Friday, July 7, 2017

WWE's first show in Hidalgo

As WWE returns to the State Farm Arena this Sunday night with their ‘WWE Smackdown!’ brand line-up, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the first WWE show I attended.

Before 2003, I had attended local pro wrestling promotions, lucha libre in Reynosa, and a taping of WCW Monday Nitro. WWE hadn’t had a show in the Rio Grande Valley since 1995, when they stopped by at South Padre Island. So this would be their first show here in 8 years, at the then newly opened Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, now named the State Farm Arena.

I was a 17-year-old Senior at PSJA North High School in Pharr, and was bugging (and begging) my dad to take my brother and me to the show. The week before the event, he went to the arena and got us some tickets for the 'WWE Smackdown!' house show (untelevised event) that would take place on Monday night, November 17, 2003.

We arrived pretty early, and teenaged me was so pumped up when I saw Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jr. — my two favorite wrestlers at the time and now at 31 years old, I can add "of all time" — approaching the fans as they came out of their rental cars. They started hanging out at the parking lot before the start of the show, autographing everything that was put in front of them. I lent Eddie my pen so he could sign an autograph for me and the other fans that were there in that particular area. After he finished signing autographs, he handed the pen back to me, and said “Thank you” in his natural voice. He was all smiles that day.

Christian Randy Martinez and Eddie Guerrero. 
At the time, Guerrero was starting to become a huge star to Mexican and Chicanx audiences across the Southwest. In 2015, I interviewed Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter about Guerrero during this time period for an article I was working on but that never got published.

"I noticed it very early on, it was probably about a year-in-a-half before he started getting the big push,” Meltzer told me during our phone conversation. “At the time, I was getting the quarter hour breakdowns of not just 'Smackdown!' but of 'Smackdown!' in all these different markets. So I noticed that Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, there were certain markets, where Eddie and Rey, whenever they were on TV, [the ratings] wouldn't just go up, it would skyrocket. Then at the same time, 'Smackdown!' was the number one English language network show in Hispanic homes. So I'm looking at those two things, putting one and one together, so that's when I figured it out. That's when I think [WWE] started opening their eyes, that Eddie was more than just a good [in-ring] worker, that he had that potential."

That night in Hidalgo, Eddie teamed up with his nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. for a match against the Basham Brothers. It was a really good match, but in that arena on that night, it felt even better than that, because the heat from the crowd was amazing. Super loud, non-stop "Eddie" chants throughout, from beginning to end.

Every minor thing he would do would get a huge reaction. There was a funny moment or two where Eddie asked the crowd to show Chavo some love as well. Which they did for a bit, as we got some "Chavo" chants before the crowd decided to go back to the "Eddie" chants. It's something me, my dad, my brother Christian, my friend Leo Avila, and many other folks who were there that night always remember. The Guerreros lost by disqualification, but most don't even remember that detail, as the Guerreros quickly made everyone forget when they just frog splashed the Basham Brothers and celebrated with a fan's flag of Mexico. 

Los Guerreros celebrating with a Mexican flag. 
In the months that followed, ‘WWE Smackdown!’ became so interesting. There was such a heavy Chicanx and Mexican presence all over the show and the storylines that were presented. In February of that year, "El Maromero" Jorge Paez appeared in Rey Mysterio Jr.'s super corny but pro-immigrant WWE music video "Crossing Borders". Eventually Paez became Mysterio's back up when he was feuding with Chavo Guerrero Jr. and Chavo Guerrero Sr. But more importantly, to me, the whole show started to revolve around Eddie Guerrero.

On February 15, 2004, Guerrero beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE championship at the "No Way Out" PPV at the Cow Palace in California and the main event storylines went on to touch upon racism, xenophobia, and much, much more. Some things could have been handled better but there was a clear attempt to cater to a pro-Guerrero audience. Guerrero feuded with Kurt Angle and JBL, resulting in a blodbath classic with the latter at the “Judgment Day” PPV on May 16, 2004, two weeks before my graduation.

