Born Ezekiel Christopher Montanez, 17 January 1943, Los Angeles, California
Chris Montez is a Chicano (Mexican American) singer who was strongly influenced by the vocal stylings of his idol Ritchie Valens. In 1962 he emerged with the international hit "Let's Dance", which is now considered a dance classic and has been reissued heavily over the past half-century. Switching from rock and roll to middle-of-the-road in 1966, he managed to stay in the limelight for a considerable period.
Born in Los Angeles, Montez grew up in nearby Hawthorne in a musical family. His brothers taught him to play guitar and at fifteen he began to sing and write songs. Chris attended Hawthorne High School where he was in the same science class as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. In 1958 he made a demo recording, "She's My Rocking Baby", which was eventually released by Norton in 2001, credited to Chris Montez and the Invincibles. His first real record was "I Lost My Baby"/"They Say" on the Guaranteed label (a Carlton subsidiary), issued in December 1960. Perhaps Chris feels a bit ashamed about the disc now, because he doesn't even mention it on his own website. You can hear "I Lost My Baby" (written by Barry DeVorzon) on YouTube.
In 1961 Montez met impresario Jim Lee, who was looking for talent to start his Monogram label. The first release on Monogram was the Chris Montez 45 "All You Had To Do (Was Tell Me)"/"Love Me", both sides co-written by Montez and Barry DeVorzon. The A-side bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100, reaching # 108 in April 1962. But the second Monogram single by Montez was a whole different ball game. Penned and produced by Jim Lee, "Let's Dance" was a thumping organ- led rocker that peaked at # 4 and sold over one million copies in the USA alone. Furthermore it was # 2 in the UK, # 1 in Belgium, # 3 in Holland, to mention just a few of the countries where the record charted. The follow-up, "Some Kinda Fun", also reached the Top Ten in the UK (# 43 in the US) and in March 1963 Chris was flown over to England to co-headline (with Tommy Roe) the Beatles' second British tour. At that time Beatlemania was just beginning to take off in the UK. Already after the first show (at the Granada Cinema, East Ham, London) it became clear that it was impossible for Roe and Montez to follow the Beatles and they agreed to drop down the bill, letting the Beatles close the show.
Montez continued to release records about dancing. "Let's Do the Limbo"/"Rockin' Blues" (both sides lifted from the LP "Let's Dance And Have Some Kinda Fun") was followed by "My Baby Loves To Dance", which sounded a little too much like "La Bamba". Its flip, "In An English Towne", was the Ritchie Valens song "In A Turkish Town" set in a new geographical context. In 1964 Montez was teamed up with Kathy Young (of "A Thousand Stars" fame) for two Monogram singles. The first one contained remakes of two earlier solo recordings, "All You Had To Do (Was Ask Me)" and "You're the One" (the B-side of "Let's Dance"). Before I started the research for this article, I'd never heard "All You Had To Do" by Chris and Kathy, but now I can't get it out of my head!
"It's Not Puppy Love" (1964) was Chris's last single for Monogram before the company went out of business. Montez had become disillusioned with the label, feeling he hadn't been treated and paid properly. He quit the music business and went back to college, until Herb Alpert persuaded Chris to sign with his A&M label. Alpert suggested a switch to a middle-of-the-road, soft ballad sound. Though reluctant at first, Montez agreed to go along. The first A&M single, "Call Me" (written by British songwiter/producer Tony Hatch for Petula Clark), returned Montez to the US charts (# 22) for the first time since "Some Kinda Fun". The follow-up, "The More I See You", sung in a very high tenor range, was even more successful (# 16 US, # 3 UK, and a hit in many other countries). With four Top 40 hits in 1966, Montez was back in business. Though "Because Of You" (# 71, 1967) was his last US chart entry (disregarding the easy listening charts), he continued to score hits in several other countries. For instance, "Loco Por Ti" (# 7, 1972, on Paramount) and "Ay No Digas" (# 3, 1973, on CBS) were big hits in Holland and also in Belgium, Austria and Germany. The titles are in Spanish, but these songs were sung in English. Montez would recorded a Spanish- language album in 1983 ("Cartas de Amor"), back with A&M.
The timeless appeal of "Let's Dance" was confirmed when reissues of the record charted twice in the UK : # 9 in 1972 (on London) and # 47 in 1979 (Lightning). The song was featured in the 1978 movie "National Lampoon's Animal House", starring John Belushi. "Let's Dance" featured some top session men, including Ray Johnson (organ), Jesse Sailes (drums), Ray Pohlman (bass) and Joel Hill (guitar).
Although technically not a great singer with regard to holding key, Montez has a pure vocal quality that is refreshing in its straightforward way. Now in his 70s, he continues to tour the USA and Europe. A documentary film about his life, "The Chris Montez Story", directed by Burt Kearns, was released on July 4, 2014. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2611434/
More info : http://markguerrero.net/15.php
Interview : http://www.classicbands.com/ChrisMontezInterview.html
Official website : http://www.chrismontez.com/pages/home_frames.html Includes a discography of his albums, but not of his singles. For the US singles see : http://www.45cat.com/artist/chris-montez/us (incomplete, but I couldn't find a better source).
Acknowledgements : Mark Guerrero, Wikipedia, the official website.
Dik, July 2014
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