“All God’s children got rhythm,” went a popular standard performed by Judy Garland, Stan Getz, and many others. In the case of the East L.A. group called God’s Children, that lyric certainly was true. Music is the Answer: The Complete Collection is the name of their first-ever long-playing release, available tomorrow from Minky Records on CD and this Saturday on limited edition brown vinyl for Record Store Day. This holy grail of Latino soul and Chicano rock presents their released sides plus a treasure trove of never-before-heard material.
The mixed-gender, multi-racial unit led by Latinos Willie Garcia (a.k.a. Little Willie G), Ray Jimenez (a.k.a. Lil’ Ray) and Lydia Amescua (a.k.a. Amesqua) was an extension of Thee Midniters, the popular band in which Garcia and Jimenez had been a part. Both felt the need to expand the horizons of Thee Midniters’ sound; Jimenez left first, to pursue life as a songwriter, and Garcia followed. When their paths crossed again, they pledged to join forces to form a new group, with Amescua coming on board and christening them “God’s Children.” Two more women, Caucasians Fawn and Stacy Rymal, turned the trio into a quintet. (“A Latino 5th Dimension, or a Three Dog Night with female singers,” the band once accurately noted, per Denise Sullivan’s excellent liner notes.)
God’s Children’s influences were diverse – from garage rock, doo-wop, folk and funk, to the R&B of Stevie Wonder and the pop-rock of Johnny Rivers. Local entrepreneur Eddie Davis took an interest in the group’s soulful sound, and enlisted arranger Art Freeman to write charts for the 40-piece orchestra Davis booked to accompany them on the grandly dramatic brown-eyed soul ballad “Hey Does Somebody Care.” Davis placed Linda Perhacs and Oliver Nelson’s song (with Little Willie G sounding as commanding as Blood, Sweat & Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas) as theme to ABC’s medical drama Matt Lincoln. (Perhacs’ surname was misspelled as Perhaps on the original label and on this reissue!) Davis next set about signing God’s Children to a major label – in this case, Uni.
The 5th Dimension comparison is apt on Lil’ Ray’s classy “If You Ever Go Away,” written for and sung by Lydia Amescua in silky Marilyn McCoo mode. Assisting the band for these 1971 sessions was no less than the famed L.A. Wrecking Crew including Hal Blaine on drums, Victor Feldman and Leon Russell on piano (the moonlighting Russell was already into his successful solo career at this point), and Carol Kaye on bass. David T. Walker, well known for his work on numerous L.A. Motown sessions and much more, played guitar. The band’s work can be savored sans vocals on the instrumental-only track for “If You Ever Go Away” included here. But neither version of this stellar song was released; ditto for Little Willie G.’s considerably funkier anthem “Music is the Answer” (likewise presented in vocal and instrumental takes).
Four single sides were released by Uni, however. Backing “Hey Does Somebody Care” was Mario Paniagua’s shimmering “Lonely Lullaby,” cut with the East L.A. Band, strings and brass. It’s a Latin-flecked radio-friendly midtempo ballad gem. A second single was recorded with the Wrecking Crew studio musicians: Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It” b/w Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” both arranged by Art Freeman. The former, led by Little Willie G, gets a fine, passionate reading, while the latter proved an uncomfortable fit, rendered in straightforward style but devoid of the originality and energy that marked the group’s best efforts. Clearly, though, the Uni brass didn’t see God’s Children as a Chicano rock outfit but rather as a smooth vocal group.
The band soon broke up, with Little Willie G going on to join Malo (another pioneering Latino rock group) to sing lead on their Ascension album. Garcia and Amescua, too, continued making music. Minky’s new release adds six more previously unreleased sides recorded with the East L.A. Band. These are a glimpse at God’s Children at their most raw and filled with passion and energy. A wholly different version of “Music is the Answer” still packs a punch. Similarly, there’s a band version of “If You Ever Go Away” that emphasizes the B-3 organ sound. It’s naturally less smooth and polished than the Wrecking Crew version but a fascinating alternate with an equally compelling and beautiful vocal from Lydia. Lil’ Ray’s “It Don’t Make No Difference” is a brightly rhythmic, carnival-esque, organ-driven number with Little Willie G and Lydia backing Ray’s lead in effervescent fashion. His “I Just Wish” has a sweet if slightly lysergic feel, and “Dream” (co-written by Ray and Willie) is a doo-wop update with a dash of tight harmony soul. That Chicago-style, Impressions-esque influence is even more evident on “Brown Baby.”
A 20-page booklet with Sullivan’s liner notes and multiple memorabilia images is included in this set. Mark Wheaton has remastered, and sound is generally strong throughout despite a handful of less than ideal sources. This release is a most enjoyable journey for fans of pop and soul circa the late 1960s and early 1970s – a period when anything and everything was possible. Indeed, Music is the Answer.
Look for Music is the Answer at the links below on CD, and on exclusive vinyl this Saturday at your local independent brick-and-mortar outlet for Record Store Day! Amazon also appears to be listing the vinyl release at the U.S. and U.K. links below, with a CD-only link for Canada. Midheaven Mailorder is also currently accepting orders for the CD.
- Music Is the Answer
- It Don’t Make No Difference
- If You Ever Go Away
- I Just Wish
- Brown Baby
- Hey, Does Somebody Care (Uni single 55266, 1971)
- Lonely Lullaby (Uni single 55266, 1971)
- Music Is the Answer (Studio Musicians Version)
- Music Is the Answer (Instrumental)
- Put Your Head on My Shoulder (Uni single 55295, 1971)
- That’s the Way God Planned It (Uni single 55295, 1971)
- If You Ever Go Away (Studio Musicians Version)
- If You Ever Go Away (Instrumental)
All tracks previously unreleased unless otherwise indicated.