Friday, December 21, 2012

New Holiday: "Juan Manuel Marquez Day".

The end of the year is filled with holidays that bring people together. It starts with Thanksgiving, then we get several like Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa before we head to New Years Day.

Juan Manuel Marquez defeating Manny Pacquiao is definitely something that brought people together. It caused great sadness to the people of the Philippines. But it was a cause of celebration for many people, especially people in Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.

Now, on December 20th, 2012, a new holiday was born in Hidalgo, TX. The mayor of Hidalgo, Martin Cepeda got on the microphone, presented the counter punching maestro Juan Manuel Marquez with the key to the city. Cepeda then said in Spanish that every December 20th will now be known as “Juan Manuel Marquez Day”.

It’s not every day that a new holiday is born. With this grand proclamation by an elected official, it is now an official holiday in the Valley. In the hearts and minds of boxing fans, Marquez earned it with a lifelong dedication to his craft.

“The first time I was here was in 2006 when I fought with the Filipino Jaca,” reminisced Juan Manuel Marquez in Spanish.

The bout that Marquez was referring to was a bout in which he defeated Jimrex Jaca in the ninth frame via KO at what was known then as the Dodge Arena.

“This triumph isn’t just mine, it’s also my families. It’s all the hard work I did with Nacho Beristain, and it’s also for all of you,” said Marquez in Spanish.

At this point, the crowd erupted into a loud Marquez chant.

Later on, a loud fan yelled for a fifth fight with the Filipino superstar.

“You want five? Yes or no,” said Marquez.

While the crowd roared in enthusiasm, Marquez noted in a lighthearted way how it was up to his wife if he were to fight again. He expressed his warm regards to being honored with this celebration rally.

This new holiday will now be celebrated every year from now on. Maybe not publicly, most definitely not by getting a day off from work. But it’ll bring people all together to treasure the craft of Marquez’s work. Hands are usually used to create great works of art. Some use their hands to write. Some to paint. Marquez uses his hands to counterpunch and create crafty combinations. He’s an artist inside the ring, creating beauty out of brutality. He’s a humble, proud man outside the ring. So remember to bust out your collection of Marquez fights and Mexican food on December 20th of every year to pay your respects with your close friends or family members.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mel Villarreal

When discovering the very roots of the local Tejano music scene, you will find many aficionados of the genre that treasure the craft of Mel Villarreal. Whether it was in his Carlos Guzman y Los Fabulosos Cuatro period or in Los Unicos, Mel Villarreal has led the way in establishing Tejano music in the Rio Grande Valley. From playing various instruments like the button diatonic accordion, bass, and bajo sexto to starting his own record label, Mel's worked in many capacities in his storied music career.

Mel Villarreal was born to Gamaliel Sr. and Cruzita Villarreal on October 18, 1940 in McAllen, Texas. Mel's actual birth name is Gamaliel Jr., and he was the first child for Gamaliel Sr. and Cruzita. His parents were migrants and had a musical pedigree. From his mom's side, his grandfather and his uncle Alfredo were accordion players. Mel's mother and his uncle Santos were bajo sexto players. On his father's side, his father played the accordion and uncle Lupe was a bajo sexto player.

"So my mother says when she was pregnant with me, she used to play, either accompanied by my grandpa or her brother," said Mel Villarreal. "She had a big tummy and the bajo sexto would be next to the tummy. She would play the bajo sexto, so that's probably what got me to learning music."

Mel still remembers the faithful day when he first got his hands on his dad's button diatonic accordion. Mel was seven years old, he was with his family in Arkansas picking cotton during a very cold time of the year. Gamaliel Sr. deemed it was too cold and decided that it would be best for Mel if he stayed home.

"So I was allowed to stay home that day, so I asked my mom, 'Mom you supposed maybe I can borrow dad's accordion and play around with it?'," remembers Mel. "She said, 'Well I guess so, but you better be very careful with it, don't damage it cause you and I might get in trouble.' I started fiddling around with it, and by the end of the day, I came up with a tune. It's a song that I used to sing as a little boy, actually the song, not too long ago was recorded by Little Joe. It's called 'Ya No Lloras Margarita'."

When Gamaliel Sr. came home that evening, Cruzita informed him about Mel playing with the accordion and about the tune he had worked on. After Gamaliel Sr. listened to his son playing with the accordion, he told Mel that he could borrow the accordion anytime he wanted to on the condition that he would be careful with it.
Eventually, Mel also got interested in learning how to play the bajo sexto.

"I remember my uncle used to hang the bajo sexto from a string and nail by the wall," Mel said. "I wouldn't dare get it down but I would get a chair, get close to it, climb the chair and start playing the bajo sexto right there where it was hanging."

When he was twelve years old, he was playing in family gatherings with a guitar his father gave him. Mel had modified the guitar with four strings, his attempt to make it sound like a bajo sexto. He joined his first group at the age of fourteen years old.

"There was this boy who was about seven, he also learned to play the accordion, his name is Armando Hinojosa Jr.," Mel said. "He wanted a young bajo sexto player, because he also liked to be accompanied by a bajo sexto. They couldn't find anybody as young as him to play bajo sexto, the youngest they could find was me. So we got together and became a duet."

They used to play amateur hour competitions and talent shows, and Mel remembers the duet being awarded first prize most of the time thanks to how young Armando was. Shortly thereafter, Mel and Armando added some new members to their group.

"The next couple of years or so, he started playing drums and I was playing the accordion," Mel said. "We got somebody to play bajo sexto, and we made a conjunto called Conjunto Del Valle. We played around for a while."

After that, he had a brief stint with Edinburg's Gilberto Lopez y su conjunto. He would then join the legendary group Conjunto Bernal, playing bass and bajo sexto for the group while Paulino's brother, Eloy, was in the army. Mel left his newly wed wife Lupita to go on a three month tour with Conjunto Bernal. Sadly, Mel missed out on the birth of his first child due to the tour and missed being there for his wife while he was away. He decided to leave Conjunto Bernal, and spent a period with Conjunto Acapulco.

In 1964, he was invited to join Carlos Guzman y su conjunto. At the time, Mel recalls most local groups either being conjunto or orchestra, but the original name of the group was changed soon after to something more dynamic.

"Later we decided that we wanted to change the name, and make a name for the four guys. Carlos Guzman already had his name. But us, we didn't have a name to identify the four guys. So we called them Los Fabulosus Cuatro."

Carlos Guzman y Los Fabulosos Cuatro enjoyed great success, recording for many local labels like Discos Falcón and Bego. Mel originally played the accordion for them, but they eventually replaced the accordion with a keyboard. That led to Mel playing bass for the group. He played for the group on and off for several years until he got involved to lead, what would eventually become a legendary Tejano group.

"After Los Fabolusos, then I joined Los Unicos in 1971," Mel said. "It was Balde Munoz again on the drums, Snowball, Oscar Soliz [on] keyboard, myself in bass, and Tacho Rivera singing."

The group was incredibly influential to many young musicians of the era. The arrangements and Mexican-American style music were totally unique to Los Unicos. After gaining a passionate following, the group decided it would be a great idea to start their own record label in the Valley.

"We started saving money to start a record label, when the contract was over with the last company that Los Unicos were recording for, which was Zarape in Dallas," Mel said. "We started [Uniko Records], it was a partnership that we had, nobody earned any more money than the other guy."

Not only did they release their own work on Uniko Records, they also released albums by Los Kasinos, Eddie Olivares y Los Playboys, Los Dos Gilbertos, and many other South Texas groups.

The original version of Los Unicos split up in 1976, so Mel bought out the previous members to carry on label of the group.

