Mean To Me
Davis was a restaurant owner when he decided to cut his own record, "Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," a duet between himself and actress Connie Stevens. After the record flopped, he realized he didn't have the talent to make it as a singer and decided to move into record production and label ownership, founding Faro Records in 1958. Faro's first release was by actor Kenny Miller, and in the late '50s and early '60s he recorded a variety of rock & roll, teen idol, and vocal group records, including ones by the Atlantics (who included a young Barry White) and Larry Tamblyn (who went on to the Standells). He and his labels found a focus, however, after starting to concentrate on Mexican-American singers and bands from East Los Angeles, the hub of L.A.'s Mexican-American community. An instrumental factor in this changeover was independent A&R man Billy Cardenas, with whom Davis formed a partnership.
In the mid-'60s, Davis produced and released records by a bunch of Mexican-American East L.A. bands, including the Romancers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, the Blendells, and the Premiers. The Premiers' "Farmer John" made the Top 20, Cannibal & the Headhunters' "Land of a Thousand Dances" made the Top 30, and the Blendells' "La La La La La La" made number 62. Davis had visions of making a Chicano Motown of sorts from his roster, but had problems sustaining the success of any of these one-shots on a national level, although they (and some of his other acts) were pretty popular in their own region. More important than their limited success, however, were the records they made, some of which were quite good and distinctive for their blend of rock, soul, and Latin music. Davis and his labels did not wholly shut themselves out to non-Mexican-American performers, recording soul music by black artists like the Soul-jers and Ron Holden.
The partnership between Davis and Cardenas ended in 1966, but Davis continued to work with Mexican-American talent, with the Latin and jazz elements becoming more prominent. He did a solo single by Willie G, lead singer of Thee Midniters, the best Mexican-American '60s band in L.A., and the only one of major consequence that did not record with Davis. The Village Callers did a rock version of "Evil Ways" that did well in Los Angeles and San Francisco and, according to Davis, influenced Santana to release their own much more famous rendition. One G Plus 3's "Poquito Soul" was in the mold of the New York Latin-soul fusion known as boogaloo, and hit the very bottom of the national charts in 1969. Then in 1970, El Chicano's cover of Gerald Wilson's jazz tune "Viva Tirado" made the national Top 30, and was a huge hit in Southern California. Tracks such as these prove that Santana, for all their significance, were not the only group thinking along the lines of Latin-soul-rock fusion in the late '60s.
Although El Chicano gave Davis a big hit, they also gave him some problems. El Chicano, originally known as the V.I.P.'s, didn't want to be associated with "Viva Tirado" until it became a hit, and although they did record an album for Davis, they and he split up shortly afterward. The El Chicano experience soured Davis on the business in general, and he went into semi-retirement from the music business, although he did put the Eastside Connection on Rampart in the late '70s, resulting in the disco hit "You're So Right for Me." Four volumes of material originally released on Davis' labels are now available as part of Varese Sarabande's series The West Coast East Side Sound. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
Also by Eddie Davis
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