In the years before and after that, I’ve gone to so many shows, from WWE to AAA to TNA to ROH to NXT to EVOLVE, seen John Cena, the Undertaker, Perro Aguayo Sr., AJ Styles, El Hijo del Santo, Ric Flair, Shinsuke Nakamura, Chris Hero, L.A. Park, Daniel Bryan, but that one night in 2003 still remains my favorite pro wrestling-related memory. It's the one I cherish the most, it's the one I've talked about the most. When I did the Pharr From Heaven Photo Exhibit last year at Yerberia Cultura, the exhibit started with the photo I took of Guerrero that night. It was so great, I ended up missing the next day of school since I legitimately couldn’t go to sleep that night from how excited I was about it. What a great memory. 

Autographs of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Negro Casas slipping off the ropes in his match against Ultimo Dragon, on March 26, 1993




Take a look at the slip in the video above. I see it as Negro Casas' own twist of a staple spot we see in high stakes, lucha libre singles, usually championship or apuesta matches in the 1980's and 1990's. In many matches throughout that era, a wrestler would go out on the apron, survey the crowd to see if he should do a high risk move off the top rope. The chances always felt like 50/50 if he could hit the move or if he would crash spectacularly.

These spots, when done right, might be the only time I've ever seen an audience actively encourage, sometimes beg a wrestler not to do something exciting, as the risk and stakes are just too damn high.

In this instance, Casas milks this spot for all its worth, as he looks to the audience, visually asking if he should climb or not. Listen to the loud "No!" from the audience. Someone in the crowd can even be seen wagging their finger. "El publico dividido, unos dicen que si, otros que no," ("The public is divided, some say yes, some say no,") the announcer proclaims.

Casas decides to take his chance, climbs up the corner, and slips in the most realistic manner possible. It's hard to really grasp whether he legitimately slipped or if this was intentional, but I believe in Casas so strongly that I can't help but lean towards the latter. The announcer, almost mockingly, says, "Ah...solito." ("Ah...all by himself.")

The audience reaction is huge. Some can be heard laughing, while others are whistling to tease Casas after his grave error. Casas would lose the third fall to Dragon a few minutes later with a Tiger Suplex, dropping his UWA World Middleweight Championship to his Japanese rival. "No se recuperó el Negro Casas," ("Negro Casas didn't recover,") said the announcer as Dragon celebrated in the ring.

Of all the guys I've seen do this spot, and I've seen many, this was by far my favorite take on it, and I felt like it worked so perfectly within this match. He just didn't have enough in him to even attempt his move off the top. His gas tank was running on empty, and the end for Casas started with a crash to the mat.

PS: This might be bullshit, but I sometimes think that the reason Casas beat La Fiera in a Hair vs Hair match 7 months later on October 1, 1993 with a top rope splash, was to build off this famous spot. A bit of a macho deal where he wants to prove something to himself, to the audience, to Dragon, to Fiera, and in this high stakes instance, his big risk paid off.



July Round-Up


This week we are going to take a look at some of the most anticipated Tejano and conjunto events that are coming up.

--The 19th annual South Texas Conjunto Association “Conjunto of the Year” award extravaganza is taking place at The Full Court venue, 1817 N. Broadway St. in Elsa on July 16. The following bands are nominated for the “Conjunto of the Year” award: Boni Mauricio y Los Maximos, Hache III, Conjunto Baraja de Oro, Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto, Conjunto Los Leones, Conjunto Impulso de Ernesto Cadena, Tomas Navarro y Conjunto Amable, Mikey G y Los Realez, Delta Boys, Jaime y Los Chamacos, Lazaro Perez y su conjunto, Los Garcia Brothers, Los Morales Boyz, Ruben Garza y La Nueva Era, Conjunto Kings de Flavio Longoria, Conjunto Fuego, Roger Arocha y su conjunto, Bernardo y sus Compadres, Los Thunderbirds, Los Texmaniacs, Ricardo Guzman Jr. y sus 3 Aces, Ruben Rivera y su conjunto, Santiago Garza y La Naturaleza, Mando y La Venganza, Conjunto Califas, Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers. Last year’s winner for the top prize was Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers of Alice, Texas. Other awards include honors for composer of the year, song of the year, drummer of the year, bass player of the year, bajo-sexto player of the year, accordion player of the year, vocalist of the year, and album of the year. To see all the nominees and vote on your conjunto favorites, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Coy192017. For more information contact Lupe Saenz, president of the STCA, at 956-463-6909.