"I started doing vocals. We always had a vocalist, but when the first time that the original Unicos split, somebody said, 'Why don't you sing'," said Mel. "So that's what I did after the original Los Unicos became Los Unicos de Mel Villarreal."

Mel Villarreal continued with his group into the 1980's and early 1990's in various incarnations. All together, Mel composed around 30 to 40 original songs, while also creating unique arrangements for standards like "Veinte Años".

"The last time I recorded was sometime in 91 or 92, after a year or so I decided to retire," said Mel.

Mel now enjoys being at his home in Pharr with his wife Lupita and close family. He still keeps up with his musical friends, they join him once a month at his home to jam out and have fun. He has had his music converted over to CD's and has worked at selling and distributing his music from out of his home office. Also he has created his own salsa (which reads on the label "Not For Wimps"), which he sells locally.

He just celebrated his 72nd birthday last month in October at the Pharr Events Center. He was joined by his wife, his family, friends, the local Tejano and conjunto community that evening as they paid tribute to his musical journey. Mel even got on stage to sing that night to the delight of everyone that was there in attendance.

"I miss the fun of it, it's a lot of fun getting up on stage, and having people singing with you," Mel said. "But, by the same token, it's a lot of fun being at home, after so many years that I spent away from home."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Weslaco State Champions

This silver trophy reads: "First Prize, Class B High School, Won By Weslaco High School Band, State Band Contest, Dallas 1928."  
I'm going to try to find out about the back story behind this trophy, which is owned by someone close to me. Where this trophy was found, leads me to believe that the previous owners didn't really care much about the historical significance of such an award. So this piece of Valley history will remain in a private collection.

If any readers have any insight, please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks. 

Los Guerreros in Hidalgo, TX

Nine years ago, that's a pretty long time now that I think about it. It was November 17, 2003, and WWE was making its first stop to the Dodge Arena (now the State Farm Arena) in Hidalgo, TX. The main event would feature Brock Lesnar (who would later become the biggest PPV draw in UFC history), Chris Benoit (later to be inducted into the WON HOF and become infamous for a double murder/suicide), Rey Mysterio (later inducted into the WON HOF, probably the greatest babyface worker since Ricky Morton and Ricky Steamboat, maybe even surpassing them), and John Cena (a youngster that in 2005 would win his first WWE Championship and go on to become the biggest star and draw of his generation). 

But to anyone that was actually there that night, the match everyone remembers was not the main event that was full of famous (or infamous) performers, but the co-feature between Los Guerreros (Eddie and Chavo Jr.) vs Basham Brothers (Doug and Danny Basham). In 2003, Eddie Guerrero was getting really over with the Smackdown audience at the time. He was becoming a regional draw and a big ratings mover. He would be the one credited for bringing a large Hispanic demographic to Smackdown. He was obviously a great worker, but it was really his charisma and presence that made him special to everyone that watched at the time. My very good friend Leo wrote about about the match in Hidalgo between Los Guerreros vs Basham Brothers: 
"I was a Smackdown house show a few years ago. Eddie and Chavo came out and the place went ape shit, the whole arena was shaking from the vibration of the pop. The crowd had Eddie chants through out the whole match and Eddie would always turn around and give Chavo the attention. After the match he got a Mexico flag from the crowd and the place went even more crazy. The crowd never stop chanting their names even when the match was going on. 
I always think about that moment when I watch any Eddie or Chavo matches."
I feel exactly the same way. It was one of those "you had to be there" type of moments, it was a really great night that I fondly remember. Sadly on November 13, 2005, Eddie Guerrero would pass away. That was the only time Eddie ever performed in Hidalgo, TX, but Chavo Jr. had several matches down here with a variety of guys. Chavo Jr. will be working November's upcoming TNA event here at the State Farm Arena, that's why this came to my mind recently. I used to have many photos of that event, but sadly I can't find them anymore. The only one I still have is this one of Eddie, outside the Dodge Arena being his usual charismatic self while my little brother sneaks into the shot. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mike Lopez

If one wants to know about the history of the local music scene, Mike Lopez is a key person to get in contact with to learn about our musical past. A recording studio engineer, producer, band manager and song writer, Mike has had a passion for the local scene for as long as he can remember. He grew up in the 1950's and fondly recalls his parents taking him and his brother Leonel to the bailes at the Old Roundup in Rio Grande City. Mike has his parents to thank for exposing him to conjunto and Tejano music.

"My dad and my mom were very good dancers, they were always at the dances," said Mike Lopez. "So my brother and I became good dancers, we were always invited to participate as chamberlains in Quinciañeras."

At these dances, Lopez experienced a who's who of South Texas musical royalty. The musicians that left a big impression on Mike during his youth include Pedro Ayala, Ricardo Guzman y Los Tres Aces, and Conjunto Bernal.

"At that time, everyone looked towards listening to Conjunto Bernal, a lot of discipline in that group," Lopez said. "Later I enjoyed going to El Baile Grande and "Promociones de America". El Baile Grande on Monday to see El Conjunto Bernal, Los Relámpagos del Norte, Victor y Fina and many more that were in the Bernal Caravan. On Tuesday with Nano Ramirez to see the likes of Little Joe, Latin Breed, Rudy T and many Tejano groups...those were the days."

In 1972, Mike finally got involved in the music industry as a manager to Rio Grande City's Los Artistas. The actual reason as to why he got involved was due to a favor his grandmother requested.

"One of the guys that was in the band was a cousin of mine, he was very young as well, my grandmother wanted me to take care of these kids," Lopez remembers.

Subsequently, Pete Tijerina would join Mike to co-manage Los Artistas. Together the two would promote the band throughout the South Texas region, acquiring many opportunities for them. At one point, Los Artistas would open up for Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos during the 1970's. Eventually, Los Artistas would go on to record with GCP (Guerra Company Productions), Manny Guerra's record label from San Antonio. It was a major Tejano label at the time as it featured huge acts like the Royal Jesters and Latin Breed. Another high point for Los Artistas was when they were invited to perform at the Port Lavaca Chicano Festival in 1977. This management experience helped Mike gain connections throughout the Tejano music world.

Mike would move to Edinburg in 1979 for work in an oil field company. When Mike was off from work he would visit Southern Sound Studio, which was owned by sound engineer Jerry McCord (also a musician from the popular local band "Playboys of Edinburg"). Mike also enjoyed visiting Mark Ramirez, a prolific sound engineer for Discos Falcón. He would linger there, observing what Jerry and Mark were doing at their respective studios. His desire to start his own studio grew from there. Then around the early 1980's, the bottom of the oil field industry started to fall out. Soon thereafter, Mike constructed his own recording studio at his home in Edinburg.

"I decided to make a recording studio, so I started doing recordings at night, on weekends, after the job I had," Lopez said. "But at the same time, that got old so I had to go full time with it. For over 15 years, that's all I did, recordings."

Mike titled his label Mestizo Records, while the studio was named Texas Sunrise Studios. It was a big learning experience for Mike, he learned about acoustics and did all his own electrical wiring. He had to be creative and find ways to work around the limitations he had. He was aiming for a legitimate professional sounding studio.

"In the recording industry, you had to learn mic placements for sure, what kind of mic you were going to use and why you were going to use that mic," Lopez said. "But at the same time, you had to do the best you could with what you had. The local industry and local record studios back in those days couldn't afford all this stuff that Capitol Records or CBS had."

His plan was to record the local talent, the South Texas "weekend warriors" that Mike felt were not getting the recognition he felt they deserved. Among those he recorded include Danny Yanez, Country Roland, Los Dos Gilbertos, Durango, Los Artistas, Mel Villarreal, Rick Gonzalez y Pezado, Pepe Maldonado, Tacho Rivera, Job Gonzalez, Wally Gonzalez, Letty Guval and Elida Reyna.

