The San Antonio music scene is home to myriad legends from its Westside, individuals that redefined a generation and built a home for dreamy teens to dance. Rudy Tee Gonzalez, who made his first record in 1957, is one of those stalwart figures, and is now joining local rock-surf powerhouse King Pelican to dust off those old records with a new vibration.
The man, who people call “Rudy Tee,”only stands at 5’9” and walks humbly, but his presence is anything but small. His 60 years in the recording industry is proof in itself that he is in this business for the long haul.
King Pelican and Rudy Tee are preparing for a Friday, May 6 show at Antone’s in Austin, and they’re gearing up for some strong future collaborations in the Alamo City.
“We wanna do something for the San Antonio people this summer for sure, maybe get something going at Sam’s Burger Joint,” said manager and promoter Jason Saldaña. “This is more than just a band and we want to make it something special.”
Gonzalez, best known for his work with Rudy and the Reno Bops, brought his sound all over the US and Mexico in the ’60s and ’70s, connecting the music of his roots with the Chicano people.
“In 1964, I saw James Brown, started to imitate his dance steps,” Gonzalez said. “So in some ways I was introducing the (migrant workers of East and West coast) to the music of James Brown.”
Rudy and the fellas of King Pelican were recently at their rehearsal space on Government Hill’s Palmetto Street. Rudy moved his feet, groovin’ out on his first record, “I Cry, Cry.” It was clear the “King of Funk” was still there and ready to break free.
“After working with Rudy at Ponderosa Stomp, I knew Ernest and King Pelican would be into it,” said Saldaña, as the band laid out the next tune inside the house. “I pitched it to Ernest, gave him like two sentences and he was down.”
“I only retired about four years ago,” said Gonzalez, who is 76 years young. “Then Jason (Saldaña) called me and said there were a bunch of record collectors who wanted to hear the old sound. I didn’t want to play that stuff, hadn’t played it since it was recorded in 1961.”
Saldaña sat quietly in this reporter’s living room while Gonzalez laughed about the beautiful happenstance.
“He asked if I had heard of the Ponderosa Stomp, it was in New Orleans,” Gonzalez said. “It was just a thrill and a half, and it really started the ball rolling.”
The “old sound” refers to Rudy Tee’s first recordings and major breakthroughs on the R&B and Chicano airwaves, which happened between the ripe ages of 17 to 22, with his band, the Reno Bops.
“We started out more Conjunto with guitar, accordion, and drums, but then replaced accordion with two saxes, one was Big Ralph Sanchez,” Gonzalez said. “We recorded our first record in a small room called Reel Record Studios, across from City Hall.”
Listening to Rudy’s performances at Ponderosa Stomp, a festival in New Orleans, a rawness explodes from the speakers, and the hard hitting runs of the sax section set Rudy up for high-octane numbers like “Do the Jerk Like Me” and “The Phillie.”
These were the sounds of a man who rivaled the energy of Little Richard and Fats Domino in their prime, but catered to a special cross-section of the American dream.
Saldaña has been a fan of Gonzalez’s music for more than a decade, and has attended many of his shows in that time.
“The Westside Sound is subjective, it’s ballad, it’s low-rider, it’s soul, it’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Saldaña said. “Lil’ Henry, Sunny and Sunliners, Royal Jesters, everything these guys are doing is about the roots.”
Ernest Hernandez, the lead guitar and ringleader for King Pelican, has developed a calm and cool demeanor from a foundation of years in the music business.
“We started as a rock ‘n’ roll band, and realized we were playing surf,” Hernandez said. “We started writing tunes in that ’60s type of feel, really having having with the palette of that particular time period.”
Hernandez also gave props to Saldaña for seeing the nature of King Pelican as a rock ‘n’ roll band, and for making the connection with Gonzalez.
“For us being well-rooted in SA, growing up here, it means a lot to work with a Chicano soul legend,” Hernandez said. “We got together and tried it and we got along pretty well.”
The camaraderie witnessed in the 15 minutes of rehearsal was enough to see the magic of what the group has fostered in just a short time of playing together. From jamming on the North St. Mary’s Strip to rocking the stage at SXSW, the group has melded the past and present into a simultaneously laid-back yet vivacious vibration, reminiscent of the city they represent.
“We started playing music and you started smiling, you started having a good time,” Hernandez said about our reaction to the music just played in the living room of bassist Lloyd Walsh. “When you’re out playing it, it has a whole different vibe. At the heart of it, that’s what we enjoy.”
Walsh, smiley and satisfied throughout the course of the interview, chimed in on the theme of joy.
“It’s incredible, Rudy’s attitude, (he’s) one of the best frontmen I’ve played with,” Walsh said. “His spirit is infectious and he gets people out on the dance floor. He really gets ‘em going, he won’t take no for an answer.”
Gonzalez just sat back, smiling graciously welcoming the words and simply happy to be doing what he loves, to be loved in return after all these years.
“This Japanese guy comes up to me at Ponderosa Stomp, says he’s been following the music since he was 15, that they’re copying this sound in Japan. So they’re must be something to it,” he said with a grin. “It’s being kept alive by a certain breed, a lot of them are record collectors, youngsters that do like the oldies, the oldies but goodies.”
Top image: Rudy Tee Gonzales, of the Rudy and the Reno Bops Chicano rock ‘n’ roll band, will be collaborating with surf group King Pelican. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.