Thursday, March 31, 2011

Johnny Canales is back!

I have been curious for the last few months about what the legendary Johnny Canales had been up to. I usually Google his name to see if I can find out any recent news about him, and today I was thrilled to find this new article about him. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Johnny Canales is back.

With his white cowboy hat, black shirt, pants and boots, and a sequin jacket with the American and Mexican flags on each arm, it was like Canales never left as he took the Selena Auditorium stage Tuesday night at the American Bank Center.

Judging from the fans dancing in the aisles and bouncing in their seats, the Tejano music legend hasn’t lost his magic touch.

Five bypass surgeries and one stroke later, Canales taped his popular live music show once again after a four-year hiatus.

Tuesday’s pilot will be pitched to several Spanish-language television networks, he said.
I was talking to a good friend recently about how much of an impression Canales has left here in "el magico Valle del Rio Grande" and how highly I thought of him as a performer. I think sometimes people don't give him his due or the credit he deserves because they might not be fans of the type of music he represents. Some people may not care for Tejano or Tex-Mex, and they brush off Canales since he happens to be one of the biggest champions of that genre. Another unfortunate thing that happens is that people view Johnny Canales as something their "uncool" parents would watch, and because of that they don't give him a chance. But if you're open minded, you will quickly realize how great he is at what he does. If you've ever seen him host his program, it's quite clear that he's a master of the format. So smooth behind the microphone, code-switching with ease and making an incredibly difficult job look so easy. The way Bob Barker excelled at the game show format on the old Price is Right is the same way Johnny Canales excels at his.

One of the most difficult things to do is to have good shtick. Having good shtick seems so simple but few people are able to pull off some quality shtick. W.C. Fields had some great shtick and he showed that in some of the best comedies of the 1930's. One of the reasons Jerry Lawler had such longevity as a performer in Memphis was because of his shtick. Canales is one of those types of performers, I mean, if he wants to he can charm the pants off of any woman he so desires. So whether he's joking with Selena that her Spanish needs some work or goofing off with Freddy Fender, you're always going to find yourself having a fun time with good ole' Johnny Canales.

One thing that you don't lose over time is charm, and Canales is a great example of that. You got it! Take it away!

Photo Credit: Michael Zamora.
Video Credit: Sarah Acosta.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tito Santana

Here are a pair of videos that aired on our local XRIO Cable 6 News station on July 8th, 2009. The reporter is obviously a pro wrestling fan, and I was a bit surprised that they covered some major points in his career like the Greg Valentine feud and him being considered for the title in 1992. Local pro wrestling fans will notice local pro wrestler Golden King posing for a photograph with Santana. Golden King is an extremely entertaining performer that is very much appreciated here in the South Texas pro wrestling community. 
For those not familiar with Tito Santana, I thought it would be neat to give his career a little overview. Merced Solis was born here in South Texas in Mission on May 10th, 1953. He went on to play basketball, track and football at Mission High School (the same high school where legendary Dallas Cowboys' coach Tom Landry played football at), and graduated from that high school in 1971. He went on to play football as a tight end at West Texas State, where he was on the team with future NWA star Tully Blanchard and future WWF star Ted Dibiase. Tully, and his dad Joe (the promoter of San Antonio's Southwest Championship Wrestling, a promotion that also toured here in South Texas) talked to him about getting into pro wrestling. He was not a wrestling fan growing up as a kid, but after a very brief stint with NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and CFL's BC Lions, he decided to give professional wrestling a try.

Blanchard hooked him up to go train with Hiro Matsuda, and he trained there with other well known names of the sport. After training there, he was having a difficult time getting bookings and making money in the sport. He told Terry Funk, who was a huge star at the time, that he was thinking of quitting because of the lack of money and was thinking of going back to try to play with the BC Lions again. Funk, being the incredibly awesome man that he always is, got in contact with Eddie Graham to give Santana bookings to keep him in the business. Santana then eventually went to Atlanta to work with Jim Barnett under the name "Richard Blood" and had a guarantee there. Around that time, Santana said that one of the professional wrestlers that he was slightly influenced by was former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco. 

