Thee Sacred Souls on sacred land
For Jaime Macias, the 1500 block of West Commerce is a sacred place in the heart of the Westside of San Antonio.
On June 14, Thee Sacred Souls - a soul band from San Diego - brought close to 400 people there to watch them play at Jaime’s Place. Only their second tour, the band ended a run of shows with Glasgow’s pop group, Belle and Sebastian and then played Antone’s in Austin before their show in San Antonio.
Before soundcheck, the group stopped by the TPR studios for an interview and a conversation about the history of the Westside and the Westside Sound. We talked about the artists who inspired their sound and the connection to the location they were set to play in just a few hours.
Many in the audience, including Jaime, felt Thee Sacred Souls show was history being made - it was a kind of continuation of a tradition where so many people from all walks of life gathered together to have a good time and enjoy live Soul music.
This used to happen just 100 feet away from where Jaime's Place is now. Patio Andaluz was once a venue and gathering space for those who wanted to see The Royal Jesters or Sunny and the Sunliners play live. If you’re on the block of Colorado and W. Commerce, you’ll see the yellow building that is now Don Juan’s restaurant.
In the 50s through the 60s this was ground zero for the kind of music we know to be the Westside Sound or Chicano Soul. For many young people back then, like my grandmother, it was described to be a kind of rite of passage and a cornerstone of teenage nightlife.
San Antonio groups like Rudy T. and the Reno Bops, Little Joe and the Harlems, Danny and the Dreamers, and the Commands all drew large crowds in that courtyard. In 1965, Barbara Lynn performed her hit song ‘You’ll Lose A Good Thing’ at Patio Andaluz and shared the stage with local artist Jesse and the Tear-Drops.
These stories and sounds connect us to Thee Sacred Souls. Started by three members, Sal Samano, Alex Garcia and Josh Lane, the group initially began by sharing influences and inspiration. Sal and Alex grew up hearing Sunny and the Sunliners at backyard cookouts and family gatherings. It’s a sound that they are very familiar with and one they felt most comfortable to continue.
Alex adds, "It could be culturally - we're both Chicanos and grew up in San Diego. It's just always been a part of our upbringing. You know every time you have a barbeque you're gonna put on some oldies. I fell back into this sound that was so familiar and wanted to recreate it in a way, like in my own way."
For singer Josh Lane, his journey into the sound came from a proper introduction through Sal and Alex -
"Soul music was around but it wasn't as prevalent as I would say the guy's are speaking what their experience was. Being a Black man - a Black kid, I knew who all of the great soul singers were, but we were listening to a lot more Christian music in my house when I was a young kid. Then as a young adult I ventured into figuring out Soul for myself. I was influenced by a lot of the Pop Soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and Smokey Robinson. It wasn't until meeting these guys [Sal and Alex] that I really got introduced into some of the deeper Soul stuff - Like Chicago Soul and Chicano Soul."
‘Chicano Soul’ to record collectors and music historians is sometimes used interchangeably with the term, the 'Westside Sound' or the 'San Antonio Sound.' This phrase has now evolved to be a term that captures the music and culture of the late 50’s and 60’s on the Westside of San Antonio.
Digging further into this history, it’s found that the soul, R&B - Doo Wop sound of many Black artists was reinterpreted by many Chicano singers and musicians of San Antonio - to later develop its own brand as the ‘Westside Sound.’
It’s also noted that San Antonio was one of the first places in the 50’s and early 60’s where you could find integrated house bands with Black, White and Chicano people all playing together. The history of collaboration and collection of influences runs deep in San Antonio. Josh from Thee Sacred Souls shares his observation -
"Chicano Culture and Chicano Soul was a new venture for me to learn about. I think what I learned is that it's such a social glue when it comes to cultures. It's like a shaking of hands of sorts of like this music speaks to all of us - and Brown and Black people coming together - learning from the Black Soul [music] and then making it their own, like the Royal Jesters and other bands like that."
"It's a testament to the power of connectivity and love of music - and the power that it has to heal a lot of racial tensions. Similar to how before that Jazz was with White and Black musicians integrating. I feel like it's a similar renaissance but later with Black and Brown people realizing that this music is bringing us together - that we have the same stories and same love for the greats."
Drawing these connections to the history of the people and these places is what makes Jaime a proud business owner on the Westside of San Antonio. His family has done it for years. They’ve owned several businesses on this particular block of commerce for decades, including a notable business called Spitfire Automotive - where Jaime’s Place is now.
