The Champs were an rock and roll combo, most fondly remembered for their instrumental track “Tequila” in 1958. Formed by and guitarist Dave Burgess, he was backed by studio musicians Buddy Bruce (guitar), Cliff Hills (bass), Gene Alden (drums) and saxophonist Daniel Flores, aka Chuck Rio. It was Rio’s characteristic sax playing and playful calling of “tequila!” that made “Tequila” a chart-topping single in 1958. Although they still would go on to record more Latin-tinged rock singles and undergo lineup changes, the Champs were still looked upon as a one-hit wonder.
The formation of the Champs
The Champs, who are known for their chart-topping single “Tequila,” founded their origins in Santa Paula, California in 1957 (although some sources say that they were formed in Los Angeles). It was an executive at Challenge Records named Dave Burgess (aka Dave Durpee, born in Lancaster, California) who formed the band, along with the label’s session musicians — saxophonist/vocalist Chuck Rio (born Daniel Flores in Santa Paula, California on July 11, 1929) guitarist Buddy Bruce, bass player Cliff Hills, and drummer Gene Alden (born in Cisco, Texas). They made up of The Champs’ original lineup.
The Champs are usually lined with Chicano rock and Tex-Mex aside from rock and roll.
The Champs under Challenge Records
Meanwhile, Challenge Records was in a sort of a challenge indeed. At the end of 1957, the label showed up with no hits at all. So Challenge looked to Burgess. The label’s co-owner Joe Johsnon hired Burgess and his band for the purpose of providing back-up music for a vocal group named Kuf-Linx. With some time remaining after the session, Burgess and his able band of musicians went on to record three songs, all written by Burgess himself: “Train to Nowhere,” “Night Beat” and “All Night Rock.”
The band’s biggest hit with “Tequila”
The last song that they would record was a Latin-tinged rock and roll number called “Tequila.” It was Chuck Rio (who by then was contracted to another label RPM Records in his real name Danny Flores) who taught the band “Tequila” from a riff he had mastered as a result of performing at several club bookings in Los Angeles. Rio was also the one cried “Tequila!”, the only word spoken in an otherwise instrumental number where he provided the “dirty sax” solo. The recording for “Tequila” was considered by the band as just an informal jamming session; they didn’t even bother to stay and listen for the final playback. What they didn’t know though, that it was “Tequila” that would give the band their biggest hit in their career.
“Tequila” was originally released as a B-side to “Train to Nowhere” in early 1958. The record was billed to the band’s new moniker The Champs — named so in honor of a horse named Champion, which was owned by country star Gene Autry who also happened to be the co-owner of Challenge.
Radio disc jockeys, however, preferred “Tequila” and flipped the record over. All of a sudden “Tequila” skyrocketed up the charts, finally ending up at #1 on the Billboard pop chart in March 1958. It also reached #1 on the R&B singles chart, and #5 on the UK charts that same year.
With the song becoming a huge smash, there was a need for the band to tour, so The Champs re-convened for a new lineup. Aside from Flores (or Chuck Rio), Burgess and Alden, the band added guitarist Dale Norris and bassist Joe Burnas.
“Tequila” was followed up by another Top 40 hit “El Rancho Rock” (#30 pop, #10 R&B), and other minor hits “Chariot Rock,” “Midnighter” and another Top 40 hit “Too Much Tequila” (#30 pop), a sequel to their biggest hit. By then, Chuck Rio and Alden had left, and later members filled in, including Dash Crofts and Jim Seals — the men behind the popular soft-rock group Seals and Crofts. The Champs disbanded in 1964.
Flores aka Chuck Rio died in Huntington Beach, California in 2006, while another former member Dean McDaniel passed away in November that same year.