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: https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Clica/141435539268191
Location: American Legion Post 205, in Harlingen

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Texas Sweethearts

Diana De Hoyos, Elisa De Hoyos, Minnie Loredo, and Mari De Hoyos.
The Texas Sweethearts is an all-female band that plays music that is made up of a variety of influences that come from both sides of the border. It's a mixture of many key ingredients, including Tejano, conjunto, country and ranchera music.

Before the formation of the Texas Sweethearts, three members of this group were part of their own family band called Mari and Her Spanish Angels.

Mari De Hoyos, 45, was born in Reynosa, which is where her love of music first started.

"We lived very close to the bull fighting ring," Mari said. "Every morning they had speakers full blast, the whole city can hear it. I would wake up very early, sit by the door and listen to all the songs that were coming up. I'd sing right along with them too."

Mari took a liking to the guitar after seeing her mother and father performing. She learned how to play in secret.

"He was very particular about us touching his guitars so he would hide them," Mari said. " I figured a way of getting inside the walk in closet. I'd put the flashlight on, take out his charts, his guitar and I would practice that way."

It wasn't until she learned "Cariño" that she revealed to her parents that she knew how to play.

"I played it for him, he was like, 'When did this happen?'," Mari laughs. "So he gave me his guitar. Very nice, black, shiny guitar. He says, 'You can have that one.'"

When Mari became a mother, she took her children to church often. Two of those seven children are Elisa De Hoyos, 26, and Diana De Hoyos, 25. Both were raised in Weslaco.

"I gave them small rhythm instruments so that they could behave at church," Mari said. "I had a church choir, they were running all over the place. I'm singing, I'm like, 'Where are they?'"

The two daughters played tambourine and maracas. Mari and Her Spanish Angels began to take shape. After a few years, the two moved on to different instruments.

"I started playing the accordion," Elisa said. "I figured since it's a piano accordion, I can play the keyboard so I asked my parents for a keyboard and they got me a keyboard."

At the age of 11, Elisa went from a piano accordion to a button diatonic accordion when she received a Hohner Corona II. Later she was given a Gabbanelli accordion as her regalo de sorpresa (surprise gift) at her quinceañera.

"The first song that I figured out on the piano accordion was 'Atotonilco'," Elisa said. "When I got to the Hohner, I did meet up with (Juan Lugo) in San Benito, who works at Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center. They give lessons once a week. My mom's like, 'Why don't you go learn a song or two.' So I started going there. The next polkitas I learned were, "La Nona", "La Sicodélica", "Los Cardenales". Certain old polkas 'cause he was very traditional. Later I met up with Gilberto Perez and he showed me some other polkas."

Diana briefly played guitar with her mother, giving the group a two-guitar sound. However that didn't last long.

"I wanted something else," Diana said. "My dad was the bass player, he would let me play, he would show me some things, and at the end of a show, he would let me play the last song. From there I just started playing (the bass)."

The country element to their style came from a certain demographic.

"Winter Texans were our fan base," Elisa said. "They would bring us cassette tapes, and they were like, 'Listen to this song, figure this song out.' We started listening to whatever they were giving us. I probably know more country artists off the top of my head than any other genre and it's because of that."

Through networking with their Winter Texan audience, they found themselves performing outside of Texas. They ventured out three times, playing throughout the central states. They even went to Maine at one point.

Elisa and Diana's participation dwindled as they got older. Elisa moved away briefly, and had a daughter of her own. Diana went a different direction.

"I was like, this is not cool, I want to play rock and roll," Diana said. "I started leaving the family band behind. I wanted to go explore other things."

Diana started performing for heavy metal and rock bands. She currently plays with another group, an instrumental rock band named Verena Serene. Her perspective has changed in recent years.

"You grow up, you get out of that phase," Diana said, about how she's grown to appreciate the local culture and performing with her family.

"You go back to your roots," Elisa adds.

About a year ago, Diana talked to her mother about starting a new band.

"I told my mom, this is what I really want to do," Diana said. "I want to play again. So I told my mom, we should just do this again, when I graduate, I'll have all the time in the world. So I graduated and we started it. That's pretty much where I stand."

Mari was thrilled to hear that her daughters were interested in pursuing a new project with her. While she had missed playing with them, she didn't want to push them into doing something that they didn't want to do.

While all three were ready to start their new ensemble, one thing was missing.

"We always said we need a drummer, cause it was just us three," Mari said. "Elisa playing the keyboard, the accordion. (Diana) would play the bass. I'd play the guitar and the lead vocalist. Elisa (would) harmonize with me. It was like, 'We need a drummer, man. If we can find a drummer, it'll sound complete.'"