In 2020, Jaime had the chance to step up and turn a once vacant lot into what it is today.
"I asked my 96 year old mother, ¿Me das chansa, verdad? and she goes 'Yes, but remember rent is due on the fifth of the month.'" He remembers.
I had the opportunity to visit Jaime in his office on the second floor of the yellow house at Jaime’s Place. We talked about the development in the area, how it was long overdue but how he was aware of the impending changes to the Westside and his vision for being a piece in the puzzle.
"Jaime's Place kind of just happened - which is a community gathering space. Our tagline is Built for the Barrio and Beyond. Realistically, we are probably three years ahead of schedule. Back when I opened up, October 9th of 2020, I would tell everyone that we're five years ahead of schedule because I knew that this construction was gonna happen."
He explains that his knowledge of the changes to the Westside came from his participation in the SA2020 committee meetings. He wanted to get a head of the development but picked an interesting time to start his business.
"After the connection between the inner Westside to the western edge of downtown happens, that's when you're gonna see much more development happen at a rapid pace. So being that we own the properties, I have a little bit of a head start. Beer brings people together. So that's what I did, and once I opened the doors, I didn't know if anybody was gonna come - it's scary..and then opening up in the middle of the pandemic?!"
And even through the pandemic, crowds of supporters, friends, tourists and fans of live music have gathered at the outdoor hangout on west commerce.
"This is built for the barrio - and beyond! Beyond is on the other side of the bridge. It's on the outside of loop 410. It's for those who don't have a clue about the resiliency, the perseverance, the beauty of this jewel of the westside."
Jaime’s vision to be an integrated business owner in his community came from seeing his brothers and sisters do it before him.
"I'm just this person that's at the right place, at the right time, at the right location - bottom line. And I'm grateful. I give thanks to the universe that it gave me the opportunity to connect the dots and see this... I don't want to say renaissance because that's a European term...but more of a revival, a big tent revival where la gente is getting together."
He explains his inspiration for what he wanted Jaime's Place to be.
"You know, it's run by Chicanos. It's a home...kind of like Saluté was back in the day...kind of like back in the day even further, Los Padrinos, owned by these sisters on West Avenue. That was a place to be, man. So I want this place to be one of those types of spaces. Patio Andaluz, right? Less than 100 feet away from here... this is fertile ground... this is good vibrations as the Beach Boys would say. And it permeates throughout everybody that comes and spends time here."
Jaime sits at his desk and listens to my question about the connection between the Westside Sound and modern Soul music - and while he’s listening he brings up a playlist of ‘Oldies and Soul revival’ artists. He explains the importance of sharing the history of Patio Andaluz with the artists who play his venue.
"They need to know that they're gonna be stepping into a neighborhood where what they're pushing is kind of like the breeding grounds for all of this. I mean, Durand Jones and the Indications - you ask Durand Jones who his inspiration is and he's gonna say Sunny Ozuna. Well that cat played right here! He hung out here! All those cats...this is their home. Thee Sacred Souls and all those other cats that are emulating that sound, they need to know what Patio Andaluz did."
Josh from thee sacred souls reflects on this history and the band's contribution to the genre and culture of Soul music.
"I feel like for me, music as a whole is spiritual. I would say especially Soul music to America's cloth. I feel like Soul music has always been in our lives but to varying degrees and it found me in a deeper way through this band."
Josh explains further, "It called to all of us but with them reaching out to me and us starting this band, it put me on the trajectory to learn more about the history a little deeper. So to learn this this history, like Sal said, it has been inspiring. It's cool to know that part of the story and feel more love than we already have for the Soul music that we get to participate in. The resurgence that people are talking about - and to know that it's history being made to connect to the history that's already there is pretty cool."
When asked about the future of Jaime’s Place - Jaime brings up the experience of hosting Thee Sacred Souls - the important connection with local promoter, Rambo Salinas of Friends of Sound Records - The history being made and the impact it left on the community…all adding to a promising vision for the culture of the Westside.
"With Rambo securing this band for us - you know when he connected us with these people, then kind of took a step back and Gabriela and I had been talking to these people, they freaked out that we sold 350 tickets in less than eight hours. They were like, 'What?' They were blown away. I told them, 'you don't know what's happening on this part of town.' They're pumped up! So all of a sudden, calls start happening in that kind of genre...and what can happen? Stay tuned."