Friday, September 12, 2014

Blue Moon

This photo is from a book titled Images of America - Pharr by Romeo Rosales Jr. of the Pharr Memorial Library.

This club used to be near where I live. By the time I was born, it had already been closed for many years. A lot of the older musicians I talk to always bring up this place.

After I saw this photo, I called my dad on the phone since I remembered him talking about it as well.

"Hay iba casi todos los domingos," ("I would go there almost every Sunday,") my dad said on Wednesday night. "Cuando estaba joven, verdad, iba a tocar allí yo." ("When I was young, right, I would go there to play music.")

His band’s name was Sandy and the Silhouettes. The band-members were from Donna, McAllen, and Edinburg. They recorded one 45 for Bego Records, and briefly toured with the Bego Caravana. My dad estimates that this was around 1970-71, after he graduated from Donna High School.

According to my dad, Joe Vera would have two bands at Vera’s Palladium in Weslaco, and two bands at Blue Moon in Pharr. After their sets were done, the bands would then switch venues. My dad remembers seeing Johnny Canales, Chano Cadena, and Henry and the Glares at these hot spots.

The Veras sold this building later in the decade, and it became a factory where leather jackets were made. My Tia Panchie worked there for a few years.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

At STFC 31

My friend Rosario took this photo of me inside the STFC cage at the McAllen Convention Center, on September 5, 2014. Fun night of fights. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

PSJA North Travels To San Antonio

Miguel Guerra, a PSJA North High School classmate of mine, wrote a really great piece titled “From My Street to Main Street”. This appears in a book titled Global Mexican Cultural Productions. I am sharing an excerpt of this because I remember when they were doing this play at PSJA North, as I was part of the tech theater 3rd period class. I wasn’t part of the techies that stayed after school or traveled with this troupe, but I was friends or acquaintances with this cast and crew.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marco Antonio Solis Autograph Poster

I thought this had gone missing. Glad I found it still in good condition. 

My tia took my mom to this concert seven years ago. After the show, they saw Marco Antonio Solis (or “El Buki” as they love to call him because of his previous band Los Bukis) leaving the arena in Hidalgo. They asked for his autograph. While he was signing these posters with a pen, my tia claims to have run her fingers through his beard (which has magic powers, I think). 

For years my mom had this poster next to a painting of “La última cena” (“The Last Supper”), which was oddly appropriate since so many people joke that Solis looks like the popular, European and North American depictions of Jesus Christ. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Roberto Pulido

 Roberto Pulido has been up and down the road for the past seven decades. First as part of a migrant-working family. Then as an educator. Ultimately, he ended up traveling throughout America and Mexico doing something that he never dreamed of doing.   

"The road is an adventure," Roberto Pulido, 64, said. "Nunca sabes, (You never know,) anything can happen."

I met up with Roberto Pulido at his shop, located behind his house in Edinburg. He greeted me with Chumina, his dog, by his side. He tells me that Chumina had gone missing for several hours the day before our meeting. He found her right as his son Bobby was leaving his house later that day. She was tangled up near a jet ski, so he had to use a knife to cut the cord to set her free.

He welcomes me to his office inside and lowers the volume on a television set that hangs from his wall.

"First of all, let me tell you something about me," Pulido begins after taking a seat.

Jose Roberto Pulido was born to Jose and Adelina Pulido on March 1, 1950 in Edinburg, TX.

"Como dicen, Febrero loco y Marzo otro poco, I'm number one, okay?" said Pulido, jokingly referring to an old saying that would be lost in translation in literal English.

At the age of three, Pulido was run over by a pickup truck. This horrifying event caused Pulido to lose 55 percent of his hearing in both ears.

He pulls out a hearing aid out of his right ear to demonstrate how he inserts and removes them every morning and night.

"I wear two (hearing aids) pero sometimes it's too much," Pulido reveals.

Not being able to hear as good as his fellow students affected his work at school, as it took him longer to learn English. At times, he felt like he had really fallen behind.

"I used to get paddled (at school) because I didn't know how to speak English," Pulido said. "I missed out on a lot because of my hearing."

Like most Tejano, conjunto, and norteño musicians of this area, he comes from a migrant-working family. He found himself working in Texas, Florida, Washington, and California growing up.

"Aqui en el Valle, I picked cotton, I did la fruta, melons, sandia, tomate," Pulido said. "In California, we used to do the grapes, peaches, plums, y toda la cosa."

He would often listen to norteño music as a youth. His father was a fan of many local major acts, like norteño pioneers Los Donneños.

"When I was 11 years old, my dad was a very big fan de ellos," Pulido said.

In 1972, Pulido's life took a surprising turn when he married Diana Montes, daughter of Los Donneños' accordionist Mario Montes.

"I never realized that one day I was going to get to marry his daughter," Pulido said laughing.

They had three children — Bobby, Alma, and Marco Antonio.

As part of the school band, Pulido started experimenting with the saxophone as he entered his early teens. His first professional gig began as a member of Los Layton's of Edcouch-Elsa in 1965.

Norfy Layton Gonzalez, 61, remembers those early days very well.

"We met him through our first, original saxophone player Oscar Diaz Jr.," Norfy said. "My brothers incorporated the saxophone [to their conjunto], and we were looking for another saxophone player. So then Oscar Diaz mentioned Roberto Pulido."

The Layton brothers brought him in, and Pulido was able to see the difference between playing at school, and playing out con la gente.

"That's how he first joined the music industry," Norfy said. "He played with us two, or three years, something like that, then he left."

While he enjoyed regional success, Pulido still had to go to work in California during his high school summer vacations. When he was over there, he performed with his late uncle Leonel Pulido.

"As a matter of fact, that's him right there," Pulido says, pointing to a varnished tree slice that holds a photo of his tio.

"He was one of a kind," Pulido continues. "When he passed away (in 2012), I had a lot of phone calls from different accordionists. Flaco Jimenez, among so many of them, called to give their condolences. They had the ultimate respect for him."

Leonel was one of the rare Tejano, conjunto musicians that played both the chromatic and button diatonic accordions.

"He played a reversible chromatic," Pulido said. "He learned how to play on his own. He bought an old accordion, de cinco lineas, he learned to play it and then he wanted to buy a new one. We had to order it in Italy, that's when we found that it was a reversible chromatic."

Roberto and Leonel Pulido. 

After graduating from Edinburg High School in 1969, Pulido told his old man that he was tired of traveling and working in the fields.

"He said, 'That's why you need an education, son,'" Pulido said. "So I got a four year scholarship to study music here at Pan American."

So without a shortcut in sight, Pulido attended Pan American University, as it was known then, to study music. In the middle of his college experience, Pulido joined Cecilio Garza y Los Kasinos.

The time would finally arrive for him to sing.

"I got dared into singing," Pulido said. "Some of the musicians that played with our band, they told me it was not the easiest thing. I said, 'Well I'm not a singer, but I'll guarantee you one thing, I think I can sing better than some of the knuckleheads that are out there.'"

Pulido stepped up to the spotlight, surprising his bandmates with his vocals.

"I went in there (to sing and they said), 'Wow vato, you can sing!'"

When conversing casually, Pulido has a distinct accent that is difficult to describe. It's very animated, and he code switches effortlessly between English, Spanish and regional slang. When he sings, his voice transforms into something that is just as unique.

"I have a different voice," Pulido said. "I'm a high tenor, I sing a little bit higher than the normal musicos. Not that I'm the only one, there are some other ones tambien que sing high."

He graduated in 1973, then decided to branch out on his own with a new band called Los Clasicos.

Pulido began teaching in the PSJA school district after graduation. Eventually, he would take a detour, and start traveling to give lectures on bilingual education programs.

"I remember I used to go to Montana, California, here in Texas," Pulido said. "After a year in a half, I got sick cause it was too much."

By the mid-1970's, he chose to leave his career in education. While things were rough at first, he kept focusing on his music, hoping to catch a break.

"The first three years not even my mom bought a record," Pulido said. "Then everything just started falling in place."

He fused his vocals, the accordion and brass instruments to create a style that he likes to describe as guacamole.

This idiosyncratic form first caught on in Corpus Christi, a Tejano hot spot in the those days. Soon it spread to the rest of the Tejano-listening universe, including the Rio Grande Valley. With the decade coming to a close, they were now seen as one of the hottest Tejano acts around.

This poster hangs in Pulido's shop in Edinburg.
Flaco Pulido, 54, has been playing with his older brother for about 39 years. He plays two different saxophones, and sings back-up. He's the only brother that still performs with Los Clasicos.

