The Blendells were one of three East L.A. groups who had a
national hit record during the period of 1964-65, along with
The Premiers and Cannibal & the Headhunters. Their
recording of Little Stevie Wonder’s obscure song “La
La La La La” peaked at number 62 on the national charts.
However, it was number one in Phoenix, Arizona, where they
performed as headliners for 11,000 people, Hawaii, and Los
Angeles, at a time when the number two song was by The Beatles.
Mike Rincon, bass player and leader
of The Blendells, was inspired to form a band after attending
rhythm & blues shows in downtown Los Angeles in the late
fifties and early sixties. Thirteen year old Mike would
catch a bus by himself to see artists such as, Jackie Wilson,
Johnny Otis, and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters at grand
old movie theaters like the Orpheum and the Rialto.
When Mike formed his own group, members came and went until
he had the right musicians. At Cathedral High School
in Montebello, where Mike attended, he found the first piece
of the puzzle, drummer Ronnie Chipres, playing in the school
band. Next he added lead guitarist Rudy Valona.
Mike and the band had just finished a recording session that
went well and Mike remembers saying that the band sure blended
well. Later, he and Rudy sat on a curb outside the studio
and used that idea to come up with the name Blenders, which
later evolved into The Blendells. The “dells”
part was an homage to the 1950s group the Dells. Rudy
brought in sax player Don Cardenas and rhythm guitarist Tommy
Esparza. Meanwhile, lead singer Sal Murillo was singing
in a duo called Sal & Marge, who were already popular
on the east side circuit. Rudy persistently called Billy
Cardenas, no relation to Don, about managing the group.
Billy finally heard them and decided to to so. According
to Mike, it was Billy who suggested Sal as lead vocalist for
the band. All six members in place, The Blendells played
the East L.A. circuit and became very popular. At one
memorable engagement at East L.A.’s Paramount Ballroom
they were on the bill with an odd looking duo called Caesar
& Cleo, who later became known as Sonny & Cher.
The Blendell’s “La La La La La” would later
appear on Sonny & Cher’s hit album “Sonny
& Cher and Friends.” Like The Premiers before
them, they were taken into Stereo Masters studio in Hollywood
and cut a record for one of Eddie Davis’ labels.
In this case it was Rampart Records, the same label on which
Cannibal & the Headhunters’ “Land of a Thousand
Dances” was later released. Incidentally, it was
The Blendells who were to back up The Headhunters on that
hit record. The song “La La La La La” was
brought to the band by drummer Ronnie Chipres. They
were playing it at one of their gigs when Eddie Davis heard
it and urged them to record it. Sal says it was recorded
in one take. The record took off and the band was now
in demand beyond Southern California. They performed
on television shows such as L.A.’s “Ninth Street
West” and the nationally televised “Hullabaloo.”
At this point, lead singer Sal Murillo’s
mom entered into a contract dispute with the record company,
which led Eddie Davis to ask Sal to leave the band. Ironically,
the lead singer never toured with The Blendells, outside of
the successful Phoenix concert. Sal got another manager
and went solo. He did shows for DJ Kasey Kasem that
included Johnny Rivers and the Righteous Brothers on the bill.
Meanwhile, The Blendells went out on the road without a lead
singer. Vocal duties were shared by Mike, Tommy and
Rudy, with Rudy singing “La La La La La”.
Their tours, whose main mode of transportation was a rented
U haul pulled by a car carrying the band, included performances
in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon
and the state of Washington. They shared the stage with
the Dave Clark 5, Roy Orbison, Dick Dale, The Ventures, The
Shirelles, The Drifters, The Coasters, and Chuck Berry.
My band at the time, Mark & the
Escorts, played many venues with The Blendells, including
the Belair Rollerdrome in Pico Rivera, the Montebello Ballroom
and the Shrine Auditorium. We shared the same manager/producer
team and I attended Garfield High School with Rudy Valona
and Tommy Esparza and knew them well. The Blendells,
who were in their late teens, seemed very mature to my group,
merely in our mid-teens. We looked up to them and were
influenced by their playing style, which was purely East L.A.
They were a tight band with Rudy’s lead guitar on his
twangy, funky Fender Telecaster, Tommy’s chunka chunka
rhythm guitar on his Fender Duo Sonic, Don’s bluesy,
screaming tenor sax, Mike and Ronnie’s solid bass &
drums, and Sal’s smooth vocals. One time I substituted
for Rudy with The Blendells at a gig in Long Beach, CA.
It was a compliment that Rudy called me for the gig, especially
being 15 years old, and I was thrilled to do it. I remember
very little about the show except playing lead guitar on “La
La La La La.”
The Blendells broke up much too soon.
They recorded only two singles, “La La La La La,”
backed with “Huggies Bunnies” and “Dance
with Me,” backed with “Get Your Baby.”
When “La La La La La “ took off, Eddie Davis made
a deal with Reprise Records to take over the record for wider
distribution. “Dance with me” was also released
on Reprise as a follow up single. Sal Murillo had left
the group before “Dance with Me” was recorded,
so the lead vocal on the record was done by Ralph Ventura,
trumpet player for The Romancers, another popular east side
band at the time. Interestingly enough, Billy Cardenas
also had The Premiers and Mark & the Escorts record “Get
Your Baby.” We also recorded a version of “Dance
with Me” at Billy’s request. During one
of their tours, Rudy and Tommy were let go after some inter-band
member disputes and were replaced by Bob Hernandez of The
Romancers and Johnny Diaz of the Rhythm Playboys. At
times Andy Tesso, also of The Romancers, sat in. Meanwhile,
Rudy, Tommy, and Sal formed another group which was called
The Vaqueros, a name thought of by their manager to emphasize
the band’s Latino heritage. They recorded two
singles, “Vaquero Beat,” backed with “Oh
So Tenderly” and “Hey Girl,” backed with
“Simple Minded Me.” They also appeared on
“Hullabaloo” as well as some local L.A. television
shows. With the war in Viet Nam raging and the draft
in full swing, Rudy, Tommy, Ronnie, Mike, and Sal were drafted.
Ronnie became a second lieutenant and Sal served in Viet Nam
with the special forces. Military service effectively
put an end to The Blendells. However, in 1991 they reunited
to perform at the Greek Theater at the “K-EARTH LATINO
ROCK & ROLL ALL STARS” show, which included Little
Willie G., Thee Midniters, Cannibal (solo), the Champs, ?
& the Mysterians, Little Ray, the Salas Brothers, Chris
Montez, Sunny & the Sunliners, Rosie & the Originals,
Rene and Rene, and the Chuck Crews Band. According to
observers, The Blendells sounded as good as ever. Recordings
by The Blendells are available on several compilation CDs,
including, “East Side Sound 1959-1968,” on Dionysus Records and
“East Side Sound, Vol. 1&2,” on Varese Sarabande Records.
These and other CDs which include recordings by The Blendells
are available for purchase from the amazon.com links below.
is based on telephone interviews by Mark Guerrero with three
of the five original Blendells- Sal Murillo, Mike Rincon and
Rudy Valona in May of 2000.
On December 26, 2003, Rudy Valona, former lead guitarist of
The Blendells passed away. I attended his memorial service
in East L.A., along with Eastside musicians John and Lawrence
Perez of The Premiers, Mike Rincon (formerly of The Blendells),
The Blendells' former manager, Billy Cardenas, and many other
musicians, friends, and relatives. He was a friend and
will be missed.