"We started Letty Guval there, I introduced her to Tejano music. She was performing with the Pan-Am Mariachi band," Lopez said. "Elida Reyna started recording with us, under the Mestizo Record label and those were her first two recordings. They were real nice vocals, very fresh vocals. Then she had an opportunity to go to with Sony and of course, we released her contract so she could go."

In the 1990's, Mike would make the move to compact discs. The first CD he released was called "Exposure", the idea being a compilation of musicians he wanted to give more exposure to. It featured Elida Reyna, Grupo Loya, Animo Band, Raul Torres y Los Malos, and David Valadez.

Mike left Edinburg in 1999 to move to Austin and sold his house to his son. He built his own recording studio up in Austin and briefly recorded some musicians there. His stay there was brief, as he sold his Austin home and headed back down to the Valley in 2002. Now in 2012, he has been working with his son at Mike Lopez Body Shop in Edinburg. On his spare time, he enjoys working with graphics to create posters and CD artwork. On the music side, he has been working on remastering his entire Mestizo Records collection. He is also working on his writing, a big passion of his, as he has written many memorable songs over the years for a variety of different musicians. However, one of his main concerns is the future of the Tejano music industry. He is worried that future generations might not carry on the tradition, due to a lack of exposure. He feels that airplay is an important part of the issue but that it also starts with finding ways to expose our local youth to our musical past.

"Kids in this area need to be exposed to a lot of the local talent," Lopez said. "First of all, they should go into the history of it, what is the history of Tejano music? What is Mel Villarreal doing and what did he do? What did Los Fabulosos do? What did Paulino Bernal do?"

Friday, October 19, 2012

Country Roland

Some very sad news from The Monitor, South Texas music legend Roland Garcia Sr. passed away yesterday afternoon. Here is an excerpt from that article that expresses Roland's music aesthetic:

Roland Garcia Sr.’s name became synonymous with Chicano country music — a mix of country songs in Spanish and classic Mexican songs with a new influence. As a small boy he learned to speak English by listening to country music, his son said.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cande Aguilar, Jr. on Acordeones de Tejas

Big fan of Lupe Saenz' public television show "Acordeones de Tejas", and I wanted to share this recent new episode. Cande Aguilar, Jr. had been focusing on his artwork for many years, but now he's working on a new conjunto project. Looks like he's got some original material in store for us with an upcoming album, some piezas that I'm very excited to hear. Also, he's included a few covers to pay tribute to Narciso Martinez and Ruben Vela. Sounds awesome, Mr. Aguilar Jr. is an incredible talent.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Interview with Zak Cantu

My brother recently informed me that 97.7 FM was giving airtime to local bands and I thought I would look into it. I asked 97.7's Zak Cantu for an interview, and he was kind enough to join us here.

Eduardo Martinez: First off, can you tell us about about yourself?

Zak Cantu: I am the Infamous Zak Cantu. It's a branch away from my real name. I stuck with that name because when I was starting out in radio I liked to beat up on the politicians. Since I'm also an active member of the political community, one State Rep came up to me during a state convention this year and called me that name in front of some of my friends so I decided to keep it. Since then I've been pushing the music because it's way less stressful to keep up with. I was born at an Air Force Base on Oct 7 in Oklahoma and moved to the Valley when i was about 2 or 3. I've been here ever since. I went to EHS and Pan-Am where I'm currently studying marketing. I also haven't had a day off and to myself since I graduated in 06. I also like long walks on the beach and the all you can eat salad bar at Jason's Deli. I keep in ok shape.

EM: Can you tell us what led to the creation of this station?

ZC: 97.7FM has been around for about 5 years. I joined in June and my first show was July 4th, 2011. Joe Martinez is the owner of 97.7 and he's a pretty cool guy who is also doing this part time. He's a teacher during the day. He has a background in broadcasting and he saw a lot of the local music and decided that when he got the approval to have 97.7 that he would make it a local and indie station. We all feel that the "Top 40" programming the other stations do tends to get really stale kinda quickly. The music we play is always new, it's stuff a lot of people have never heard before and it's just as accessible as the Top 40 stuff. Not to mention that a lot of the music we play is local. So now we have this place where we can play the less played and sometimes more obscure music as well as all of the new local up and comers that are headlining our local venues.

We have been playing nothing but indie music and local bands on 97.7 and we also like to let people of the community come on and express their faith from time to time. Some people like to give us flak about that but 97.7 is more than just a music station it's a community station and there are a lot of people who like to talk about their faith and we respect that. But really that's just about 2 hours of the 168 that there are in the week. We also give radio classes to children 10-17 and we air that on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and we broadcast it. So as a station we're doing more than just music. We're doing everything that's local and we're raising a new generation of DJ's and Radio Personalities.

EM: Just out of curiosity, any chance that maybe, some of the old Valley rock bands of the 60's and 70's (Simon Reyes and The Outerlimits, Playboys of Edinburg, Christopher and the Souls, The Headstones) might have some of their songs played?

ZC: I'll be the first to tell you that I am not an authority on local music. I went to a bunch of shows growing up at the VFW and at Art Awakenings and the Incubator back in the day but some of this stuff I've never heard of. This kinda emphasizes the importance of having a station like this. If you can give me some of those lost classics I would be more than happy to tell you that we'd play it on 97.7. In fact, speaking of this. I just finished talking to Charlie Vela from Sound of Rain studios this past week. He is willing to hook us up with his personal collection which spans about 12 years of all of the local bands that he has collected so we can air it all on 97.7. If the music is clean we will be more than happy to air it.

EM: Who are some of the current local bands that have been featured on your station? Who are some bands that you're aware of that you're looking to feature soon?

ZC: We've played: Sick/SeaJungle Bodies, Migel Abiel, The Young Maths, Dignan, The Peppered Moths, Christ Hair, Lunch, Land Locked Pirates off the top of my head.

Mayberry just sent me some stuff that I'm listening to right now and it's all pretty solid stuff. Rock Angels LLC on behalf of The Skeptic sent us a song the other day. I have a full inbox of stuff that I have to screen and put on the air for this coming week.

EM: Where would people interested in your station be able to find out more about you online?

ZC: 97.7fm is a low powered station. We only reach Edinburg, Mission, and Mcallen. This is a region that we've dubbed "The Triad". According to a few economical reports, they have tended to do that too. Our online presence is probably one of our best qualities. You don't even need an app!! You can find us at you can put it into your smartphones web browser and the music will play. Plug that into your AUX port in your car and take us anywhere! We're looking to make a better website for playlists and stuff but since everyone who works at the station are all part timers we have to make due with what we got. You can also find us on FB at in fact we encourage everyone to like that page because it's more up to date as far as announcements go than our website. The website is home to the stream and that's just as important.

EM: Before we go, anything else you would like to mention or plug?

ZC: If you would like more information on anything you can message me on Facebook, message 97.7 on Facebook or call Joe Martinez at 956-789-0702. We do radio classes at the Mcallen Incubator for the kids 10-17 at 6:30 pm to 9 pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. We're always looking for interns and regular people to help us out. It counts as community service and looks good by itself on a resume so everyone wins there. If you're interested in turning in a song, please remember that we're all part timers and screening songs is time consuming as it is, we don't have the time or the manpower to edit tracks to clean them for the air. If you can't say it on daytime tv you probably can't say it on the radio. So please take that into consideration before turning in a song. We encourage turning in music, but we still have to answer to the FCC.


Last night, before the Chicago Bears massacred the Dallas Cowboys, my brother and I went to the H-E-B in San Juan to buy some groceries. We stopped at the Red Box, our first ever encounter with this video store replacing gizmo, and we rented Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress. It's his first film in over 14 years, and as a fan of his quirky style, I was very excited to see the film. As expected, it was a pretty charming and witty film, with some very amusing episodes throughout the picture. Also, it featured a few similar themes to his previous films like Barcelona. 