"At the time, my father was with us," Flaco said of those days in the mid-to-late 1970's. "We were five brothers, on the road. I went from a little boy playing at the park, to the big time scenery at clubs. The good memories that I have was with my dad, because my dad entered the band to take care of me."

Pulido estimates that Los Clasicos have recorded 45 releases, through five decades of 45's, LP's, eight-tracks, cassette tapes, and CD's. The different labels that have released his work include Falcón Records, Freddie Records, EMI Latin, and Sniper Records. "Copa Tras Copa", "Te Vi Partir", "Obsesión", "Flecha Envenenada", and "La Tumba Sera El Final" rank among his most popular hits. Other songs that classify as collaborative efforts, for example, "Los Tres Amigos" (with Little Joe Hernandez and Ruben Ramos), "Contigo" (with his son Bobby Pulido) and "Ya Ahora Es Tarde" (with Emilio Navaira) are also high points for Pulido.

Now known as a successful artist, he decided to launch his own scholarship for music students — the Roberto Pulido Music Scholarship Endowment.

"It helped out a lot," Pulido said of the scholarship he received after graduating from high school. "I'm just giving back to the community, what they did for me back then. The cost of living has gone up, it's harder and harder, and if you can help out a student that really is looking at it seriously, por qué no?"

While sitting in his office, he starts pointing to stuff he's made over the past few years. It's a form of therapy for him.

"Hago un poquito de todo," ("I do a little bit of everything,") Pulido said. After struggling to get the words out of why he loves making stuff, he blurts out, "I guess to keep me sane."

Some of his craft work includes meat turners, rings, rosaries, back scratchers, knives, and fishing lures.

He hands me two knives; both include engraved "Roberto Pulido" signatures on the blades. The handles are made out of elk and white-tailed deer horns.

"They are all hand made," Pulido assures me after I inspect the knives.

I ask him about the lures, and he pulls some out of a drawer.

"Ay cabron," Pulido shrieked, after accidentally poking himself with the hooks that are attached. After a few seconds, he hands them over to me and says, "They glow in the dark!"

It seems that to a totally different demographic, Pulido might be known more for his outdoorsman's prowess, than for his music.

He notes that he doesn't get to hunt or fish as often as he would like, due to his profession. He busts out another old Mexican saying, "Si tienes tienda atiendela, si no vendela." He uses it as a metaphor, to illustrate how he has to concentrate on his own career, the same way a store owner would do for his own business. If a store owner doesn't care, what's the point, he asks.

One recent project involved him recording a ranchera with Adelina, his 82 year old mother. Pulido picked Jesús Favella's "Me Voy Lejos" because it was the first song she played for him.

"She was terrified," Pulido said of his mom at the recording studio. "Le dije, 'Mama, no te mortifiques!'" ("I told her, 'Mom, don't be scared!'")

Pulido, while sipping on a Budlight and chewing on some Skoal-brand dipping tobacco, puts on an early cut of the song on a nearby CD player. We sit quietly listening to the heartfelt song between mother and son. After the track concludes, he explains to me why he did it.

"Yo quiero dejarle algo a mis hijos, mis nietos, pa' que sepan de donde vinieron," ("I want to leave something for my children, grandchildren, so they can know where they came from,") Pulido said.

Pulido's next stop is in Mexico, where he will be celebrating his legendary journey in La Onda Tejana in Monterrey on August 28. Pulido feels that his music is still thriving across the border.

The adventure won't stop there. Pulido plans to be staring down endless roads for many years to come. From our brief conversation together, he doesn't seem like the type of man that's content with what's passed him by. He's still driving forward, towards that final stretch at the top of the mountain, with no exit in sight.  

"In the music business, you have peaks and valleys, vato," Pulido said. "I had a peak, then it came down. I peaked again, then I came down. I'm a firm believer that the lord is going to give me another peak. I just have to work at it."

'Flaco' and Roberto Pulido at their game room in Edinburg.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Paulino Bernal

Paulino Bernal, at his offices on McColl in McAllen, on May 21, 2014.
When talking to different musicians and fans across the Rio Grande Valley, one name tends to be mentioned a lot. It's a name that carries a lot of weight for many in a crowd that tends to be over the age of fifty. To a younger demographic, he's likely known as the local evangelist who they have probably heard on the radio or from their parents. Some up and coming accordionists know him because of the thrilling polkas that he fixed ages ago. To some young people, the name might not even resonate.

However, to folks who witnessed his rise, it's a man who did it all in the Valley music scene. He paid his dues working with regional attractions until he broke out on his own with his bajo-sexto playing brother. He built up his conjunto into possibly the best, most innovative conjunto we've ever seen in the 1960's. When discussing the greatest three-row, button diatonic accordionists of all time, he's one of the few that has an argument for greatest ever.

That would be enough to make one a legend around these parts but that's not all he did. He took part in creating two different record labels in an era that was loaded with local Tejano, conjunto and norteño talent. He released music from Carlos Guzman, Ruben Vela, Ernesto Guerra, Pepe Maldonado and Little Joe Hernandez. He established a weekly Monday night series in McAllen known as El Baile Grande. He discovered and promoted new acts. He scheduled and created his own unique touring system.

To a generation of Valley music fans that were alive in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, he was a cut above the rest.

This man's name is Paulino Bernal.

In 2014, his age hasn't slowed him down. Church gatherings and business engagements keep him traveling on an almost daily basis. The allure of the road is still strong with him. On this particular afternoon, he returned to the Valley and stopped by his Christian radio offices in McAllen to reminisce about his past with me.

He walks in speaking with a remarkably polished voice and exchanges greetings with me. He closes the door, and asks me to speak up since decades of being around loud music has made it difficult for him to hear.

Born in Raymondville on October 18, 1939, Bernal's childhood was far from the world of luxury that he currently lives in. His parents divorced when he was five years old, making life difficult for Guadalupe De Anda Bernal, Bernal's single mother, and her children. The family relocated to Kingsville after the separation.

"We lived in poverty for years," Bernal, 73, said. "My mom used to clean homes, apartments, take care of the family — two brothers, three sisters."

As children, Bernal and his younger brother Eloy worked extra jobs to help their mother out. By the age of ten, Bernal already had plenty of experience working in the fields and polishing shoes.

During the evenings in the barrio, a group of neighbors would mingle in a nearby patio for a guitar jam session. Standing next to a fence, Bernal was captivated by the sound he was listening to.

"I used to love the way they played the guitar," Bernal remembers. "I wanted to know what they are doing, how they are doing (it)."

One day, one of those neighbors stopped by the Bernal residence. He was trying to sell his guitar and Bernal argued his case to his mother.

"I told my mom, 'Buy it, I'm going to learn how to play it and I'm going to help you,'" Bernal promised.

A few weeks later, Bernal was outside his home, picking at his guitar when a stranger stopped by. It was an older man that played the accordion, and he invited Bernal to accompany him at nearby cantinas during the evenings.

"I was a young kid, 10 or 12 years old at that time," Bernal said. "They would give me tips and put coins in my guitar. At midnight I was shaking the guitar to get those coins out and give them to mom."

Bernal observed that man closely and learned how to play the accordion on his own. He says he was a fan of Tony De La Rosa, Valerio Longoria and Narciso Martinez growing up.

"Those were the accordionists of my time, when I started as a little kid," Bernal said. "I would go and hear them play, and they were a great inspiration for me."

Discos Ideal promotional photo of Narciso Martinez, one of Paulino Bernal's inspirations.  
He explored the three-row, button diatonic accordion, studying what it was capable of for eight hours a day. Bernal notes how other accordionists would use several boxes to switch to different keys throughout their live performance. Bernal himself experimented so much with it that he figured out how to find everything he needed on a sole box.

"People used to say that the three-row accordion didn't have all the chords and all the music," Bernal said. "That's not true, I proved it all these years that all the chords are there."

Eloy learned to play the guitar before arriving to the bajo-sexto. The two formed Los Hermanitos Bernal, which would later evolve into the legendary Conjunto Bernal.

"Eloy, in my opinion, is the greatest bajo-sexto player that I have ever known," Bernal reflects on Eloy, who passed away at the age of 61 in 1998. "There is a lot of good musicians out there, but to me, he had the greatest touch to that bajo-sexto. He would spend hours just playing by himself. Until he got the right sound, not only the chords or everything else that goes with it, but the sound on that bajo-sexto. (It was) like nobody else. Not only that, he's a great composer."