--Rodolfo “Rudy” Lopez, bajo-sexto player and founder of the Conjunto Heritage Taller, and Juan Lugo, accordionist will be returning to the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito for the monthly series ‘Conjunto Nights at the Chicho’ on July 20th. $5.00 donation at the door, snacks and drinks will be provided during the intermission to the performance. For more information call 956-367-0335.

--Timo Ruedas of the South Texas Conjunto Association announced that the 7th annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert is taking place at the Historic Brownsville Downtown District on September 2, 4 PM to 11 PM. The theme of the event will be son's of conjunto legends. The announcement of what bands will be performing will be released in the coming weeks.

--Tejano powerhouse The Hometown Boys will be returning to the Valley on July 15, 7 PM to midnight, at the Outta Town Dance Hall in Mission. For more information and to buy tickets, call 956-584-1812.

--Jaime y Los Chamacos will be stopping by in Brownsville at the Tex-Mex Night Club on June 30, Friday night, at 9 PM to 2 AM. The legendary conjunto of Jaime de Anda has been playing conjunto music since the 1980's, and is regarded as one of the best conjuntos of their generation. Tickets are $15 presale, and $20 at the door.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Four Summer Jams To Check Out

This week, I'm going to recommend four great Rio Grande Valley jams to check out this Summer, to add to your Tejano and conjunto playlists.

“El Corrido de Jhonny el Pachuco” by Esteban Jordan - "El Corrido de Jhonny El Pachuco" is a wild take on Victor Cordero's "Juan Charrasqueado". The original lyrics are transformed into Jordan's unique language and Rio Grande Valley surroundings. He changes things up, adding terms from his own vocabulary like "al alba", "chismear", "cholas", "muy alto", and "slicka".

The classic tune is now arranged with Jordan's accordion as the lead instrument, and he does some amazing things on the squeezebox on here. The tale that Jordan tells here is set in Robstown, TX, but McAllen, TX is referenced in passing, where this song was recorded in the 1970's. The master was later acquired by Arhoolie Records, and re-released there on vinyl and CD in later years. Might be my favorite Jordan song ever.




“El Dia de tu Boda” - by Gilberto Perez - This song was composed by Ramon Medina, a Rio Grande Valley musician who performed with Ruben Vela y su conjunto and Gilberto Perez y su conjunto. Esta cancion was first recorded by Gilberto Perez y su conjunto on November 1959 for the local Falcón Records company. It got a lot of airplay in regional music radio stations. In 1968, Los Tigres del Norte did a cover of this song for their debut album. This is such a great song, and a classic conjunto standard.




“Visito Estos Barrios” by Los Chachos - Los Chachos branched out from the style that Conjunto Bernal established in the 1960’s, and would go on to become one of the top South Texas conjunto acts of the 1970’s. Cha Cha Jimenez’s vocals stand out among everything else, but one of the most interesting sounds to come out from them is their accordion. "At that the time, I remember thinking it was an organ," Karlitos Way Accordions (Karlos Landin, Jr.) told me. "(The style) had a different edge because of the organ, but then I came to find out years later that that wasn't an organ. It was Bobby's Cordovox chromatic accordion that had like 25 switches on it. It had so many different sounds. It sounded like an organ; it sounded like a chromatic. It sounded like all these different things. The first one that told me about that accordion was (accordionist) Joel Guzman." Check out “Visito Estos Barrios” to sample this very unique sounding accordion.




