Formed in San Antonio by Sunny Ozuna, Sunny and the Sunliners produced several regional hits during the 1960s but is best remembered for its 1963 Number 11 Billboard hit “Talk to Me.” Sunny Ozuna was born Ildefonso Fraga Ozuna in San Antonio, Texas, on September 8, 1943. He grew up in a large family. Ozuna’s father passed away early on, so Sunny was raised by his mother, Isabel Fraga, and stepfather, Juan Rodríguez. Like many Mexican Americans growing up in the barrios during the 1940s, Ozuna lived a life of poverty. As he once described his early life, “We had the john out in the backyard, and we used a Sears and Roebuck catalogue for toilet paper.”
While attending San Antonio’s Burbank High School in 1958, Ozuna and a friend, Rudy Guerra, formed a band. Ozuna’s childhood nickname of “Bunny” soon became “Sunny,” and thus was born the group Sunny and the Sunglows which consisted of two Mexican Americans, two Anglo Americans, and one African American. The five teenagers, Norwood Perry (bass), Al Condy (guitar), George Strickland (drums), Rudy Guerra (saxophone), and Sunny Ozuna (vocals), preferred the popular musical styles of doo-wop, soul, and rock-and-roll, rather than the more traditional Mexican folk music Ozuna had been exposed to as a child.
Like many other American youngsters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sunny and the Sunglows idolized such rock-and-roll musicians as Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and the Beatles. In an effort to fit more readily into the pop music mainstream, Sunny and the Sunglows sang mostly in English and performed at school talent shows, carnivals, and military bases around San Antonio, including Lackland Air Force Base. Occasionally, they played as far away as Houston.
In 1959 Sunny and the Sunglows released their first local hit entitled, “Just a Moment.” Although the band members loved rock-and-roll, they were also influenced by Texas-Mexican musicians such as Isidro López and recorded some Spanish-language tunes, including “Pa, Todo El Año.” Early in the summer of 1963, Sunny and the Sunglows recorded “Talk to Me,” their biggest regional hit up to that point, produced by Huey P. Meaux on his Tear Drop label. “Talk to Me” became a national hit, eventually reaching Number 11 on the Billboard charts and selling nearly 250,000 records.
The record’s success earned Sunny and the Sunglows an appearance on Dick Clark’s popular television show, American Bandstand, in 1963. They were the first all-Tejano band to do so. Around this time Ozuna changed the group’s name to the Sunliners after personnel changes had occurred. The band went on to record several other songs, including “Rags to Riches,” “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” and “Sitting in the Park,” but could not maintain the level of national success achieved with “Talk to Me.” Nevertheless, Sunny and the Sunliners paved the way for the genre that would become known as Tejano music. Ozuna went on to have a very successful career in the Spanish-language market and won a Grammy in 2000 for Best Tejano Album for his work with Augustin Ramírez, Carlos Guzmán, and Freddie Martínez, Jr., in a group known as The Legends. Various reissues of Sunny and the Sunliners hits and compilations were released into the early 2000s. The group is honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame, and Sunny Ozuna was inducted into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame in 2000.