The Royal Jesters providing that West Side brown sound - a syncretization of doo wop, r&b, soul, rock 'n' roll and Motown, complete with horns and organ
Terry Gross, the Terry Gross of Fresh Air fame, recently did a story on San Antonio's Royal Jesters, who, with the help of Rae D. Cabello, local obscure vinyl collector and curator of their Numero Group-released English Oldies compilation (and Current contributor), have seen a much-deserved renaissance of attention and airplay.
The Jesters "from their days in the halls of Lanier High School to the polyester funk of the Chicanismo '70s," produced tunes that ran the gamut from doo wop and early rock 'n' roll to rhythm and blues and solid, driving soul, complete with three-part harmonies, organ set on the leslie-speaker-spin-cycle and stabs and swaths of brass.
Gross, a rock star to the NPR set in her own right, makes mention of the "multiracial, multicultural" music that was being made on the cities West Side. She interviews rock historian Ed Ward who states, "San Antonio's West Side is historically the black and Chicano neighborhood in the sprawling city, dominated by the Tex-Mex culture that's been the city's calling card since its inception...with the rise of Motown, some of the younger musicians decided to experiment. They'd always loved doo-wop music, and this was the same thing, they reckoned, only with horns."
Ward goes on to give credit where credit is due, highlighting the importance of Abe Epstein, "a real-estate mogul and one-time performer who plowed his profits into a series of increasingly less successful labels. The only one that lasted was Dynamic, which was open to all the talent in town, some of which was Chicano."
The interview also touches on Little Jr. Jesse and the Teardrops, a 10-piece ensemble whose "Ain't No Big Thing" is so goddamn feel-good in the face of losing your sweetheart that the blasé romanticism is contagious. I divorced my wife after hearing it, shit, "ain't no big thing," right guys?
The biggest local hits for the Dynamic label didn't come from the Jesters or the Teardrops, however, but from The Commands, a group of three black dudes and a Peurto Rican cat formed in 1966 at Randolph Air Force Base. "No Time For You" mixes the doo wop of Gene Chandler or The Penguins with three-part harmonies and the organ-heavy sound of the Jesters and our own Sunny Ozuna and the Sunliners/Sunglows. "No Time For You" was a city-wide hit but couldn't spark anything outside of the 210.
The Jesters, who signed with Epstein and Dynamic in '64 but went on to form their own Jester label, rolled with the tide of popular music and, despite its trendy nature, incorporated elements of disco. They also fused the growing Chicano pride sentiment of the Brown Berets and Cesar Chavez into their content becoming an all-Spanish Chicano show band.