- - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

On the heels of Richie Valens’ massive crossover success in the ‘60s, a young Chris Montez sprung on the scene. Like Valens, the teen heartthrob released a slew of hit songs blending his Spanish roots with the sound of ‘60s pop, eventually scoring a No. 1 hit with the undeniable smash “Let’s Dance.” He even went on to tour with everyone from Screaming Jay Hawkins to a certain quartet of lads from Liverpool.

Mr. Montez reflected on some of the highlights of his career and his plans for the future.

Question: What do you remember most about the ‘60s?

Answer: Oh wow! That was the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll — 1958 and 1959. Chuck Berry kicked off all that rock ‘n’ roll. Then The Beatles came and put the music in our face again. That was quite a time.

Q: How did your hit song “Let’s Dance” come about?

A: I had a producer and writer, Tim Lee, and we were writing songs together. He came up with this song.

Q: Is it true you almost didn’t record it?

A: I didn’t really want to record it because ballads [were out] at the time. That was my trip at the time.

But it took off. Next thing I knew, I was on the road.

Q: Is it hard to follow up such a huge hit?

A: Well, I had “Some Kinda Fun,” which made it into the thirties on the charts. In England it was top five. “Let’s Dance” was top five in Europe and went No. 1in America.

Q: What was touring like for you?

A: My first major tour was when I toured with Sam Cooke. That broke me in. That gave me character. (Laughs) Maybe too much character. (Laughs)

We were playing these football fields and stadiums. Man, I was just into it. I would go up, do my songs and then get off. The rest of the night it was just like hanging out. I got to watch Sam.

One night after a show, one of his guys came up and said, “Chris, Sam wants to talk to you.” I thought, “Oh, man, what have I done?” I was standing there and Sam comes up with his entourage. Turns out all he wanted to do was ask me if there was anything I needed. He wanted to know if I was all right. I was honored.

The tours were a trip because that was the first time I was ever exposed to black and white [audiences]. I had to get used to that.

Q: Were the audience segregated when you played?

A: Yeah, a lot of them. I played The Howard [Theatre in Washington, D.C.] and all the black theaters with Smokey Robinson, Jerry Butler and Screaming Jay Hawkins. All these soulful dudes. I wasn’t hip, but they carried me along.

We started at these theaters like The Apollo in New York. The first show would be at noon. We would get out there and do five shows a day! There would be three people in the audience for the early show. But by nighttime? The houses would be full. I learned a lot there.

Q: You were a bit of a heartthrob back in the day.

A: (Laughs) Yeah, but I was too busy with touring and recording. But the ladies were around. The ladies were a little older than me. I remember getting involved with a couple ladies, and they even fought over me. I was 18 and they were in their thirties. It was a trip.

I really saw ladies go nuts when I toured England for the first time and met these four lads. They were just coming along, and I had the No. 1 song. I remember when we did our first show together. I hung out with them every day, especially John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney].

When we were on the show, I thought I was ready because I had my act down after touring with Sam Cooke. They came out and did “Long Tall Sally,” and I thought, “Man, these cats are seasoned rockers!” I didn’t know they had been playing bars.

Q: Did you have any idea those four lads, The Beatles, would become so huge?

A: No, I didn’t. We hung out a lot. One time they disappeared for a couple days off the tour. When they came back, I said, “Where were you guys?” Paul said, “We were just finishing our album. Come up to the room and listen to it.” They bring out this giant disc, and the first song I hear (Singing): “Well she was just 17.”

I said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me?!” That’s when I knew. I made Paul play that song five times in a row. He asked, “You like that, man?” I told him what a great song it was.

Q: You’ve had some good time but also some rough ones. What keeps you here?

A: I’m a true believer in the Lord. He is there through it all — the downs and outs. I stand pretty strongly on that rock.

Q: Musically, what are you working on?

A: I’ve been on the road a lot. But now I’m getting ready to do some new albums. 

Q: Will the albums be in English or Spanish?

A: I did a Spanish album, but only once before I left A&M Records. I wrote all of the songs. But if I ever did a Spanish album, it will be Norteno album, the family Mexican stuff I used to play with my brothers.

Whatever I do, it will be done as acoustically as I can.


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