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An Interview with Ray Avila of the Sheltons
Lance Record's Number One, Mid-'60s Garage Soul Band
By Mike Dugo, 60sGarageBands
(more articles from this author)
2001-01-04
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Editors' Note: Over the past year, The Lance Monthly has been fortunate enough to conduct interviews with, or provide biographies for, many former U.S. '60s garage band members. However, surprisingly enough, we had not yet been able to dig any deeper into the rich heritage of our very own '60s label, Lance Records. But now, with great excitement, we're able to exclusively present (for the very first time anywhere) the history of the Sheltons, one of Albuquerque's most popular and accomplished acts during the 1960's. A very special thanks to Ray Avila for sharing his memories with The Lance Monthly: The Sheltons were formed in the summer of 1965. Original members were George (Bud) Lucero-lead guitar; Steve Lucero-sax, keyboards, lead vocals; Toby Romero-drums; Robert Elks-guitar; and Ray Avila - bass. I joined the band in the fall of '65. I was invited to attend a rehearsal. When I arrived, there must have been at least five other guitar players there, and three amps. This was a time when sound systems were very rare. Usually you plugged a microphone in and opened input.

Toby, Steve, and Bud actually formed the band when we were in our first year at Albuquerque High School. Steve was a student at Washington Jr. High. Robert Elks joined the band about the same time I did. Bob had a car, so we were able to get to gigs and parties with him. He could read chord charts and Mel Bay books on chord progression.

At the time, our song list was maybe at ten songs, with at least six of them originals. A change was about to happen. It happened on New Years Eve (in) '65. We did our first paid gig (and) it was a private party. We made enough money to go to a midnight movie. It was a Dick Clark special that featured James Brown and the Famous Flames. We were so inspired, that (by) morning, we had a rehearsal and must have picked up at least five James Brown tunes along with some Wilson Pickett (songs). The only thing that was lacking was the horn section, so we added Ed Sanchez to the group.

Ed played Tenor sax (and) now we had two horns. We were also doing a lot of nightclubs which, because of school, wasn't easy. We had to have a parent there to chaperone. Our parents were very supportive and helpful as long as we maintained a good grade average and stayed out of trouble. Working the nightclubs helped with record sales later on because we had (established) a good following with the older crowd. We played lots of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Junior Walker, and Temptations. On the other side of town, the bands were playing Beatles, Rolling Stones, and British rock.

By the summer of '66, we had a pretty good following, which caught the attention of a local promoter by the name of Tommy Bee. He suggested that we record!! Our answer was "record what, how and where?" All this recording stuff was new to us. It was probably the last thing on our minds. Tommy suggested we write and record original tunes. Our first was a tune called "Find It." Tommy told us he had contacts with a gentleman named Dick Stewart, who ran a record shop in town and was in the process of putting (together) a recording label for local groups called Lance Records.

We did two originals at a studio in Albuquerque called Dell Studios. We were very excited because we had no idea of the recording process. Later, we went into another studio run by a young engineer by the name of John Wagner. There we recorded "Yesterday's Laughter" and a demo tune "Double Crossing Girl." It was originally written for Tommy Bee. If I recall, we did several recordings for Tommy in which he did (the) vocals. The Sheltons' vocals were sung by Steve, who at the time, was only 15-years-old. (Editors' note: Lance's recording of "I Who Have Nothing" by the Sheltons held the number one spot on Albuquerque's leading radio station, KQEO, during most of the month of October 1967.) The group, at the time, was being managed by George and Steve's father, George Sr. He had us booked all the time.

By the time the recordings were released on the Lance label, George's phone was ringing off the wall with gigs. Back then, in the mid-'60s, radio stations and DJs were very helpful. They played lots of the local groups and more than half of the local groups were now on the Lance label. Having our music being played on the radio was great! We'd drive through downtown Albuquerque and listen to ourselves, which to us was just amazing. I'm sure anyone who has ever recorded and then listened to (their) music over the radio, has got to know that feeling. We had lots of support, like I mentioned before, from the (major Albuquerque) radio stations (KQEO, KLOS). Many of the local DJs (Lew Jones, Bobby Box, Al Tafoya, Bill Prevetti) were now operating teen clubs, and teen dances. There was plenty of work for everybody.

Also, about this time, the Sheltons had made some changes. We added a trumpet to our lineup, and we replaced Toby with another drummer, a friend of mine, who lived on the west side of town, Randy Castillo. Now we had a three horn lineup. This was the beginning of the "Duke City Soul Sound." At the same time, lots of other groups were beginning to copy this sound: Groups like Rudy and the Soulsetters, and Doc Rand and the Purple Blues. (Editors' note: These groups also recorded for Lance Records during the mid-'60s) We were also a very active group, (and) we did lots of dance steps as part of our repertoire.

When I spoke to the other members of The Sheltons, some were sure we had won the Battle of the Bands at Highland High School (Editors' note: The Sheltons actually placed second, behind the Defiants, and ahead of the Creepy Crawlers. Other bands competing were the Chab, Burgundy Run, and Kreeg!) Bob Elks remembered we started our show with Tom Jones' version of "It's not Unusual." We were involved with (many) Battle of the Bands at all the (local) high schools. Once we performed at three of them in one night and won all three.

