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'Land of 1000 Dances' Chronicles The History Of Rampart Records Label

Nov 29, 2019
Originally published on November 29, 2019 6:23 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the spring of 1961, a restaurateur and former child actor named Eddie Davis launched a record label. Davis was white. Most of his artists were Latino. Rampart Records' mix of R&B and rock 'n' roll went on to shape the East Side sound of Los Angeles.

A new 4-CD anthology chronicles the label's early history. For reviewer Oliver Wang, it offers a compelling exploration of LA's musical heritage.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL AND HARV SONG, "FRIENDSHIP")

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Rampart's first release featured singers Phil and Harv, backed by The Mixtures, so named because they comprised black, white, Asian and Latino players. It was a fitting start for a label whose sound would become deeply intertwined with the city's multiracial complexion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRIENDSHIP")

PHIL AND HARV: (Singing) If you're ever in a jam, here I am. If you're ever in a mess, SOS. If you ever get so happy that you land in jail, I'm your bail. It's friendship, yeah. Friendship, yeah.

WANG: In Rampart's early years, Eddie Davis worked with Billy Cardenas, a Mexican American manager and promoter, to canvas the sprawling East Side, one of the centers of Chicano life in postwar LA.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAND OF 1,000 DANCES")

CANNIBAL AND THE HEADHUNTERS: (Singing) You know I feel all right...

WANG: Rampart's biggest single featured a Mexican American quartet covering a tune by New Orleans R&B artist Chris Kenner. But the lead singer of Cannibal & the Headhunters forgot part of Kenner's lyrics and ad-libbed instead. So for many, the group's 1965 hit "Land Of 1,000 Dances" was simply known as the na-na-na-na song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAND OF 1,000 DANCES")

CANNIBAL AND THE HEADHUNTERS: (Singing) So come on, everybody. Just clap with me. I said na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na, na-na-na, na-na-na-na.

WANG: As the East Side bloomed into a land of 1,000 bands, Rampart played a key role in shaping what became known as the East Side Sound, which often featured Mexican American artists putting their own spin on everything from doo-wop to funk, disco to soft rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AQUI ESTOY ESPERANDOTE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

WANG: You can find all of these styles represented on the "Land of 1,000 Dances" collection, which chronicles 30 years of Rampart's experiments in cross-cultural music-making. My one nitpick is that since the anthology focuses exclusively on Rampart, it doesn't include the dozens of singles Davis put out on his other labels, including Gordo, which released El Chicano's 1970 hit, "Viva Tirado."

(SOUNDBITE OF EL CHICANO'S "VIVA TIRADO")

WANG: The value in celebrating multiculturalism wasn't lost on Eddie Davis, who passed away in 1994. He once boasted in a set of liner notes that his company was, quote, "operated by many people of many racial extractions," unquote. And he went on to say that his records could be, quote, "owned by anyone, anywhere in the world that wants to buy a piece of the action. Brother, to my way of thinking, that's where it's at."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HECTOR")

THE VILLAGE CALLERS: (Singing) Hector.

SHAPIRO: The new anthology is called "Land Of 1,000 Dances: The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection." Our reviewer Oliver Wang is a sociology professor at Cal State Long Beach and one of the co-hosts of the music podcast "Heat Rocks."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE VILLAGE CALLERS SONG, "HECTOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.