Local (L.A.) Heros - The Chuck Higgins Combo ©1999JCMarion


Near the end of 1952, a new independent record label appeared in Los Angeles. The name of the label was Combo Records and it would specialize, as so many of the other L.A. indies did, in the field of rhythm & blues. Label owner Jake Porter announced the news and also the first release for the label was "Pachuko Hop" / "Motorhead Baby" by Chuck Higgins and his combo. With the strength of continuing sales of the record well into the following year, the combo was a featured performer at the big Fourth Annual Rhythm & Blues Jubilee presented by Gene Norman at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. Headliners for the event were Johnny Ace, Willa Mae Thornton, The Robins, and Roy Milton. Other noted appearances were at the Green Mill Ballroom in Ventura and the L.A. Elks Hall.

The combo opened up the year 1954 with a week long engagement at the Empire Ballroom in Pomona. The band then goes out to Banning in the desert and appears with The Flairs. At this time there is disagreement between the musicians and the Combo label, and the band decides to move to another label. A royalty dispute is said to be at the heart of the differences between the parties. The band records for another L.A. label, Specialty, and the first release for that label comes out in mid August. It is "Broke" / "I'll Be There", and in support of the new recording the band does a series of shows in southern California with The Robins. The Chuck Higgins Combo makes their next big personal appearance at the wonderfully named Johnny Otis Hep Cat Ball at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. Sharing the bill with Higgins are The Medallions, Penguins, Richard Berry & The Dreamers, and The Platters. The guest mc for the show is Jack Ford from KSAN in San Francisco. In October the band signs with the well known Shaw Agency to handle their in person appearances. The first Specialty record is still selling well on the west coast as the band appears at the Green Mill Ballroom with and playing backup for The Chordcats (Chords) of "Sh-Boom" fame. The combo appears at a big Thanksgiving weekend show at the Glendale Civic Center with The Penguins, Cheers, and Blenders. At the end of the year, the band is at the 5-4 Ballroom as Specialty releases the "Dy-Ooh Mambo" as the newest record.

In late January of 1955, the combo is once again part of a big west coast R & B revue at the Shrine Auditorium. This time it is the Rock and Roll Jamboree and featured performers are Joe Houston, Oscar McLollie, The Dreamers, Marvin & Johnny, The Dominos, Medallions, Jewels, Shirley Gunter & The Queens, and T-Bone Walker. Chuck Higgins will also be part of the "Rhythm & Blues Parade" that will tour the Pacific Northwest for six weeks. The show will include PeeWee Crayton, Little Willie Littlefield, and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. The same group will also tour the Southwest and the South beginning in late April. At that time the band once again changes labels, this time being signed by Dootsie Williams for his Dootone label. The first recording for Dootone is "Tonky Honk" / "Here I'm Is". The record does moderately well in the south where Higgins tours in support of the disc. From out of left field, Aladdin releases a Higgins recording, evidentally culled from an old session for Combo records that Aladdin secured the rights for. The record is "Pancho" / "Come Blow Your Horn". The record does not sell. The Higgins combo continues to do the big revues, as the big summer show for Gene Norman at the Shrine with The Clovers, Medallions, Jewels, Meadowlarks, Marvin & Johnny, and Earl Bostic. After Labor Day Dootone releases "Wetback Hop" and "Don't You Know I Love You" with vocal by Frank Dunn. The jump side causes a controversy because of the use of the derogatory term for Mexicans in the title. It was an attempt to associate listeners with the earlier hit "Pachuko Hop" which refers to Mexican zoot suiters of the 1940s. The year ends with the release of a Dootone 45rpm EP by Chuck Higgins called "Rhythm, Rock, and Roll".

In early 1956 Dootone releases "The Itch" / "Gambling Woman". Airplay and sales are negligible. A few months later the label tries again with "Oh Yeah" / "I Need Your Love", again with less than stellar results. The combo continues to be a good in person draw however, as they appear with The Coasters at the 5-4 Ballroom, where radio dj Leroy Connelly does live broadcasts on Friday nights. The 12th Annual Cavalcade of Jazz and R & B takes place at Wrigley Field on Labor Day weekend and once again the Chuck Higgins Combo are part of the bill. The headliners are Little Richard and Dinah Washington. In October the combo returns to the Shrine Auditorium to appear with The Coasters, Six Teens, Turks, and Ernie Freeman's band. In early 1957 Higgins appears at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Los Angeles with the Five Keys and Penguins. Late in the year Higgins and his band record for the Combo label with the tunes "The Rooster" and "Duck Walk". By now it is apparent that the Chuck Higgins Combo is a mainstay of the Los Angeles Rhythm & Blues community. They were never big record sellers, and except for their very first release, never even made the local charts. However their musical talents on their own and as a capable backup for touring performers make them a very valuable commodity on the R & B scene in southern California. It is here they will be remembered, but everyone else should be aware of the part they played in the foundation of America's music, the music that will continue to lead the way into the new millenium.

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