Paulino Bernal and Eloy Bernal. 
During those early days, radio personality Domingo Peña of Corpus Christi took a liking to Bernal. He gave Bernal advice that he's eager to share with us.

"He told me, 'Paulino distinguish yourself, even if you distinguish yourself as an idiot,'" laughs Bernal. "He was always joking. Oh man, he was so great."

The two hermanos would indeed stand out, as Peña suggested. They scored the opportunity to record for Discos Ideal in Alice and San Benito as the 1950's unraveled.

"I would skip school and go to (Ideal) or other guys (who were) recording," Bernal said. "One day the accordionist didn't show up and I was there, and I told (Ideal founder) Mr. (Armando) Marroquín, 'I can play the accordion.' He said, 'Well, let's see how you do.' I played it as best as I could so he could like it. From there on, he would go pick me up in Kingsville and take me to play the accordion with other singers. Then he gave us the opportunity to record our first record with my brother and I. It was a hit."

Carmen y Laura are two of those singers that Bernal touched upon.

That first record from 1955 included "Mujer Pasada" on Side A and "Desprecio" on Side B. The bigger hit came later that same year when the duo dropped "Mi Unico Camino". Influenced by Los Panchos and Los Tres Reyes, two popular acts of that era, Bernal introduced three-part harmonies to the conjunto music genre. To pull of this feat, he enlisted vocalist Ruben Perez. The two teenage brothers were starting to be seen as pioneers.

Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, has released three Conjunto Bernal CD's that feature those rare, early recordings from Ideal — 16 Early Hits, Mi Humilde Corazon, and Mi Unico Camino.

One of the Arhoolie re-releases. 
"Bernal is a brilliant musician," Strachwitz said. "Similar to what (Zydeco accordionist) Clifton Chenier was like. He (as in Clifton) was an amazing musician who once told me, 'Chris, you got to be a little bit ahead of the audience, just to have something new all the time.'"

Conjunto Bernal began touring all across Texas after those first hits. They eventually became big enough draws that they started touring throughout the country.

"I was making a lot of money with Conjunto Bernal," Bernal said. "No more picking cotton, no more shoe shining, I'm going to dedicate my life fully to playing music."

Mike Lopez, who once operated a Valley record label titled Mestizo Records, remembers seeing Conjunto Bernal in those days.

"They were incredible," Lopez said. "Widely imitated, never duplicated."

Marroquín started Nopal Records in 1960.
During the 1960's, Bernal introduced the chromatic accordion to his audience after Oscar Hernandez joined the gang. The dynamic of the group progressed with it now featuring two maestros. One day a fan asked Bernal why he invited Hernandez to join his conjunto.

"I said, 'Well I started hearing him, he was a tough musician playing great accordion (music) and if you can't beat him, join him,'" Bernal laughs hard, slapping his thighs. "We did incredible things with those accordions."

Oscar Hernandez, Paulino Bernal and Conjunto Bernal during the 1960's.
Joel Guzman, arguably the most versatile accordionist today, recalls seeing Conjunto Bernal in the Valley and in Washington during the early-to-mid 1960's. While he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, his parents would bring him to South Texas at least once a year to visit family. He projects that the venue he saw the group in for the first time was either Blue Moon in Pharr or Vera's Palladium in Weslaco.

"Bernal was very innovative," Guzman said. "Instead of just playing the accordion, (Bernal) got up and played the bass in a rock and roll tune."

I bring up this story to Bernal, and he notes that he tried to raise the profile of his band by attempting to draw fans from outside regular conjunto followers. To do that, he brought in elements from other styles, like the aforementioned trio style, orquesta, ballroom, various Latin@ forms and rock & roll.

"These guys were dressed like rock stars," Guzman said. "They had something going on. They knew how to market themselves."

This recollection from Guzman gives Bernal a flashback to the early part of his career, which gives us a glimpse into the early class divide in the early Tejano and conjunto scene.

Bernal me dice que when he was growing up in Kingsville, there was two patios. One was called Junior's Patio, and it was for conjuntos. The other one was known as El Patio, and it was used for Mexican-American orquestas like Beto Villa and Luis Alcaraz. He described the former as being for “la raza” (his exact phrase), while the latter was for upwardly mobile Mexican-Americans, or jaitones.

"I would see people all dressed up in their suits and everything," Bernal observed of the crowd at El Patio. "Y aqui (en Junior's Patio), pura raza, which was okay but I wanted to (play) over there too."

He impressed fans on the first site but aimed at getting a gig on the upscale stage, which rewarded musicians with more lana. Thanks to that hybrid style that was covered earlier, it didn't take long until he pressed on to the second patio.

Bernal made several key moves that shook up the conjunto business in the 1960's. One of them was when he partnered up with Joseph H. Gonzalez and Lillie A. Gonzalez to form Bego Records.

The Gonzalez's promoted Conjunto Bernal when they performed in Michigan. The married couple were admirers of the way Bernal and his musicians sung. However, Lillie was perplexed by some of the material that they were recording at the time.

"(She) couldn't understand why most of their music was all polkas, huapangos, and things like that," Yolanda Gonzalez, Lillie's daughter, said. "They were such a good band. Paulino (Bernal) told them, 'Well that's what the record labels there in the Valley (want).'"

After listening to Bernal's answer, Joseph asked him how much it would cost to start their own record company.

"They came up with a figure," Yolanda said. "My dad says, 'Okay let's do it.' My mom said, 'Let's get it rolling.' She wrote out the first contracts for those musicians (that night)."

The name of the new company was agreed upon early. "Be" and "go" would stand for the first two letters of the last names involved.

Offices were opened at 415 S. 17th Street in McAllen. Most of the recordings were completed at Jimmy Nichols' studio on Dallas Ave. in the same city. Bob Tanner's TNT (Tanner N Texas), a pressing plant in San Antonio, manufactured the vinyl records.

"My mom and dad were the money people," Yolanda said. "Paulino was doing a lot of the producing. It was him and Armando Hinojosa."

The label became one of the most successful Mexican and Mexican-American record companies in America at the time. Yolanda notes that their only competition was Discos Falcón.

Bernal is credited with discovering several talented artists that recorded for his company. Judging by the excitement in his voice, he seems most proud of two in particular.

Bernal's cuento begins in 1963, at a cantina in Reynosa where two young performers came over to sing for him. After a few songs, Bernal bluntly told them that they were never going to amount to anything. When they asked why, Bernal replied that their act was just canciones from Los Alegres de Terán. That if they wanted to make it big, they needed their own material. The two men fired back saying that they had original work.

The pair started singing, "Ya no llores mujer, ya no estes triste..."

As he heard "Ya No Llores", Bernal saw the future of norteño music before him.

"Cornelio Reyna and Ramon Ayala," Bernal said. "So I told them you go tomorrow to McAllen, I'm going to record you."

In our conversation, Bernal made no reference to Hinojosa. However, others have stated that it was Hinojosa who advised Bernal to go to that bar, to specifically see Ayala and Reyna.

Those early Bego recordings of Los Relámpagos Del Norte can still be seen popping up at second-hand stores in McAllen and Weslaco from time to time.

"He's a brilliant businessman," Strachwitz said. "He really knows how to take care of business and find out where it's at."

Los Relámpagos Del Norte's first release for Bego. 
The two parties officially split off after a financial dispute near the end of the decade. The Gonzalez's bought Bernal's share of the company, and he used that money to launch Bernal Records, which also specialized in the same market.

One successful idea that Bernal came up with is the Bego (or Bernal) Caravana. As he described to me, he would start two separate tours simultaneously in two different cities across the U.S. After a performance, the act(s) would leave one city to go to the next one on the tour. As the journey came to an end, each course would be completed in the other's starting point. He did that both on a national and local level.

In the second half of the 1960's, he created what is known as "El Baile Grande". He went to the McAllen Civic Center, requesting to book the venue every Saturday night. Bernal tells me that they responded with, "No that's impossible, we have a lot of bookings." When Bernal asked what dates would be available, they replied with Monday. He took all of those dates, placed his deposits, and rented the venue for what would become a weekly extravaganza. He was a frequent headliner at his own dances.

"It was the biggest dance, I'd say, in the state of Texas," claims Bernal. "Monday there was no competition and all the musicians were free (as in, not booked). Nobody would hire them anyway on Monday's. I had the choice of booking whatever I wanted to."

