Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arnulfo Olivo - The Forgotten Conjunto Pioneer

                                               Photo Credit -

On Friday afternoon, my cousin Mike gave me a call that he was headed over my way to drop off a research paper that had been put together by his father (my Tio Chano) and Dr. Jaime Armin Mejia of Texas State University. I had been corresponding with my Tio via email on matters of South Texas' music, specifically of the cojunto variety. My dad had told me that my Tio was one of the leading figures in bringing attention to an unknown conjunto pioneer named Arnulfo Olivo (who happened to by my dad and uncle's uncle).

My cousin arrived shortly with a manila envelope containing the contents of this research paper that I had anxiously been waiting for. This paper was presented at the Texas/Southwest Popular Culture Association on February 5th, 1993 at Texas A & I University in Kingsville, Texas. The title of the paper was "Arnulfo Olivo: His Influence on Today's Texas-Mexican Conjunto Music", and here is my bullet point summary of this great research paper:
  • Arnulfo Olivo was born on November 4th, 1903 in a small ranch called "El Capote", which was located north of San Juan, TX. One interesting bit of information is that another obscure conjunto pioneer, Lolo Cavazos, was also born in "El Capote", three years after Olivo. 
  • Ponciano "Chano" and Panchie Martinez, through research, were able to come to the conclusion that many modern musical compositions made famous by Narciso Martinez, Pedro Ayala, and Don Santiago Jimenez were compositions Arnulfo Olivo had composed. Mejia goes on to elaborate, "it should further be noted that their recording of some of Olivo's music compositions sealed their place as pioneers and icons in the Tejano Conjunto music world."
  • As an 18-year-old man, Olivo married the 15-year-old Thomasa in 1921. Thomasa goes on to suggest that Olivo was playing the accordion in 1920 in public places across the lower area of the RGV. Some of these places include "salónes" and dance halls.  
  • Since he started playing in 1920, it should be noted that he started many years before Pedro "El Monarca del Acordeon" Ayala and Narciso "El Huracan del Valle" Martinez.
  • According to Thomasa Olivo, Arnulfo began working as a musician in San Benito's most popular salón. The owner of that particular salón was a woman known as "La Tia Chucha". He started working there on December 1930 and was there until March 1931.
  • Narciso Martinez ended up visiting this establishment to see Arnulfo Olivo perform. Thomasa Oliva strongly believes that the only reason Narciso visited this salón was to "steal" the original compositions that Arnulfo had created. This research paper describes the relationship between Arnulfo and Narciso as, and I quote, "not a friendly rivalry."
  • Tia Chucha's salón was set on fire and burned down in 1931. This act of arson is believed to be the result of rivals of this establishment being upset with its success. Stuff like this happening wasn't rare at the time.
  • Pedro Ayala had the reputation of being the musician most open in referencing and mentioning the work of his peers, like Arnulfo Olivo.
  • Arnulfo Oliva allowed and agreed to let Pedro Ayala record some of his own creations, which didn't sit well with Oliva's wife. 
  • It's something of a mystery, but for some reason, Olivo never recorded his musical work. So no recordings by him of his own art exist. 
  • Donna, Texas musicians Antonio Cavazos, Juan Trevino, Lupe Trevino, Lupe Torres and Olivo's wife have credited the following compositions to Arnulfo Olivo: "Los Jacalitos", "Say y Pimienta", "Labios de Coral", "La Chulada", "Senderito", "Chicharronada", "La Pajareda", "El Naranjal", "Rio Rico", and some others. Olivo's wife claims that Arnulfo had as many as 27 compositions in his repertoire in 1923. 
  • Willie Lopez, who just recently passed away on March 4th, 2011, would play Olivo's compositions that were done by other musicians. Apparently, Willie Lopez would always pay homage to Olivo by mentioning that these compositions were composed and created by Arnulfo Olivo. Here is a clip of Willie Lopez, who had a long lasting Valley radio show named Chulas Fronteras. For those wondering, I will pay tribute sometime soon to the late, great Willie Lopez. 
  • On page 6 of the research paper, Mejia mentions this interesting information: "Manuel Pena has stated that in the 1930s, an American recording company came to contract Arnulfo Olivo to record some of his compositions, but again, for reasons that are still not clear, he refused to sign a contract, and instead recommended that Pedro Ayala be hired in his stead".
  • By 1937, Olivo pretty much stopped playing music in public on a regular basis. He would still play for his family, friends, and some wedding receptions that were "in his barrio".
  • Arnulfo Olivo passed away on May 27th, 1983 in Donna, Texas. He was 80 years old, and died as a totally obscure figure of conjunto music. He left behind his wife Thomasa, one of the very few people who would speak of his contributions to conjunto music. To this day, he is still a mysterious and obscure figure. 
Reading this research paper, talking to certain local musicians like Ernesto Guerra, Noe Reyes, and having Willie Lopez's son bring his dad to my attention, really make me feel like it should be a duty of mine to try to document as much local history as possible. At the end of 2010, I was unsure of where this blog would go and what place I would take it, but I've been really inspired by a barrage of ideas lately. One of the ideas that this research paper puts forth is how much invaluable information is being lost on a regular basis due to people of previous generations passing away. A lot of local history, for whatever reason, wasn't really documented or written down. Maybe some people thought it wasn't worth documenting, which I passionately disagree with. There is so much oral history out there, that I feel that I have to search for and discover, to bring it out to light. A lot of interesting Rio Grande Valley stories are not on the internet, as they are mostly hidden in obscurity and rarely search for. But the main goal of this blog is to change that and bring out interesting history to the people that are interested in it. It's a never ending proposition but I'm sticking with it. 