However, the real reason I'm posting this isn't because of how much I liked the film (which I did), but because something caught my eye. Look at the background as Greta Gerwig walks by.

My brother and I instantly blurted out "Brownsville!" with amusement in our voices. This took me by surprise, it's not often you see references to the Valley in films. I started wondering and came to the assumption that maybe the set designer just threw that in the background since it fit the aesthetic of where they were at (a country dance club). But this morning, the thought still lingered in my mind so I figured I would Google "Whit Stillman" and "Brownsville" just to see if anything came up. An interesting interview with Whit Stillman published by the Austin Chronicle (April 27, 2012) gave me the answer I was looking for.
Unruffled, elegant, and engaging as the reputation that precedes him, Stillman seems to have inexhaustible reserves of quality anecdotes. Who knew, for instance, that his great-great-grandfather, the sea captain and entrepreneur Charles Stillman, founded the city of Brownsville in 1848? Charles, or "Don Carlos," had interests in land, banks, railroads, and shipping in South Texas. One of his partners was Richard King of King Ranch. "Unfortunately, I think they sold the last of their land to King right before the oil boom, at ten cents an acre or something," the filmmaker said.
I'm been a Stillman fan since I was 18 years old (now I'm 26), and I never even knew this. What an awesome piece of history. To learn more about Charles Stillman, you can read his Wikipedia, this entry at "The Handbook of Texas Online", and this page at "Children of Charles Stillman" website. Since Greta Gerwig's character in the film loves clichés, I figured I'd end this piece with one: "you learn something new everyday".

Monday, August 27, 2012

Juan Villarreal and Paulino Bernal

Gilberto Reyes and Paulino Bernal

One of my favorite destinations online is ReyesForo (Reyes Forum). Harlingen native and Hohner executive Gilberto Reyes created this forum for fans of accordion style music. Gilberto recently made this post, which I feel would be a great interest to everyone that is a fan of border music. This post features the great news that conjunto icon, Raymondville native Paulino Bernal and norteño accordion maestro Juan Villarreal were recently awarded with lifetime achievement awards from Hohner. Congratulations to both gentleman!

Here is Juan Villarreal performing with Ramiro Cavazos at the Discos RyN in McAllen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Paulino Bernal - Polka Idalia

The name of Paulino Bernal evokes very different emotions for many different people. It almost makes me want to see someone tackle a film about the man. It doesn't even have to use his actual name, they can construct a fictional character out of the unique life and career that Bernal has had. Some time in the future, I might write about his life but now might not be the best time. I don't really feel I posses the knowledge to write about his legendary conjunto contributions and his contentious religious career accurately. He's a pretty complex personality, and there are so many people out there, from fellow conjunto musicians to university professors that cover music or religion that can offer more interesting thoughts about Bernal.

The only thing I can do right now is state the obvious and that is - what a virtuoso he is on the accordion. This entry is to share a live video of Bernal playing one of his most famous compositions and polkas - Idalia. Not sure what the earliest recording of Idalia is, I don't think this is it but this is an early recording he did together with Oscar Hernandez on the chromatic accordions. Pretty amazing from Conjunto Bernal.

Now this is the video I really wanted to share. It's from 2008, looks like at the age of 69, Bernal is still phenomenal. He's playing a Dino Bafetti, a really beautiful instrument that I am assuming he got from Karlos Landin. One of my favorites accordionists, Joel Guzman uses Dino Bafetti accordions as well, and I've heard he gets his from Landin. Look how clean and graceful Bernal is, it's a sight to see how smooth he is. He's a true maestro, and this is evidence as to why his technical accordion skills are so revered by writers, historians, critics, and his fellow musical peers.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jose Guadalupe Hernandez

The Valley has long been a home base to some of the best button diatonic accordionists in the world. Many were born in this area, but many also came from Mexico and different parts of Texas to record their music with regional record companies here that specialized in Mexican-American and Mexican music.

Jose Guadalupe Hernandez (also referred to as Don Lupe) was born in Zacatecas, Zacatecas in Mexico on December 12, 1930. He would eventually move with his family to Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas at the age of 10 years old. While in Valle Hermoso, he started playing the accordion and would later meet bajo sexto player Jose Luis Reyes there. The two formed a musical bond and would soon relocate to Reynosa for better opportunities.

Like many musicians of the time period and many future musicians on both sides of the border, Hernandez was a big admirer of Los Alegres de Terán. As a young accordionist, he was influenced by them and was also a fan of Los Donneños and Valley accordion icon Narciso Martinez. Soon, shortly after moving to Reynosa, Hernandez and Reyes came across the border to record for Discos Falcón in McAllen. They recorded the songs "Adios Mi Rosa Maria" and "Reina de Mi Vida" under the name "Hernandez y Reyes".

After that, Hernandez and Reyes would name their group Los Madrugadores Del Valle. In the early 1960's they would go on to accompany "El Piporro" (Lalo Gonzalez) on a United States tour, on two records and on the film Se Alquila Marido. The most famous song they performed with El Piporro was the tune "Chulas Fronteras", which was a very popular hit in those days.

"We were with [Piporro], but we were only with him for about two years cause we had our own band and we wanted to concentrate on our own music," said Don Lupe in Spanish.

Los Madrugadores Del Valle only recorded once for Falcón, they then decided to move to other record labels in the Rio Grande Valley. They recorded for other hugely popular labels like Discos Del Valle, Ramiro Cavazos' Discos RyN, and Discos Bego. Outside the Valley, they would go on to record for Discos Marsol and Joey Records in San Antonio. From the 1960's through the 1980's, they played in numerous dance halls and venues across the Valley.

"We would play in a lot of places [in the Valley], so many different places but it's been such a long time I can't remember them all," laughs Don Lupe.

Hernandez and Reyes also spent a lot of time traveling outside these borderlands to spread their music across the United States. Don Lupe is very proud that he was able to tour across the nation with Reyes and his bandmates.

"We would go to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, and many other places," Don Lupe said.

One of Don Lupe's most famous polkas was titled "La Pan Americana", which he recorded for Harlingen's KGBT studios. That composition would end up becoming a well-known piece as KGBT would use that spirited polka during their radio broadcast promos. Another famous piece he composed during this time period was "La Baby Del Valle", which also got a lot of air play and was eventually recorded by Discos RyN. Not only were they on the radio, but they were also on television as Los Madrugadores Del Valle would make a memorable appearance on "The Johnny Canales Show" in the 1980's.

"We played 2 or 3 corridos in his program, basically our music was listened to a lot in the Valley," Don Lupe said.

In the late 1980's, after a long time partnership with Jose Luis Reyes, they recorded their final record together. That record contained their version of "Piel Canela" for Joey Records. Shortly after that, Reyes would pass away.

"We were together for many years until he passed away in 1988," Don Lupe said. "We were together as musicians for around 29 to 30 years."

Don Lupe now resides in South Bend, Indiana with his longtime wife of many years and his close family. He still plays the accordion in a band he has formed with his sons. Don Lupe plays the squeezebox as strong as ever, incredibly youthful for a man who is now 82 years old. It seems that at this point in time, Don Lupe could potentially be the oldest active norteño accordionist still playing in the world. He keeps in touch with his longtime musician friends like accordionist Ramon Ayala, who he regularly talks to on the phone and meets up with when Ayala visits Indiana. When he's not playing with his sons, he gives accordion lessons to his students and introduces younger generations to his style of music. It's been 21 years since he's recorded for a label but it gives Don Lupe a lot of joy that many people are using the internet to bring attention to older musicians such as himself. One of his accordion students, Santa Rosa native Robert Rodriguez, has worked towards uploading many of Don Lupe's most famous tunes on YouTube. Don Lupe feels very gracious that his family, friends, students and fans are helping keep his music alive.

