“Tequila” is a 1958 Latin-flavored rock and roll instrumental recorded by the Champs. It is based on a Cuban mambo beat. The word “Tequila” is spoken three times throughout the tune. “Tequila” became a #1 hit on both the pop and R&B charts at the time of its release and continues to be strongly referenced in pop culture to this day.
In 1957, Gene Autry’s record label, Challenge Records, signed Dave Burgess (born 1934), a rockabilly singer-songwriter from California who often recorded under the name “Dave Dupree”. At the end of 1957, having produced no hits, Challenge Records looked to Burgess, who organized a recording session on December 23 in Hollywood. In the studio that day were Burgess on rhythm guitar, Cliff Hills on bass guitar, the Flores Trio (Danny Flores on saxophone and keyboards, Gene Alden on drums, and lead guitarist Buddy Bruce), and Huelyn Duvall contributing backing vocals. They gathered primarily to record “Train to Nowhere”, a song by Burgess, as well as “Night Beat” and “All Night Rock”.
The last tune recorded was “Tequila”, essentially just a jam by the Flores Trio. There were three takes, and Danny Flores, who wrote the song, was also the man who actually spoke the word “Tequila!”. Flores also played the trademark “dirty sax” solo. The song served as the B-side for “Train to Nowhere”, which was released by Challenge Records on January 15, 1958. Duvall recalls that the record initially found little success, but, after a DJ in Cleveland played the B-side, “Tequila” skyrocketed up the charts, reaching #1 on the Billboard chart on March 28, 1958.
Daniel Flores had written “Tequila”, but, because he was signed to another label, the tune was credited to “Chuck Rio”, a name he adopted for the stage. Those present for the December 23 session began recording together again on January 20, 1958, under the name the Champs; the group technically formed after recording “Tequila”. The tune has been noted[by whom?] to have a similar rhythm structure to Bo Diddley’s 1958 release “Dearest Darling”.
Challenge Records was founded in Los Angeles in 1957 by cowboy singer Gene Autry and former Columbia Records A&R representative Joe Johnson. Autry’s involvement with the label was short lived as he sold his interest to the remaining partners in October 1958. The label’s first success came with instrumental group the Champs, who had their biggest hit in 1958 with “Tequila”. They also had a series of hits with pop singer Jerry Wallace (“Primrose Lane”) and country singer Wynn Stewart (“Wishful Thinking”). Other recording artists with the label included Jan and Dean, Gary Usher, the Knickerbockers, and singer-songwriter Jerry Fuller. The first Challenge label was blue with silver print, followed after the first half dozen releases by a short-lived light blue label with red print, then a maroon colored label with silver print. Finally around late 1959, the company issued their singles on a green label with silver print.
The Champs recorded a sequel to “Tequila” entitled “Too Much Tequila”. Released as a maroon-label Challenge single, it reached #30 on the Billboard Hot 100.