Albuquerque was a divided town in the '60s. The bands in the East Heights of Albuquerque played lots of English rock, and hard rock music (Editors' note: These East Heights groups included Lance's Fe-Fi-Four-Plus 2, Lincoln Street Exit, The Kreeg, and Love's Special Delivery), so we didn't play much on the east side of town, except for an occasional Battle of the Bands. We didn't recall any members of the other bands (Burgundy Run, Chab, Piggy Bank, Berrys, Lindy and the Lavells, Striders, to name a few). It wasn't that we were not friendly with them, it's just (that) we didn't associate with many of the East Side bands. (Editors' note and in Dick Stewart's own words: "Garage soul ruled the west side of Albuquerque while the east side of that city was dominated by psychedelic and British-influenced folk rock bands. Here's why: At that time, when 'soul' was in its infancy in Albuquerque, this genre's fan base was mostly that of the Hispanic population which was in the majority on the West Side. Anglos, on the other hand, were in the majority on the East Side and their preferences were for psychedelia and folk rock.") It would be nice to hear from some of them just to recollect old times. I'm curious to know if they are still playing, or still involved in the business.

By the summer of '67, we had recorded cover tunes like "That's All," "Knock on Wood," and an instrumental entitled "The Cat." It was a Jimmy Smith song that was an inspiration from one of the local DJ's, "The Priest From the East," Neil Murry. He was the DJ for the university station (University of New Mexico's KUNM). This was the first time we got on the airwaves on the FM stations. We also had a horn line up of maybe four horns, and we were starting to get letters and cards from different agents and record labels asking (for) information on the group. That part of the business we left to Tommy Bee. We were very fortunate at the time to have not only a good following, but we were also able to get lots of publicity because of records sales and air time. We even had a short article written in Billboard Magazine. We were now (or it seemed like we were) veterans of the recording industry. We had recorded many times, and it was getting easier. We had lots of original tunes, we had #1 hits on the local charts for weeks at a time, we had a great following, (and) we played to packed houses.

About this time--maybe Spring '68--Tommy Bee had ventured to California with several demos to try to sell or at least get (them) heard! Well, it happened. Paramount Studios had their own record label, Dot Records. Everything was finalized. We had signed with a major record label. They used "I Who Have Nothing" and "The Cat" as our first release. Also, about the same time, The United States Army had other plans for us. It was the year of the draft; you turned 18 and you automatically qualified to tour Southeast Asia in the United States Army. George got drafted first, then Ed Sanchez, our sax player. Eventually, it became difficult to replace many of the musicians. I eventually got drafted myself, and many of the plans were put on hold. The Sheltons didn't really break up but (were) disbanded by the government; I guess we could say, "that's the way it happened." That's all I have to say about that!!!!!

Thirty-five years later, many of us are still involved in the business. Upon my discharge from the Army, Ed and George had formed a band. They called themselves ZOZOBRA, (and are a) very successful group in the state. As for the rest of the members: Robert (Bob) Elks became very successful in the banking, mortgage and finance business; Ed Sanchez went on to live in California and Nevada, playing, producing bands and recording. At present he performs with the groups Y2K and Zozobra. He is also very active in the Hispanic music movement here in the state of New Mexico, writing, producing and recording with many of New Mexico's up and coming young artists.

Toby Romero, along with Ed, spent many years on the road recording and performing with various groups. He (Toby) currently plays drums with the Reggae blues-oriented group, No Question. George and Steve Lucero perform and record with a nuevo flamenco group, Cielo. They have a CD in the works now, and one recorded last year entitled "Faces of Santa Fe." It was produced and distributed on Tommy Bee's Soar label. All (of the) original tunes (were) written by George Lucero.

Randy Castillo moved to Los Angeles in the mid '70's (and) has worked and played with people like Lita Ford, Ozzie Osboure and, currently, with Motley Crue. (I) spent years on the road, working and playing in California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico recording with lots of New Mexico's best. (I am) currently recording and performing with Hector Pimental, Tony Brazis, Eva Torrez and the Cast, Cielo, Ambrose Riveria and Trio Bravo and Festival. (As for) the countless musicians who worked with the band to develop that "Duke City Sound": Pete Cockcroft (trumpet) (is) currently playing with Fat City; Pete Gabaldon (drums) (is) currently playing with Thee Chekkers; Jerry Chavez (is) now a school teacher at Valley High School in Albuquerque; Max Peralta, who played that great sax line at the beginning of "That's All," sadly passed away about five years ago; and James Chavez, sax player, (is) currently owner of the Red Ball Cafe in Albuquerque.

We have many people to thank! Our parents, especially George Lucero, Sr., who was our original manager. George would tell us "Don't worry I'll book you guys there," and he would. Along with our parents, he believed in us and our music, and continued to believe. Also many thanks to Dick Stewart for also believing and understanding what this meant to musicians at that time. Having grown up in the barrios of Albuquerque, we probably would have never had the opportunity to record, play and perform at that level, if not for Dick Stewart and Tommy Bee.


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