This is the final installment in a three-part series diving into the findings of the West Side Sound Oral History Project, an effort to document and preserve the West Side’s musical heritage. Catch up by reading the first and second installments.
While not nearly enough information has been published about West Side Sound, even less documentation exists on the Black roots of the genre. In San Antonio, Lanier High School, Edgewood High School, and the surrounding Westside community are often credited as the sort of birthplace of West Side Sound. However, in his book Chicano Soul: Recordings and History of an American Culture, Ruben Molina shares how San Antonio’s Eastside community, and Black musicians and venues specifically, were central to the development of the sound.
In the 1950s and ’60s, a period of Jim Crow segregation, Black venues on San Antonio’s East Side, like Eastwood Country Club and the Keyhole Club, welcomed Black musicians and racially integrated audiences. Saxophonist Spot Barnett regularly performed at the Eastwood Country Club, where he fused the key elements that contributed to Chicano soul music, which included blues, R&B, and jazz.
In a 2019 interview with Texas Public Radio, music historian and writer Hector Saldaña credits Spot Barnett for his “profound impact on the rock and roll music and R&B that San Antonio is known for,” specifically influencing Doug Sahm, Ernie Durawa of the Texas Tornados, and some of the musicians that made up West Side Horns, who would sneak into these integrated clubs and learn by watching Black musicians performing there.
Some West Side Sound musicians have explicitly credited Black musicians for influencing their sound and performance. In his book Chicano Soul, Molina shares that Dimas Garza of the Royal Jesters drew inspiration from Etta James in his writing and singing style. Rudy T. Gonzalez, Gilbert Sanchez, and many other local musicians have talked about the influence James Brown had on them as vocalists and performers, and they often covered his songs in their performances.
Interviewing the community about West Side Sound has provided us with the opportunity to not only learn about the music and the memories that people associate with the music but also to learn about San Antonio’s Black and brown histories.
We interviewed Marco Cervantes about the Black roots of West Side Sound. As a hip hop artist who goes by the name MexStep, his music reflects the cultural exchange between Black and brown communities. In his song “Tejano Summer,” he samples Jimmy Edwards’ “Siempre Junto a Ti” while rapping about his memories of growing up in Houston listening to Tejano and hip hop music.
As an associate professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Cervantes’ research focuses on Black and brown music and solidarity. He has organized events, like Black and Brown Sounds in Tejas, where he was intentional about inviting Black musicians to honor the Black roots of Chicano soul. Archie Bell, lead singer of Houston’s Archie & the Drells, best known for their hit “Tighten Up,” along with members of the Sunliners Band were invited speakers.
In the interview excerpt below, Cervantes talks about the importance of centering Blackness when discussing West Side Sound.
I talk about a cultural afromestizaje [and] put on events that showcase some of the artists I feel fit that particular history. It’s a way I think to look at Chicano music and really center Blackness and figure out ways to value and honor the Black roots of Mexican American, Tex-Mex, Chicano music. I think the West Side Sound is a really excellent example of that particular type of culture, mixture. And that really started with me looking at my own work as a hip hop artist — a Chicano very much impacted, molded, shaped in a lot of ways by Black culture and then finding out that my generation wasn’t the only generation of Chicanos engaged in this type of cultural exchange. So yeah, it is Black music. West Side Sound, Chicano soul is Black music.
The West Side Sound Oral History Project, which is supported by a grant from UTSA’s Westside Community Partnerships Initiative, is about the preservation of our community memories, local histories, music and cultural contributions, businesses, and barrios. If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.