West Side Sound sax player Rocky Morales born, 1940

Maile Carballo / KUTX

This Week in Texas Music History we hear the sax at the center of San Antonio’s West Side Sound.

On December 31, 1940, Rocky Morales was born. Morales learned to play the sax in high school and absorbed rhythm and blues through Jimmy Reed, T-Bone Walker, and his mentor, San Antonio’s own Spot Barnett. By the late 1950s, together with Louis Bustos and Charlie McBurney, Morales formed a horn section indispensable to what would come to be called the West Side Sound. The style blended rhythm and blues with country and western, rock ‘n’ roll with ranchera, and just about everything in between. In 1959, Morales first recorded with another champion of the West Side Sound, Doug Sahm, on the Harlem Records single “Why Why Why.”

In the 1960s, Morales and the West Side Horns continued to develop the sonics of Chicano Soul while Doug Sahm and his Sir Douglas Quintet headed to the West Coast, delving into Bay Area psychedelia. When Sahm returned to his San Antonio roots, Morales, Bustos, and McBurney joined the new take on the West Side Sound. By the 1980s, the Texas Tornados supergroup—Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez—brought these musical traditions to an ever-widening audience, and of course Rocky Morales was a key part in the Grammy-winners’ mix. Into the early 21st century, Morales and the West Side Horns toured the world and performed with like-minded Texas artists like Lou Ann Barton, Joe King Carrasco, and Kim Wilson. In recent years, scholars such as those with the West Side Sound Oral History Project at the University of Texas San Antonio have brought renewed attention to Rocky Morales and allied artists who developed this exciting regional variant of rock and soul, rhythm and blues.

Sources:

Nicole Lopez in Laurie E. Jasinski, Gary Hartman, Casey Monahan, and Ann T. Smith, eds. The Handbook of Texas Music. Second Edition. Denton, TX: Texas State Historical Association, 2012.

Alex La Rotta. “Talk To Me: The History of San Antonio’s West Side Sound,” Journal of Texas Music History, vol. 13, 2013, pp. 8-39.

Jan Reid with Shawn Sahm. Texas Tornado: The Times & Music of Doug Sahm. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

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