Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Last Of The West Side Groovers

On August 2nd, Texas tenor great Rocky Morales lost his long battle with cancer. He was 65. I was first introduced to Rocky by longtime friend and band mate Doug Sahm when recording the Texas Tornados record FOUR ACES. Rocky entered the control room with his famous stagger-but-not-fall stride, looked up through his beat-era specs and smiled a mouth of teeth bent into a welcoming matt for his sax's mouthpiece.

Rocky was a driving force of the San Antonio R&B sound, which was a mixture of classic 50's R&B/Doo-Wap with a tejano twist (becoming more prominent with his band The Westside Horn Section, also featuring Al Gomez, Louie Bustos and Spot Barnet). He was fronting the Markays in 1959, when he first played with genre-defying Sahm, recording the song "Why Why Why" for Harlem records. For the rest of Sahm's life the two would collaborate, and much of what I know about Rocky came from Doug. Doug credited his tenor sax man for being the secret weapon between his genius style meshings, and talked of Rocky as a modern day hard-living beatnic who would quietly iterate deep philosophical musings of music and survival in between sips of his ever present can of beer.

Rocky played with a sweet, cascading style: part Lester Young, part Herb Hardesty (Imperial R&B king blower), part nameless troubadour in a nameless club in New York in the mid-seventies. The band would be chorusing a number by T-Bone Walker or Johnny Ace and Sahm would shout the famous call to arms: "ROCCCKKKKYYYYYYYY" signaling Morales to step up and show his wings.

He was one of those people who treated you like a trusted brother, and I will miss him I will also miss the signature tejano-R&B fused sound that he helped create that will never be heard again. Truly one of the great contributors to American music. Great places to hear Rocky's art: FOUR ACES by the Texas Tornados, EL MOLINO--the debut record by Joe King Carrasco, and THE BEST OF DOUG SAHM AND THE SIR DOUGLASS QUINTET. Thank you Bill Bentley for introducing me to all of this.

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