Bego release named after "El Baile Grande". 
In 1968, Conjunto Bernal was invited to Vietnam to entertain the troops as part of the USO. For 21 days they toured with the help of three helicopters. The musicians were in one aircraft, the instruments in another, and the soldiers that were protecting them were in the third.

"We would go down there to sing to those guys," Bernal said. "Guys from the Valley, El Paso, San Diego, California, from all over the United States."

Professionally he was successful as a musician, promoter, and record producer. Personally he describes himself as being "lost" in the late 1960's to the early 1970's. He credits a young person for taking his life and career into a different direction. That new camino led him to becoming a born-again Christian in 1972. Since then, he has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel.

"Everyday we are out," Bernal said. "Going to auditoriums, dance halls, everywhere that we can go. We rent them and we tell people about salvation."

Even though certain aspects have changed, some characteristics have remained the same. He's still playing music, his ensemble is still Conjunto Bernal, and the style he originated has stood strong through generations of fans.

"We sing songs that we used to do before, but now with Christian lyrics," Bernal said. "It's the same trio, the same style, the same everything. Just the lyrics changed. Once in a while, I play them a good polka."

The biggest hit of his Christian-era is "Un Dia A La Vez", which is a Spanish version of "One Day At A Time", written by  Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson.

Paulino Bernal's most popular Christian release. 
While he's been dedicated to his ministry and radio stations for the past 42 years, he's had a few moments where he's returned to the field that made him famous. In December 2007 and February 2008, Bernal visited the Mafia Studios in Houston to record El Maestro Del Acordeon Y Sus Polkas, his first non-Christian recording in 36 years. He doesn't want his conjunto contributions to fade away.

"I did it to bring all those polkas into digital sound," Bernal said. "Also to do some new stuff in there, to leave for the young people."

From those new slick recordings, along with YouTube videos of "Idalia", "Elegancia", "Dolly" and "Morir Soñando" that have popped up online recently, it's clear that he still has first class skills. It's quite the sight seeing his agile, vibrant fingers work their way up and down the three rows on the Dino Baffetti that he is holding on those clips.

"He still plays every bit as good as he ever did," Guzman observes. "He's been somebody that's always been on the top of my list as one of the biggest influences of my life."

Bernal tells me about how he's been watching internet videos as well. He likes seeing young people playing his polkas. I tell Bernal that I recently saw a teenager at La Joya High School perform one of his piezas. He smiles, then starts talking about what surprises him the most is when he sees videos of kids from other countries interpreting his material.

Paulino Bernal's only non-Christian recording in the past 42 years.
As our chat nears its end, he tells me he's going to do service later that day in McAllen at his Valley Worship Center on McColl in McAllen. Then he's back on the road, as he visits Mexico the following day.

Bernal continues to be a mesmerizing character to discuss in 2014. Most people I've talked to, that know his work, have something spirited to say about what he's accomplished over the course of seven decades. A man who has successfully navigated though the life that Bernal has sprinted through is unheard of. One way to get across his unrelenting drive for success, is to point to an answer he gave me when discussing his job as a shoeshiner.

"When I see a young kid with a shoeshine (kit), I go and give him a big tip," Bernal said with a big smile. "I know what it is, you know. I always said to myself (as a kid), 'I'm going to give him the best shine that he has ever seen, because I want him as a client.' When I started playing the accordion, I said, 'I'm not going to be just any accordionist. I'm going to be the best.'"

Friday, May 2, 2014

Three New Champions

Sarah Rucker, Aaron Salinas, Garrett Neubauer, Randall Jackson II, and Cristina Balli.
This past Saturday afternoon, Texas Folklife hosted their statewide "Big Squeeze" finals and concert at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, TX.

The band line-up included last years winner Michael Ramos, Fabulous Polkasonics, Sunny Sauceda, and Curtis Poullard & the Creole Zydeco Band.

This year saw a new change with the "Big Squeeze" format. The nine finalist were divided by three different categories — "Polka" (German, Czech and Polish music), "Zydeco" (Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music) and "Conjunto" (Norteño, Tejano and Conjunto music).

The person crowned as "Polka" champion hails from Altair, TX. Garrett Neubauer, 23, first got interested in the accordion when he saw his late father playing it.

"After he passed away, I just wanted to pick it up," Neubauer said. "You know, make him proud."

He was eight years old when he first started squeezing. While his grandfather taught him a little bit, he is for the most part self-taught. He was pretty excited when he found out he advanced to the finals, he said.

When he was announced as the winner, he was stunned.

"I can't even describe the feeling," Neubauer said. "I didn't know what to think, I had really never won anything in my life."

Later that night, he went back to his hotel and jammed out with his friends until 2 AM.

Born and raised in Deep East Texas, Randall Jackson II became the first ever "Zydeco" champion. Currently living in Weatherford, he grew up surrounded by Zydeco and Creole music. As he entered his teens, he decided it was time to pick up the accordion.

"I liked the music," Jackson, 20, said. "I am Creole and I do have (family) roots in Louisiana."

His main influences are Keith Frank, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Clifton Chenier. From being a keen listener, he taught himself how to play the accordion. He took some time away from his music studies and homework to show the Texas Folklife judges what he was capable of on Saturday.

With his mom and aunt in attendance, Jackson was announced as the new kingpin of the "Zydeco" division.

"It felt pretty good," Jackson said. "It feels good to be with other musicians."

One of Jackson's highlights of his weekend was seeing Je'an-Trel Jolivette and DeJe'an Jolivette perform in the same category as him. He hopes that they, along with himself, move forward in keeping Zydeco and Creole music alive.

San Antonio's Aaron Salinas walked away with the "Conjunto" title. The 19-year-old credits his grandfather for introducing him to the accordion at the age of 8.

"He basically told me and showed me what it was," Salinas said, after one day he stumbled across his grandfather's accordion. "He sat me down and put on an instructional video."

Shortly thereafter, his grandfather started taking him to get lessons and got him involved with the local conjunto scene. In 2011 he auditioned for his first "Big Squeeze" contest but he didn't advance. He decided to give it another shot in 2014.

Salinas played "Maria Bonita" and a paso doble on Saturday. Noticing who was one of the judges made him a bit anxious.

"It was exciting," Salinas said. "On the panel of judges, one of them was Sunny Sauceda. Just having a two-time Grammy award winner there judging was a little nerve-racking."

When he found out they ruled in his favor, he was relieved.

"I felt very happy to have been there with my family," Salinas said. "Especially my grandfather, I was just happy that I could win it. Not just for me, but for him, because he's been the biggest supporter and influence for me."

The three champions received a brand-new Hohner accordion, a cash prize, and will have their careers advanced with a variety of opportunities.

Accordion aficionados interested in seeing a performance featuring all three "Big Squeeze" champions are invited to this year's "Accordion Kings and Queens" event. The squeeze-box celebration is scheduled to be on June 7, at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston, TX. More details will be available soon at

Friday, April 25, 2014


Every year on March 31 and April 16, you can be sure of one thing — your social media feed is going to be buzzing about Selena Quintanilla. As your scroll down your Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, your friends are going to be posting her appearances on The Johnny Canales Show, various online memes, photographs, and many of her memorable Tejano hits. While we're 19 years removed from the terrible tragedy that took her away, the memories she brought us continue to be revered by those that witnessed her meteoric rise.

Oh Mama

When Johnny Canales had his own orchestra, he played some events with Abraham Quintanilla, Jr. and Los Dinos. So he was already familiar with the Quintanilla family, and had heard the local buzz surrounding their young, talented daughter Selena. The first time she made her appearance on The Johnny Canales Show in 1985 was also going to be the first time he met her.

The 13 year old singer already had an eye for fashion that stood out, even at that young age. She, along with her group, got white jump suits for their debut on that program. They placed the suits on the ground, got a paint brush, and proceeded to splatter the suits with permanent fluorescent paint. The loud, bright colors were meant to make an impression on viewers. Selena also picked out guitar earrings to wear for the occasion, and got a second set of wardrobe to wear later on the show that she described as "dressy".

The Quintanilla clan arrived at the KVEO TV studios in Brownsville, TX.

"'Oh Mama', aqui esta," Canales said as he introduced Selena to his large television audience.

Selena and Los Dinos started to perform and lip-sync to Ruben Armando's "Oh Mama", a song that Selena had just released in an album titled The New Girl In Town that year. The lip-syncing was done for audio-quality purposes, and every artist that made an appearance there would do the same.

"I saw a little spark in her, she had something that just certain people got," Canales said.

