Friday, April 27, 2012

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: