The Champs (1958-1965)

Seals and Crofts were enduring members of the Champs, a primarily instrumental, straight ahead Latin, rhythm and blues combo forever associated with the song, "Tequila." That song was credited to Daniel Flores (b. 1929, a.k.a. "Chuck Rio"), a talented saxophonist, keyboardist and singer. The Flores Trio also had Gene Alden on drums, and Buddy Bruce on guitar.

In 1957, Gene Autry had signed a number of rockabilly Texas musicians to his fledgling Challenge Records label in Hollywood, such as Danny Wolfe (who brought the Commodores), Jerry Wallace, and Huelyn Duvall. Challenge also signed a Californian singer/writer, Dave Burgess (b. 1934), who was promoted as the soloist, "Dave Dupree." Challenge produced several acts through the Gold Star studios in Hollywood, but had no hits in 1957. Burgess organized an instrumental session at Goldstar on December 23, 1957, which included the Flores trio that was under contract elsewhere. The session was sketched primarily to record an excellent Burgess composition, "Train To Nowhere." Also evidently recorded were "Night Beat" and a tune that has never been recovered, "All Night Rock." Burgess assisted on rhythm guitar and sessionist Cliff Hills filled in on bass. "Tequila" was based on a Flores trio stage vamp and was recorded essentially as an afterthought to round out the session. It was done in three takes and the group was oblivious to the enduring classic they had created.

Challenge Records released "Train To Nowhere" as a single on January 15, 1958, with "Tequila" on the B-side. Because Flores was under contract with RPM, credit was given to "Chuck Rio," which became his permanent adopted stage name. The new group was called "The Champs," although there clearly was no cohesive group per se. Burgess did record three new songs for "The Champs" on January 20, but any vocal direction was quickly scuttled by the immediate mania surrounding "Tequila." The instrumental B-side not only charted quickly, it shot up the charts in short order, and hit number one on March 28, 1958. A rival version by Eddie Platt also charted and peaked at no. 20.


Original touring lineup with (l - r) Joe Burnas, Dave Burgess, Gene Alden, Chuck Rio/Daniel Flores and Dale Norris.

A touring group was quickly assembled to capitalize on the success of "Tequila," consisting of Chuck Rio on sax, Dave Burgess on rhythm guitar, Dale Norris on lead (Buddy Bruce declined), Joe Burnas on bass, and Gene Alden on drums. Another recording session took place on April 5, and Challenge had enough material to release the first Champs lp, "Go Champs Go." However, the subsequent stage shows were a disaster, and Rio and Burgess feuded. Rio and Alden quit the tour in June, and a frantic search for replacements began. (Chuck Rio returned to L.A., and began "Chuck Rio and the Originals" for Challenge Records; he later was associated with the Persuaders). Dave Burgess called Danny Wolfe, who in turned called Slim Willet in Abilene. Slim was a country singer, influential in Abilene and Dallas radio scene. He also was active in the popular "Big D" Jamborees of the 1950's there and operated the Winston record label out of his garage. Willet recorded local Texas musicians in various combinations, including a young Jimmy Seals on tenor sax and a young Dash Crofts on drums. The two were primarily playing with pianist Dean Beard as "Dean Beard and the Four Pals" and "Dean Beard and the Crew Cats." Seals sax was remarkably similar in tone in Rio's. He had recorded a number of Rio compositions, such as "Sneaky Pete," "Benguela," and"Juavez" under the name, "Jimmy Seals Orchestra." These first recordings of Seals and Crofts appeared on 45's for the Carlton and Winston labels.

(l - r) Burnas, Norris, Burgess, Alden, Rio.

Willet agreed to let Seals and Crofts join The Champs if 26 year old Dean Beard could also join. Burgess agreed and the three new Champs joined up with the tour in Baton Rouge. The stage show was immediately successful - the crowd reportedly ripped off the group's shirts. Seals and Crofts were paid $100 each for the first week. After the tour completed, they were invited to join The Champs in California as permanent members. Jimmy had difficulty convincing his father to let him go, but he did relent, and so Seals and Crofts left their homes in Texas for Hollywood. Dean Beard did not fare as well. He was accused of pocketing part of the cut meant for Seals and Crofts and was fired from the band. Dean returned to Texas and fell victim to leukemia many years later.