After they finished the song, Canales went to interview his first time guests. Canales starts talking in Spanish, asking about their paint job. Selena responded in English. Finally, Canales asks, "Y la gente que los esta escuchando en Mexico?" ("And for the people that are listening to us in Mexico?")

Selena, confused and amused, answers: "Los pintaron?"

They both had a big laugh about how she didn't know how to speak Spanish.

"She told me, 'You know what, I'm going to learn how to speak Spanish,'" Canales remembers. "Ten years later, when she was almost 23 years old, I interviewed her, in what now is called the Selena Auditorium in Corpus. Interview was totally in Spanish. That's why I think she was big, because everything she wanted to do, she would do it."

Selena would become a frequent guest on Canales' program. Another early appearance is one that Canales remembers very well.

As they were standing backstage, ready to go out to the live audience, Canales asked Selena if she was ready. She said she was. Canales asks again, adding that he's going to make it a big presentation for her. She confirms that she's ready. As Canales is walking away, he blurts out, "Just take that little peace of bean that you have between your teeth out." There was nothing actually there, it was just Canales messing around, as he often did with his guests.

Selena's eyes widened. Her tongue started working its way around her mouth and teeth. She tried to get this imaginary bean out of her mouth, as Canales got on the house microphone. "Aqui esta Selena!" roared Canales, and Selena walked on stage. She was still working towards finding this bean, when Canales finally leaned close, and told her it was just a joke.

"Nombre, si no se acaba los dientes," ("If I didn't tell her, she would have finished her teeth,") Canales said laughing. "We used to play that way."

Selena grabbing a hold of Johnny Canales' tie.

Baila conmigo 

Tejano powerhouse La Mafia had just offered Cande Aguilar Jr. a shot to perform with their group in 1988. The 15 year old gladly accepted, and looked forward to touring with the group that Summer. One of his first shows with La Mafia took place at a ballroom in his hometown of Brownsville, TX.

With his black Gabbanelli accordion strapped on, Aguilar stepped out on the stage, and began performing with Oscar De La Rosa's crew. While playing the accordion, he noticed a pair of sisters in the front row, near the stage.

After the baile was over, the two sisters came up to Aguilar and introduced themselves.

"At that time, I didn't know who she was," Aguilar said.

One sister was 20 year old Suzette Quintanilla. The other sister was 17 year old Selena Quintanilla. Both complimented Aguilar's accordion playing skills. The Aguilar and Quintanilla parents started conversing as well. From that point on, Aguilar very much knew who Selena was.

The Summer had begun, and La Mafia enlisted the services of Selena y Los Dinos to open for them during this tour. Now with the two talented teenagers on the same bill, Aguilar was finally seeing what Selena was capable of.

"Nombre, once you saw her, ya, that was it," Aguilar said. "You kind of had to keep up with her. You wouldn't forget her. Ya no se te olvidaba."

The tour took them to a dance hall in Victoria, TX. Before the show started, Selena and Aguilar were hanging out backstage. Selena started warming up, to get ready for the show that evening. She began twirling, spinning at a rapid speed, then would put her two fingers on Aguilar's shoulder to slow down her momentum. She would stop and start again. Repeating those dance moves, working towards perfecting them with Aguilar by her side.

At that time, Aguilar just thought that it was neat that she was practicing in front of him. Now looking back as an artist, more than 25 years later, it's become a cherished memory for him.

"I remember that so clearly," Aguilar said. "That was magical, it was a beautiful moment, beautiful experience to actually have her dancing literally right in front of my eyes."

It was showtime. Selena left the backstage area, heading towards the stage. The Tejano world was about to enter it's golden period.

"It was quite a moment," Aguilar reflects. "Knowing that with those moves, she conquered the world."

Selena's letter to La Mafia.
The Porsche or The Opposite of La Carcacha

At a pre-party for the 1991 installment of the Tejano Music Awards, Carlito Miranda Jr. ran into A.B. Quintanilla. He asked what Miranda was up to, and wondered if they could meet up at a later day. Quintanilla heard Miranda sing when they got together, and before he knew it, he was touring with Selena y Los Dinos.

Carlito Miranda Jr. y Grupo Metal opened for Selena y Los Dinos as they were about to take off into super-stardom. When they were on the road, the Quintanilla family allowed Miranda and his band to use the famous "Big Bertha" bus.

"They had a new bus," Miranda said. "We were pretty much like a big family. For those amount of years, I learned a lot being there."

From 1991 to 1994, Miranda was there as they made stops all over the Southwest. One event happened to be in Dallas, at a night club known as Monopoly's. While they were waiting for the show to start, a messenger came to Miranda and told him that Selena wanted to see him. He got up and went to go find Selena.

Selena started talking to him about his upcoming album.

"I want to help you on it, vocally," Selena said, according to Miranda.

"Great, whatever you can help me with," Miranda replied.

Selena started helping Miranda with his singing during that period.

"She was always willing to help," Miranda said. "She knew how close me and Chris (Perez) were. Me and Chris go way back, before the Dinos."

As they grew up in that era of Tejano music, Miranda would find himself spending a lot of time with Selena and Perez. One time at a gig, Perez had to go run an errand. Selena needed some eggs, and asked Miranda if he could go get some for her. Miranda answered, "I don't have a car". Selena, who had just bought a brand new Porsche, tossed her keys at him without hesitation. When the keys were in the air, it looked to Miranda as if they were coming to him in slow motion.

"I just thought to myself, I better not wreck this car," Miranda laughs. "Hell yeah I was nervous. I wanted to find the nearest store so I wouldn't have to drive so far."

Miranda arrived back safely, without a mark on the car or the eggs. All he could think at that point was, "Thank god." Miranda concludes that Selena lending him her car without much thought showed that, "She was that cool."

He hasn't talked about these days much since the passing of Selena, but if he catches one of her songs on the radio, it takes him back to those glory years.

"When I hear it," Miranda said, referring to Selena's music. "I can just close my eyes, and go back in that time. I can visualize and see everything the way it was."

Amor Prohibido

The work on Amor Prohibido was underway. A trumpet player was needed though. Henry Gomez told A.B. Quintanilla, "Why don't you use Rene (Gasca)?"

Quintanilla called Gasca, who was living in Houston at the time, after a stint in California. Quintanilla talked about how they needed a trumpet player to record a few songs — "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom", "El Chico Del Apartamento 512" and "Fotos y Recuerdos". Gasca agreed. After getting ready, he hopped into his car and drove from Houston to San Antonio, where Manny Guerra's recording studio was located.

"It felt great that he had called me," Gasca said, about how he felt when Quintanilla offered him this job.

Gasca had met Selena before, when he played for La Mafia years earlier. However this was when he first really got to spend time with her. It was a great experience for Gasca, who describes Selena as being a very fun person to collaborate with.

"She would come to the studio, always really happy," Gasca said. "Always laughing and joking around. She was pretty nice. I always remember her being real down to Earth."

Gasca told Selena something Kiko Cibrian, Luis Miguel's music director at the time, told him. Gasca informed her that Cibrian wanted her to know that he was a big fan of her music.

"She was really happy," Gasca said. "That someone like that was her fan. You always feel good when another musician, somebody that's important likes your music."

Months after they recorded, Selena was playing in Laredo, TX. Gasca was there too, so they all decided to meet up for a hang out session. After a while, Selena and Suzette approached Gasca with a question.

"Can we borrow your car?" asked Selena, according to Gasca.

Gasca didn't mind at all and gladly allowed the sisters to use his vehicle.

"I think they were going to Pollo Loco," Gasca remembers. "They became my friends."

What was just one phone call became much more for Gasca as the years passed by. He established new friendships, and become a part of one of Selena's most treasured albums.

"I'm very glad I was able to record with her," Gasca said. "At that time, when I recorded Amor Prohibido, I didn't know it was going to be such a big hit."

Dreaming Of You (Literally)

As one of the hosts of Puro Tejano, Mando San Roman found himself right in the middle of the Tejano whirlwind in the 1990's. He would often be in attendance for most of the top shows in the Valley. There is one event in particular that stands out for him.

Selena was scheduled to perform in front of a packed house in Harlingen. As she sat in the backstage area, people in her close circle debated whether she should even be there. She was very ill, and struggled when she tried to talk. They asked her, what she wanted to do.

"I have to go up there and sing," was Selena's response, according to San Roman.

Her entourage was hesitant but they allowed her to go out on stage with one condition. They advised her to go immediately to her bus after her performance was over.

"You know what, she got up there, she sang her lungs out, dancing como si nada," San Roman said. "She gets off stage, and instead of going to the bus, she started going down the line, along the fence, shaking everybody's hand."

