4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23

Danny Flores has died.

Danny Flores is to tequila what Francis Scott Key is to America.

In 1958 Flores played saxophone on the Champs hit “Tequila!” He’s that guy that shouts “Tequila!” during the instrumental. Seals and Crofts joined the Champs after “Tequila!” They got a chance to perform on the 1960 followup “Too Much Tequila!” Flores died Tuesday of complications from pneumonia in a Huntington Beach, Ca. hospital. He was 77.

It has been raining all day in Chicago. For me, it those are tequila teardrops.

Hey, this is a blog. I can be over the top as much as I want. One of the greatest road trips I ever took was the Tequila Express train from the downtown Guadalajara, Mexico train station out to the blue valleys of Tequila, Mexico. I’m going to crack open a bottle of Cazadores (reposado) and reminisce…..

…….The Tequila Express was only two years old when a girl friend and I took the ride in the winter of 2000. (Time for a shot). Before blogging this, I did some research and the train is still running. It still leaves on Saturday morning, but now stops in the village of Amatian and apparently buses tourists to Tequila. I don’t remember Amatitan, maybe we stopped there. [For more information, go to my favorite link: In Search of the Blue Agave; www.ianchadwick.com.]

There were about 375 passengers on the beautiful government-run train. The four-car train was stocked with 60 bottles of tequila and 1,100 cans of Modelo beer. Complimentary tequila, beer, Coca-Cola and Fresca were served on the way to Tequila. Best of all there were hardly any Americans chugging shots of tequila on the train—tequila is meant to be sipped. Seriously.

We paid $54 each for the all-day excursion, which left Guadalajara around 10:30 and returned around 7 p.m. Passengers sat in assigned seats, but by the time we were heading back to Guadalajara, everyone in our car was dancing in the aisles to a mariachi band. One 17-year-old passenger from Mexico City did our portrait. Our seatmates purchased the portrait for us as a surprise. They signed it and they said to remember this about Mexico:

“Esta es su casa.” (“This is your home).”

Tequila (pop. 32,000) is a poor working-class town nestled in the rich fields of blue agave cactus. The word ‘tequio’ refers to the labor of the peasants. There were 12 distilleries in Tequila. We stumbled into our friend Jose Cuervo. Just off the Tequila town square there was a tequila museum, curated by Sauza, the most famous distillery in town. There was music everywhere. The sun was shining. We were in love. Or drunk.

Up until I rode the Tequila Express, I think I drank 1800 (reposado) or Don Julio. I don’t make enough money to drink Petron. I’m not even sure how to spell it. But after learning about tequila on the Tequila Express, I switched to Cazadores. In 2000 it was the most popular tequila in Mexico. Cazadores has a smooth taste and a very secure bottle stopper that preserves the contents. That didn’t stop Mel Gibson, who was found with an open bottle of Cazadores in his recent run-in with the law. Reposado (Rested tequilas) are generally aged from three months to a year in large oak barrels. Sometimes reposado has a subtle wood aroma, which is where the traditional lime and salt come in.

I’ve never had lime and salt with a shot of tequila.

I wonder if Danny Flores did.

I love the romantic empowerment of tequila. I don’t drink anything else but beer. Late Chicago treasure Carlos Cortez once did a dresser-top-sized woodcut of a nude woman on a couch framed by a Mozart record, a rare bottle of Siete Leguas tequila (the name means Seven Leagues, the name of Pancho Villa’s horse) and two shot glasses. That woodcut hangs in my living room. I once asked Carlos if he bought into the alleged spiritual aura of tequila.

“Art is spiritual,” he answered in direct tones. “Creativity is spiritual. Even the most prosaic Joe Six Pack can be working on his lathe in the basement and will take pride in turning out pieces. The creative spirit is inherent in everything, not just humans, but animals, vegetation and the land in which we live.” And tequila comes from the pineapple-shaped heart, or ‘pina’ of the blue agave cactus. When the ‘pina’ is cooked, the juices form the basis of tequila. That’s another reason I like tequila.

Its safer than spinach!

For many years only one 100 percent agave tequila (Herradura) was available in America. Bing Crosby and Phil Harris discovered Herradura on a 1940s road trip to Mexico and arranged to have it distributed throughout the United States. Now, we all enjoy popular tequilas like Cazadores and Don Julio, which are also 100 per cent agave. Thanks for the bling Bing.

There are other songs about tequila of course—-I love John Anderson’s country hit “Straight Tequila Nights,” (Time for another shot), I’m not crazy about Joe Nichols’ “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off (real tequila drinkers don’t need prompts) and don’t get me started on “Margaritaville.” But it all began with Danny Flores, the Champs and “Tequila.”

Reposado well, Danny, the champion of all good times.

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