La Bamba in Hawaii: Tony Dawsey’s First Big Break

On a recent Friday evening gathering at Masterdisk, Tony Dawsey and I were having some pizza and talking about his first hit record, La Bamba, the soundtrack to the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic. Tony told me a great story about that record and I made a mental note to follow up with him and get it down to share here once we got the blog launched. So I did, and here we are! But before I tell you about La Bamba let’s rewind a little.

Tony Dawsey
Tony Dawsey

It was 1980 when Tony started working at Masterdisk — in the mail room. He was a student at FIT, studying photography, and Masterdisk was just a job to help him through school. But it turned out Tony wasn’t in the mail room for long. First it became his job to make 15 ips analog tape copies of master tapes for use in cassette manufacturing. Then he started learning how to master records, and eventually he got to handle some of the “COD” customers — that is, folks who would come in off the street looking to get their record mastered. They weren’t asking for any engineers in particular, so the more senior engineers would let Tony take the gig.

Eventually he would sub for some of the engineers when they weren’t available, which is how the La Bamba job came about. Producer Mitchell Froom wanted Bob Ludwig, who was Vice President and Chief Engineer at Masterdisk at the time, to master Crowded House’s single “Don’t Dream it’s Over” but Bob couldn’t do it, and Tony got the job. And Mitchell liked how Tony’s work sounded. Later on, when Froom was producing La Bamba, he asked for Tony.

La Bamba Soundtrack Cover
The La Bamba Soundtrack

Around the time of the soundtrack’s release, Tony had some other important things going on: he was getting married. Before the wedding the first single off the album, “La Bamba”, was getting big in New York, but hadn’t necessarily spread. But when Tony and his wife got to Hawaii on their honeymoon, they found that “La Bamba” had made it pretty far indeed. “We got to Hawaii and it was blasting out of cars…. you’d just hear it everywhere,” Tony said. I asked him how it felt to have just made his first big record — and to find out about it on his honeymoon. Tony said, “It was amazing, it was really something. I felt very blessed.”

Back in New York, Tony said that things weren’t immediately that different for him, despite the fact that the record was huge, “except that when people found out I did the record they would say, ‘oh, that was you?’ — and it would be a feather in my cap.” La Bamba was the number-one album on the Billboard Top 200 for two weeks in September 1987.

Despite its success, La Bamba wasn’t the record that made Tony’s career take off. “I think it really started later with a few other records,” he said, “one of which was the Kris Kross album.” While the backwards-dressing teen rap stars aren’t exactly household names anymore, their 1992 album Totally Krossed Out (Ruffhouse/Columbia Records) went 4 times multi-platinum and made the number-one spot on the Billboard Top 200 twice.  But that’s the beginning of a different story…

(Consequently, the Crowded House single was a hit too. It was released in February 1986 and reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

(Billboard chart positions and sales figures from Wikipedia.)

Fill out my online form.