When I was a child in the 1970’s, one of my favorite pastimes was playing my parents’ old discarded 45s on my Fisher Price record player. One single that received considerable airplay was a Christmas record by Augie Rios called “Ol’ Fatso,” which featured a sassy child giving Santa Claus a hard time with the repetitive chorus of “Don’t care who you are Ol’ Fatso / keep those reindeer off the roof.” What was not to love?
The flip side of this blue Metro 45 with the lion on the label was another Christmas song: “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” I would later learn that this was actually the “a” side of the record. At that age, I had to rely upon my own underdeveloped musical tastes to figure out which side was the hit. For this reason, I am still partial to Dusty Springfield’s self-penned b-side “Something Special” over the faux-Spector bombast of “Stay Awhile.”
As you can imagine, the rather un-PC “Ol Fatso” does not get covered a whole lot. Or at all. “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” on the other hand, has some other versions that have become favorites of mine.
Toni Stante (aka Antoinette Binastante) released a version on the Parkway label in 1965. This single has been the highlight of my Girl Group Christmas playlist for many years.
Later in the 60’s, The Thomas Sisters recorded what is now my favorite version. It is harder to find, though: It’s not on Spotify and keeps getting removed from YouTube. We’ll see how long this link remains active:
Other notable covers of the song: Charo’s 12″ disco version and the band Guster’s 2004 take of the tune.
But back to the original version and our titular question: ¿Dónde Está Augie Rios?
Augustine Rios was born in 1946, the son of Puerto Rican immigrant factory workers living in New York City. He began performing at a young age and had made some local television appearances before being cast as Lena Horne’s little brother in the 1957 Broadway musical Jamaica, which also starred Ricardo Montalbon and Ossie Davis. The role was originally only a few lines but Augie was such a standout in the out of town performances that it was expanded. By the time they hit Broadway, he was sixth on the cast list among the well established stars.
Augie had been in Jamaica for over a year when he cut his first single for Metro records. “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus? was co-written by his manager, George Scheck and released just before Christmas, 1958.
Jamaica continued its run on Broadway for a year and a half, closing in April of 1959. Despite having a hit record and making television appearances during the run of the show, the press noted that Augie had never missed a performance.
In December of 1959, Augie appeared as “Shorty” alongside Carol Lawrence and Howard Keel in the Broadway musical Saratoga, an adaption of the Edna Furber novel Saratoga Trunk with music & lyrics by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer. Although Cecil Beaton did win a Tony award for costume design, the show was not a success and closed in April of 1960.
Meanwhile, Augie had two follow-up singles released on Metro in 1959, followed by another bilingual Christmas single on MGM in 1960: “Felice Navidades (Merry Christmas To All)”:
Augie continued to work in theatrical productions on tour and in summer stock. He also made numerous television appearances. By 1963, he was performing with his own vocal group, Augie Rios and the Notations. They released a single on Shelley Records followed by two additional solo singles credited to Augie in 1964. Of course there have also been numerous reissues of his original Christmas classic single through the years.
Back in the early 2000’s, I came across an internet post about Augie Rios on a 1950’s music website. Augie himself had responded in the comments section, thanking everyone for their continued interest and also giving an update on what he had been up to in recent years – retired from his post-performance career and still living in the tri-state area. Unfortunately, the website is long gone, so I cannot locate details. There is also this video on YouTube, which seems to memorialize him in 2019 with a home audio recording and photo montage of his life.
¡Feliz Navidad Augie Ríos! Gracias por la música.
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