Montez emerged in 1962 with a hit single called “Let’s
Dance,” which went to number 4 on the national charts.
Like Chan Romero before him, he was inspired and influenced
by Ritchie Valens and was one of the early Chicano rock pioneers.
At age 17, he was on the road with the likes of Sam Cooke,
The Drifters, Jerry Butler, Smokey Robinson, and Screamin’
Jay Hawkins. In 1963, he was part of a tour of England,
where he was a headliner on the bill with a popular English group
still unknown in America, The Beatles. In the
mid-sixties, he signed with A&M Records and recorded four albums
and had four singles reach the national top 40.
Ezekiel Christopher Montanez was born in
Los Angeles and grew up in Hawthorne, CA. He came from
a musical family, singing rancheras with his older brothers
when he was a kid. They also taught Chris how to play
the guitar. He attended Hawthorne High School with The
Beach Boys and remembers having Brian Wilson in his science
class and jamming at the Wilson brother’s home.
Being a big Ritchie Valens fan, he was fortunate enough to
see Ritchie perform in person at a public dance hall and got
to meet him. This helped inspire him to save up some
money and go to a recording studio and record a couple of
songs. As luck would have it, the engineer played the
demo for some record producers who called Chris and offered
him a deal with Monogram Records. “All You Had
To Do Was Tell Me” became a local hit in Los Angeles.
His second single was the aforementioned national hit “Let’s Dance,” written
by his producer Jim Lee. (Sixteen years later “Let’s Dance” appeared
in the John Belushi movie, “Animal House.”)
With a hit record to his credit, he set
out on the road with the previously mentioned legendary black
artists. He toured by bus all over the U.S., including
the segregated South. He remembers suffering discrimination
and being harassed for associating with black people.
He was booked at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, but
being a teenager and with no one to take him there, he arrived
late and was not permitted to perform. He did work other
Harlem venues, however, such as the Howard Theater.
In 1963 he was booked on a tour of England, where “Let’s
Dance” was number two on the charts. He headlined
with Tommy Roe over The Beatles. Beatlemania was just beginning in England, with “Love
Me Do” being the only record they had out. He
traveled and performed around England with The Beatles for
five weeks and got to know them well. He even had a
scuffle with John Lennon who poured a beer over Chris’ head.
He wasn’t sure if John was kidding, drunk, or both, but he
jumped on John until Tommy Roe broke them up. While in England, he was
a guest on the national television show, “Top of the
Pops.” During a three day break in the tour, The
Beatles went off and recorded their first album “Please
Please Me,” which included “I Saw Her Standing
There” and “Twist and Shout.” Chris’
fondest memory was sitting with The Beatles in a hotel listening
to the album over and over again. He was there to witness
the dawning of The Beatles unparalleled recording career.
In 1964, when The Beatles were touring the U.S at the height
of worldwide Beatlemania, Chris was invited to see them at
a home in Bel Air where they were staying. (This was
when The Beatles were performing at the Hollywood Bowl.)
After Chris Montez’ initial success, he
became disillusioned because he felt he hadn’t been treated or
paid properly by his record company. He found himself with
no money and even lost his car. Still in his teens, people
were calling him a has been, so he decided to go back to school.
He attended El Camino College in Torrance, California, to study
music, but the professor put him down and told him he had no
future in music. At this lowest point, when he had decided
to never return to the music business, a friend invited Chris to
go with him to take a demo to a record executive. It turns
out it was Herb Alpert, musician and co-owner of A&M Records.
When Herb was introduced to Chris, he asked, “are you the Chris
Montez that had the hit “Let’s Dance?” Chris replied in
the affirmative. Herb offered him a record contract which
Chris initially turned down, saying he wasn’t interested in
being in the music business anymore. A few months later,
Chris changed his mind, which led to the second phase of his
career. Herb Alpert suggested to Chris that he should
record middle of the road songs, rather than rock & roll.
Chris didn’t like the idea, but went along with it. The
move paid off with four top 40 hits in 1966, “Call Me,”
“The More I See You,” “There Will Never
Be Another You,” and "Time After Time." He recorded four albums for A&M
from 1966-68. In the 70s, Chris had several hits in
Europe on the CBS International label including, “Somebody
Loves You,” and the Tex Mex songs “Hay No Digas,”
and “Loco Por Ti.” The Spanish language
titles were popular in Germany and other countries where polkas
originated. In 1983 Chris returned to A&M Records
to record an album in Spanish entitled, “Carta de Amor.”
When I was 12 or 13, I had Chris' single,
“Let’s Dance,” and remember hearing it quite
a bit and liking it. I never met Chris Montez, but we
both recorded for A&M Records, he in the late 60s, myself
in the early 70s. In 1983, our paths just missed when
he recorded his “Carta de Amor” album at A&M,
produced by Jose Quintana. At the same time, my song,
“Pre-Columbian Dream” (“Sueño Precolombino”),
was being recorded by Herb Alpert for his “Noche de
Amor” album, also produced by Quintana. I was
at A&M quite a bit at the time, but didn’t meet
him. When I decided I had to find him for an interview, as
fate would have it, I mentioned it to my friend, musician/producer,
Skip Heller. Skip had met Chris, gave me his phone number
and hooked me up. I spoke to Chris on the phone a couple
of times at length for my interview and found him to be personable,
friendly, sincere, and down to earth. In October of
2002, Chris performed on my home turf in Palm Springs, California
for an event called Rocktoberfest, which also included Tommy
Roe, The Drifters, The Coasters, The Crystals, and Big Bopper,
Jr. After his performance, he came to hear my band
at my local gig and we hung out. We took photos together
and he gave me a couple of CDs, which contained songs from
his early career.
Several reissue LPs are available, such
as the “All Time Greatest” collection, containing
half Monogram and half A&M material. All the A&M
albums and a “Best Of Chris Montez” collection
are available in Japan, or as a Japanese import in the U.S.
There is also an album called “The Hits” released
in Germany on the Repertoire label in 1999. Chris Montez
continues to tour the U.S. and Europe for various booking
agencies including, Mars Talent out of Bardonia, New York.
In December 2000, he performed in Belgium and Holland, and
he's currently working on a Tex Mex album. In late October
2002, Chris went on a tour of England, Ireland, and Wales
with Bobby Vee, Brian Hyland, and other 60s artists.
You can purchase Chris Montez CDs from the amazon.com links
This article is based on a telephone interview by Mark
Guerrero with Chris Montez on November 22, 2000.