- Eduardo Martinez

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Simon Reyes & the Outerlimits

    Photo Credit: Miguel Vargas from the Miguel Angel Studio Blog.

    The last few years, there's been some very enjoyable things written about South Texas music. Whether it's Spanish, English or Spanglish, I'm pretty interested in listening to all old school Valley music I can get a hold of. Back in March 2010, my friend Denise Flores posted this great Monitor article on her Facebook that introduced me to the music and story of Christopher and the Souls. Since then, Weslaco-based blogger Andres Sanchez has also written about Christopher and the Souls over at his great music blog The Photon God. Today, I was going to write a little bit about another old school Valley musician.   

    Simon Reyes was born in Weslaco, Texas on 1947, and he became part of a family that had two brothers and four sisters. As a child, he already had a strong affection towards music. His little brother Noe "Rudy" Reyes informs us of some of Simon's adventures as a child, "he would perform on a TV show from Weslaco called the Molten Ty Cobb show.  He would paint fake sideburns and pretend to play a guitar without strings while he sang "Hound Dog" and he would also dance like Elvis and would perform this way on the TV show."

    Eventually in the 1960's, Simon Reyes dropped out of high school during his sophomore year. A while after this, he had his own group and toured across the Valley playing at various venues. He also spent some time in Galveston, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana where he recorded approximately 19 to 20 songs. His brother Noe says that these tunes have not been released or that they could have been lost forever.

    Before his band "The Outerlimits", the name of his first band was called "The Vikings". He then formed "Simon Reyes and The Outerlimits", a band that was together for over six years. But the rest of the band changed from time to time with Simon being the only consistent band member. These two songs, "Mistake Number Three" and "My Baby Hurts Me" were both recorded at the McAllen Pharaoh record label in 1967. These songs were written by Reyes and performed by him and "the Outerlimits". I really love both songs a lot, both are extremely catchy pop numbers and Simon Reyes had a really great voice. Here are the two songs for your listening pleasure:

    The name of his next band after "The Outerlimits" was called "The Gypsies" and then the last band he played with was "Simon Reyes and the Bourbon Street Bums". Rudy "Noe" Reyes elaborates, "he was always the front man for all these groups and he was the one who brought them together and named the bands himself." 
    But on November 15, 1974, Simon Reyes passed away due to heroin overdose near his home in Weslaco. Like some other musicians of that time period, he was 27 years old when he died due to drug overdose. After his death, San Benito's icon Freddy Fender informed Rudy "Noe" Reyes that Simon might have had a son somewhere in California or New Orleans.


