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|Birth name||Robert Lee Romero|
July 7, 1941 |
Billings, Montana, United States
|Genres||Rock and roll|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, guitarist|
Life and career
Romero's heritage was rather mixed. His father was of Spanish and Apache stock while his mother was a mix of Mexican, Cherokee and Irish. Both had migrated to Montana during the Great Depression, seeking employment as migrant farm workers. His nickname was bestowed on him by his grandfather. Since Romero often ran around without footwear, the nickname, from a Spanish phrase meaning "little boy with pig's feet" seemed appropriate.
Romero cites a major turning point in his life in 1955. That was the year Elvis Presley performed "Hound Dog" on The Steve Allen Show. Presley was Romero's biggest influence prior to the arrival of Valens.
The teenaged Chan Romero hitchhiked to East Los Angeles, California in 1958. It was there he wrote "Hippy Hippy Shake" and thus launched his career. An uncle introduced Romero and his music to an A&R representative from Specialty Records: Sonny Bono. Bono was particularly taken with a song called "My Little Ruby" and asked Romero to polish the song and to return in a few weeks. Romero needed to return to school in Montana and never returned to Specialty.
Upon forming a band upon his return, it soon became clear that Valens had a tremendous impact on Romero, so much so that the two artists, who never met, sounded alike and shared much the same ethnic heritage. Two months after the plane crash that claimed Valens' life, manager Don Redfield sent a tape to Valens' manager, Bob Keane, in Los Angeles. Keane was greatly impressed with the recordings and hailed Romero as a successor to Valens, immediately signing him to a contract on Del-Fi Records, the same label as Valens.
When Romero returned to Los Angeles, Keane introduced him to Valens' grieving mother with whom Romero became close. Her home served as Romero's home during his visits to Los Angeles; he slept in Valens' bedroom. He remains close to the family and has performed at the Ritchie Valens memorial concert held yearly in Pacoima, California.
Romero's career skyrocketed with the release of "Hippy Hippy Shake" in July 1959. Released first in the U.S. and later in Australia and in the UK, it soon came to the attention of Paul McCartney who liked the song and sang it at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and the Star Club in Hamburg during his early years with The Beatles. The 1964 version by The Swinging Blue Jeans hit number one across Europe.
"Hippy Hippy Shake" remained a popular cover song as well as appearing in numerous movie soundtracks, among them Uncle Buck, It Takes Two and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Perhaps the best-known version to contemporary audiences appeared in 1988 on the soundtrack of Cocktail as performed by The Georgia Satellites. A version by The Beatles appeared on the 1994 release Live at the BBC. "Hippy Hippy Shake" was recorded by Polish singer Czesław Niemen in 1964.
Romero's first visit to Palm Springs, California in 1964 inspired him to make the area his home. He still lives in the area and divides his time between Palm Springs and Billings. Romero's daughter Holly Romero Sanchez is the youth pastor alongside Alfonzo Sanchez at Living Word in the Desert in Indio, California. Holly also participates on the worship team as the keyboardist and Alfonzo (aka DJ YMA) "scratches" alongside his wife on stage, adding a unique flare to the Living Word worship.