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In Thee Midnite Hour!!!!
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In Thee Midnite Hour!!!! _________________________________________________

Thee Midniters
In Thee Midnite Hour!!!!

Norton Records
ED 315


From the 2006 vinyl release


1. Whittier Blvd.
2. Jump, Jive And Harmonize
3. Gloria
4. Love Special Delivery
5. I Found A Peanut
6. Welcome Home Darling
7. Land Of A Thousand Dances
8. Down Whittier Blvd. (Godfrey vocal) - Bonus Cut


1. Everybody Needs Somebody To Love
2. Never Knew I Had It So Bad
3. Empty Heart
4. Hey Little Girl [Previously Unreleased]
5. Looking Out A Window
6. Money
7. Thee Midnite Feeling


THEE MIDNITERS were the greatest band to come out of the Chicano community of East Los Angeles in the sixties, natural heirs to the legacy of Ritchie Valens and self-made contenders to the crown. Most of the original group members were students at Salesian High School, located on the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Soto Street, and had come up through a number of neighborhood combos including the Gentiles, surf instrumental group the Vesuvians, and the R&B-inflected Johnny and the Crowns.

Ex-Gentiles Little Willie G and Larry Rendon had first clicked with Benny Ceballos as Benny & the Midniters. This early lineup was know for wearing Lone Ranger style masks, which they would throw into the audience, driving the girls wild. The usual band bait and switch lineup swaps (including a period with two lead singers, Little Willie G and Little Ray Jimenez) resulted in the solid recording band Thee Midniters, Willie, together with George Dominguez (lead guitar), Roy Marquez (rhythm guitar), Ronny Figueroa (organ), Larry Rendon (tenor sax), and trombone blaster Romeo Prado formed the core of the group with the drummer George Salazar and bass player Benny Lopez being succeeded by Danny La Mont and Jimmy Espinoza, respectively, Jimmy coming to the group via the Vesuvians and the Crowns, led by local legend Johnny Gamboa. Romeo too had entered the Midniters fold via the Crowns.

Hooked on the abundant airwaves of local rock ‘n’ roll radio (KGFJ, KDAY, KFWB, KRLA, KHJ, and XPRS), the guys worked up virtually everything they heard on the charts. At Salesian, music director Bill Taggart encouraged his students to participate in the massive biannual school-sponsored concerts held at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park. On October 18, 1964, the Midniters were tagged to back Cannibal & The Headhunters there for a live recording of Chris Kemper’s Land Of A Thousand Dances. As fate would have it, the Headhunters got stranded in Northern California by bad weather, and were unable to make the highly anticipated gig. Thee Midniters compensated for the no-shows by laying out their own incredible six-minute version of the Kenner comp. The powerful live recording was promptly picked up for release by Ruth Contes’ Hollywood-based Chattahoochee label (which had boasted chart success with the Murmaids’ Popsicles and Icicles) as a split single, featuring the first 2:28 minutes on one side, and the remaining 3:24 on side tow. It is heard uninterrupted for the first time on the Norton CD version of this release. To avoid confusion with Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, the band names appeared as Thee Midniters on the label of their debut record. The hep moniker would inspire a rash of “Thee” combos.

Soon after the release of the live Chattahoochee disc, Cannibal and the Headhunters cut their own studio version of the song that would battle out, and eventually overtake Thee Midniters on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #30 over the Chattahoochee live disc’s top showing at #67, while the two versions were duking it out in the charts, Chattahoochee pressed an alternate B-side with the same catalog number, pairing Part One with a live instrumental, Ball of Twine, possibly to avert radio play confusion with the two part single.

Chart action followed a few weeks later with the killer Whittier Blvd/Evil Love. The record starts up with Willie G.’s rallying cry, “Let’s Take A Trip Down Whittier Boulevard!!!! Honk Honk!! Followed by organist Ronny Figueroa shouting “Arriba! Arriba! Haa Haa Haa Haa Haa Haa!!” Dick Dale-styled lead guitar, pounding organ and driving horns pummel through a twisted rendition of the Rolling Stones’ instrumental 2120 South Michigan Avenue. Arranged by Romeo Prado, the horn refrain on Whittier Blvd., is all attack with no relief in sight, matched with yelling and screaming piled up atop howling band bash, building into a sonic free-for-all. This was the anthem, hatched innocently enough that would come to define the rock ‘n’ roll personality of Thee Midniters. Whittier Blvd., was simply all attitude.