Her associates got near her, asking her to please go back to her bus.

"No, no, I need to go say hi to my fans," Selena answered back.

Some time later, San Roman was set to do an interview with Selena. The night before, the local radio DJ and TV show host had a vivid dream about Selena. In this romantic vision, there was a strong mutual attraction between San Roman and Selena.

"I got nervous, pos she is pretty," San Roman said laughing. "I had never seen her like that, I always looked at her as a friend."

San Roman was waiting at the KIWW FM 96.1 studio and couldn't get this dream out of his head. After a sound check at La Villa Real, James Echavarria drove Selena over to the studio in a car without air-condition.

"Vinieron todos sudados," ("They arrived all sweaty,") San Roman said. "She was cool with it."

San Roman wasn't himself as he conducted the interview. He had never had difficulty before when interviewing Selena. As he completed the interview, he felt comfortable enough with Selena, that he told her why he was acting odd.

"Oh my god, I can't believe that," Selena laughed, after hearing what he said.

"I know, pretty freaky," San Roman said, laughing.

Later that night, the two met up again on stage at La Villa Real. San Roman and Echavarria presented her with an award that honored her record sales and contributions to Tejano music.

"She touched so many lives," San Roman said. "That was the last time I saw her."

Mando San Roman, James Echavarria and Selena.

Katie Lee Ledezma

Katie Lee Ledezma singing. 
Katie Lee Ledezma has found herself in a unique position here in the Valley. While she grew up listening to all types of music, she is now one of the youngest professional singers who is flying the conjunto flag in the South Texas area. She is representing conjunto every time she goes to a local venue, and sings her heartfelt renditions of "El Columpio", "Ojitos Verdes", "Ya Te Vi" and "Cuatro Caminos".

Growing up in Brownsville, she usually ended up at conjunto dances where her dad was singing. She credits him, who has the nickname "El Borrado" because of his green eyes, for teaching her how to sing.

At the age of seven, she performed publicly for the first time. She went up to the stage and sang a cumbia for an anniversary party in Houston. About four years ago was when she really started to make progress in the local scene. It began when her mother entered her into a talent contest in Mission.

"I was kind of nervous," Ledezma, 20, said. "I won first place. So I was like, 'Okay, I want to stick with this.'"

While she has her own conjunto now, she has played as a guest with other artists as well. Over the past few years, she's performed with Gilberto Perez, Los Dos Gilbertos, Los Garcia Brothers and The Hometown Boys. Next month she is scheduled to be a part of a big event celebrating the anniversary of Los Dos Gilbertos at the Riderz Bar & Grill in Elsa. Collaborating with these established musicians has been a great learning experience for her.

"They teach me a lot of stuff," Ledezma said. "I become really good friends with them. Little by little I get to learn new things from them. I get to know more of their background."

While she's been influenced by several artists, she is quick to point out that her dad is still her main influence and inspiration.

She has received attention outside of the Valley as well. Most recently she visited San Antonio for a National Puro Conjunto Music Association fundraiser.

"It's fun," Ledezma said. "I like to travel, I like to meet new people and new faces."

This Summer will mark her second appearance at the South Texas Conjunto Association "Conjunto Of the Year" Awards ceremony.

"Last year it was really fun," Ledezma said. "I have a lot of people that support my music, like (STCA President) Lupe Saenz, Polo Trejo and (Arturo) Balderrama."

One of her career highlights has been being recognized at local stores from the KMBH-TV broadcast of that award show.

At this point in time, she stands out as one of the youngest singers in the local conjunto circuit. She makes it clear that she hopes that conjunto never dies out. When asked how she would describe conjunto to people her own age who aren't familiar with it, Ledezma replied by saying she he doesn't understand how some of her peers prefer banda music. She described conjunto as being like a party. That it makes people want to get up and dance the night away.

"That's what conjunto is about," Ledezma said. "Conjunto is more about having a good time. It's actually the music they want at quinceañeras and weddings. So I think (young people) should be more interested in this kind of music cause it's more original."

Friday, April 18, 2014

What is Michael Salgado Up To?

Michael Salgado celebrating his birthday.
Michael Salgado recently stopped by the Rio Grande Valley earlier this month, on April 4. He performed at Frontera Vivo Bar in McAllen that evening.

"It was good," Salgado said about his experience that night. "We had a lot of people come out, a lot of loyal fans."

He shared the news of his 43rd birthday on April 5 by posting a photo for the 134,648 fans that like his official Facebook profile. He stresses that it's very important for him to have a social media presence.

"Come by and like my fan page," Salgado said, noting he's also on Twitter and Instagram. "(With this) you're able to stay in contact with the fans, on a day to day basis. You let them know what you're doing, what you're eating, what time you woke up."

Via these platforms, Salgado feels that he is able to maintain a connection with fans all around the world.

Salgado's dad, Ernesto Salgado, enjoyed listening to Los Relámpagos del Norte and that's how the kid from Big Spring, TX first got exposed to a style that would influence him to this day.

"I really liked the style," Salgado said of the Ramon Ayala and Cornelio Reyna duo. "The way he played the accordion, the voices, everything. It's just a style of music that I really enjoyed listening to."

Traces of that style can be heard in his latest single titled "Nada Es Eterno".

Salgado said that by the time he was 9, he was already singing with his father, who had his own conjunto. He started to play the accordion a few years later.

A large percentage of Tejano, conjunto, and norteño accordionists use the three row, button diatonic accordion. There are a few that differ from that norm. Salgado is one of those anomalies. He has stuck with the piano accordion throughout his career.

"My dad used to play the piano accordion, so that's what was there at home," Salgado said."I learned it, and that's the instrument that I just stayed with. I picked up a couple of times, here and there, the button accordion, but I got used to the piano accordion."

Other notable piano accordion players in these genres include Bruno Villareal, Agapito Zuniga and Herbie Lopez.

Salgado notes that he was self-taught. He is left handed thus he plays the accordion in a manner that appears 'upside down'. To his loyal fanbase, he's come to be known as "El Zurdo de Oro" ("The Golden Leftie").

"It took a while," Salgado remembers. "Back then, when I was younger, I had a good ear for music. So I would listen to what Ramon Ayala was playing on the accordion, so I would try to learn it."

He has never forgotten the big role that Ayala and Reyna's music have played in his career. In 2012, he released Homenaje a Mis Idolos (2012) to pay tribute to both his idols.

Salgado recorded two CD's before he really broke out from the pack. A cousin of his brought the song "Cruz De Madera" to his attention. The tune had previously been recorded by Ruben Ramos, as well as other artists. His cousin suggested that he cover it his own style.

He started working on the song, and began to play it at local bars. When he would return back to those bars, the patrons there would start requesting the song. That was an early sign of the success that was to come for Salgado.

"I recorded it, that's pretty much when it became a mega hit," Salgado said. "It established my name in the music business."

Since then he's recorded, what he estimates to be, about 25 to 30 CD's. To people in the Valley, one of his most famous collaborations was with Elida Reyna in 2008.

Salgado remembers meeting her at a club in Houston, and being impressed with her talent.

"I always liked her music, she's got a great voice," Salgado said. "Later on, as time passed, we became friends. Once I was with Freddie (Records), they talked about us doing something together. We did 'Quedemos Como Amigos'."

The dramatic song currently has more than 900,000 views on YouTube. Salgado and Reyna were asked to perform this duet at the 2009 Latino Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C. Salgado considers it one of his career highlights.

"It was a great experience," Salgado said. "We're hoping to do something again in the future. I really like her music, and I admire her as an artist as well."

Looking back at his career, Salgado has dabbled with country music, and has been labeled as both a Tejano and norteño musician. He doesn't think one specific label really defines what he does.

"I just view myself as an artist who is versatile and likes to try new things," Salgado said about his career in music.

This past February, Salgado released his latest CD —  Nada Es Eterno. He describes it as being original and having a variety of flavors. This album marks the fourth release on his own Zurdo Records label. The 11-track collection feature a bonus country song, as well as the debut of Salgado's son, Andy Salgado.

"Hopefully I'll do more projects with my son," Salgado said. "He was very happy, excited, he's ready to record the next album."

Nada Es Eterno is available at select music stores, and online outlets like

To those that missed him earlier this month, Salgado assures his fans in the Valley that he'll be back very soon. While no official date has been publicly announced, Salgado said that he plans to be back here in July.

