His first record, "Let's Dance" went to number 4 on the Billboard chart and number 2 on the U.K. chart. He's probably best known for his recording of "Call Me", "The More I See You" and "There Will Never Be Another You". He's performed on the same bill with Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson and The Beatles. In fact, The Beatles opened for him! How's that for a career asterisk? We are talking of course about the one and only, Chris Montez!
Q - You performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa to commemorate Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper's last concert there. What was that like?
A - It was wonderful. It was exciting. I was I felt, very privileged to be there.
Q - It was filmed for a P.B.S. Special?
A - Yeah.
Q - Who else was on the bill?
A - Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Brian Hyland, Bobby Vee, The Crickets and I think that was it...and The Big Bopper's son.
Q - What was the atmosphere like inside that room?
A - There was so much energy. It was packed. People were excited. Everybody was thrilled to be there. We had a lot of people come in from England, Germany, France, just for this occasion.
Q - A movie is being made about your life?
A - Yes. They want to create a movie about my life or a documentary. I don't know how they're going to present it. You can look it up on www.frozenpictures.com. It's interesting. I'm thrilled about it.
Q - Any idea when that will be released?
A - No. I have no idea. We have a lot of work to do yet.
Q - One of the places you perform is at Dick Clark's Theatre in Branson, Missouri. I had no idea that he had a theatre there.
A - Yeah, had a theatre there. They closed it down a couple of years ago. I was there two weeks out of the month. It was a great show.
Q - What were you doing, two shows a day?
A - No. One show a day; Bobby Vee, myself, Brian Hyland, Fabian, The Chiffons.
Q - You must've packed the place.
A - Yeah. It was pretty well sold.
Q - You record for who today? Do you have a record deal?
A - No. I have no record deal. I just finished a Tex-Mex album, Mexican Tex-Mex. Latter part of last year (2008) I went to England to do an album with a British group called The Brovers. They used to be with Joe Brown and The Brovers. I'm not too familiar with Joe Brown. They pronounce it "Brothers". It was interesting 'cause I went back there and I was doing a couple of shows. They said "we ought to do an album together." I said "Let's do it!" When I came back, I had some other shows to do and then I called them and said "I'm on my way." I bought some tickets and went over there specifically for that. I ended up writing all the tunes, all the songs that they chose to do. And I wasn't planning on that. (laughs) So, it's kind of interesting.
Q - When is that going to be released?
A - Hopefully soon. I'm either going to try and find a distribution company... That's what I'm doing. Then I'm working on a Jazz album, well, a standard album. I should call it a Jazz album. It's sort of leaning on the same concept as "Call Me" and "The More I See You".
Q - I have this feeling that before Chris Montez signed with A&M Records, you were a Rocker. But when you signed that deal, Herb Alpert wanted you to sing these soft, mellow songs. Am I right?
A - That's exactly right.
Q - He did that with The Carpenters.
A - Yeah, I guess. Karen Carpenter was one artist of her own. She was great.
Q - The world has this false impression of you. You come off as this easy listening singer when you'd really like to hit the stage as a Rocker.
A - Yeah, you're right. I can handle both sides. How it happened was: When I had "Let's Dance" and I was with Monogram (Records). It became a mis-appropriation of funds. In other words, I got screwed, taken. (laughs) So, I decided to leave and took that bail out where they would have kept me on the shelf for another four years. So I said "I'm leaving." I started to go to school to study music. By chance I went with a friend who insisted I go with him just to keep him company and go to Hollywood to pick up some material he had given Herb Alpert. I had no idea who Herb Alpert was at the time. So, when Herb comes out and says "Oh, I can't use this material," my friend Bob says "Oh, this is Chris Montez." He (Herb Alpert) said "Oh, you're Chris Montez, the singer of "Let's Dance" and "Some Kind Of Fun"? And I said "Yeah." He said "What are you doing?" I said "I'm going to school." He said "I'd like to have you for my label. Would you be interested?" I said "I Don't want to record anymore." I was disillusioned. I was gonna go on with my life in some other manner. But, three months later I came back and said "OK, let's do something." I started playing these Rock 'n' Roll tracks. I thought they were good. To make a long story short, the staff producer said "Well, Herb doesn't like what we're doing. He's got an idea." So I went in thinking, what is he gonna tell me? That's when he started singing "Call Me" to me. He said "I want you to do something like this." I said "Oh man, I don't know if I can handle this" to myself. I don't want to be a Las Vegas singer because I'm not there yet. I want to do that when I get older. But it worked out. It was a blessing in disguise. While I was going and recording with A&M, I just proceeded on studying music. I studied composition. I studied Jazz for about three and a half years and composition at the Conservatory Of Music in Sunland. I just wanted to be a little more polished, since I was gonna be in the music field. I wanted to be at least accomplished knowing that I could do whatever I had to do, read music, write music. I just didn't want to be someone standing on stage not knowing a darn thing about music. I wanted to feel a little more competent, a little more ful-filled.
Q - I would've told you make sure you take some business courses.
A - Yeah, really. (laughs) With A&M, everything was right. I got represented right. Everything was great. You know my inspiration was Richie Valens, right?
Q - I kind of figured that.
A - I met him before he died. It was phenomenal. He comes through the town that I lived in at the time, which was Hawthorne, California. I'm standing, waiting at the Hop. I only went there to see him because he's the only Mexican Rock 'n' Roller that ever was around. That's why I got into it. I had bought his album and I learned every song, even his voice timbre. I tried to sound like Richie Valens. And then, I'm standing at the end, 'cause it was packed out. I turned to my right and Richie Valens is standing next to me. I had to take a second glance. I said "Wow, you're Richie Valens." He said "Yeah." He shook my hand and was really nice to me. So I got to meet my idol. Isn't that unbelievable?
Q - What a great memory that is! How old were you when you met him?
A - I was still in high school. I was a sophomore I think. After that, four or five months later, he gets in that plane crash. So, I made a demo and that was sort of my style. I just found it after forty years and I'm gonna put it on a CD. Well, it's out there somewhere. That's how that contract evolved I think, with Monogram.
Q - Having those Top 40 hits of yours took you around the world, didn't it?
A - Right away. But, previously to signing with Herb Alpert, I'd been all around the States with Sam Cooke's tour.
Q - I was going to ask you about that.
A - Yeah. I only did Dick Clark for one week or two weeks. Then all of a sudden I got hooked up with the Sam Cooke tours, which was a predominantly Black tour. Tommy Roe was on it for a few weeks, then he got off. But I continued. Sam Cooke and I became good friends. I was touring with Smokey Robinson, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Jerry Butler, The Drifters. I remember sitting on the bus with The Drifters. They were singing acapella "Under The Boardwalk" late at night on the bus. I said "Wow!" They said "Yeah, that's gonna be our new single." I learned a lot from that. I remember my manager saying "I want you to learn everything you can about performing. Watch 'em." I was watchin' 'em. I remember doing a show in Los Angeles and I just did everything they did. My manager said "Can you cut it down a little bit?" (laughs) I guess I was too risqué, if you know what I mean. (laughs)
Q - When were you touring with Sam Cooke?
A - '61, '62 probably. After that, I did all the Black theatres like The Howard and I forget all the other names. We were doing like five shows a day. Can you believe it? When we would go on, there'd be four or five people for the first show and we'd go through this whole routine. We'd hear three or four claps and come back and do it again 'til late at night. So, everyday we'd do that. I didn't get to do The Apollo (Theatre) 'cause I was there too late, so I had to stand around for that whole week because the band didn't have enough time to rehearse me. It was kind of dumb. Then when I came back from the Dick Clark Tour, all of a sudden I got this call and this manager said "they want you to go to England and do a show over there 'cause your song is so popular." I said "OK". I was thrilled because I was gonna go out of the country...getting a passport. Then I meet Tommy Roe and we became good friends. Then I met these four hairy guys. I don't know whatever became of those guys. (laughs)
Q - When you went over to England, it was in what year?
A - Latter part of '62.
Q - And you see these four hairy guys...
A - Yeah.
Q - And you see the long hair and the collarless jackets and the Cuban high-heel boots...what did you think?
A - They had "Love Me Do" comin' up. I used to watch 'em. Wow! They were Rockers. They were a good band. I noticed that every time we go to a different venue, all these different guys had long hair like this and were sort of imitating what they were all about. Or maybe it was a trend happening. We became good friends. I was with them everyday. We Rocked out. I did the best I could. I just enjoyed myself 'cause I had a hit record and the girls were screaming. I never had any idea they would become phenomenal. But, who knows anything, right?