They were recording with the Champs at Goldstar as soon as July 15, 1958. Dash recalls that they re-recorded "Tequila" and being told that the new recording was intended to replace the hit version for legal reasons. A second recording session took place on July 25. Burgess attempted some vocal tracks, and Seals and Crofts did backup as "The Chimes." Burgess, Seals and Crofts also cut at least two vocal singles as "The Trophies." The Champs also recorded with The Jordanaires on September 10. Challenge Records released the second Champs album, "Everybody's Rockin'." (Some of the cuts were from the earlier sessions with Chuck Rio). The group went on to record scores of tunes featuring Jimmy's tenor sax -- incredibly -- for six years with a succession of many musicians. For example Van Norman, the bassist who replaced Joe Burnas, died in a car crash in November of 1958. Bob Morris became the new bassist.

Cover photo for "Everybody's Rockin', 1958: (clockwise from top) Dave Burgess, Van Norman, Jimmy Seals, Dale Norris, Dash Crofts, Dean Beard.

Lineup for 1958: (clockwise from top left) Van Norman, Jimmy Seals, Dean Beard, Dash Crofts, Dave Burgess, Dale Norris.

Lineup in early 1959: (left to right) Dash Crofts, Bob Morris, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Seals, Johnny Meeks.

In 1959, The Champs underwent several changes. Challenge Records was sold to Joe Johnson; Johnny Meeks replaced Dale Norris on guitar, only to be replaced with Jerry Cole six months later when he was drafted. Burgess handed rhythm guitar to none other than a 24 year old Oklahoman, Glen Campbell. Recording sessions took place on January 13, March 14, July and August 27, 1959, but the group only had minor chart success.

Lineup in late 1959: (clockwise from top left) Bob Morris, Dash Crofts, Glen Campbell, Jerry Cole, Jimmy Seals.

In 1960-1, The Champs had a talented lineup under Burgess' direction. They toured Texas in the Summer of 1960 and recorded in Clovis, NM, on July 6. Seals and Crofts were earning $500-600 a week. Jimmy wrote his first known composition for the Champs in 1961, "Jumping Bean." In 1962, Dash was served with draft papers during a gig in Colorado. He flew to California and then Texas to collect his belongings, and then reported to boot camp in Colorado Springs. Dash became an administrative assistant because of his typing skills. He was then assigned to Ft. Bragg, NC. He was not sent overseas because he became the personal driver for Gen. Westmoreland, who liked the song "Tequila." After two years of service, Dash was nearly assigned to the National Guard for a four year term, thanks to the intervention of Gene Autry, the Champs' manager.

The Champs kept recording and touring in Dash's absence. When Dash returned to the group in 1964, it became increasingly clear that they were nearing the end of the line. Jimmy had evolved into a singer/songwriter, having cut 4 singles for Challenge records by '65, and elected not to stay with the group on their tour of Japan. Jimmy and Dash argued heatedly over the split. But when Dash returned from the Japanese tour, he and Jimmy reconciled at a recording session for the country artist Bobby Bare. The photo at left is the last lineup of The Champs, before Dave Burgess effectively put an end to the group in 1965. At top left is Johnny Trombore, who co-wrote some songs with Jimmy (such as "Leave" on the DOWN HOME album). To his right are Maurice Marshall and Dash. Below them are the bassist Curtis Paul and Jimmy's replacement on sax, Keith MacKendrick. MacKendrick was another important song collaborator with Jimmy and Dash. Once the Champs disbanded, Dash returned to Cisco and took a job arranged by his father -- then quit after the first day. Jimmy resumed his session work and songwriting. Dash was soon back in California, however, and the friends resumed their careers under the Challenge label, making contributions with acts such as The Knickerbockers, Rick Nelson and Gene Vincent.

The following Champs tunes were contributed by Seals & Crofts:

Rockin' Mary. Music by Dave Burgess, Dash Crofts, 1958. From the Champs second album, Everybody's Rockin,'1958.
Jumping Bean. Music by Bob Morris, Jimmy Seals, 1961.
3/4 Mash. Music by Jimmy Seals, Keith MacKendrick, John Trombatore, 1963.
Volkswagon. Music by Jimmy Seals, 1964.
Only the Young. Music by Jimmy Seals, 1964.
Switzerland. Music by Jimmy Seals, Dash Crofts, Keith MacKendrick, Curtis Paul, Jr., Maurice Marshall, 1964.
The Man From Durango. Words and music by Jimmy Seals, 1965.

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