"He is to this day, very, very serious about music and he feels that it is a very important part of our culture and our contribution to society," said Robert Rodriguez. "These very songs that [Don Lupe] gave life to, are now coming back to return that life to him."


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

La Historia de Esteban Jordan (Entry 5) - Jazz Covers

These are two of my all time favorite Jordan videos. Similar to what I mentioned in a previous Caballero post, you're also not going to find many professionally shot videos on Jordan. But I'm really glad we have these, to capture why Jordan was a big influence and inspiration to so many guys like Guzman, Caballero, Yanez, and Castillo. Hermes filmed this live Jordan performance, and it seemed to have aired on a TV show and was released on DVD (limited? to a select few?). Where did this TV show air (which includes an interview with Jordan, Castillo, and Jordan's sons) and where did this DVD get sold? I have no idea but I really would love to know. Anyways, after Jordan passed away, these videos were uploaded by Gilbert Reyes, a Harlingen native that works with Hohner so I should probably contact him.

Jordan considered himself a jazz artist. In some interviews he did during the course of his career, he expressed frustration at not doing as much jazz as he would like. He was able to do jazz, blues, and totally experimental accordion licks during his conjunto music. He was a total maestro at what he accomplished as a musician.  Here he is doing two jazz standards on the button diatonic accordion - "Summertime" and George Benson's "Clockwise". Really fantastic videos that captured Jordan's greatness. Also, the drummer to the video is Juanito Castillo, Jordan's accordion protege, a kid who can go on to become one of the best accordionists ever. The third video here is a TV recording of this same event.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Peter Torgerson Busted

Lottery winner and memorable KRGV personality Peter Torgerson has been arrested for a DWI charge. Here is the full story from KRGV's rival KGBT station. 
Harlingen Police arrested a former Valley news anchor for driving while intoxicated early Thursday morning. 
Officers responded to the 3200 block of Treasure Hills Boulevard at 2:20 a.m., in reference to a car accident. 
When they arrived, they found a blue 2006 Porsche Cayenne, driven by Peter Torgerson, 56, that had struck a parked car. 
The officer noticed Torgerson had blood shoot eyes, slurred speech, poor balance, and the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. 
He submitted Torgerson to a field sobrierity test, which he failed. 
The officer arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. 
Torgerson refused to take a breathylizer test. 
He faced a judge Thursday morning and was issued a $500 bond. 
Torgerson was a longtime television anchor for the 5 p.m. evening news at KRGV. 
He quit in 1999 after winning the $37 million dollar Texas Lottery, along with a friend. 
Both men chose the cash option and split more than $19 million between them.
I wrote about Torgerson before on here. By the looks of his photograph, it looks like he's been enjoying the  the good life. Probably partying at South Padre Island. At least he he didn't get pulled over at a strip club parking lot with two women like Jon Jones.

Frankie Caballero in San Perlita, TX

Jazzy and creative, with Caballero you're usually not going to find him in professionally shot videos or anything of that sort. You're going to find small glimpses of him at a house, outdoors, or at a local cantina being recorded by a friends cell phone camera. Just raw shot video footage of Caballero being great for the niche audience that really digs his artistry. As the years pass and we get older, one thing we can count on is Caballero being a unique individual and musician in the Valley. What a life he's had. 

R. Bruce Tharpe now controls the National Wrestling Alliance

This is fascinating news for professional wrestling fans of the Rio Grande Valley. IWF promoter and Brownsville lawyer R. Bruce Tharpe looks to have now taken over the National Wrestling Alliance. Here's the initial report from Dave Meltzer:
Those who stated that the lawsuit filed by former Championship Wrestling from Florida ring announcer and now Brownsville, TX, attorney Bruce Tharpe was a way to garner control of the NWA were right. But those who predicted he had no case appear to have been wrong. 
The lawsuit was settled this week, and as part of the settlement, the NWA name and intellectual property has been transfered from Pro Wrestling Organization, LLC, headed by Bob Trobich, to a new company headed by Tharpe. Trobich had resigned as head of the NWA as a result of the suit, which charged the NWA as committing insurance fraud by having insurance for shows that would draw 100 fans or less when many shows drew more tha that. Tharpe claimed the NWA was able to garner new members by the promise of having their house shows insured if they joined. 
Trobich appears to be the only major player out as the other members of the board will stay on with the new company headed by Tharpe.
Hopefully this will be a positive for the local wrestling community here in the Valley. Lately, it seems that Tharpe has only been running shows out of the Cameron County market, I would like to see him have shows throughout the Valley in the near future. When IWF was on television in the past, it wasn't the greatest pro wrestling show by any means. I was critical of some stuff here and there, but it felt like an actual professional wrestling show with actual veteran workers and I really appreciated the entertainment they brought me on the weekends. The McAllen promotion Wrestling Revolution doesn't feel like a pro wrestling show to me. Tharpe has a much better and deeper understanding of professional wrestling than the Wrestling Revolution crew. Tharpe grew up in the business, he was around when Florida wrestling was at its peak, he refereed and worked as a ring announcer around guys like Terry Funk and Dusty Rhodes. You can ask Tharpe about Eddie Graham's booking and promoting in the Florida territory and he'll be able to discuss it with you from an insiders point of view since he worked under Graham. So at the very least, Tharpe "gets" wrestling better than some 25 year old kids pretending to wrestle in McAllen on 17th street. No offense to the WR crew, they seem like nice people and they seem like they're having a lot of fun (and I know they have a lot of supporters), but I'll take Tharpe (and the great Golden King) over them any day of the week. Also, Tharpe understands how important lucha libre is to a market like this (he's brought up many luchadores before, including El Hijo Del Santo, whose iconic "tope de cristo" was replayed many times during Tharpe's IWF show run).

So will Colt Cabana be making another appearance soon to defend his NWA crown? Will Tharpe be running more in the McAllen market? Will we be seeing more of the Golden King, who I think is probably the best worker here? I just hope this means more solid, quality professional wrestling for all of us here in the Valley. Huge congratulations to R. Bruce Tharpe, I wish him the best of luck in handling the NWA. Genuinely happy for Mr. Tharpe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Interesting eBay Auction with McAllen-based records.

Check out this auction I stumbled on last night. It's for a 45 record by The Headstones. It features "Bad Day Blues" and "My Kind of Girl", and after only three bids, it's going for $173.49! That's pretty impressive and I wonder how high it'll go. This reminds of the time that that a vinyl of Christopher and The Souls went up for $1225! This is one of the songs on the 45.


This user also has Playboys of Edinburg (which is already up to $56.00 after six bids), Cruisers, Simon Reyes & The Outerlimits, Noe Pro, Paulino Bernal, Cristo Salinas, Gabino Suarez y Los Relampagos, Mario Saenz, Wally Gonzalez, Dueto Estrella, Cornelio Reyna, Freddie Fender and Los Tremendos Gavilanes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

El Rincon Del Diablo

In the 1950's and 60's, there was an area near Benitez in East Donna, this area was known as "El Rincon Del Diablo". It was a notorious place, 13 bars all lined up one right next to the other in a circle. It was a hot night spot, every weekend it was packed by men in cowboy boots (with half their pant tucked into their right boot) and by cantineras. They would bar hop and dance the night away, listening to loud conjunto music in these bars made out of wood (with screen doors and open windows for ventilation). Lots of local musicians would stop by here and play loudly in "El Rincon Del Diablo". One of the most well known bars here was named "Chupi, Chupi", what a name!

