The Legacy of Sunny & The Sunliners and Their Contribution to American Music

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The story of Chicano Soul doesn’t begin and end with San Antonio and Ozuna though. Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Phoenix and other cities in the Southwest had burgeoning scenes at the time as well. But few artists from this era came close to the natural talent and raw soulfulness that Ozuna was able to reflect in his recordings: A legacy not only important for himself and the West Side Sound, but for San Antonio music, Texas music, and America’s rock ‘n’ roll history.

“This is American music,” said Saldaña. “These are guys born in Texas, so Sunny should be remembered for making, as a young man, American rock ‘n’ roll with a Chicano twist.”

Ozuna’s legacy isn’t at the forefront for many, including myself until recently. Though I had heard of Sunny and The Sunliners from chatting up vinyl DJ and KRTU 91.7 general manager JJ Lopez (when he would spin soul music at places like Tucker’s Kozy Korner), it wasn’t until recently that I listened to some of Ozuna’s songs. Tracks like “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and “Should I Take You Home,” which combines the raw textures of drums, bass, keys and horns with rich, passionate vocals to form a sound that isn’t so much technical but emotional; a heavy vintage sound that reverberated on a molecular level and speaks to the spirit – the soul, if you will; and, in contrast to pop music today, didn’t rely on gobs of effects or post-production. The songs were good and made you feel good. And while the classic vibrations of Ozuna’s tracks almost seemed foreign to your typical “San Antonio tejano sound,” in a way they contained the fringes of something familiar because the sounds would heavily influence later tejano sounds we grew up with in the ’90s. What’s also sort of strange is that, unless you really did your research on San Antonio music or loved soul music in general, the magic of Sunny and The Sunliners, sadly, could be easily overlooked.
Those sentiments trascend the tejano experience at least for one Brooklyn-based label owner who’s hoping to turn Ozuna into a household name once again.

“I’m a DJ and record collector,” Danny Akalepse, co-founder of Big Crown Records, said over the phone in a conversation with the Current. “I heard a Sunny record on my buddy’s mixtape in maybe 2001 or something like that. It was ‘Should I Take You Home’ and that’s how it is with collecting records. That was the beginning of the end for me,” he joked.

Akalepse explained that he started “snatching up” all the records from Ozuna he could get his hands on and was looking to sign the singer before launching Big Crown in 2016 with co-founder Leon Daniels. “I saw that nobody had really dealt with [Ozuna] and put his music back into the world since it was [originally released],” said Akalepse.
click to enlarge RAMON HERNANDEZ
Ramon Hernandez
During the process of signing Ozuna that took three to five years (beginning with phone calls to Ozuna’s son and publicist David Ozuna), Akalepse flew to Texas in August of 2013 to meet with Ozuna face to face at the singer-songwriter’s northeastside home. In late 2015, Akalepse eventually signed Sunny and The Sunliners to Big Crown and the fruits of their labor can be found in Mr. Brown Eyed Soul released this past September.

The album, available on Spotify, Apple Music, most streaming platforms, and, naturally, vinyl, is made up of previously released tracks that were first heard in the ’60s and early ’70s including the popular “Should I Take You Home,” “Put Me in Jail” and “Smile Now, Cry Later” amongst some deep cuts that soul-enthusiasts will be pleased to finally have in their collections.

Though there wasn’t an official album release show for Mr. Brown Eyed Soul, Akalepse mentioned trying to collaborate with indie, psychedelic, funk, soul four-piece Chicano Batman to back Ozuna for a show in Los Angeles. “We talked about doing release parties for this compilation, but the timing wasn’t that good,” said Akalepse. “[Chicano Batman] was gonna back him for an LA show, and that’s still something that we might be able to put together.”

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