"I've been coming out (to the Valley) for nearly twenty years," Salgado said."Looking forward to working a lot more years out there in the Valley."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

WWE Hidalgo House Show Report (4/12/14)

They show an Ultimate Warrior video before the show begins. Then they show a funny Damien Sandow video, where he demands to be treated with the right response when he wrestles later tonight.

Big E. vs Jack Swagger - Zeb Colter did a funny promo where he confused Hidalgo with El Paso, which is 700 miles away. Then he said we were just northern Mexico, and asked if any of us even speak English. He said he would talk Spanish to us since that's all we knew. He said a few basic phrases, and also, "Yo tengo un gato negro con pantalones" ("I have a black cat with pants"), which made everyone laugh. E. came out to loud chants. After E. does the corner spot with the ten punches, Swagger takes over by picking him up and slamming him. Swagger works him over with a abdominal stretch, which is helped by Colter sneaking his hand to Swagger's hand to give him leverage. E. hip tosses Swagger, and gives him a back body drop over the top rope to transition back into offense. After E. hit his running splash, Swagger catches him in an ankle lock. E. escapes, tries Big Ending, but Swagger escapes and hits a gut wrench power bomb. Referee counts to three, awards Swagger the match but E. had his foot on the rope. Brad Maddox comes out, restarts the match. Swagger tries to hit the Vader Bomb, but E. bounces back up and catches Swagger in mid-air to hit the Big Ending for the finish. Very good match.

Darren Young vs Fandango - Young came out to a NO H8 hoodie. At about two minutes, Young jumped off the apron, looking like he was trying to hit a double axe-handle (or something along those lines) on Fandango. He went down, clutching his leg. The referee briefly conversed with him. The referee did his "X" signal, and counted him out. It was very awkward live, and went only about two minutes.

Nattie Neidhart vs Alicia Fox - They had a poll where the fans could decide via text and Twitter whether this would be a dance off, or an actual wrestling match. 52% voted for the match, while 48% voted for the dance off. Short match. Fox got heat working a headlock. Neidhart came back and won with the sharpshooter. Neidhart interacted with the fans afterwards, and the crowd liked her a lot.

Big Show vs Damien Sandow - Sandow did his entrance twice, cause he didn't like how loudly the fans were booing him. It got him even more heat the second time around. He threw out an open challenge, and said how his goal was to go undefeated now in this post-WM season. Brad Maddox came out, and introduced his opponent -- the Big Show. Crowd gave Show one of the loudest reactions on this card. Sandow tried to shake hands with Show, but Show just gave him an overhand slap. Show started sitting on Sandow's face in the corner, and doing his version of a stink face. Show did his quiet down the audience, and slap the chest spot. After a handful of those slaps, Sandow poked Show in the eye and got on the offense. It was short lived as Show got back in control and chokeslammed him for the win. Crowd ate up all of Show's shtick.

The Usos vs The Rhodes Brothers vs Rybaxel - Usos got a huge pop coming out. First part of the match was Goldust and the Usos working fast pace sequences. Ryback blind tagged in, and pulled Goldust out of the ring, to work him over. They get heat on Goldust, and they start working these fantastic hope spots, as he searches for the tag. They really milked it for all it's worth. He comes close to tagging Cody on a few occasions but gets cut off. He finally manages to toss out Ryback out of the ring, and is about to tag the Usos in, but Ryback and Axel pull the Usos off the apron. Crowd pops big when Goldust finally tags Cody. Cody starts making a huge comeback, hits the moonsault for a nearfall. While doing the disaster kick, one of the Usos slaps Cody in the back to tag in. This leads to a great dive train -- Goldust hits a running somersault off the apron, Cody does a plancha off the top, and one of the Usos does a running dive over the top rope. The Usos then hit a superkick-big splash combination on Ryback to win the match. People would have liked this match a lot if it was on TV or PPV. Really good match. People cheer the Usos a lot afterwards, but also give Goldust a nice reception as well.


Sheamus vs Titus O'Neil - Titus gets a lot of heat blowing his whistle. He says he got instructions from the back to talk very slow because they told him half the audience is uneducated, and the other half can't speak English. Crowd is booing loudly, and then pop big when Sheamus comes out. Early on, O'Neil gets his whistle, goes to the outside to ask for a time out. Match is really physical, the hardest hitting match of the night. You could loudly hear a good amount of the forearms and slaps thrown by both guys. O'Neil has some great power spots. At one point he gives Sheamus a huge fallaway slam that looked really impressive. Another great spot was O'Neil catching Sheamus in mid-air, after Sheamus attempted a flying cross body block off the ropes. O'Neil had hit two Stinger Splash's, but Sheamus finally countered on the third attempt. Sheamus does a running knee into O'Neil in the corner, a flying shoulder block off the top rope, and the forearm clubs while tied on the ropes spot. He pounds his chest and hits the Brogue Kick for the finish. Both guys worked really hard, and produced a good, strong match.

Antonio Cesaro vs Dolph Ziggler - Cesaro had his old music. Match opens up quickly to a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker by Cesaro. He got in control for a little bit before Ziggler came back, and they started working nearfalls. They both started doing all their signature spots, like the famouser, x-factor off the top rope, the big, the big European uppercut spot, superkick, jumping DDT from Ziggler, the superplex off the apron, etc. The finishing run was worked good, but I was surprised at how quickly they rushed to that part of the match. It felt like the opening part of the match was missing. But the crowd responded positively to the match. Match ended after Cesaro moved out of a Stinger's Splash, which caused Ziggler to go face first into the corner. Cesaro hit the giant swing, then hit neutralizer for the finish.

John Cena and The Shield vs The Wyatts and Kane - All eight of these guys were treated like huge stars by the audience, but Cena was a level above. Always funny seeing how badly he gets booed on TV and PPV, but every single time he works here in Hidalgo, he gets some of the loudest cheers I've ever heard, in any sport or entertainment. Really good match. Rollins started off with some quick pace offense, including a tope, before he got cut off and started being worked over by the heels. After a while, he finally makes a hot tag to Reigns, who starts to clean house. He hits his apron kick spot, then tags in Ambrose. He goes on the offense briefly before he gets caught coming off the top rope by Kane. The heels take over again. After a good segment where he gets worked over, Ambrose makes the tag to Cena a little bit after he hits Nigel McGuinness' rebound lariat. Cena's pop is monstrous. Crowd is going nuts when Cena does a double five knuckle shuffle on Kane and Rowan. Everyone starts hitting their signature moves at this point. It's laid out really well, and a lot of these guys get their little moments, before Reigns hits the Superman punch on Rowan, who stumbles into Cena's Attitude Adjustment for the finish. Crowd was molten hot for most of the match, and I think if it was on TV, fans would have been raving about it. It was a really good match that came off even better because of the crowd.

Overall, an excellent show. Big E.-Swagger, The Usos-Rhodes Brothers-Rybaxel, Sheamus-O'Neil, and Cena & The Shield-The Wyatts & Kane were really good matches. In no particular order, those were the four best matches of the night.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Round-up: April 2014

There's a lot of recent news to share in the world of regional music. This week we will be doing a few follow-ups to past stories I've written, as well as sharing news and information about upcoming events.

--The 2014 search for future "Big Squeeze" champions has reached its conclusion. After making eight stops all across the state of Texas with their talent showcase events, and after viewing all the video entries submitted, we're finally going to learn who is advancing to the next level of this statewide competition. The nine finalist will be announced today, on April 11 at 5:00 PM, through the following online platforms — and The next stage of this contest will be held at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, TX on April 26, 2014. The nine accordionists will compete that afternoon, with three of them being crowned "Big Squeeze" champions in the following categories — Polka (German, Czech and Polish music), Zydeco (Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music) and Conjunto (Norteño, Tejano and Conjunto music).