This place was also known for having crime on a regular basis. Fights would regularly take place for a variety of reasons, including family honor, women, money, territorial reasons, and just because they were borrachos. If you were looking for a prostitute, this is where you would go to find one.

The area where this place was located is now a Donna city park, the memories of sleaziness, good beer, even better fights and loud blasting conjunto music are long gone. But to those that were there, "El Rincon Del Diablo" still holds a unique place in their hearts.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Valley Mart

My dad bought this truck for my older brother in the mid-1980's from the Valley Mart in Weslaco. My older brother and I grew up playing with it throughout our childhood. I snapped a photo of it this past Saturday when I was visiting my dad in Weslaco, I was happy to see that he still had it saved in his storage room.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pedro Ayala

I recently had the chance to talk to Emilio Ayala (the son of Pedro Ayala) and Esperanza Benitez Ayala (widow of Pedro Ayala). I went to go visit them at their home in Donna, they had a so much great Pedro Ayala items that they showed me. I had a great time talking about the history of Pedro's work, along with the history of conjunto music. Both Emilio (who used to play bass for Los Hermanos Ayala) and Esperanza have a level of music knowledge that is amazing. I had a wonderful time talking to them, and I hope to continue talking with them about conjunto music. 

One thing that Emilio showed me that I thought was really neat was this letter that his father received. As you can see, it is actually signed by President Ronald Reagan. Check out the letter.

Here is an article I wrote about Pedro Ayala y Los Hermanos Ayala for the May 6, 2012 edition of The Monitor. 


When discussing the history of Texas conjunto and Tejano music, Pedro Ayala is considered to be one of its three pioneers. Along with Santiago Jiménez and Narciso Martínez, Ayala is credited with being one of the main figures in the early days of recorded conjunto music.

"All three of them had their own style," said Emilio Ayala, son of Pedro Ayala. "My dad actually drifted more into the progressive side, although they didn't call it progressive at the time."

Pedro Ayala was born to Emilio and Carlota Ayala on June 29, 1911 in General Terán, Nuevo León. Pedro's father was actually named Emilio Ayala Ayala, as he came from two families that had the last name Ayala. Pedro was born into a musical family, his father was an accordionist, guitarist and clarinet player. Pedro's siblings would include Ramiro (guitarist and banjo player), Santiago (drummer), Felipa (violinist), and Francisco (accordionist, guitarist and clarinet player). Pedro would first learn how to play the drums when he was only 6 years old.

"My father-in-law would play with Los Montañeses Del Alamo, so they would lift Pedro on a horse there and he would play the snare drums with them," said Esperanza Benitez Ayala, Pedro's widow, in Spanish.

When Pedro was 8 years old, the Ayala family would make its move to the Rio Grande Valley in 1919. They ended up establishing permanent residence in Donna. Thanks to his older brother Francisco, Pedro would go on to play the guitar next and then eventually pick up the accordion. He would start playing music professionally in the 1920's along with his brother Francisco. After the sudden death of Francisco in 1928, Pedro started making a name for himself as an accordionist in the 1930's. Pedro would marry the love of his life, Esperanza Benitez at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Donna on February 3, 1935. Midnight Serenade (which featured Pedro's brother-in-law Jesus Herrera) was the band that performed at the dance after the wedding. They would have seven children: Anita, Elia, Emilio, Maria Magdalena, Maria Olga, Pedro Jr., and Ramon.

During the late 1930's, Pedro composed several pieces including a polka titled "La Curva" that he recorded around 1938-39. Pedro would go on to join Midnight Serenade as a guitarist and use this experience to get more familiar with orchestras.

In 1947, Pedro started recording for Mira Records, a record company headed by Arnaldo Ramirez. The tunes he recorded for Mira include "La Burrita", "La Pajarera", and "Se Me Atasco Mi Carro" (a composition by Pedro that was named by Ramirez). Emilio informs us that the latter is a redova that has been stolen from his father and renamed "El Porron" without crediting his father for the composition. While recording for Mira, Ramirez named them Pedro Ayala y su Conjunto del Rio. Within the next year, Arnaldo Ramirez would form Discos Falcón and start recording in Mission, TX. Pedro teamed up with his cousin-in-law Eugenio Gutierrez and his orchestra to record the dazzling hit "El Naranjal". It was named that due to a major freeze in the winter of 1948-49 that destroyed a large percentage of oranges in Texas. This recording of "El Naranjal" was significant because it marked Pedro as the first person to introduce the button accordion to an orchestra.

"Back then the accordion was not appreciated much, it was kind of considered a low-level instrument," Emilio said. "That would worry him very much, so little by little, he started raising the value of the accordion."

After becoming the house accordionist for Falcón, Ramirez gave him the moniker that everyone remembers to this day - "El Monarca Del Acordeon". As a well-respected studio musician for Falcón, Ramirez (aka Mr. Falcón) trusted Pedro to accompany many different artists throughout his long tenure there.

"He accompanied Juanita Garcia, Luis Pérez Meza, Luis Aguilar, Chelelo, Los Hermanos Yanez, Lydia Mendoza and many more," Esperanza remembers.

Pedro along with legendary guitarist Lorenzo Caballero and the rest of his conjunto would make their television debut in 1953 for a program in Ft. Worth, TX. Later in his career, he would make appearances on "Fanfarria Falcón", "El Valle Alegre Show", "The Domingo Peña Show", and "The Paulino Bernal Show". They would also regularly appear on the radio.

By the early 1950's, the next generation would start playing professionally as Pedro Jr. would start playing the accordion and Ramon would pick up the bajosexto. They made their first recording as Los Hermanos Ayala for Bronco Records (a subsidiary of Falcón) in 1959. While they were their own conjunto with their own recordings, they would also accompany their father on both recordings and live performances. By the early 1960's, they would be joined by their electric bass playing little brother Emilio. So by then all three brothers were making a name for themselves in the conjunto world.

All throughout the 1950's and 60's, Pedro Sr. would go on to record for Bego, Falcón, Ideal, Bernal, Discolando, RyN, Pato and Oro. He would often play at churches as well, performing for different types of ceremonies. Ayala was in high demand due to being one of the greatest ever at composing valses, polkas, redovas, and for being a master on the accordion.

During the peak of their popularity, Pedro Sr. and his sons were able to bring their high quality music to people all over the U.S. and Mexico. Even though they were highly successful musicians, Pedro Sr. and his family were still working the fields.

"They would play in the nights and in the weekends, but they would work in the fields," Emilio said. "It was passed along to us."

It was passed along to them the same way the father of Pedro Sr. had passed it along to him many years ago. The beautiful music of South Texas was largely created by dignified working class musicians, working hard on the stage and on the fields.

"We saw Valerio Longoria, Tony De La Rosa, Ernesto Guerra and so many others picking cherries with us in Shelby, Michigan," remembers Esperanza.

Many people note that Pedro Sr. was one of the most honest and straight forward artists in conjunto. Emilio still remembers a great story of his dad actually returning back a portion of his pay to the promoter to apologize for being a little late to a show due to car troubles in 1966. He would help fellow musicians repair their accordions, which he learned how to do from his father. Pedro Sr. actually let Los Donneños and Los Alegres de Terán use his accordion to record their first records here. Pedro Sr. was also someone who would often acknowledge forgotten musicians of his era. When Manuel H. Peña interviewed him for his book, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of Working-Class Music, Ayala made sure to reference Arnulfo Olivo, a forgotten South Texas conjunto pioneer that Ayala considered to be a very talented composer and accordionist.

"[Arnulfo] was a great friend [of Pedro Sr.], he was a very good musician, but he never recorded," Emilio said. "My dad would try to persuade him to record, but he didn't want to."

