Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Monitor: Simon Reyes


My second article for The Monitor was published on February 19th, and it dealt with the life of Simon Reyes. I couldn't have written this article without the great help and kindness shown to me by Rudy Reyes. All the help, information and photos from Rudy is greatly appreciated. Thanks. Here is my article:

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As a young child living in Weslaco, it was obvious what Simon Reyes intended to do with his life. The son of Simon Sr. and Juanita Reyes, he would grow up having a passion for music. He was influenced by his grandfather, a full time musician, early in his young childhood. While he was still in elementary school in the mid-1950's, he made his television debut on KRGV's "The Moulton 'Ty' Cobb Show". This afternoon television program was produced at KRGV studios in Weslaco and aired all across the Rio Grande Valley on the Channel 5 station.

"He would paint fake sideburns and pretend to play a guitar without strings while he sang 'Hound Dog'," recalls Rudy Reyes, younger brother of Simon. "He would also dance like Elvis and would perform this way on that TV show."

Like various other talented musicians, he never completed school and would eventually drop out in his Sophomore year. Music was what he was most interested in.

"He never really had a job, music was [Simon's] life," Rudy said. "Once he dropped out, he tried to organize himself around musicians."

His first band was named Simon Reyes and The Vikings. That name was eventually changed to being Simon Reyes and The Outlerlimits, which led to his two most well known recordings.

"He cut his first [45] record 'My Baby Hurts Me' and 'Mistake Number Three' and it gave him a bit of popularity."

Those two songs, original compositions by Simon Reyes, were recorded at McAllen's Pharaoh Records in the mid 1960's at a time when they were recording a lot of local popular music from other Valley bands such as Christopher and The Souls, The Playboys of Edinburg, The Headstones and The Cavaliers. The notoriety he gained from those two songs helped him get many opportunities to perform all across the Valley.

He would go on to make another television appearance, this time on KRGV's "El Valle Alegre Show". This show was also shot in Weslaco and would showcase local bands from various different genres.

"Just about everyone knew about him back then because they would hear his songs on the radio. Above everything else, his music and his singing was admired by a lot of people here in the Valley, especially in Weslaco, his hometown. Another thing that had to do with his popularity was his charisma."

Simon would eventually head towards Galveston, Houston and New Orleans to continue his unique musical journey. He started up a new band called The Gypsies and that's where he got some help from an old musician friend of his from San Benito.

"He became very good friends with Freddy Fender when he was just getting going here in the Valley," reflects Rudy Reyes. "When [Simon] was in New Orleans, Freddy Fender would offer him some spots where he used to play but couldn't play that night and gave [those gigs] to Simon. So him and Simon became really good friends."

His final band was called Simon Reyes and the Bourbon Street Bums. With this group he recorded another one of his most well known compositions, "Mama, Mama" (both English and Spanish versions), for Teardrop Records.

Along with being the frontman and leader to those bands, he also went on the road to play for the band of a South Texas conjunto legend. He toured California and the Southwest with accordionist Ruben Vela, a grand musician who was affectionately known as the "King of the Dance Hall Sound."

Unfortunately on November of 1973, Simon Reyes was found dead a few blocks near his home in Weslaco due to heroin overdose. We are almost thirty years removed from when he passed away, but he still has a large number of family, friends and fans that fondly remember his musical talents, his charisma and his personality.

"Broken Promise", a local independent feature length film by Eddie Howell, has a character that is based and named after Simon Reyes. This film about a struggling South Texas musician showcases well known musicians Carlos Guzman, Augustin Ramirez, and Sunny Ozuna in their line up of stars. The actor who portrayed "Simon Reyes" in the film was Michael Silva, son of Balde Silva from the 1970's Rio Grande Valley band Toby Beau. Also, the soundtrack of the film features the Simon Reyes classic "Mistake Number Three".

The opening screening of this film in October of 2010 lead the City of Weslaco to show their enthusiasm for Simon Reyes. On October 3rd, 2010, the City of Weslaco declared that day "Simon Reyes Day" and awarded his family the key to the city and a plaque that reads, "Simon Reyes. Rio Grande Valley Rock and Roll Legend."

Since that day, Rudy has made it an annual tradition to celebrate that life and career of his brother every October. He has family, friends, and musicians over at his place as they pay tribute to Simon Reyes. Rudy is always welcoming new people to join him for this special tradition.

"Dynamic, complex, talented, and a one of a kind person," Rudy says about his older brother. "His life was so interesting."

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This is a listing that Rudy provided me with of the songs that Simon Reyes recorded. 