“When I first hear Whittier Blvd., on the airwaves, it sounded so different than the other instrumentals of the day,” recalls hardcore Thee Midniters fan Gene Aguilera. “From my tiny transistor radio, out came blaring ‘Let’s take a trip down Whittier Blvd., Arriba Arriba!, and when I found out the group was Thee Midniters from East L.A., it made me proud to know these guys were from my turf, walking the same streets as me.  They were like the Beatles to us. Here they were, Chicanos, competing on the Top 40 playlist, and giving us hope for the future.”

My personal experience, growing up in Monterey Park, led me to ask the folds to drive over to the mythical boulevard one night. It was only a bout a couple of miles from the house I grew up in. this was 1965 and I felt the draw of local excitement in Thee Midniters’ hit. Whittier Boulevard was so crowded, that we actually could not get our car onto the street. We literally had to cruise the back alleys. We stopped between each set of buildings to see what was going on. The whole place seemed like on swingin’ family, with police supervision nearby, but the ritual of making the scene and impressing girls fully in tow.

Cruising Whittier Boulevard in a Low Rider was a rite of passage in the neighborhood. Like with the better-known Hot Rod culture made famous by Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys, East Los Angeles had developed its own automotive hedonism in praise of taking it slow. Chicanos were most enamored with playing it bajito y sauvecito (low and smooth), showboating radically modified lead sled Pachuco hoppers down old State Route 72 a/k/a Whittier Boulevard, the main drag.

The huge population that identified with Whittier Blvd., and groups like Thee Midniters could see and hear them at local dances at places like the Big Union Hall in Vernon or the Little Union Hall in the City of Commerce. A scene began to spring up in the areas around St. Alphonsus School Hall and Kennedy Hall on Atlantic Boulevard, the Paramount Ball Room in Boyle Heights, Gigi Hall in Lincoln Heights, the Montebello Ballroom in Montebello and Rainbow Gardens in Pomona. After hitting with Farmer John, the Premiers recorded their live album at the Rhythm Room in nearby Fullerton. At this time, police were authorized to enforce strict laws against teenagers congregating, be it on the street corners or at venues. The Watts riots in August of 1965 had put teen gangs and teenagers in general under the microscope of the authorities, thus the dances revolved around social clubs, union halls, and church auditoriums. El Monte Legion Stadium, home to L.A.’s best rock ‘n’ roll shows during the fifties, was located outside the city limits, and was able to sidestep the unlawful congregation rules into the 1960s. Chicanos were largely responsible for the continued spirit and adulation of the music originally spawned at El Monte Legion.

Thee Midniters’ home base was the huge Spanish-style Golden Gate Theatre (capacity over thirteen hundred), located on the Southwest corner of Atlantic and Whittier Boulevards in East L.A. Not only did the group perform regularly on its ancient stage, they also kept an office in the building and were photographed for the cover of their debut album underneath the Golden Gate’s marquee. Wisely, they did not remove the promotional posters for the feature showing that week in ’65. The Family Jewels starring Jerry Lewis!

“What happened in Liverpool was duplicated in East L.A. – Mary Quant shoes, bellbottoms, mohair sweaters, 13-inch cuffs,” smiles Thee Midniters bass player Jimmy Espinoza. “There was a sophistication in East L.A., that’s actually not even recorded or understood. It’s like the lost treasure of Atlantis, because it was a whole scene, just like the Rockers and the Mods. It was so weird. People were getting educated; everybody was into the jazz of the times – that spirit took the planet, not just Liverpool, or not just Europe, it invaded East L.A. as well. Most of the culture, the people that I grew up with, were on the cutting edge. Hairdresser, razor cut, tinting the hair, it was a whole fashion scene. East L.A., virtually, at that time, was a sister city of Liverpool.”

Whittier Blvd., bubbled under the national chart at #101, primarily based on sales in Los Angeles. “We did all the local TV shows on the strength of Land Of A Thousand Dances and Whittier Blvd., making the national charts,” Espinoza recalls. “We were on 9th Street West, we did Hollywood A Go Go…we were legitimized. We’d party with the Surfers, and romance the Latinas.”

