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CD and Concert Review: “Thee Midniters Greatest”

by Mark Guerrero

     It’s finally here!  After years of legal obstacles, “Thee Midniters Greatest” is available.  There have been bootleg collections in the past, but this is the real thing.  The CD has 20 songs, including their classics “Land of a Thousand Dances,” “Whittier Boulevard.,” “That’s All,” and “Sad Girl.”  It’s on the Thump Record label, which also is the current home of eastside Chicano rock bands El Chicano and Tierra.  Thee Midniters, with Little Willie G. on lead vocals, were the kingpins of East L.A. rock in the 60s.  The songs on this CD were part of the soundtrack of the lives of those who grew up on the eastside of Los Angeles in that era, myself included.  Thee Midniters were always best known for their great ballads crooned by Little Willie G., but they also excelled at up tempo r&b, British Invasion-influenced rock & roll, and even garage rock.  “Never Knew I Had It So Bad,” and , “Jump, Jive, and Harmonize” are strong examples of the two latter categories.  Little Willie G.’s vocals are very strong in all the genres.  Their instrumental “Chicano Power,” written by their trombonist/arranger Romeo Prado, has a Latin groove and is a reflection of the raised consciousness of the Chicano in the late 60s that affected many of the eastside bands.  The CD also includes their excellent version of the r&b classic, “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” which had also been covered by the Rolling Stones in the mid-sixties.  Ten of the twenty songs on the collection were written by various members of Thee Midniters, which shows that they could do more than do original arrangements and excellent interpretations of existing songs.  “Thee Midniters Greatest” is smartly packaged and contains a booklet with lots of information and vintage photos of Thee Midniters.  It also has a photo of Los Angeles radio station KRLA’s music charts of June 1965, which shows Thee Midniters’ recording ‘Whittier Blvd” sharing the top ten with “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and “Help” by the Beatles. This CD is a must for anyone with a collection of East L.A. or Chicano music. 

     On January 28, 2003 to celebrate the release of "Thee Midniters Greatest," Thee Midniters, reunited with Little Willie G., performed to a packed house at the House of Blues in Hollywood.  Invited by Willie himself, I attended the event.  Thee Midniters were introduced by legendary disc jockey Casey Kasem.  Thee Midniters go way back with Casey.  They had appeared on Kasem's television show, "Shebang," and played shows he MC'd in the 1960s.  This magic night at the House of Blues, almost four decades later, Thee Midniters sounded great and Little Willie G.’s vocals and performance were world-class.  In great voice, he handled the ballads with his usual confidence and cool, sang the rock and r&b songs with the proper grit and edginess, and bounded around the stage testifying to the audience of believers.  The crowd, noisy and enthusiastic, ate it up.  Thee Midniters played virtually all the songs from the CD and took them to another level.  The House of Blues was jumping with lots of people from the eastside, who came across the great divide for the event.  Thee Midniters consisted of the aforementioned Romeo Prado, saxophonist Larry Rendon, bassist Jimmy Espinoza, along with Little Wilie G., all members of Thee Midniters in the 60s.  Other musicians in the current Midniters at the concert were: Bobby Robles, guitar; Rev. Charles Williams, organ/piano; Bobby Loya, trumpet; Bobby Navarrette, sax/flute; Robert Zapata, drums; and Michael Guerra and Willie’s son, Jacob Garcia, on background vocals.  The Blazers, an excellent Chicano roots rock band with two albums on Rounder Records to their credit, opened the show. I wanted to catch their set, but unfortunately arrived a few minutes late.  I did catch a comedian who preceded Thee Midniters by the name of Gilbert Esquivel.  He was hilarious and got the crowd warmed up and ready for the headliners.  I ran into a lot of musician friends at the event.  Members of Tierra; lead guitarist and leader Rudy Salas, drummer Aaron Ballesteros, and percussionist Dale Villavicencio; Ruben Guevara, formerly of Ruben & the Jets; guitarrón virtuoso Lorenzo Martinez, formerly of The Rock Angels and member of a band with me that backed my dad, Lalo Guerrero in various concerts; Louie Mendez, bassist of the Rock Angels and sometimes for Flaco Jimenez; and Joey Guerra, former keyboardist for Tierra and currently playing with Steve Salas, former Tierra lead vocalist.  Also in attendance were guitarist Ron Reyes, formerly of The Impalas and Yaqui and currently in my band, Radio Aztlán; and the legendary Flaco Jimenez himself.  I’m happy to hear from Little Willie G.’s manager, Gene Aguilera, that Willie has several gigs coming up with Thee Midniters.  I’ll be listing them on my “What’s New” page when I get the information.  In the meantime, pick up "Thee Midniters Greatest" and hear why they continue to generate excitement after all these years.
 

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Mark Guerrero
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