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."
Videos Courtesy of Robert Rodriguez.
For more videos go to Robert Rodriguez's YouTube account.