    One of Simon Reyes' songs was a part of the soundtrack to an independent film called Broken Promise, which was produced by Mercedes resident Eddie Howell. Also at the moment, Rudy "Noe" Reyes is attempting to pay tribute to his brother with a display at the Weslaco Museum and the museum is looking forward to seeing what "Noe" will present to them.

    On October 3rd, 2010, the City of Weslaco proclaimed the day "Simon Reyes Day" and handed over a plaque to the Reyes family that was engraved with the following words: "Simon Reyes. Rio Grande Valley Rock and Roll Legend". At the upcoming Rudstock Music Festival that is taking place on June 10th-June 12th in Edinburg, Texas, there will be a Simon Reyes display that will include photographs, records, and other items paying tribute to the Weslaco musician. So be sure to check out the Rudstock Music Festival if you're interested in learning more about Simon Reyes. 

    This is Simon Reyes' Discography:

    1. I'm A Hog For You Baby/(cover?) - Simon Reyes
    2. Just By Touching Your Hand - Simon Reyes
    3. Make Believe -  Simon Reyes
    4. Happy Song -  Simon Reyes
    5. My Baby Hurts Me -  Simon Reyes
    6. Mistake Number Three - Simon Reyes
    7. People Laugh - Simon Reyes
    8. Caminito, Caminito - Simon Reyes
    9. Broken Hearted Fool - Simon Reyes
    10. I'm Gonna Love You Anyway - Simon Reyes
    11. Mama, Mama (Spanish) - Simon Reyes  
    12. Mama, Mama (English) - Simon Reyes
    13. What Now My Love (cover) - Simon Reyes
    14. Amor De La Calle - Simon Reyes
    15. The Pregnant Cow - Simon Reyes
    16. El Coyote (cover) - Simon Reyes
    17.La Barca (cover) - Simon Reyes
    18. Tejano Enamorado (cover) - Simon Reyes
    19.La Bola Negra (cover) - Simon Reyes

    Thanks to my brother Angel for informing me about this musician. Huge thanks to Noe "Rudy" Reyes for all the great information he provided me with. Also, thanks to Miguel Vargas for the Weslaco water tower photo, and check out his great photography blog. For more information, Garage Hangover has some great stuff.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Corrido De Pharr, Texas by Rumel Fuentes

    I wrote about this song and discussed it in an earlier entry here at Pharr From Heaven, but I finally figured out how to upload it on YouTube. In the earlier entry, I posted the Spanish lyrics, information about Rumel Fuentes and the events that lead to this corrido, so make sure to check it out if this is all foreign to you. On this entry, I'm going to post the English lyrics that Arhoolie produced so some of our English-only speaking friends can also follow along. Enjoy the song, and I would like to hear your thoughts.

    Ballad of Pharr, Texas
    They say that in Pharr there are serpents
    with the head of a pig,
    and among the people of Pharr
    they have gringo Mexicans.

    A mayor who is in command,
    many are the errand boys,
    bought ones who have sold out,
    oh, what damn horse thieves.

    The federal commission said,
    -Why should the law be admired
    if those same officials
    have criminal records?

    There are four or five witnesses
    of much police brutality.
    You can hear screams in the cells;
    this is barbarism.

    A quiet protest
    against the police,
    the people denounced them
    for things that were known.

    They killed Poncho Flores,
    it was a policeman in Pharr;
    a man who wears a gun
    you cannot trust.

    You who killed Flores,
    this will not be forgotten.
    Take care of all that you do
    or with God you will have to pay.

    Now in various towns of Aztlán
    this at one time happened,
    and it will keep on happening
    if we do not organize.

    Fly, fly little dove,
    land on that cactus plant,
    and here we finish singing
    about what happened there in Pharr.

    You can pick up Rumel Fuentes' 'Corridos of the Chicano Movement' CD or hear samples at Arhoolie Records or Amazon.