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WEST SIDE SOUND
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WEST SIDE SOUND. An overlooked form of Texana and Americana music, San Antonio’s West Side Sound has been a mainstay of the River City and Texas for more than fifty years. This intercultural genre originated in the cantinas, house parties, and night spots on both the city’s east and west sides during the late 1950s. Young musicians of the city’s major ethnic groups—Chicano, African American and Anglo—went beyond the incipient racism of the period to create an original form of music that has developed from the horn-driven piano triplet R&B and rock-and-roll core to later incorporate conjunto and traditional country and western.
The West Side Sound gained national attention when Sunny and the Sunliners (as Sunny and the Sunglows) appeared on American Bandstand to promote their national hit single, “Talk to Me” in 1963. They were the first all-Tejano band to appear on the popular television show. Tear Drop Records Collection, Texas Music Museum.
Early innovators included Charlie Alvarado and the Jives, the Pharaohs with Randy Garibay, Mando and the Chili Peppers with Mando Cavallero, the Dell-Kings with Frank Rodarte, Sunny and the Sunliners featuring Sunny Ozuna, Sonny Ace and the Twisters, Rudy T, the Royal Jesters, Denny Ezba and the Goldens with Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm, the Markays featuring Rocky Morales, Clifford Scott, as well as Spot Barnett’s 20th Century Orchestra. Each was heavily influenced by early rock-and-roll, rhythm and blues, as well as Louisiana swamp pop. Some of them were fortunate enough to back up national touring acts on the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” Doug Sahm, Spot Barnett, and Rocky Morales were regularly asked by Johnnie Phillips, owner of the Eastwood Country Club, to fill in temporary vacancies in the house band, and Morales became part of the Eastwood house band in the early 1960s backing up the likes of Redd Foxx’s comedy show and singer Della Reese. Barnett’s 20th Century Orchestra was the house band at Club Ebony. During the late 1950s many of these artists recorded for the local Harlem label including Sahm on “Why, Why, Why,” Barnett with “20th Century Part 1,” and Charlie and the Jives’ “For the Rest of My Life.” The West Side Sound received national attention in both 1963 and 1965 with Sunny and the Sunliners’s (still going by the name Sunny and the Sunglows) rendition of “Talk to Me” in 1963, which earned them an appearance on American Bandstand, and the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” in 1965.
Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965. Left to right: Augie Meyers, Frank Morin, Doug Sahm, Jack Barber, Johnny Perez. The “five lads” from San Antonio capitalized on the British Invasion craze of the mid-1960s with their hit “She’s About a Mover.” Courtesy of SugarHill Studios archives.
While purists of the West Side Sound maintain that the genre has remained strictly within the saxophone tradition backed by piano triplets, it has been argued that the music developed to incorporate other intercultural forms. This became apparent in the early 1970s when some of the musicians, including Sahm and Meyers, ventured more openly into the traditional country and western music that they listened to and performed when they were children. (Sahm was billed as “Little Doug Sahm” when he was less than fourteen years old and had the opportunity to sit in Hank Williams’s lap while the legend played the pedal steel at a San Antonio gig.) This part of the growth of the genre came to fruition in Austin during the heyday of the Cosmic Cowboy scene, and Doug Sahm moved there to take advantage of that city’s original music style. Rocky Morales and other native-born San Antonio horn players also appeared with Sahm there. At the same time, conjunto music was wildly popular in San Antonio featuring the Alamo City’s conjunto impresario Flaco Jiménez. Sahm always greatly enjoyed that form of Mexican-American music and respected Jiménez and his music. In 1973 Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records invited Doug Sahm to record, and that he did on Doug Sahm and Band. Artists that appeared on that intercultural recording included San Antonio’s own Augie Meyers, bassist extraordinaire Jack Barber, Flaco Jiménez, songwriter and backing vocalist Atwood Allen, as well as music legends David “Fathead” Newman, Dr. John, and Bob Dylan. The album featured horn-driven piano triplets, traditional country and western, and conjunto.
The Texas Tornados (left to right: 1990s lineup of Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jiménez) epitomize the integration of musical genres and ethnic influences that comprise the West Side Sound. Image courtesy of American Sabor, a Smithsonian Institution. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
The West Side Sound may have reached its apex of popularity during the 1990s. The late Randy Garibay became regionally popular with his three CD releases Barbacoa Blues, Chicano Blues Man, and Invisible Society. During the decade the Texas super group the Texas Tornados formed with Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Flaco Jiménez, and the legendary Freddy Fender. The group won a Grammy Award in 1991 for the song “Soy de San Luis” on their debut album Texas Tornados. Doug Sahm formed his Last Real Texas Blues Band with San Antonio musicians Rocky Morales, Sauce Gonzales, Jack Barber, and others, and the self-titled album was nominated for a Grammy in 1995. Flaco Jiménez toured internationally prompting the formation of conjunto groups in seemingly obtuse places as Japan and Holland. All of these recordings incorporate examples of early rock-and-roll and R&B, conjunto and other Latin styles, horn driven-triplets, and traditional country and western.
San Antonio’s West Side Sound stands as an example of the music that can be created when members of separate ethnic groups come together to collaborate. The music and the musicians can still be heard in the River City with the likes of Sauce Gonzales, the West Side Horns, Spot Barnett’s Eastwood Country Club Review, Frank Rodarte and his Chosen Vatos, Ernie Garibay & Cats Don’t Sleep, as well as Charlie Alvarado and Sonny Ace.
Allen O. Olsen, “San Antonio’s West Side Sound,” The Journal of Texas Music History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2005).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Allen O. Olsen, "WEST SIDE SOUND," accessed September 17, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xgw03.
Uploaded on March 17, 2015. Modified on May 23, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.