Bookending their early hit singles with the locally hot ballads Sad Girl and That’s All, Thee Midniters released their debut LP collection in late July of 1965 as the Chattahoochee label’s first full-length. In the course of the action, they spun out another pair of seven-inch rockers that showed their debt to England. Take note of the confident and rhythmically unhinged delivery on the Rolling Stones’ arrangement of Solomon Burke’s Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (recorded at the Vern Theater on Olympic Boulevard at Soto Street) and the Jagger/Richards 12x5 killer Empty Heart. In Thee Midniters’ hands, crowd pleasers on their album like Larry Williams’ Slow Down and Barrett Strong’s Money take on a righteous edge. John Lennon had given both songs a new energy in his cover version for the Beatles, and in turn, Thee Midniters adapted their arrangements and proceeded at breakneck speed, same for the group’s nervy, screaming terror on Johnny B. Goode.

A couple of more singles arrived on Chattahoochee (including the raw punker I Found A Peanut and Oscar Brown Jr.’s soulfully significant Brother, Where Are You), but the group got tough again by forming their own label, Whittier Records, going independent, more than a year before the Beach Boys’ Brother Records and the Beatles Apple imprint. In fact, the Beach Boys paid tribute to Thee Midniters on their Lei’d In Hawaii live recordings in the summer of 1967. They opened with a tune called Hawthorne Blvd., filled with screaming and an intro with Brian Wilson calling out “Let’s take a trip down Hawthorne Boulevard.”

In total, Thee Midniters would release four albums – THEE MIDNITERS on Chattahoochee (1965), followed by three on their own Whittier Records imprint – LOVE SPECIAL DELIVERY (1966 – L.S.D. reference not denied by the group), THEE MIDNITERS UNLIMITED (1967) and GIANTS (1968).

By December ’65, with five local singles and a debut album under their belts, Thee Midniters were invited to the KRLA Beat Awards, a prestigious Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll gala held at the Hullabaloo, near Sunset and Vine. The guest list was pure chart topping rock ‘n’ roll royalty – James Brown, Little Richard, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, and Thee Midniters. The Beatles phoned in their acceptance speech, which was broadcast over loudspeakers at the fete. Although Whittier Boulevard got nudged out of the Best Instrumental award by A Taste Of Honey by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, the group knew they had arrived as contenders, and loved the fact that they were recognized as contemporaries by their heroes. “I’d say about mid-‘65, into 1966, we played a lot with like, the Seeds, the Bobby Fuller Four, that wasn’t uncommon,” explains Thee Midniter’s lead singer Little Willie G. “We’d go hang out on Sunset Strip – George Dominguez and I – with John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, David Crosby from the Byrds, Richie Furay from the Buffalo Springfield. We sort of became friends with those guys.”

This was all happening at the crest of action that made Hollywood on the first day of 1965 a very unique spot. Suddenly, music was taking over the place movies once held in town, forged by the immense success of the Beatles and those that came in their wake. The Rolling Stones were constantly in L.A., recording things like Satisfaction and Paint It Black at the RCA studio on Sunset. With a suntanned youthquake reaching its peak, Thee Midniters began to interact with a community of L.A. bands at the height of their powers, including the Byrds, Mothers, Doors, Electric Prunes, Music Machine, Standells, Knickerbockers, Turtles and Love. At a bill headlined by the Seeds at Santa Barbara’s Earl Warren Showgrounds, Thee Midniters starred alongside the Chocolate Watchband and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

The slide into the L.A. scene is celebrated with their snarling fuzztone tirade, Jump, Jive And Harmonize. The song was inspired by a Paul Butterfield Band show at The Trip in January of 1966. “When Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield starting coming around, when we started meeting those guys on the scene, that was like, just a challenge for us, musically,” recall Little Willie G. “Jump, Jive And Harmonize was birthed out of just hanging around with John Sebastian and guys like that. I had never played harmonica before, and we had certainly never attempted to play a song a the velocity.” The flipside, Looking Out A Window was recorded at the Jewel Theater on the corner of Whittier Boulevards and Indiana Street. Hey Little Girl may also come from the Jewel Theater, as Thee Midniters frequently rehearsed there.

