Train to Nowhere
"Train to Nowhere" by Dave Dupree was the aptly named single released by Challenge Records on January 15, 1958. Newly founded by Gene Autrey, "The Singing Cowboy" of Hollywood fame, the Los Angeles
based label was looking to land its first hit record. The single itself was on the road to "nowhere" until something highly unlikely happeneda disc jockey in Cleveland
, Ohio listened to the flip side of a single by an unknown artist on an obscure new label. He liked what he heard and put the B-side in rotation, and by March 28, 1958 it was the #1 song on the Billboard Charts. That flip side, as you've probably guessed from the title of this piece, was "Tequila," one of the best selling instrumental singles in music historya song eventually covered by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie
, Wes Montgomery
, David Sanborn
, and Larry Carlton
"Tequila" had been hastily recorded by the session musicians who were in the studio for Dupree's "Train to Nowhere." There was no band at that point, they had simply needed to fill the other side of Dupree's disc. The idea for the song came from the saxophonist Danny Flores and it was quickly worked out in the studio. The drummer and guitarist from his trio were also part of the session. Because Flores was under contract with another label, he used the pseudonym Chuck Rio for the B-side song credits. Dave Dupree was a stage name, the actual name of the artist on "Train to Nowhere" was Dave Burgess. He was under contract with Challenge and suddenly he and his new label had a hit on their hands and needed a band to hit the road.
A touring band, the Champs, was organized around Dave Burgess on rhythm guitar, Chuck Rio on saxophone, and the original drummer from the sessions. A new bassist and lead guitarist were hired and by April the band was in the studio recording enough material for an album. After that they embarked on a bitter end tour. Weeks later, May 3, 1958, they actually played "Tequila" live on Dick Clark's Saturday Night Beechnut Show. Dick Clark displayed their Gold Record for selling a million copies, and they rocked the house. Behind the scenes things did not go well and this born-out-of-necessity band quickly imploded following angry clashes between Dave Burgess and Chuck Rio. The following month, Chuck Rio and his drummer, Gene Alden, abruptly quit the band and left the tour. In a panic Dave Burgess desperately sought a replacement saxophonist and drummer. At this point, the already unlikely story gets even more improbable when two Texas teenagers enter the picture.
Teens to the Rescue
I've never been to Rankin, Texas, hometown of Jimmy Seals, who became the Champ's saxophonist in 1958 at 16, but I have taken a virtual tour via Google maps. The landscape is barren, you pass the city limits sign with its population of 778 people and in the distance you see a few buildings lining the roadmaybe a bar & grill and a general store? Once you arrive "downtown" no such luck, there are some weathered old structures and a nondescript oilfield supply store. It was in fact the promise of work in the oil fields that initially lured Jimmy Seals' grandfather away from the Big Sandy in Tennessee to Texas in 1919.
Jimmy Seals shared this with the Los Angeles Times in an article dated Oct. 26, 1991: "When I was a kid, we didn't have a whole lot aroundwe had to send off for our clothes in the mailso we'd play music for entertainment, and Texas is a strange country. You can't really put your finger on it, but it allows you to grow up using your imagination. I think any kind of isolation causes you to want to do something. You sit there and wonder what it's like on the other side of the world."
Fred Seals brought his banjo with him from Tennessee, and when he wasn't working, making music on the front porch was about the only game in town. His son Wayland (Eugene Wayland) was six years old when the family arrived in Texas, and he quickly absorbed everything his father could teach him about music. Wayland also went to work in the oil fields, played guitar on the porch, and eventually fronted a '50s rockabilly band called Wayland Seals and the Oil Patch Boys. You can search YouTube and hear a few of their singles. Initially I listened to them as curiosities, but they are full of raw energy and capture the spirit of the area and the era. Wayland had three sons who, like himself, were taught music on the front porch by their father and his father. Following in Wayland's footsteps they took their music to the next level.