“Luna Azul” by Delia Gutierrez Pineda - This is from Delia Gutierrez, originally of Weslaco, and her father's group, The Eugenio Gutierrez Orchestra. This was recorded either in 1951 by Falcon Records out of the Mission/McAllen area. Gutierrez was one of the most popular singers of the area during that era, where she also recorded with Discos Ideal. She came from a musical family, and one interesting note is that her mother was related to local accordion legend Pedro Ayala. This particular recording was acquired and uploaded online by Arhoolie Records. This a beautiful take on “Blue Moon” by Gutierrez.



Friday, June 16, 2017

RIo Jordan To Perform At Galax Z Fair VI

This weekend is the return of Galax Z Fair VI, and I’m most excited about seeing Rio Jordan and Juanito Castillo on Saturday night, June 17. I last saw the group at the “As I Walk Through the Valley” premiere in Edinburg, and it was awesome, as usual. I then saw Castillo, the group’s wild accordionist, who is the protege of the great, late Esteban Jordan, at Guilly's Honky Tonk in La Feria, where he did some awesome interpretations of “Las Nubes” and “Coco Rayado”. So I’m very familiar with Castillo, and if you’ve never seen him live, this is a great, great chance to go out of your way to check him out. Just an amazing musician. Here are three videos to check out, to get yourselves ready for Saturday night.

--Juanito Castillo y Rio Jordan in San Benito (10/25/14) - This is a video I took of Juanito Castillo y Rio Jordan opening their set with Esteban Jordan's "La Polka Loca" piece. It was awesome seeing Eva Ybarra and Rio Jordan back-to-back earlier that night in San Benito. Two great, unique accordionists that do a lot of experimental work within the conjunto form. Castillo here just goes all out, and it’s a great showcase for what he can do on the squeezebox.


--Esteban Jordan video uploaded by SuperMando1990 - This is a super rare video that appeared to have been recorded off television in Mexico. It includes Esteban Jordan y Rio Jordan performing, and a interview. Love the quality too, reminds me of messing around with the antenna when I was a kid to get channels outside the Valley. Some great clips of what the legendary Jordan could do on the accordion, along with his sons Esteban Jordan III, Ricardo Jordan, and Castillo.


--Rio Jordan featuring Juanito Castillo at TCF 2015 - Robert Treviño is someone who has recorded so much great conjunto footage these past few years and someone who I strongly recommend to check out. Here he gets up close and fantastic footage of current Rio Jordan band members Esteban III (on the guitar), Ricardo (on the bass), Castillo (on the accordion), and Alejandro Valdez (on the drums). Great footage of this young, great conjunto.


--”Acordeones de Tejas” (1/5/12)  - This was the longlasting show that was shot, directed, and edited by South Texas Conjunto Association mastermind Lupe Saenz, out of Donna, TX. It ran on KMBH, local public television, and was my favorite local program ever. This right here is a good episode of "Acordeones de Tejas", it features Frankie Caballero from East Donna, Rio Jordan with Juanito Castillo and Rocky Beltran. Really neat stuff from all the musicians involved.


--”Juanito Castillo - The Blind Me” - This is an amazing jazz piece on the Tex-Mex Steve Jordan Rockordeon. The title refers to Castillo being blind, and he just goes off on these amazing runs that no one else even comes close to doing in conjunto music. Please check out what he’s doing at the 1:45 mark, just running his fingers up the buttons, in total control of his instrument. Castillo is still very young, but he’s already a master when it comes to the accordion. He pretty much continues on this onda on another video that you should check out called “Juanito Castillo - Improv”, where it appears he says “AJ Castillo, take your jazz piece somewhere else”, essentially calling out, another conjunto accordionist for his jazz performance. Accordion call outs, what a decade we live in.