He came up with the name Santana because he knew a guy named Santana in Mission, TX and he liked the sound of it. He was in AWA but then in 1979, he went to work up north for Vince McMahon Sr., where he won the WWF Tag Team Championship with Ivan Putski. After that title run, he spent a brief time in Japan before going back to the AWA. One of his favorite guys to work with there was Sgt. Slaughter, who Tito recalls as doing a great job at putting Tito over. He eventually returned back to the WWF in 1983 but to work under Vince McMahon Jr. this time around. In 1984 and 1985, he had a legendary feud with Greg Valentine over the Intercontinental title. After that, he went on to feud with Randy "Macho Man" Savage for the same title and it's a feud that produced a classic match in Toronto.

In 1987, he became part of the Strike Force tag team with Rick Martel, and they won the tag team titles from the Hart Foundation in the fall of 1987. They ended up losing the titles to Demolition at WrestleMania IV in 1988 and the team broke up at WrestleMania V when Martel turned on Santana during a match against The Brainbusters (Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson). At the 1989 King of the Ring, Santana went on to defeat Bad News Brown (Allen Coage), The Warlord, Akeem the African Dream (One Man Gang), and his former tag team partner Rick Martel in one night to win the King of the Ring tournament. In 1990, his highlights were his matches with Mr. Perfect in the Intercontinental title tournament finals and on NBC's Saturday Night's Main Event. He was then given a bullfighter gimmick in 1991, and renamed as El Matador, a gimmick he hated. A year later in 1992, both Santana and Bret Hart were in consideration for a WWF World title reign, a story that both Hart and Santana have openly discussed and confirmed in various media sources. But as we all know, Hart was given the honors in late 1992 when he was penciled in to beat Ric Flair for the title in Canada. After being passed for a main event run, Santana's final year with the promotion was a bit low profile and not as noteworthy as his 1983-1990 run in the WWF. Since his departure, he's spent a limited time on the independent circuit, working on his own terms and schedule. 

In 2004, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and in 2007, he was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame. Here's the nice video of his WWE induction:

Below the cut, I put together a list of recommended matches of Santana's career.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of the Chicano Movement

One of the highlights of Les Blank's Chulas Fronteras was a gentleman by the name of Rumel Fuentes. He and Los Pinguinos del Norte performed a juicy little number called "Chicano", which was written by the great jack of all trades and Texas Tornados member Doug Sahm. Juan Tejeda, author of Puro Conjunto, talked to the San Antonio Express-News about how he was an obscure figure, and that "he was political, writing about Chicanos early on. That's what set him apart. He's an important voice in an oblique way." I was pretty intrigued by what I had read about the late native of Eagle Pass, TX, so I decided to pick up Arhoolie Records' "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of the Chicano Movement" CD release (a collection of never-before-released tunes from Fuentes).

The album is filled with interesting and emotional songs that deserve their own entries, but this entry is going to be focused on the track titled "Corrido de Pharr, Texas". With life, some things change and some things never change, and this song is a reminder of that. The corruption nowadays is different from what our people experienced in the early 1970s, but at the end of the day, it's still some pretty horrifying corruption (you really need a whole blog to cover all the corruption here in the RGV). The song was inspired by the tragic and barbaric murder of Alfonso Loredo Flores on the night of the famous 1971 Pharr riot (which I've written and posted vidoes about here). Anyways, I thought I would share the linear notes and lyrics of this great corrido from Rumel Fuentes:

Corrido De Pharr, Texas

Linear Notes - In 1970 and early 1971 there were complaints about unnecessary brutality by the Pharr, Texas, police force. These complaints focused on Chief Alfredo Ramirez, himself the possessor of an impressive criminal record, and Sergeant Mateo Sandoval, an immigrant from Mexico who had a reputation for a short temper and a penchant for violence. On February 6, 1971, a picket line to protest the brutality was set up at City Hall and at the jail. As more people started gathering to support the picket, Chief Ramirez gave a quick “order to disperse” and turned a highpressure fire hose on the crowd. Bystander Alfonso Loredo Flores, a construction worker home for the weekend from his job in Corpus Christi, was observing the protest when he was shot in the head by Robert Johnson, a deputy sheriff. When he fell to the ground, he still had his hands in his pockets. The grand jury returned an indictment of a misdemeanor “negligent homicide.”
Song Lyrics - 
Dicen que en Pharr hay serpientes
con cabeza de marrano,
y entre la gente de Pharr
tienen gringo mexicanos.

