As a writer of non-fiction, you’re always looking for “a good story.” I made a career of searching for good stories, and often catching ‘em and reeling ‘em in. It starts with a good idea and then you’ve got to do a decent job of scribbling a tale. There is one big fish of a story that got away from me. Lots of elements go into a good story: something interesting or unusual that folks don’t know, maybe a touch of irony, something that’s potentially a bit heartwarming. This story, I was convinced, had lots of intriguing and entertaining elements. But it became a story I was never able to write, because of one very uncooperative, and frankly rather nasty, gatekeeper who kept me from getting the essential interview that would have made the story.
It was a story about pop singer Eydie Gorme and her remarkable , memorable recording of the classic Mexican bolero “Sabor a Mi.” Let me tell you a story. Seven years ago I had retired as a reporter for the CBS radio station in Los Angeles. I became a freelancer, writing magazine articles for national publications and op-ed essays for newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times. And I write and edit books. One day, not long after I retired from CBS, a pretty good idea came to me and it percolated in my head for a bit. I thought it would be a cool idea to write a detailed story about Eydie Gorme and the song she sang beautifully, flawlessly in Spanish – “Sabor a Mi.” It was the signature song on an album of Spanish-language songs she recorded with the inestimable Mexican musical group El Trio Los Panchos.
I first heard that record when I was a kid growing up on L.A.’s Eastside. It seemed that every Chicano household had a copy of that album. The album, “Eydie Gorme and El Trio Los Panchos,” – with its cornerstone tune “Sabor a Mi” – is still a musical icon for Chicanos today, some 50 years after it was first released. In the neighborhood we all asked ourselves, “How did this gringa pop singer sing with such soul and spirit in Spanish?” How did she hook up with El Trio Los Panchos? And just who is this Eydie Gorme lady? Over the years we got answers to those questions. And about seven years ago I thought those answers would make an interesting magazine article – a good story.
I did some research and pitched the idea to a couple of magazines. The editors agreed with me that it had potential for a good story. I learned more about Gorme and how she came to be such an able – and moving – singer in Spanish. I did interviews with people in the music business and did more research. The editors and I agreed that the key element was an interview with Eydie Gorme. Without her there is no story.
That’s when I hit a roadblock. A particular person blocked my potential access to Ms. Gorme.
Readers who were born in the years after the Beatles broke up probably don’t know much about Eydie Gorme. If people of the Internet generation would take time to investigate, they’d learn that she was a very popular and successful singer – with a long career as a recording artist, a television performer and an all-around entertainer, often as a duo with her husband Steve Lawrence, a hell of a singer in his own right.
She was a regular singer on the very first incarnation of NBC’s Tonight Show in the 1950s. That was during the tenure of the Tonight Show’s first host, Steve Allen. She had a long career, winning Grammys and winning lots of accolades in show business over an amazing 60 years. And how was it that this “gringa” could sing so beautifully in Spanish. Well, it turns out she was not really a gringa at all, not in the conventional sense. She was a Sephardic Jew with ancestral roots deep in Spain. As a very young woman she actually worked as a Spanish-language interpreter. So, she was fluent in the language. She made several Spanish-language records which were well received by vast audiences throughout the United States.
So, as any halfway decent writer would know, here were the elements for a “good story.” I just needed to get that interview with Edyie Gorme and then craft the tale. I didn’t think it would be that difficult. I was wrong.
“Sabor a Mi” is just a beautifully melodic, sensual song and Gorme certainly does it justice. I’ve had some experience with that song. My friend David Sandoval and I produced the first Los Lobos album. (It was a bare bones independent effort that served as a sort of calling card for the guys and it helped them land a contract with a major record label.) Included on that album was “Sabor a Mi.” The Chicanada went bonkers over that version, and it rekindled memories of Gorme’s version. This was in the mid-1970s.
Hot on the trail of Edyie Gorme some seven years ago, I discovered that she was about to perform at the Pechanga Indian Casino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. I thought, “Well, I’ll just call her management and arrange an interview before or after her concert at the big casino.” It wasn’t that easy. I got in touch with the woman who was her manager at the time. Basically, from my point of view, she became the equivalent of the green-faced guard at the gates of the Emerald City in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” “Not nobody, not no how,” is what she essentially said to me time after time on the phone. “Who are you? What do you wanna talk to her about?” I repeated what I’d said several times. I wanted to interview her for a positive magazine article on her Spanish-language recordings, especially one particular song. “She doesn’t talk about that,” the voice said. And hung up. Several additional phone calls and several emails later, she still wouldn’t budge.
The Pechanga concert came and went. Days later I phoned the woman again. I knew Eydie Gorme lived in Las Vegas. I live in L.A. I offered to fly there for an interview. Not nobody not no how. A couple of days later I called the husky voiced manager and asked if, at the very least, I could talk to Eydie Gorme on the phone for ten minutes. Not nobody not no how. It finally became clear that I was not going to get to talk to Ms. Gorme. I forgot about the story and went on to other things.
A year later I thought I’d try again. I phoned the manager ruca. The answer, essentially was: Not nobody not no how. I never quite figured out what she had against me. But after that I stopped trying to get the interview. Permanently.
A few years after that fiasco about the magazine article that never was, Eydie Gorme died. She was 84. Over the years I’ve collected different versions of that album. It was certainly a monster hit among the Chicanada. But it also sold like hotcakes among general audiences in the United States too. I still have the original LP I bought when I was in college. I have a couple of CD versions and I play “Sabor a Mi” on YouTube once in a while. It exists in several iterations of technology. Once when I was in Mexico City I went to a record store and the album was there. However, it was just a bit different in the packaging. In the United States the album’s title was “Eydie Gorme and El Trio Los Panchos.” In the record store in Mexico City the album I bought was titled “El Trio Los Panchos, con Eydie Gorme.”
I occasionally think about “the good story that got away.”
Copyright 2016 by Luís R. Torres. Photo of Luis Torres copyright by Barrio Dog Productions. All other photos used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.