Like the Standells’ dismissal of antiquated social attitudes in Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White, Thee Midniters’ Never Knew I Had It So Bad was a tongue-in-cheek commentary on issues Little Willie G and George Dominguez were hearing about from Chicano Civil Rights group the Brown Berets, as well as generally negative news media coverage of conditions in East L.A. Thee Midniters were never short on instrumental inspiration, and by the end of the decade recorded the chant Chicano Power on their own La Raza label. Thee Midnite Feeling on this collection showcases drummer Danny La Mont, whose Keith Moon-style rippage signified Thee Midniters at their peak, combining the ferocity of the Who with the intensity of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Although banned elsewhere, Them’s single Gloria hit #1 on both KRLA and KFWB in 1965, with an 18-night stint at Whiskey a Go Go in May of ’66 sealing the group’s immense local popularity. Thee Midniters lose no steam from Van Morrison’s original vocal on the song, with singer Roy Marquez’s perfect and unsettling screams punctuating his attitude-laden lead vocal. “As we expanded and got more popular, we worked with the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Leaves,” explains Espinoza, “ and then, actually, at the Big Union Hall, our manager, Eddie Torres started importing groups in. we had Them when they first released Gloria, Van Morrison was with them at the time. Everybody was listening to the same radio, so there was an open market between Hollywood and certain promoters in East L.A. We worked with the Yardbirds at a show up in Oxnard. There was a cross-pollination happening.”

Love Special Delivery was the group’s best attempt at a follow-up hit to Whittier Blvd., and they played it on a episode of Shebang filmed at Anaheim Stadium, the new home for the Los Angeles Angels. Also part of the second album, I Found A Peanut was all squalls, demented vocals and vicious guitar. Down Whittier Blvd., in the vocal version recorded here by Thee Midniters with Los Angeles DJ Godfrey, continues to today as a worldwide club favorite.

Hey Little Girl is something of a mystery. According to the group, it was an unauthorized release, and the circumstances surrounding the extremely rare 45 remain veiled. It is released for human consumption for the first time here. In terms of rare pressings, the group’s last completely new album, THEE MIDNITERS UNLIMITED turned out to be their most accomplished. It featured cool originals and a superbly bad-ass cover of Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly sung by Roy Marquez.

The group was capable of pulling off anything, with their single The Big Ranch b/w Dragon-Fly a fine example of Thee Midniters’ unbridled bravado. The A-side takes the free-form Spanish slang of Don Tosti’s Pachuco Boogie (from 1948) and applies it to an extreme Corrido tempo, making for a crazier-than-La Bamba waxing. The flip sounds as if the Mar-Keys took off and suddenly became the Yardbirds in the middle of a song. “George Dominguez was a wonderful blues guitar player,” Espinoza notes, adding, “not schooled, but very instinctive. He just had a feel for it.”

Thee Midniters’ command of a wide range of musical styles, including their vocal and instrumental numbers, place them among the most powerful combos in rock ‘n’ roll. Little Willie G. may be known for his soulful ballads in East L.A., but he takes no step back when it comes to gritty rock ‘n’ roll and stands right alongside Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and ? and the Mysterians. “Everybody pitched in to our melting pot,” Espinoza concludes.

“Roy Marquez dug Romeo’s orchestrations, yet he was into Brian Jones. Danny Lamont loved Hal Blaine, Ed Shaughnessy, Buddy Rich. We were always savvy.”

And thank God they were – savvy, that is. Savvy enough to know how to pack every moment of the three-minutes-tops recording surface available on a seven-inch disc with every iota of power and energy and attitude available to a group of guys from East L.A. called Thee Midniters. Arriba! Arriba! Oh, Yeah!

– Domenic Priore


Compiled by Billy Miller and Miriam Linna

Executive Producers: Jimmy Espinoza and William Garcia

Co-Producers: Romeo Prado and Larry Rendon

Creative Consultant: Gene Aguilera

Mastered by Tim Warren, Crypt Studios

Design by Pat Broderick/Rotodesign

Thanks to David Wilson, Kirk Silsbee, Jeff Lemlich, Doug White and Eric at Goner Records,

Special thanks to Mark Guerrero for providing the great East L.A. dance flyers.

Dedicated to the memory of our brother, Romeo Prado, 1944-2006
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