Anyone lucky enough to have been in London in the early 70s to witness the record stalls in Golborne Road and Soho Market that were eventually to give birth to Ace Records will recall that there were always rare instrumental albums to be found in the racks. The Champs, with their steady output from the US West Coast, often featured prominently, explaining why it was Ace founder Ted Carroll himself who compiled this 22-track collection.
The Champs recorded for the small Challenge label, founded in 1957 by actor Gene Autry. The company had young songwriter/vocalist Dave Burgess on its roster. Burgess assembled a scratch band for a vocal group session and quickly realised the worth of the players as he added some instrumentals of his own to the agenda. The only tune not his, the hastily recorded ‘Tequila’, was adjudged a possible B-side of an as yet unplanned release. ‘Train To Nowhere’ / ‘Tequila’ emerged as a single in January 1958 credited to the Champs, a name inspired by Gene Autry’s horse Champion. When some DJs decided to flip the record, ‘Tequila’ began to pick up interest. By the end of March it was topping theUSpop and R&B charts, also achieving the #5 position in theUK. Burgess and the tune’s writer Danny Flores quickly assembled a road band to fulfil the numerous bookings.
The Mexican influences of ‘Tequila’ were maintained by subsequent Champs releases ‘Sombrero’, ‘La Cucaracha’ and ‘Bandido’. It would have been quite likely at the time for such a combo to have faltered quickly after a surprise hit, but the Champs managed to find a more than decent follow-up with ‘El Rancho Rock’, based on ‘El Rancho Grande’, which made the Top 30. The B-side ‘Midnighter’ has remained a favourite in UK dance halls. With Dave Burgess overseeing the development of the group, despite several personnel changes, their recordings remained at a constantly professional level with only minor changes to their crisp and clean sound. When Burgess came off the road in 1960, he was replaced for a while by the young Glen Campbell, while other members also included Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts, who later compared life in the band with like being in the army with all its strictures. Nevertheless, the success they consistently achieved was remarkable for an instrumental act. ‘Limbo Rock’ returned them to the Top 40 in 1962, giving them the impetus to continue until their eventual demise in 1964. Listening to this fine collection shows how their quality maintained them as other acts fell by the wayside.