--I recently wrote about Weslaco's Texas Sweethearts. Well, accordionist Elisa De Hoyos is holding a raffle to help fund the group's trip to the 33rd annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. The tickets are going for $5.00 each, and the top prize is a pair of boots from Rios of Mercedes. The runner-up prize is a Mary Kay gift basket valued at $100. Tickets are still available, and the winner will be announced on the evening of April 12, 2014 at Larry's Blue Bar in Mercedes, TX.  One does not need to be present to walk away with a prize. People interested in tickets can visit

--South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) is looking for nominations and award suggestions for their 16th annual "Conjunto of the Year" awards ceremony. The event is scheduled to take place on July 13, 2014. STCA will honor the best in the past year in conjunto music with awards such as best album, best accordionist, best vocalist and more. In 2013, The Hometown Boys walked away with the "Conjunto of the Year" award. After all the nominations are tallied, the official ballot will be released on May 31, 2014. Interested parties can place their nominations or suggestions at For more information, please email Lupe Saenz at

--Last year I talked to accordion virtuoso Joel Guzman, who was raised in Sunnyside, Washington, but has ties to the Valley through his parents. One of the topics we broached was an idea he was discussing with Hohner Accordions. Guzman explained to me how he envisioned a three-row box that featured a 40-bass section. Guzman has been a strong proponent of using the bass-side of the accordion, something that you don't often see in Tejano, norteño and conjunto music. He told me that he pushes students to play the bass side so that they could be able to perform on the same level as European players. It's been a year since I've talked to him, but Guzman and Hohner Accordions recently announced a new Hohner Anacleto model that includes the 40-bass section that we previously discussed. The accordion looks stunning. To those interested in checking it out, visit

Friday, April 4, 2014

La Clica

Mando Mejia of Rio Grande City, by way of Comales, Tamaulipas, will be bringing La Clica and his brand of conjunto music to Harlingen on April 13.

Mejia, 59, has gone through a variety of chapters in his 24 year journey as a musician.

In 1990, Mejia started playing guitar and keyboard for his local church. Three years later, Mejia picked up the bass guitar, and launched a Tejano band with his own children. They were known as Mejia y Compañia.

"Cuando ya crecieron mis hijos, y vimos el talento que ellos tenian de voces y instrumentos, comenzamos, (When my children grew up, and we saw what talent they had in their voices and instruments, we started [to play],)" Mejia said.

They performed together until his children moved on to different stages in their lives in the late 1990's. Mejia's interest in music picked up again when he noticed that his nephew, Jerry Mejia, was interested in the accordion.

"Se miraba que le gustaba mucho la acordeon, y le regalo una acordeoncita, y dormia con que ella abrazada, (It looked like he liked the accordion a lot, so I gave him one for a gift, and he would fall asleep hugging it,)" Mejia laughs. "El comenzo a oir mucho a Ruben Vela, y como iba creciendo, iba aprendiendo, y se aprendia todos los discos de Don Ruben. (He started listening to Ruben Vela a lot, and as he was growing, he was learning, and he was learning all of Don Ruben's albums.)"

Jerry asked his tio if they could start their own group. That's when the band that came to be known as La Clica first started to take shape. Mejia explained to me that the group's name originates from Rock N Roll James' "Eres Clica" radio shtick.

From 2006 to 2010, uncle and nephew played together until Jerry joined Ruben Vela Jr. y Sus Muchachos.

La Clica previously recorded at a home studio in Roma, and that's where Mejia first met accordionist Boy Lozano, 43.

"He asked me if I could play with him (after Jerry left)," Lozano said. "I told him, 'No, not right now, I'm not playing with anyone. Maybe later.'"

Lozano picked up the accordion when he was 10, but had stopped playing in the early 2000's. After a couple of months, Mejia called Lozano again to ask if he was interested. This time Lozano decided to take a chance with one condition.

"The only way I can get in on the group, is to include my father," Lozano said. "Because we were recording a CD with my father in my studio. I wanted to do that, to have a memory of him, that's what my idea (was). To have memories of (my father Chuy) singing."

Mejia agreed to have both Lozano men join his group in 2011.

"Very, very emotional," Lozano describing how it feels to be playing in a band with his father.

The current line-up of La Clica includes: Mejia on the bass; Boy Lozano as the accordionist and segunda voz; Chuy Lozano as primera voz; Rolando Flores on the bajo-sexto; Victor Flores on the drums; Demetrio Peña on percussion.

"Un estilo unico que tiene mi acordeonista y que no se oye igual a otros, (A unique style that my accordionist has that doesn't sound like anyone else,)" Mejia said of Lozano and La Clica's style. "Un estilo personal, bien bonito. Conjunto bien bailable. (A personal style, very pretty. Very danceable conjunto.)"

La Clica just finished recording their second album, titled El Amor De Mi Vida. Mejia received his first batch of CD's a few weeks ago, and he will be selling copies of them at upcoming gigs. A third release is something that is being planned for down the line.

"Los tardamos un poquito, porque habiamos comenzado con otro drummer (It took us a while, because we [initially] started with another drummer)," Mejia said. "Tuvimos que comenzar de nuevo otra vez. Los llevamos casi el año para completar el disco (We had to start all over again [after we got our new drummer]. It took us over a year to complete the album)."

Mejia has seen an increase in popularity in the past several years. He hopes that trend will continue as he moves forward in 2014.

"Nos a ido muy bien, (It's gone real good for us,)" Mejia said. "Es un segunda trabajo. En el ultimo año, hemos sacado doble de gigs. (It's a second job [for us]. In the past year, we've been getting double the gigs [that we used to get]."

Who: La Clica
Time: 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Date: 4/13
Cost: $2.00 per person
Phone Number: 956-423-1699
Bands Facebook:
Location: American Legion Post 205, in Harlingen

Friday, March 28, 2014

Q & A - Frank "Pancho" Villarreal of Grupo Rodeo‏

San Antonio's Frank "Pancho" Villarreal returns to the Valley tonight, at the Gaslight Club in McAllen. The leader of Grupo Rodeo took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about his lengthy Tejano career.

Festiva: How did you get started in Tejano music?

Villarreal: My father was a musician himself, he used to play with his brother. His brother had a orchestra by the name of Grupo Villarreal. That got started by listening to my dad, and wanting to be just like him. I started very young. At 13, I started playing professionally with my dad and my uncle. That was my beginning.

Festiva: I heard that you played sax, keyboard, and arranged music with Emilio Navaira. From what time period where you with Navaira, and what did you take away from your time there?

Villarreal: I was an original member. By '89 he had a band and I was the last member to join the band. He was looking for a keyboard player and I went to audition. I went ahead and took my sax, just in case. He liked the fact that I could play sax and keyboard, so he gave me the job.

As far as learning, I learned a lot of stuff from Emilio. Basically his concept was, "we're trying to make music that was commercial." That's always been what's stuck with me. He was right, his concept was correct, that what the people want to hear on the radio is just something that's going to be catchy enough, simple enough so they can dance, drink, and all that good stuff. So that's something that I learned along the way from them.

Festiva: What led to the formation of Grupo Rodeo in 1993 and why that name?

Villarreal: I had a good run with Emilio, we were already touring in Monterrey, and I had a lot of connections. I met a lot of people through the association with them. At that point with Emilio, I decided I was going to move on and do something (else). Originally I just wanted to make a group and play locally. I didn't want to do anything big. But because Capitol (Records) knew who I was, they gave me an opportunity and asked me for some demos. One of the songs that I did on the demo really blew them away. They offered me a contract within a month or so, to do a CD. Tejano at the time was booming in the '90's, so it was just the right time for me to do something.

Grupo Rodeo was chosen by me. During the tour with Emilio, we played in the rodeo in San Antonio, and it was one of the biggest rodeos. It was a big experience for me, I was shocked to see how many people were there. I don't remember the exact total, but let's say, it was like 56,000 people were there, or something like that. That had a big effect on me. As a matter of fact, I even saved the poster, I framed it.  Every time I looked up at that frame, 'rodeo' stuck with me. When I was searching for a (band) name, I figured, "You know what, I'm going to put 'rodeo' here."

Festiva: How do you feel you've evolved as an artist throughout Rodeo's nine albums? How long ago was your most recent release?

Villarreal: Well when I first started, even with Emilio, we were just experimenting with ideas, sounds. Now I still do experiments, a little bit, but it's more refined. I'm more mature as a musician now than I was 10, 20 years ago. I know what I want to hear, I know what I want to do. I'm not guessing, I'm not just throwing the die. I know what I want to be.

My new CD is called Incomparable. It's been out already six months. It's doing great, if you can't find it at the record shops, we're going to have it at the Gaslight if people are interested in buying.

Festiva: How does it feel to be coming to the Valley this weekend?

Villarreal: We haven't been to the Valley in a while, so we're really, really eager to go over there. I've played there before with other people, it's a great venue, it's a great place. We're looking forward to it, man. The people are going to be surprised by the stuff we have and how we sound. We're hoping all la raza from the Valley come and support us. We've been around a long time y ya era tiempo (and it was time) to come back to the Valley.

Time: 7:00 PM
Date: 3/28
Cost: $10.00  
Phone Number: 956-572-8158
Location: Gaslight Club in McAllen, TX.