In the 1970's Los Hermanos Ayala continued to record for Falcón as they collaborated with San Benito's Freddie Fender for songs like "Lagrimas Negras" and "Nuestro Juramento". Then in 1978, Los Hermanos Ayala recorded an awe-inspiring funky conjunto version of the Star Wars theme that they titled "Guerra De Las Galaxias". That same year, Pedro Sr. was invited by the Smithsonian institute to be a part of their Folklife Festival.

The year of 1982 was a big one for "El Monarca Del Acordeon". He was a part of a tour that was put together by the National Council for Traditional Arts, which is based out of Washington, D.C. He was also inducted into Tejano-Conjunto Hall of Fame and invited to perform at the first ever Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. He would go on to perform at that annual festival throughout the decade. One of his greatest honors occurred in 1988, as he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. As an invitee of the Smithsonian Institute, he had the great honor of performing in Washington, D.C.

After such an exciting decade in the 1980's, Pedro Ayala Sr. would pass away on December 1, 1990 at the age of 79. One thing the Ayala family would love to create to honor him is a conjunto and Tejano orchestra music festival in Donna. Emilio hopes to get the assistance of representatives and local museums to help make this event possible.

"Tejano music is hurting. We have this movement that we want to pick it up and we don't want to let it die," Emilio said. "What we need to do is the same thing they do in San Benito [for Narciso Martínez] but do it [in Donna for Pedro Ayala Sr.] and hopefully they'll do it in San Antonio for Santiago Jiménez Sr."

All three Ayala brothers would continue playing together until the death of Pedro Jr. on June 30, 2007 at the young age of 62. Ramon and Emilio still play together and jam out with local musicians like Joe Mora, Mel Villarreal, and Tony Torres. Both surviving hermanos cherish the wonderful times they had with their father and brother, both in their musical and personal lives. The family is very happy that Pedro Sr. was honored by being inducted into both San Benito's Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame (2003) and Alice's Tejano Roots Hall of Fame (2004). The musical tradition has continued with the next generation of Ayala family members like Chris Rodriguez of Tejano Highway 281.

"My grandfather is and always will be my greatest inspiration," Chris Rodriguez said.

Now at 90 years old, Esperanza still has an amazing mind for detail. She's able to remember so many names, songs, faces and moments that have touched her during her lifetime. Thanks to her, a large part of Valley and conjunto history is still alive, ready to be relived and cherished.

"[Pedro Sr.] lived such a happy life, always had a smile on his face and would always treat everyone with respect and help them out in any way he could," Esperanza said. "Those were such beautiful times."


Thursday, May 3, 2012

RIP Cali Carranza

Some sad news, local Pharr musician Cali Carranza passed away on Tuesday night. Amy Nichol Smith has the details over at The Monitor. My condolences to all his family, friends and his musical peers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The 1955 Weslaco Panthers

When I was young, I would be really excited to watch Dave Brown's Friday night broadcast on KRGV. I would be excited to see the high school football highlights and hope that the PSJA teams did well. I found this video, it looks like it was produced by the Weslaco school station that aires on channel 17. I really liked it, just a simple, nice video about Weslaco's 1955 season, told through newspaper clippings. Also, the video puts Bobby Lackey over as quite the high school player that year. If you would like to read more about this season of the Weslaco Panthers, I would recommend this article.

Another Wally Gonzalez?

I was recently visiting the graves of family members that have passed away at the Palm Valley Memorial Gardens cemetery with my aunt. While we were there, my aunt pointing out something she thought would be of interest to me. She showed me a large beautiful tombstone of a man named Wally Gonzalez. This peculiar tombstone had a high quality engraving of a Hohner Corona II accordion. She remarked that this is where the famous Wally Gonzalez was buried. I tilted my head to the side and I kindly corrected her, "the" Wally Gonzalez (whose last name is also sometimes spelled Gonzales) is still alive, he recently celebrated his wedding anniversary. Also, this deceased Wally passed away in 2005, "the" Wally has been in the public eye throughout this entire time (including being featured in a lovely article by Crystal Olvera). I'm now wondering, who is this Wally Gonzalez? Is he a talented accordionist that has been overshadowed by the much more successful Wally? Is he someone whos story should be told and highlighted?

This reminds me of a two things I've been thinking about lately. The first being two people that share a name and participate in music genres that are perceived as being similar to one another. There are two Ramon Ayala's in the Rio Grande Valley, one in Hidalgo (although he is originally from Mexico) and one in Donna. It's lead to some confusion and now one of them is much more famous than the other. The first Ramon Ayala was from East Donna, the son of the legendary Pedro Ayala. He was also a bajo sexto player for the great conjunto act Los Hermanos Ayala. The other Ramon Ayala is the famous accordionist, but he is credited with the birth name of Rey Reyna III on Wikipedia, as well as being credited with another name, Ramon Cobarrubias (which was also the name of his father). So whether it's Rey or Ramon as his first name, the thing that cannot be denied is that his actual last name is not Ayala. The rumor, according to a good buddy of mine, is that Paulino Bernal insisted on the name change after he discovered the young accordionist from the Cobarrubias family. So it's a situation that has unfortunately made one Ramon Ayala (East Donna's great conjunto bajo sexto player) less known than the other Ramon Ayala (the great Norteño accordionist).

The second thing I thought of, more in a joking matter, is that maybe he could be an imposter Wally, which has happened in other entertainment avenues. There have been bizzare cases where some people conned their family, friends or reporters into believing that they were famous pro wrestlers. David Bixenspan wrote a great article about this phenomenon of pro wrestling imposters. Both pro wrestling and conjunto have a niche following, so could it be possible that "this" Wally was trying to pass himself of as "the" Wally? I thought about it but I can't see it being too likely. Wally is too well known to conjunto fans and has such a memorable appearance. So many people here in the Valley have heard his iconic "Que Me Entierren en Wal-Mart", his amusing satire on obsessive consumerism and dealing with lack of affection/attention during a long time marriage. In the song, he concludes with the the morbid and animated idea of wanting to be buried in Wal-Mart, so at least that way, he could be in his wife's presence.

So who is this other accordionist Wally Gonzalez that passed away in 2005? Hopefully, I'll find out who he is and we'll all find out together.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vintage TV Footage - Entry # 6 - McAllen High School (1980's)

Time machines have not been invented yet but here's the next best thing if you want to see what all the cool McAllen kids were doing in 1980's. They were shooting videos for KMAC, their broadcast television class in McAllen High School and goofing off in videos that are the epitome of cheesy and corny. And I love cheesy and corny.

Everytime you wince, take a shot. You'll be drunk before the video is over. 

A more serious video from our good friend. 

Now back to more fun. The following videos will make your eyes roll, make you tilt your head with one eye close, and make you laugh (not sure whether you will be laughing genuinely, ironically, sarcastically or with pity). 

Let's hope our good uploading friend puts up more of his great videos on YouTube. Thanks. 

Brownsville's George Gavito recalling the infamous Constanzo and Aldrete cult case.

Here's a short documentary with Brownsville's former Deputy Sheriff George Gavito. He discusses the infamous case of cult leaders Sara Aldrete (alumni of Brownsville High School and Texas Southmost College) and Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo. Not sure why but George refers to the most famous victim of this case as "John". His actual name is Mark J. Kilroy, and it is common knowledge to people who were around during the height of this case.

If you're not familiar with the case, it deals with narcotics, Juan Benitez Ayala, brujeria, kidnapping, cannibalism, superstition, cultism, human sacrifices, a mass graveyard, etc. The documentary footage of the actual ranch is deeply fascinating. Watch the video but I must warn you that it contains some gruesome images.