Q - What's the story I hear that you tried hanging-out with The Beatles but John Lennon got annoyed with you?
A - No, it wasn't that. I was always hanging our with them. In fact, Paul and I and John would always be hangin'. They showed me around. We'd go have a few drinks. The girls were always crowded around us. We'd be hangin' out with all the girls. The only thing that happened between John and I was one time I was sitting in the bus, I had just finished doing a gig. I was tired, wiped out. John came in, walked by and poured a beer on my head. That started an argument between us. I got up and called him a name and said "What the hell?" And that was it.
Q - I heard that John poured a pitcher of beer over your head in a bar.
A - No. That's not true at all. For a while, I wouldn't talk to John and them guys. I was really perturbed.
Q - Why do you think he would pour a beer over your head?
A - Maybe he was joking. Maybe he was in a bad mood. I don't know. I have no idea. I was so easy going. I don't know where his mind was. I have no idea. But we became friends again. I remember before this incident happened and they left for a couple of days so I had a couple of days off. I was walkin' around, hangin' out and all of a sudden they came back and I said to Paul "Where were you guys?" He said "Oh, we're finishing our album. You wanna hear it?" I said "Yeah." So, we're up in the room having a few drinks, sort of dancing with some girls and they played this album for me. "I Saw Her Standing There" was my favorite right away. "God, Paul, play that again." He played it about four or five times. He said "Do you really like it?" I said "I love that song." The other songs were great also. Then, when we parted, they took me to their tailor. I had some boots made from them. Same people. About four or five pairs. At the same time, I had four or five suits tailor made. It was expensive then, because the dollar was so strong. Thirty or forty pounds. We finished our last show in Liverpool. My manager said "You know The Beatles are from Liverpool." I said "They are?" He said "Yeah." I said "Well, they're strong. Just let them finish. I'll go on before them. This is their home town." And that's how that happened. When I last saw them, I was just getting ready to leave and Paul and John were talking to the guy who makes their clothes. Paul said "I hope you don't mind. We're gonna make our jackets like your jacket, the collarless." I said "That's great, man. That's cool." I never thought anything about it. I think it's become a part of history. The first album, "Meet The Beatles", that's where the collarless jackets came from.
Q - I've been told that Stu Sutcliffe was the person who introduced those jackets to The Beatles. You're telling me you were the inspiration behind the collarless jacket.
A - Yeah. Here's what funny. Before I went to England, I had this person where I used to go buy my clothes. He dressed me. He said "Look at this. This is the newest thing in England, collarless, and this one has a belt with a round collar, collarless." OK. He said "You'll be right in." So, when I went over there, some people asked if they could buy that jacket from me. They never saw a collarless jacket. So, that's the history of the whole thing. I still have the collarless jacket.
Q - After the mid-60s and A&M Records, did you continue singing?
A - Well, yeah. I thought I was getting lost in the shuffle with A&M. So I decided to leave. I thought, I can get a contract right away. I'll just go in another company and they'll appreciate it. But it didn't work out that way. Not at all. So, I get this call from a person by the name of Billy Michael. He was in Paramount in New York. He was a big fan of mine. He wanted to record me. So, I went to New York and recorded for CBS International. I wrote this song called "Ay No Digas". "Oh, Don't Tell Me" is what it means. It became a smash in lots of parts of Europe. Like sixteen weeks in Austria. It was real popular in Germany, Holland. So, then I proceeded to record songs they never released over here. So, I had another success over there.
Q - What did you do in the '80 and '90s.
A - Alter around. Do both kinds of shows. I'd go to Europe and do some of that stuff and I'd go to Europe to do "Call Me", "The More I See You" and "Let's Dance". I stayed home a lot. I don't live high on the hog. I was raising children too. I was spending a lot of time home with my children.
Q - Did you ever meet Elvis?
A - No. I think he was a great, unique artist. Now I can kick myself for not even going to see him perform. I've seen him on television, that's great.
Q - I don't suppose you ever saw Frank Sinatra then?
A - No. He's one of my favorites. There's a guy I wanted to meet and said when I get older I want to sing that style. Somebody told me one time when he was recording in Hollywood, that he was doing "Call Me". He told the arranger "I want to do it a la Chris Montez! That's what the guy who was on the session told me. I said "Wow! He mentioned my name. That's incredible."