THE RAMPART RECORDS STORY.
During the 1960s, Eddie Davis, founder and owner of Rampart records, produced what became known as the Westcoast Eastside sound which included such groups as The Premiers with their hit, Farmer John, The Blendells and their Hit, La La La La La, Cannibal and the Headhunters and their hit, Land of 1000 Dances and El Chicano and their hits, Viva Tirado and Whittier Blvd. In 1994, Ramparts Records was bequeathed to musician and producer Hector González who is now owner and manager of the historic label. Latinopia wanted to know more about Eddie Davis and legendary Rampart Records so we spoke with Hector González.
LATINOPIA: How did you first meet Eddie Davis?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: I was going to Bell High School and I had met a musical child prodigy by the name of Harry Scorzo, Jr. in my Gymnastic’s Class and later again in Music Class. He was originally from Chicago and he started playing an electric violin which was very unique. We hit it off and we started a band and people kept telling me, you got to meet Eddie Davis. And I said who is Eddie Davis? And they said he is the Barry Gordy of East L.A. He’s put out all these hits on his Faro and Rampart Record labels… like Cannibal and the Headhunters, The Premiers, The Blendells.
So I went into the phone book and he was nowhere to be found. Finally I got his number and he picked up the phone and said, “Hello, This is Eddie.” And I introduced myself to him. But he had already retired. As a matter of fact, in the Steven Loza book, it talks about how Eddie basically retired and pulled the covers over his head and didn’t surface again until I came around and brought him out of retirement. He had gone through some interesting experiences in the Chicano community. Because he was Anglo, some people would pick on him and say he was exploiting our kids. And I think it broke his heart. He was never driven by money he was driven by his love of the Chicano people and of the music.
I got him to come to our gig at an event at the Occidental building in downtown L.A. and we called ourselves, our group, Vavoom, like the little character with the loud voice in the Felix The Cat cartoons. When Eddie finally came to see us “live,” he loved the group but he didn’t like the name. So he went to his friend Rudy Benavides and said I think I’m going to get back into the business but I don’t like the name of the group. And Rudy said, call them the “Eastside Connection.” Every city in the country has an Eastside, and that would be universal. And voila! The Eastside Connection was born.
LATINOPIA: So who was this guy, Eddie Davis?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: Eddie had been a child actor. Eddie was in Going my Way with Bing Crosby and he was in The Major and the Minor with Ginger Rodgers and Ray Milland. And he was in Pork Chop Hill with Gregory Peck. So he did a lot of films. Then he became a restaurant owner in 1953. It was called the Eddie Davis Parkway Grill. He became very financially secure. From there he bought another restaurant, the Eddie Davis Steakhouse Supper Club. Then he got into music.
LATINOPIA: And how did he get into recording Chicano music groups?
HECTOR GONZLÁEZ: Eddie met Billy Cardenas, an East L.A. promoter and manager, and Billy brought these young talents to Eddie. It was Billy Cardenas that introduced Eddie to the Eastside sound. Billy bought Eddie the Salas Brothers, The Premiers, the Blendells. Eddie heard the Blendells perform La-La-La-La-La and he was blown away. Eddie recorded the record under his Rampart label and later licenced it to Warner Reprise for distribution. That was the first record that took off for Eddie.
LATINOPIA: What other groups did Eddie Davis record under the Rampart label?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: The Premiers were another group–from San Gabriel. They recorded Farmer John, a cover originally recorded by Don and Dewey. It took off as well. This one went off on Warner records. Eddie had a really
good relationship with the group. he’d tell me, not only were the kids wonderful kids, but the parents were wonderful as well. This was in 1964.
Then there was Cannibal and the Headhunters. They recorded a song by Chris Kenner, Land of 1000 Dances. They were at the Rhythm Room in Fullerton and Frankie García forgot the lyrics to the song.. Frankie zoned out and he couldn’t remember the original lyric.
Now, the boys had been studying the soulful art of doo-wopping with a group they had grown up with in the Ramona Gardens housing project, an African American vocal group called the Showcases. They were older than them and had taken these little Mexican kids under their wings and taught them how to doo-wop. And they also showed them voice exercises, they call it to warm up your tessitura and you do things like naa, na ,na, na, naa, nau, ninny, nau. So when he forgot the lyrics and he was in a jam, that little vocal exercise became a vocal phrase. He started singing Naa-na-na-na-Naa.
And Eddie Davis was in the back of the room and he just raised his hand and said that is a hit! By that time everybody was singing the Na-na-na-na. It has become one of the most popular and one of the most recorded phrases in the history of American rock and roll. It was written by a young Mexican American boy from the Estrada Courts in East L.A.
LATINOPIA: Other groups?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: El Chicano was an another group, they were an accident. They were originally called the VIPS. Eddie Davis had a studio in Hollywood called Teron Studios.. Eddie had it set up like a club where he could record everything live. And at the end of the gigs, the VIPS would go to the studio and they would record stuff. Well one of the songs that the VIPs recorded was “Viva Tirado” by Gerald Wilson. And Eddie took it to Rudy Benavides, his right hand guy, and they all thought it was a hit.
