Though he got rather a late start as a recording artist, making his first record when he was 28 years old, and scored no hits, Chuck Higgins actually made quite an initial impact and wound up having a much longer career in rock than a lot of more popular contemporaries.

Higgins was born in April 1924 in Gary, Indiana, moving to Southern California with his family in his mid-teens. Enrolling in the L.A. Music Conservatory he was a proficient trumpeter and put together a band, eventually switching to tenor sax when that instrument’s popularity exploded with rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1940’s and his group, The Mellotones, lost their sax player.

Though he was never as skilled on it as the biggest names around town, like Big Jay McNeely or Joe Houston, he had the right attitude and the right band featuring a young Johnny Watson as his pianist along with drummer Joe Usury and bassist Eli Toney with whom he released the song he’s identified with, “Pachuko Hop”, named for the Latino youth who’d become his biggest fans.

The flip side featured Watson on a vocal and with his own ambitions taking shape, he left the group for a solo career and was replaced by former member Frank Dunn. While Higgins couldn’t break out nationally, he was very popular around Los Angeles and aside from helping to create, or at least codify, the Chicano rock culture, his first album was groundbreaking in the cover art, featuring a nude woman – wife of local DJ Hunter Hancock – stretched out on the floor, suggesting that rock ‘n’ roll was dangerous music in more ways than one.

His subsequent singles met similar fate, some local sales and national neglect, and he bounced from label to label around Southern California for the next decade where he was among the first rock groups to have an interracial lineup in 1957. But with no hits forthcoming Higgins quit playing and took a job teaching music, eventually becoming a professor at UCLA.

When he hit the comeback trail twenty years later he found an enthusiastic worldwide audience for his brand of honking rock. Even though his greatest impact came through the ancillary cultural aspects of his work, Higgins nonetheless left enough of a musical mark to be remembered when he died in 1999 at the age of 75.
CHUCK HIGGINS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Combo 12; December, 1952)
Raw, crude, honking instrumental, perfect for keeping the adrenaline going when you’re drunk at a party at 1 AM, and while there’s not a lot of refinement here, the song does have some structure to it giving it some legs besides just the cultural nod the title provides. (6)

(Combo 12; December, 1952)
Taking a back seat to 17 year old pianist/singer John Watson, the track is the sound of eager anticipation, youthful exuberance and a tight band which find Higgins providing good balance during the verses and a solo that may not stand out, but doesn’t slow things down. (8)