Un mayor que es mandamás,
muchos son los mandaderos,
momprados que son vendidos,
¡Ah!, que pelaos tan cuatreros.

Les decía la comisión,
de qué se admira la ley
si sus mismos oficiales
tienen “record” criminal.

Hay cuatro o cinco testigos
de mucha brutalidad.
Se oyen gritos en las celdas
que es una barbaridad.

Una protesta calmada
en contra los policías,
la gente los denunciaba
por cosas que se sabían.

Mataron a Poncho Flores,
fue un policía de Pharr;
a un hombre empistolado
no se le puede confiar.

Los malhechores de Flores,
esto no se va a olvidar.
Fíjense todo lo que hacen
con Diós lo van a pagar.

Ya en varios pueblos de Aztlán
esto ya una vez pasó,
y nos va a seguir pasando
si no hay organización.

Vuela, vuela palomita,
párate en aquel nopal.
aquí se acaba cantando
lo que nos pasó allá en Pharr.

You can hear this corrido on this blog entry. You can pick up this essential CD or hear samples at Arhoolie Records or Amazon.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Les Blank's Chulas Fronteras (1976)

"Chulas Fronteras is absolutely the best Chicano documentary film that I have seen to-date...It is our history, rescued without excuses and without romanticism but with vitality” - Prof. Juan Rodriguez (University of California, San Diego)

“Blank’s most emotionally complex film. His camera weaves in and around lives documenting odd bits of vérité.” – J. Hoberman

“A joyous, angry, complicated film—a multi-leveled document fully worthy of the people and music that gives it life.” – Michael Goodwin, Take One

“Filmed with the excitement of discovery.” – Dave Kehr

I stumbled upon this film since I was interested in Narciso Martinez and because I was a huge fan of Les Blank's Werner Herzog Eats His Own Shoe and Burden of Dreams. I learned that the film was shot in Texas in a variety of places that included Austin, San Antonio, Eagle Pass, and our neck of the woods here in the Rio Grande Valley. Chris Strachwitz, a great producer who is fascinated by regional music, got the inspiration and funded the project with Les Blank on board as the director. I was barely starting to discover the musical artists that are legends in South Texas, so seeing Les Blank's unique take on this from the 1970s was something that I was enthusiastic about.

But as interested as I was in this film, I didn't expect I was going to find something this special, this rewarding and this touching. Incredible soundtrack, one of the best, if not the best soundtrack I've ever heard for a documentary film. A panoply of musical greatness from Lydia Mendoza, Narciso Martinez, Los Alegres de Teran, Rumel Fuentes, Don Santiago Jimenez, Los Pinguinos del Norte, Ramiro Cavazos, and most memorably Flaco Jimenez! At several points in the film, we see small glimpses of the Valley like the Del Valle Record pressing plant, several cantinas in San Benito and McAllen, and a bodega de cebolla in McAllen. One of the coolest moments was seeing the Tex-Mex conjunto pioneer, the Reynosa-born but RGV bred Narciso Martinez working at the Glady's Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX.

This is a wonderful, free flowing documentary that covers the lifestyle - the BBQ's, the tamales, the racism towards Mexican-Americans, la salsa, the dancing halls, la familia, migrant farm workers, las bodas, the social life, the police brutality, las cantinas, hard working conditions, the passion, and even the peleas de gallos! So poetic, it covers all this effortlessly while having the delightful pleasure of listening to some of the best music of this culture. Also included in the Chulas Fronteras DVD was Del Mero Corazon, another charming and excellent work by the same crew that is highlighted by Maria Antonia Contreras' wonderful voice over work. One sequence in this film is even shot in the infamous Boys' Town of Reynosa, which Strachwitz accurately describes as a place where "you can buy anything you want". Recently, I've expressed some rather unenthusiastic words about modern documentaries, about how a lot of them feel rather generic and empty. Now in contrast, these two documentaries are the type of documentaries I treasure! I can't thank Chris Strachwitz and Les Blank enough for what they created with these two brilliant films. So full of passion, excitement, and energy, it makes me want to make some tamales, hang out with my parents and get down listening to some Flaco Jimenez and Narciso Martinez!  

The Library of Congress selected this wonderful documentary to the National Film Registry in 1993.