Rituales de Sangre (2007)

A decent portion of the audience for this blog comes for the music. So I imagine a few of you probably want to hear this tale in corrido form, correct? Lucky for you, Los Suspiros de Salamanca created this cancion back in 1989. It details the story of this unforgettable event in South Texas-Northern Mexico history. The song became a hit here in South Texas according to this newspaper article. Here is "Trajedia En Matamoros".

If you want to see another documentary based on this and you know Spanish, you can watch this.

Hank Ayala

Earlier this week, I was searching for photos of Pedro Ayala and Los Hermanos Ayala when I ran into this blogpost. The blog oddly uses the word white even though the members of the group are Henry Ayala, Eddie Ramirez, and Manuel Peña (one of the greatest Tejano and conjunto historians we have today). They were a trio from Weslaco named Hank Ayala and The Matadors. There seems to be a lot of good information in Peña's book and on this site about them. Neat tune from Weslaco.

Little Joe y La Familia

Festiva editor Brandon Garcia hooked me up with interviewing Little Joe a few days ago. It was a great opportunity, Joe and I talked about a wide variety of topics. This article will be coming out in today's Festiva in The Monitor. While technically Little Joe isn't from the Valley, he's performed here so many times and is so much a part of the local culture that I shall deem him an honorary Valley citizen. Here's the article:


On Saturday night, Little Joe y La Familia will headline a Tejano showcase that will also feature Jimmy Edwards, Joe Bravo, Aviso Band and Lucky Joe. The show, which will take place at the Pharr Events Center, will be a celebration of Little Joe's 50 years in the music industry. The five-time Grammy Award winner has lived a legendary career that has made him one of the most beloved figures in Tejano music.

Joe Hernandez grew up in a working class home in Temple, Texas. As he was growing up, Joe would listen to country music on the radio, which would become an influence on his music. Spanish music on the radio was only found at very early hours.

"There was one little Spanish music program here in Taylor, which is about 30 miles from Temple, and we only got about 30 minutes from 4:30 in the morning to 5:00," Joe said. "I only heard it cause my dad would get up to go to work and turn the radio on."

Joe goes on to credit his father and his compadres for teaching him many Mexican songs during his youth.

Little Joe and the Latinaires first started recording professionally for Corona Records in San Antonio in the early 1960's. After that, they would go on to tour throughout Texas and make their first stop here in the Valley.

"Los bailes grandes brother, back in the 60's," remembers Joe when asked about his first tour to the Valley. "I'm just amazed how the people in the Valley have been so kind to me."

Chicano Activist

As the 1970's emerged, Joe would go on to change the name of the band to Little Joe y La Familia. Joe moved to California in the 1970's and experienced an awakening in the Bay Area. He got to meet and hang out with musicians from all over the world. He felt a change was needed, both in name and style.

"So Latinaires sounded dated, and I wanted something different. And I wanted to change the music as well. So that's how I came up with the name La Familia, and the big change was when I recorded 'Las Nubes'. I used the symphony strings from the ballad symphony. The first time that I know of any Chicano band using symphony strings for recording. I just continued to grow with that."

The song "Las Nubes" would become a turning point in the career of Little Joe y La Familia. The song would strike a chord with farm workers and working class families, it would soon become an anthem for their cause. The song would go on to make Little Joe an icon in Chicano culture.

"The album that contains "Las Nubes", along with others, but more so that one, is still used in the Chicano studies," Joe said proudly. "They use the album and of course, the United Farm Workers picked up the song "Las Nubes" as their marching song. Which is still hailed as that today."

He would eventually become friends with Cesar Chavez and become a major figure in the civil rights movement.

"When I started touring California and became aware of all that was happening, I also discovered the United Farm Workers movement. Started playing benefit concerts for the union and I met Cesar Chavez. Of course, me being a cotton picker myself, I understood what the farm worker plight was about. I immediately wanted to do all I could to help."

Joe is still close with the movement and plans to perform in Bakersfield, California for the 50th year anniversary of the formation of the union in June. He is grateful that he was able to become close with the family of Chavez and with Dolores Huerta (co-founder of UFW). He is also incredibly touched about a recent honor that was bestowed upon him.

"They asked if I cared to be honorary co-chairman, I just don't feel I warrant that kind of respect or title," Joe said. "Naturally I can't refuse that, but that's something I just don't feel I earned. There are many people that are more deserving of that."

Along with being a part of the farm workers movement, Joe would also shed light on racism, police brutality and other serious causes that affected minorities in America. Now in 2012, Little Joe is still passionate about his beliefs and doing his best to get his message across. Earlier this month, Joe performed in Arizona and had a lot to say about the recent ban of Mexican-American studies there.

"There is no way you can teach American history without teaching Chicano history because we are very, very much a part of the fabric that America history is about," Joe said passionately. "But for those that don't understand or care about that, our kids are being denied. But not just our kids but all kids, all American kids, are being denied the true history of American history, which includes the Mexican-American experience. This country could not be what it is without the Mexican-American and Chicano Experience, and it's just a damn shame that politicians have now ousted that curriculum."

Joe has always been a leader to causes such as these and is hoping that the youth of America stands up for their right in learning a multicultural history.

"What students could do and should do is demand that [Mexican-American] history is taught," Joe said. "You know, for a while they wanted to erase the name of Cesar Chavez from the history books, and that's bull."

As for the future, Joe hopes that the youth of America learns about their roots and where they came from.

"We should take pride in who we are, what we've done and what we want to accomplish in the future."

La Musica

As a Tejano legend, Joe feels he owes a lot of credit to his brothers, Rocky and Johnny. Joe singing with his brothers was always an electrifying experience to anyone that witnessed it.

"They are my heroes," said Joe emotionally. "It was a natural combination. When you work together like we did, you just know what you're going to do next. It wasn't just work, it was fun and it was a big, big important part of my career."

While Little Joe falls under the label of "Tejano orquesta" and is most known for "Las Nubes" and "Borrachera", he experiments with soul, funk, Latin jazz, rock, country, and conjunto. A song of his called "Anna" from the album "Total" is one of the most revolutionary and experimental pieces of Tejano music ever, it's an amazing funk/jazz/orquesta masterpiece that is mind-blowing. Throughout his career, Joe's also been someone who would frequently collaborate with fellow legendary musicians spanning many different genres. Recordings of Little Joe can be found of him performing with legends like Flaco Jimenez, Roberto Pulido, Esteban Jordan, Willie Nelson, Valerio Longoria and Luis Gasca. Music has brought Joe closer with his musical peers and he hopes his audience will experience that same emotional satisfaction from his live shows.

"Well hopefully they'll have a lot of fun, and experience the diversity of music, the different genres and styles," said Joe about new fans attending his show. "Music is the best way we can communicate our feelings to one another, that's our soul coming through our music and this is the best way we can reach one another's soul. Most of all, have a good time, that's what the music is about. Hopefully we can also learn from it and bring us all together with more harmony and love for one another."

While Joe is currently looking at new material, he feels that it's hard to find songs that will capture the magic of Tejano classics.

"I like the classics, some of those old beautiful songs, to the young generation they are new and I just feel that we don't have any writers like the old days that wrote all those beautiful songs."

Last month, Joe received a star at the Palm Springs "Walk of Stars". It was a happy occasion for Joe, something that he would like to share with his longtime fanbase.

"The star doesn't belong to just Little Joe y La Familia, it belongs to everyone that has supported my music and everything that I've done."

To people who are just getting into Little Joe's music, he would recommend listening to his old albums and for them to work their way up to his latest work. To his older fanbase that has been with him throughout the decades, he hopes they continue enjoying life.

"Keep enjoying life and if music is part of your daily medicine that makes you want to get up and keep going, by all means, turn up the volume on the Little Joe CD!"


This is the song I referenced in the article, what a masterpiece: