Steve Propes R&R History class #4 - Sunday July 20, 2014 Los Alamitos, CA
Starting May 18th, 2014 we were invited to participate in 1 of 4 R&R History classrooms taught by Los Angeles R&B Vocal Groups expert, Long Beach historian, author of 9 books (his newest being, OLD SCHOOL 77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records), by my mentor, and friend, Steve Propes.
Thanks to former R&R Roll History class and Cal State Long Beach alumnus, Tom Garland, Steve is back in a classroom. He knew he wanted to reconnect and invite his former professor Steve Propes to teach again. Tom said it was one of his favorite classes he ever took. It took 20+ years but on May 18th, 2014 it happened!
Since then, Steve has completed 3 out of 4 classrooms that Tom set up. On July 20, 2014 at "Pike Resturant and Bar" located at 11272 Los Alamitos Blvd. in Los Alamitos CA. Steve will teach what might be his last class. Please join us so Tom can see that we can’t get enough R&R History, and that we would love for these classes to continue!
P.S. It's held in the back room at The Pike. This is a FREE event that all are welcome too attend.
Classroom #4 will feature twice the knowledge! Steve is inviting his longtime friend and current 90.7 FM KPFK, “Rhapsody In Black” host, Bill Gardner. You can listen to Bill on "Rhapsody in Black" on Friday nights from 8pm - 10pm.
Here is a quick recap of classrooms #1-3:
Classroom #1 held May 18, 2014 at Rivers End Café. Seal Beach, CA – Steve shared Jackie Brenston “Rocket 88”, which is considered to be the first R&R record. He also broke down how R&B played a roll in the creation of what would become R&R. Sharing how sax & piano were the instruments of choice before the guitar, until a young man named Young John Watson, who would later be know as Johnny Guitar Watson came along. Special guest, producer, writer, singer and arranger, Miles Grayson, showed up and shared a few words about his musical journey and some funny stories about his time in music.
A great time was had by all 30+ people in attendance.
Classroom #2 – After starting the first class heavy on the R&B side, Steve brought some rockers. Including the 1949 and original version of That’s All Right by Arthur Big Boy Crudup, a tune synonymous to most as an Elvis Presley original, leaving some of the crowd wide eyed with surprise. Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee by Sticks McGhee, covered by the Johnny Burnette Trio was another example of R&R taking a mostly forgotten song, adding their own flavor and introducing it a new audience.
Steve also played “Nite Owl” by Tony Allen on Specialty #560, which had great success in Los Angeles. The success would be short lived because of the next Specialty release #561 “Tutti Frutti” and Little Richard's showmanship and rockin' piano were brought into the conversation. His style was copied many times over by artists, including by a young James Brown with his song “Chonnie On Chon”. Which is funny because James Brown would end up being more influential, after finally finding his own sound, and would end up being copied a lot more than Little Richard ever was.
The class ended with the Chuck Higgins rockin sax tune, “Rock & Roll (Oh Yeah)” and applause by an appreciative crowd.
Classroom #3 – Steve found himself in competition with the U.S. vs. Germany soccer match. Regardless of the adversity he drew good size crowd. It was a mostly Los Angeles R&B and R&R set played by Mr. Propes because of the special guest Mr. Gil Rocha whom he invited. Him and his wife Judy drove almost 2 hours to be a part of the class.
Gil Rocha, vibraphonist and leader of the 1950’s mixed race group The Silhouettes came to share his story. While they didn't become a household name, their contribution to R&R involves what is one of the best know stories not just in R&R, but in music history. Someone told a neighborhood guitar player to visit Gil and try out for his band. Gil knew this guy had something special as soon as he sat down to play, so he invited him to join the band. It turned out he could sing as well. A friend of Gil’s had a portable recorder and the group made a demo. The friend also said that he would take the tape to play for someone in Hollywood. Not too long after, the group heard back but they only wanted the guitar player/singer. Who was this mystery talent? Ritchie Valens. Gil has devoted himself to sharing his memories and carrying on the true Ritchie Valens story as he remembers it, not the Hollywood version that was made to “sell tickets”.
Gil also shared stories of playing with Chicano legends Little Julian Herrera (who was actually Hungarian) and Rulie Garcia (who would later be known as Johnny Chingas) and brought in the proof with a binder full of pictures and press kit photos.
Steve Propes never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge and connections.
It was another successful classroom.
Written by Robert Rodriguez. July 17, 2014.