Monday, July 18, 2011




Legendary Chicano vocalist Little Willie G., whose fantastic musical odyssey began in the early 60’s, has a brand new CD out on Hightone Records, produced by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. It’s entitled “Make Up for the Lost Time.” He does exactly that on this soulful collection of r&b, jazz-tinged and gospel-flavored songs that show that his vocal abilities have continued to evolve. The musicians are top of the line, including David Hidalgo and Conrad Lozano of Los Lobos, Kid Ramos and Rev. Charles Williams, among others. The arrangements are excellent, done by Willie’s former Midniter band mate, Romeo Prado, David Hidalgo and others, often in collaboration with Willie himself.

Little Willie G., along with “Little Ray” Jimenez, were the brightest singing stars in East L.A.’s golden age of rock & roll, the 1960s. At a time when several other east side bands enjoyed national hit records, Little Willie G. and his band, Thee Midniters, always managed to be the headliners everywhere they performed. They had the sound, image, showmanship, and charisma to do so. Their musical style was a mix of r&b, ballads and British invasion music. Little Willie G. & Thee Midniters made several albums and many singles that were very popular, particularly in Southern California. Their version of “Land of a Thousand Dances” reached #67 on the national charts and they enjoyed several local and regional hits. The fact that many of their recordings have been bootlegged to this day, both on vinyl and CD, is a testament to the popularity of their music.

Little Willie G. (Willie Garcia) grew up in South Central Los Angeles at a time when it was racially mixed. His neighborhood was near the area where the infamous “Sleepy Lagoon” incident took place in the 40s. The story was depicted in the Luis Valdez play and movie, “Zoot Suit.” Willie started singing at the age of eight with the encouragement of his older brother “Guero,” who played guitar. At age nine, Willie won a talent show as part of a singing group. The prize was $20, which was used to buy cheeseburgers and 78 rpm records. The experience left him bitten by the show biz bug. Willie’s first band was called The Gentiles, whose name came from a Jewish member’s father who was not happy his son was playing with “those Gentiles.” The Gentiles played around Los Angeles and often ventured into Orange County, where they once played in a battle of the bands with The Spats, who had Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield as vocalists that day. (Medley and Hatfield were later to become the Righteous Brothers). Willie soaked up all he could from the groups he saw, but also from his record collection. He learned from the recordings of r&b artists like Jackie Wilson, Jesse Belvin, James Brown, and Hank Ballard; Latin artists, such as Pedro Vargas, Juan Mendoza, Javier Solis and Miguel Aceves Mejia, as well as popular singers, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis. He also learned a great deal about stage presence and live performing from watching the great Latin artists of the time at downtown L.A. venues like the Million Dollar Theater.

When Thee Midniters broke up in 1969, Willie started hanging out on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, where he saw the Doors, Byrds and Buffalo Springfield perform. He began to do solo gigs at the Ash Grove, Whiskey and Troubadour, sporting long hair and going by the name Antonio Garcia. In the early 70s, Willie teamed up with “Little Ray” Jimenez to form a group called God’s Children. (They had previously worked together in the early 60s when Ray did a stint with Thee Midniters). God’s Children, who were a secular group, recorded for Uni Records and sang the theme song for the TV series “Matt Lincoln.” Willie’s next break came when a photographer friend brought members of the group Malo to see him perform at Kabuki’s Night Club in Eagle Rock, California. Malo, who were in town to play at the Santa Monica Civic, were impressed and asked Willie to join the band. At first he declined due to previous commitments, but when they asked him again six months later he was available. Willie moved to San Francisco and sang lead vocals on Malo’s “Asencion” album. He toured with the group for a year, sharing the stage with the James Gang, Rare Earth, Dr. John, The Temptations, Tower of Power, and Harry Chapin. Willie left Malo due to road burn out, cocaine abuse, and to assume the responsibility of his parent’s house.

When he got back to L.A., he rejoined Thee Midniters and began to use heroin. For four years he used heroin, cocaine, and abused alcohol. His dreams were abandoned and he was living in denial. What saved him was a chance gig at TBN (Christian Television) in Orange County, which led him to attend various services and hear testimonials. Willie became a believer after a profound religious experience and found he no longer wanted or needed to do drugs and alcohol. He stopped cold and has been clean since 1980. In 1981, Willie began to minister for Victory Outreach Church and spread the word to inner city youth. (He went to seminary and was ordained in 1984). He has recorded two Christian albums as Willie G. and toured extensively over the last 16 years ministering and singing Christian music. One of the albums, entitled "Listening For Your Heart," has a great version of Bob Dylan's "You Gotta Serve Somebody" with some new lyrics added by Willie to bring the song's meaning home to the Chicano community. Willie also sang on the Grammy Award winning “Mercy” album with Andre Crouch.


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