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The original band from East L.A.

A new collection for Thee Midniters

By Ed Payne
CNN

A new collection for Thee Midniters

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Often referred to as the greatest Latino rock band of the 1960s, Thee Midniters rolled out of the barrios of East L.A., owing equal parts of its sound to the British invasion and Motown.

Reflecting L.A.'s split personality, Thee Midniters delivered blue-eyed soul to the city's Hispanic population and rock 'n' roll to the "Anglos." The band also delivered smart brass-rock arrangements, a formula that later powered Chicago to stardom.

Thump Records recently released the band's most complete compilation -- "Greatest" -- featuring 20 of Thee Midniters best tunes. Among them are the '60s dance fave "Land of a Thousand Dances" (the group's only national hit) and the socially conscious "Chicano Power."

CNN spoke with founding member and bassist Jimmy Espinoza about the popularity the band still enjoys, despite not having released any new recordings since 1967.

CNN: Are you surprised that people still care about the band after more than 30 years?

ESPINOZA: Not at all. My efforts have been to reach the market I know is already there ... Latino, Mexican-American and garage rock. We worked for Dick Clark along with others.

The slower songs appealed to Mexican-Americans, while the garage rock, Rolling Stones and British Invasion sounds appealed to the Anglos. ... We listened to everything from 1950s doo-wop to Maynard Ferguson. The band reflected the influences of the times.

CNN: "Land of a Thousand Dances" has certainly turned out to be a durable tune, although many people probably don't make the connection between the song and Thee Midniters.

ESPINOZA: That was our first notable claim to fame other than [the song] "Whittier Blvd." It was a cover tune. It was kind of floating around the area. We started to record our stuff and enjoyed regional success.

CNN: Was Ritchie Valens any type of a role model for Thee Midniters?

ESPINOZA: Very subliminally, but then there was also Elvis, Bobby "Blue" Bland. Only in relative proportion to the others was his (Valens') influence. We were more like a melting pot -- like America.

CNN: You can't help but hear a lot of different influences on the greatest hits disc. Do you owe more to the British invasion bands of the '60s or to Motown? And who did you influence?

ESPINOZA: It was pretty much a balance of the influences -- pretty much everything: Mathis, Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and garage, punk rock sounds, which is more Anglo. ...

What has been said, we influenced Chicago, because we were doing a rock band with horns in the mid-'60s. [And] Los Lobos has given us a lot of credit for influencing them. We've influenced them somewhat.

CNN: Is there any special role for bands of Hispanic heritage in the music business?

ESPINOZA: It [the Rock en Espanol genre of rock Latino bands] has its own market, but we don't fit into that loop. I don't know a lot about it. If we did something [again] it would be for a broader market.

CNN: What would we find in your CD player these days?

ESPINOZA: Diana Krall, her latest CD, "Look of Love"; Dinah Washington, "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes!"; Bob Dylan, "Blonde on Blonde;" a classics collection of 50s doo-wop; and music by John Williams -- the guy who scores all the soundtracks. I listen to a lot of the New Age stuff for meditation, too.


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