Tuesday, October 23, 2012
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?"