by Mark Guerrero with Max Uballez on December 23, 2001 and Andy Tesso on January 5, 2002. For more info on Max Uballez there is an article on Mark Guerrero’s website at this link: http://www.markguerrero.com/19.php.