"A girl drummer!" Elisa adds.

"My husband was like, 'I can try," laughs Mari. "You stay home, take care of the kids."

Mari went on Craigslist and saw a post that read, "Where are all the female musicians?" Mari replied and the person on the other end was Minnie Loredo, 28.

Minnie grew up in Edinburg, and dabbled with the accordion before deciding it wasn't for her. She started playing drums when was 19 years old.

"When I heard about these girls, I was like, 'I'm going to try it, see what happens'," Minnie said. "First day we were practicing, it just flowed like we'd playing for a while."

Minnie brings to the group a deep appreciation of older conjunto stars like Paulino Bernal, Tony De La Rosa, Valerio Longoria and Oscar Hernandez. In the past, she's jammed out with Mel Villarreal and Jesse Gomez y Los Nuevo Chachos. She feels like she has improved a lot over the past year.

"(This is) where I'm growing up," Minnie said of the Texas Sweethearts. "It's making me a better drummer."

One day at Melharts Music Center, they came across a flyer promoting "Chingona Fest 2013", a women's empowerment festival in McAllen.

"I told mom, 'Maybe they have a slot open and we can play there'," Elisa said.

"Cause we're chingonas," Mari said, laughing.

Mari contacted the festival's organizer and the band was booked for the May 4, 2013 event. Mari tells me they quickly named themselves the Texas Sweethearts after securing that first gig.

Diana was a bit nervous about how the crowd would respond.

"I was worried because I know all the bands that went to play there," Diana said. "There were a lot of punk bands from the McAllen area, I was like, 'Oh they are coming here to see all these rock bands and we're a Tejano band, no one is going to like us.' Then it turned out a lot of people really enjoyed it. So I know that was a success."

"It was awesome, I was very happy (with how it turned out)," Elisa added.

Since then, Texas Sweethearts has kept themselves busy by performing all throughout the Valley. Recently they were invited to the 33rd annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. They will perform on a bill that includes an impressive line-up of musicians — Miguel A. Pérez (Spain), Dwayne Verheyden (Netherlends), Los Texmaniacs (San Antonio), Joel Guzman (Austin) and The Texas Tornados (Austin/San Antonio). The group plans to have some recordings completed soon to sell there on May 16.

Gloria E. Anzaldua once described this area as a mix of cultures coming together to create a new one. When discussing her life and musical style, Mari has a very similar philosophy.

"I feel like where we're at, it is a blend," Mari said. "I feel that I am a result of being born in Mexico, coming here, being influenced by Tejano music, the ranchera music that my parents would listen to. Then the country music that exists here. So we are a blend."

Learn more about the Texas Sweethearts at https://www.facebook.com/TexasSweethearts.

Friday, January 24, 2014

TV-DX'ing II








From Wiki: TV DX and FM DX is the active search for distant radio or television stations received during unusual atmospheric conditions. The term DX is an old telegraphic term meaning “long distance.”

Back in 1999, I used to mess around with antennas and get a signal from a station in Corpus Christi on Saturday nights. I would do this to record some professional wrestling programming that aired there but didn’t air here — ECW Hardcore TV and old 1980’s episodes of CWA/USWA (Memphis, Tennessee promotion).

That was just a 100-plus miles. Some TV-DX’ers gets signals from 1000-plus miles away. Most of these screen shots come from someone who recorded them off their TV in Florida.

Credit: oldfldxer and wa5iyx.

Ruben "Rabbit" Vela Jr.

Oscar Ramirez, Ruben "Rabbit" Vela Jr. and Jerry Mejia.
When Ruben "Rabbit" Vela Jr. steps out of his house, and looks around at his neighborhood, it's a reminder of who he is and where he comes from.

"Right now I live a block away from where my father used to live," Rabbit, 50, said as he talked about his father Ruben Vela, the legendary conjunto accordionist. "Actually the street where I live on is named (after) my dad. So I live on Ruben Vela Sr. Avenue in Santa Rosa."

He first shared the stage with his father in the 1980's. It all started when Amalia Vela, his mother, disciplined him by sending him off to California, where his father was touring.

"I guess I was messing up in school," Rabbit said. "Nombre to me it was a vacation, I loved it bro!"

Initially he started working as the band's driver and roadie. One day during a tour, Vela gave his son and ahijado (Godson) Chalito Zapata permission to perform during intermission.

"So we would do a little show," Rabbit remembers of his teenage days. "People would start throwing money cause (Chalito) would play the accordion, and I would play the drums."

Rabbit had played before at the Mercedes Livestock Show but this was a totally different experience. He estimates that he and Chalito would walk away with $15 to $20 dollars each after performing.

