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Thee Midniters were an American group, amongst the first Chicano rock bands to have a major hit in the United States. Also they were and one of the best known acts to come out of East Los Angeles in the 1960s, with a cover of "Land of a Thousand Dances", and the instrumental track, "Whittier Boulevard" in 1965. They were amongst the first rock acts to openly sing about Chicano themes in songs such as "Chicano Power" and "The Ballad of César Chávez" in the late 1960s.
Thee Midniters are the only 1960s band from East Los Angeles that released a greatest hits album. The band was one of the first to integrate horns,unusual combination of trombone and sax, congas, keyboards and electric guitars to produce a sound somewhat on the order of Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, albeit a few years before those bands were "big". Most band members attended Salesian High School, off the corner of Whittier Blvd. and Soto St. during their times with the exception of drummer(first album only) George Salazar who attended Garfield High School, drummer Danny LaMont(all subsequent recordings) Montebello High School, Larry Rendon(sax) Cantwell High School.
Highly professional and musically sophisticated compared to the surf bands of the day (they were largely school-trained), Willie Garcia and Thee Midniters were regarded in the East LA of the 1960s as The Beatles on a smaller scale, though they sounded (and still sound) more like a big, soul-gospel review group with a hefty dose of salsa.
A well-known disc jockey, Casey Kasem, said, "They were the best band I ever hired". Kasem filled a regular slot on KRLA AM top forty radio in the 1960s and promoted concerts and dances at the time
Thee Midniters continue to be impressive with a combination of original and new members and will appear in Raven Productions' PBS pledge break special "Trini Lopez presents the Legends of Latin Rock," along with El Chicano, Tierra and Gregg Rolie (of Santana and Journey fame) in the spring of 2009.
Thee Midniters were an East LA band. Willie Garcia, a.k.a. Little Willie G., was the lead singer. "Willie G. was one of the most soulful Latin persons I ever heard," said the singer Brenton Wood. "He could really deliver a sermon, and he had a lot of feeling in his vocals." Garcia took obscure soul ballads such as "The Town I Live In" or "Giving Up On Love" and made them more beautiful by his own special delivery. After many years away from the band, Garcia returned in the 1990s.
The lead guitarist was George Dominguez, whose forte was blues rock. Dominguez had a devoted following among younger players across East LA. For example, Cesar Rosas, later to gain fame as one of the leaders of Los Lobos, would stare at George on stage to see how Thee Midniters' guitarist played leads and riffs that Rosas could not figure out on his own. On several Midniters' songs, in particular the live version of "Land of a Thousand Dances", drummer George Salazar is as ferocious as the best rock players of the time. Trombonist Romeo Prado was the band's music arranger and was a huge influence in the overall sound of Thee Midniters. Also guitarist Paul C Saenz was one of the members that played with Thee Midniters, in the late 1960s, after which he went on to perform with singer Etta James.
Thee Midniters have continued to play through the decades under the leadership and management of bassist Jimmy Espinoza and saxophonist Larry Rendon, the two original players remaining in the line-up from the original 1960s group. Since 2006, they have featured Greg Esparza as the lead vocalist along with longtime Midniter mainstays through the years such as Bob Robles on lead guitar, Aaron Ballesteros playing drums, Bobby Navarrette on sax, Bobby Loya and Sam Trujillo on trumpet and Bob Luna playing keyboard. In 2008 they were part of The Latin Legends concert at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and were honored as a legendary garage rock band co-headlining with The Trashmen from Minneapolis, Minnesota, known for their hit song "Surfin' Bird", at the 9th Annual Ponderosa Stomp in 2010 at the House of Blues in New Orleans.
Among the group's other songs to either achieve national or regional success are "Whittier Boulevard", "Love Special Delivery" and "That's All".
Thee Midniters adopted the unusual "Thee" to avoid the possibility of a legal challenge from the established R&B group of a somewhat earlier era, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. Thee Midniters' popularity and influence was such that a number of Eastside bands of the time adopted the "Thee" moniker, including Eddie Serrano and Thee Enchantments. Thee Headcoats and Thee Hypnotics of more recent times are others.
- Reyes, David and Tom Waldman (1998). Land of a Thousand Dances. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 85 & 86.