But Freddy Sanchez, the leader and bass player of the VIPs never told Eddie that the song was a cover. When Eddie Davis came to the club and told the VIPs that he was going to release the song, they got angry. They thought of the song as their “break”song. They got real
angry and had Eddie thrown out of the night club. Eddie went ahead and released the record anyway on his Gordo Record label. And the record took on a life of its own. And he worked out a distribution deal with Universal MCA records. Universal ended up with Viva Tirado and the group became El Chicano. But there was no El Chicano. So Eddie started to put together a group of musicians that he had worked with and started recording the album with his new group because the VIPS didn’t want anything to do with El Chicano. That is, until they heard the song on the radio. The band was performing at a club in San Diego and they heard their recording of “Viva Tirado” on the radio and so the VIPS called Johnny Musso at Universal who was the new President of Kapp records and said, “Hey, we’re El Chicano!” And so this caused a lot of complications for Eddie. He told Johnny that since they didn’t want to be the group he had started another group. Eddie had to explain to Universal that the VIPS had not wanted to be the group and now they wanted to be El Chicano. It made Eddie look like there was some possible shenanigans, or fraud going on when in essence there was nothing like that going on. After that experience, it broke the straw o the camel’s back for Eddie. He retired from the business but the impact of El Chicano had on the community was incredible.
LATINOPIA: What was so unique about how Eddie Davis worked with these young musicians from East L.A.?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: I think what made them different was the way in which Eddie Davis produced them. First of all, they were kind of raw garage band type groups. As we would say, they were rough around the edges. But Eddie took them to a professional recording studio like Stereo Masters in Hollywood with a good engineer like Bruce Morgan and working with these kids. Bringing in tutors to show them how to dance how to sing, even taking them and fixing their teeth. Eddie,. coming from Hollywood and being an actor, was very conscious of appearances. Eddie even took them to Zeidlier and Zeidlier in Beverly Hills and had beautiful custom suits made for them. If you guys are going to play with the big boys, you guys are Mexican kids and I want you to look better than the others.
LATINOPIA: What impact did these groups have on Chicanos?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: During that era it is was a very important thing for Chicano musicians and for all Chicanos to feel that we were part of this American culture. We had always been left out. The era of real Chicano music came with the era of Ed Davis, I believe that is what it was. I remember watching American Bandstand and the impact of watching a Chicano group say, “uno do, tres, cuatro…” Oh man! That just knocked me on my butt! I couldn’t believe it. And then you see Question Mark and the Mysterians. That was a huge record. And the Sir Douglas Quintet. And then there was Chris Montez, we can never forget about Chris Montez, The Beatles opened for him! He had a hit, “Let’s Dance” and he went to England with Little Richard and the opening band for them was The Beatles! Long before Cannibal and the Headhunters became the opening act for the Beatles on their 1965 tour, the Beatles had been the opening act for a Chicano!
LATINOPIA: How was it that Eddie Davis decided to bequeath you the record label and all of this incredible music?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: I developed an incredible relationship with Eddie because he had never had children and all of his time had been devoted to his recordings and his restaurant. It was like he was my surrogate father and I was his surrogate son. We became very close. And when I won the Emmy for the 1985 Summer Olympics and that was a pivotal point . His way of looking at me, and thinking that was the sign of a winner.
In 1991 he got cancer and he started to deteriorate. I started to feel real bad because I could see that he wasn’t getting any better. Eddie used to tell me that what he loved the most about me was my enthusiasm. But I had no idea, this was thirty years ago, that later in my life Eddie was going to die and leave all of this stuff to me. He wanted to leave a legacy as to what he represented to the Chicano community. I remember when he passed away in October of 1994, it was very specific in the will that he had left me the labels and the memorabilia and stuff.
When he finally passed away I was broken-hearted. And then I was working on the game show, “Wheel of Fortune.” I was the Audio P.A. Mixer. One of the CBS Pages from Guest relations comes over to me and says there was a call that came for you about the reading of a will. I said , what, a will? So I called the number and it was Billy Davis, Eddie Davis’s younger brother who was the executor of Eddie’s Last Will and Testament. So I went to the reading of the will and sure enough, “To Hector Gonzalez I leave da-da-da-da-da…” At first it didn’t hit me because I didn’t realize the magnitude of it. It wasn’t until a year later that it began to really hit me.
LATINOPIA: What is next with Rampart Records?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: I knew that in order to save all of this and preserve this history that I really had to get serious and start getting into this things. And start getting new groups, and get things happening so that Rampart Records could continue. And that was fifteen years ago and I still think it was the best decision I ever made. To follow in Eddie’s dream of having a record label that is dedicated to the development of Mexican American talent.
LATINOPIA: What is the lasting legacy of the Eastside Sound groups?
HECTOR GONZÁLEZ: I think the lasting legacy that bands like the Thee Premiers, The Blendells, Cannibal and the Headhunters , Tierra, there is a certain sound that comes from East L.A. And that is the biggest legacy, the musical signature that they are leaving, a certain sound that has been created here in East L.A. Maybe Eddie didn’t have the amount of hits or as big hits as Motown. But Eddie Davis, with all of those Eastside artists, left an indelible mark on the history of American rock and roll.