Enrique "Flaco" Naranjo joined the young musicians, becoming a part of their mid-show act. Later on Naranjo secured the role of Vela's lead singer while Rabbit became his father's drummer, a position he held for 26 years. The glory period of the 1990's followed as Vela and Naranjo hit the jackpot with a pair of hits in the form of cumbias — "El Coco Rayado Power Mix" (1996) and it's sequel "La Papaya" (1997).

"Coco Rayado brought him back to life," Rabbit said about his father's career resurgence."When my dad would play out of state, I (would) see how much the people loved him."

For the years that followed, Rabbit worked closely with his father, hoping he could take him to the next level.

"My goal was to make his music hit one more time before he died," Rabbit said. "I noticed that we were climbing the ladder again, he was going back up."

Sadly, Vela passed away at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen on March 9, 2010. He was 72.

"When he passed away, I didn't know what to do," Rabbit said. "Man, my world's over, I got so sad."

It was a very difficult time for Rabbit. He said that knowing he had his own family to take care of helped him deal with the pain that he was going through.

Before he passed away, Vela was already booked for the Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio on May 15, 2010. Juan Tejeda, the festival's organizer, decided to keep the booking as a tribute to him. Who would play the accordion that night with the band?

Rabbit got a hold of an 18-year-old accordionist from Rio Grande City named Jerry Mejia. What made this young kid stand out was that his style was very much influenced by Vela and Naranjo. Mejia joined the Vela family on-stage that night to pay tribute to a legend.

"I felt nervous at first, because I never performed in front of so many people," Mejia, 22, said. "At the same time, (I was) very excited because I was given the opportunity by Ruben Jr. to participate in giving this tribute to his dad. To me it was an honor."

The Vela family was very impressed by Mejia's style.

"I told him, I think you're very close to playing like my dad," Rabbit said. "How weird that this young kid that I have playing the accordion, he's 22-years-old (now), but yet he plays like my father, and he sings like Flaco (Naranjo)."

With his father gone, Rabbit was unsure about his future and considered leaving the music business altogether. After hearing a lot of encouragement from Mejia and his band-mates, Rabbit decided to stick around.

The current line-up of Ruben Vela Jr. y Sus Muchachos includes: Rabbit on the drums; Mejia on the accordion and vocals; Jaime "El Serrucho" Solis on bass and vocals; Alex Delgado on bajo-sexto. The band continues to play songs that Vela made famous.

"I feel so fortunate to carry on Mr. Vela's music, it is a great honor to me," Mejia said. "I will try my best to keep that traditional Texas conjunto sound from El Valle that Mr. Vela developed and that all of us fanatics and followers enjoyed so much."

The group just completed a 12-track album for Latin World Records titled Corazon Magico. It will feature rancheras, cumbias, a huapango, and a polka. Rabbit describes it as being "a little more progressive". He hopes to attract a new, fresh audience with this release.

Sunday night's gig at La Lomita Park will be the CD release party. It will also serve as a birthday celebration for Rabbit and Serrucho. Rabbit tells me that if you can't make it, he plans to return to McAllen next month for an event that is yet to be scheduled.

One reason why Rabbit is performing at La Lomita Park was that it was the last venue his father performed at. Preserving the memory of his late father is a must.

"If I can do it, and God gives me the chance to keep his music going, well why not," Rabbit said. "I just want all his fans to know that we are going to try to keep his music alive. We're giving it a shot, we're trying our best."

Who: Ruben Vela Jr. y Sus Muchachos and Herencia 4.
Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 1/26
Cost: $10.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Lomita-Park/146095848797378
Bands Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ruben-Vela-Jr-y-su-Conjunto/338131632881806
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jesus "Chuy" De Leon at the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame in San Benito

Lupe Saenz, president of the South Texas Conjunto Association, presented me with this video that he produced. In this video, we hear from Jesus "Chuy" De Leon, his family, and his fans. A corrido is also featured that tells the tale of "El Gallito Madrugador". Enjoy!


To read more on Jesus "Chuy" De Leon, check out this article I wrote on the legendary radio broadcaster.

Wally Gonzalez at La Joya High School

I recently got a copy of this video on DVD, so I thought I would share an excerpt with you fans.

La Joya Independent School District's 3rd annual conjunto festival took place on November 19, 2011. Students and established musicians came together for this event at the Performance Arts Center at La Joya High School. Local legend Wally Gonzalez was part of the extravaganza, and he performed some of his most popular tunes — "Short Legged Texan", "Mi Low Rider" and "Que Me Entierren En Walmart". Enjoy!


To read more about Wally Gonzalez, check out this great article by Crystal Olvera.