The Royal Jesters back to court new fans

By Chito de la Torre
    Mention the Royal Jesters and a big smile is sure to appear.  Good times,
dances, romance and the joys of youth was what the Royal Jesters were all
about from the 50s to the late 70s.  Now they're back to work their magic on a
whole new generation of fans.
    While the Royal Jesters were gone for almost 20 years, they definitely were
not forgotten.  "People still come up to me and tell me that they met their
husband or wife at one of our dances or that their song as a couple is one
that we recorded," says Henry Hernandez, one of the founders of the seminal
    Hits like "My Angel of Love," "We Go Together" and "That Girl" placed the
Royal Jesters in rock and roll's halls of history. Later those hits led to
mega success for the Royal Jesters in the emerging Chicano music scene of the
70s where they struck a new chord with "Yo Soy Chicano," "Me Voy Pa Houston"
and "Carino Nuevo."
    The Royal Jesters were born in the summer of 1958 after Oscar Lawson and
Henry Hernandez met at a church talent show in San Antonio's West side.  Some
of the members wanted to name the group the Jesters, others wanted the Royals.
 "We decided to use both of the names," says Henry.  "That's the way we did
things.  I gave in to Oscar's ideas and he gave in to mine.  That's why we
worked so well together." 
    Their team work paid off.  By the Spring of 1959, they had recorded "My Angel
of Love," written by Lawson and sung in harmony with all the soul of a music
that simply made you want to rock and roll.
    A string of hit singles-- in the 50s and 60s complete albums were not the
norm they are today-- made the Royal Jesters the preferred group of the day. 
Successive recording contracts with Harlem Records (who also recorded Dough
Sahm), Bell Records (the same label that recorded the Fifth Dimension) and
Tower Records spread their name and their three-part harmony across the
country and as far away as Europe.  
    Apart from the many singles they recorded and released, The Royal Jesters
recorded two complete English language albums, "We Go Together," and
"Chevere." But the Royal Jesters had their eyes set on the future.  And for
Oscar and Henry that meant recording in Spanish.
    "Oscar had been reading in industry magazines that Chicano music was a
sleeping giant that would one day wake up," tells Henry.  So the group jumped
right in.
    In 1973 the Royal Jesters teamed up with producer Manuel "Manny" Guerra, and
began recording their own kind of Tex-Mex music that many fans still remember
most.  Under MGP Records they recorded "Yo Soy Chicano," "The Second Album,"
and "The Band."  
    The Royal Jesters sounded like no other Chicano band. They had a big sound. 
At times the group included as many as 13 members with trumpets, saxes, lots
of percussion, and their trademark three-part harmony.  
    Their accelerated rhythms and heavy hitting horns made them stand out, but it
also made Henry and Oscar worry about how they would be accepted. After all,
their initial success was with songs recorded in English and for rock and
roll.  They didn't know how their style would translate to the more
traditional sounds of Spanish language songs.  Their worries faded rapidly.
    The Royal Jesters' first album as a Chicano group is to date one of the best
in the Tex-Mex music scene.  "Yo Soy Chicano" was a hit and the Royal Jesters
were pulling in crowds like no other group could.  "We'd play Friday, Saturday
and Sunday and everyday we were packed.  I can't think of any other band that
can do that," says Henry.  But success came with a price.
    "We were on the road all the time," recalls Henry.  Almost 20 years had
passed since they had formed the group.  Both Henry and Oscar had young
children and both wanted what was best for their families.  
    In February 1977, at a Valentines Day dance in Corpus Christi, Texas, the
Royal Jesters played what they thought would be their last song.
    But you just can't keep a good band down.  After many years of prodding by
friends and industry insiders, the Royal Jesters returned to the studio.
    This time they recorded a CD titled "The Royal Jesters Tribute," on the BMG
US Latin label.  On it, they include some of their own hits like "We Go
Together," "Yo Soy Chicano," "Me Voy Pa Houston," and "Carino Nuevo."  But
they also pay tribute to some of Tejano's greatest tunes like Joe Bravos' "Que
Casualidad," Lisa Lopez's "Si Quieres Verme Llorar," Rene y Rene's "Angelito,"
Sunny Ozuna's "Reina de Mi Amor," Isidro Lopez's "Besame y Olvidame," and even
one by former Royal Jester david Marez, "Entre Mas Lejos Te Vayas."
    Henry Hernandez and Oscar Lawson produced the CD, but also pulled in a former
Royal Jester to complete the three-part harmony.  Dimas Garza had been a Royal
Jester twice before, in 1962 and in 1974.  He's back again on this lates
    According to Henry, they didn't set out to make the songs on the Tribute CD
better than the originals.  "You could never do that, but we did want to give
them our own style."
    The CD also includes several other former Royal Jesters.  Stan Revillas is
back on bass.  Stan Solis is on keyboards.  Bones Arragon is on drums. And
Danny Perez is on sax.

--30-- (printed with permission)