1. Broken Hearted Fool (Simon Reyes) 
2. I'm A Hog For You Baby (Simon Reyes) 
3. Make Believe (Simon Reyes) 
4. Happy Song (Simon Reyes) 
5. My Baby Hurts Me (Simon Reyes) 
6. Mistake Number Three (Simon Reyes) 
7. People Laugh (Simon Reyes) 
8. Caminito, Caminito (Simon Reyes) 
9. Walking in the Rain (Simon Reyes) 
10. I'm Gonna Love You Anyway (Simon Reyes) 
11. Mama, Mama (Spanish) (Simon Reyes)  
12. Mama, Mama (English) (Simon Reyes) 
13. What Now My Love (cover) 
14. Amor De La Calle (Simon Reyes) 
15. The Pregnant Cow (Simon Reyes) 
16. El Coyote (cover) 
17. La Barca (cover) 
18. Tejano Enamorado (cover) 
19. La Bola Negra (cover) 
20. Just By Touching Your Hand (Simon Reyes)

Here are the two songs that Simon Reyes is most associated with. Enjoy the music!



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nodrog's Documents (Entry 3)


This totally slipped my mind, I meant to post this in 2011 but I totally forgot about it. This is the third part of a series that began here and was followed up here. This is the last document I have of Nodrog and Outer Dimensional Forces group in Weslaco, TX. This has some illustrations and it is fascinating to read if you're interested in this unique character in Valley history.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

R. Bruce Tharpe is suing the National Wrestling Alliance.

R. Bruce Tharpe with former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk

There is something that I've always found interesting about R. Bruce Tharpe. Here's a guy that is one of the most well known lawyers of the Rio Grande Valley. He has ads airing on TV and I'm sure he gets plenty of business. So it's surprising to me that he has enough time to run a professional wrestling organization.

It was even more amazing in the early 2000's where he juggled being an attorney, a pro wrestling promoter, a TV show host, a TV announcer, and even being a part-time pro wrestler! There was even a point where he was in the main event storyline that featured brujeria and him winning the tag team championships! He's even an avid aficionado that would write in letters to Dave Meltzer's underground Wrestling Observer Newsletter and talk passionately online about how he preferred the in-ring "workrate" of ECW over WWF and WCW in the late 1990's.


One of his attorney ads.

He's had a long career in professional wrestling, you can find some of his stories, photos and memories over at his website, RBTharpe.com. For those not familiar with South Texas' IWF, this is a highlight video of his promotion in the early 2000's, it's set to Queen's "We Are The Champions".



The man pretending to have a gun and who grabs another man by the testicles to the delight of everyone is the great Golden King. This chubby Rio Grande Valley grappler has great schtick and bumps to the mat harder than most of the youngsters down here. Whatever happened to him, the self-proclaimed "Idolo de Brownsville"?

Now you have a brief idea of who R. Bruce Tharpe is and of his background. The real reason for this post, is to talk about an interesting story that is happening with R. Bruce Tharpe and the National Wrestling Alliance. Tharpe, who is based out of Brownsville, is accusing this once powerful organization of fraudulent business practices! Mainly of insurance fraud, this news broke at the end of January.

There is some interesting speculation. PWInsider offered the following quote when the news broke:

"As far as why this lawsuit was filed as opposed to handling the matters internally between partners, one source believed it was Tharpe's very public attempt at a coup to force out Trobich and others and gain control of the NWA, in whatever form it still exists in 2012, and run the organization. The same source noted that Tharpe had attempted to get other members to side with him against Trobich and when that didn't happen, they were added to his lawsuit."

Again, we don't know if that is true or not, it's just some speculation from a source of PWInsider. But Tharpe is denying that this is some sort of power play. He has released a statement about all this, which can be found at the Examiner.com. Here is Tharpe's statement:

"When I first became a member of the NWA in October 2011 I did so for all the right reasons and with honorable intentions. Less than three months later I discovered that the NWA was being led by some very unscrupulous people.

I discovered that the Executive Director was an attorney who had numerous grievances filed against him and had admitted in writing that he had lied to the North Carolina State Bar Association in connection with a disciplinary proceeding against him. This attorney had his law license suspended and was placed on probation. These are not allegations made by me, they are contained in documents that are a matter of public record.

As an attorney myself, it sickens me to cross paths with attorneys like the one currently at the helm of the NWA; a person whose misdeeds and untruths tarnish the reputations of honest attorneys like myself. Then I discovered that one of the members of the NWA Board of Directors had numerous arrest on his record for crimes of moral turpitude, and worse; crimes like Sexual Assault, Possession and Sales of Illegal Drugs, Grand Larceny, Forgery, etc.

When I brought these prior arrests to the attention of the Executive Director, he refused to take any action. Are these the types of people that you would want in charge of the NWA? I later determined that other members of the Board were unethical, unscrupulous individuals as well. That is when I started questioning the validity of the insurance policy that purports to protect NWA members from premises liability claims filed at wrestling events that they promote.

When myself and others began to question the validity of the insurance, we were threatened with $1000 fines and other disciplinary action in an attempt to intimidate us. This is when I decided to file the lawsuit in an effort to find out the truth regarding the insurance policy and we are currently conducting discovery regarding this issue.

The truth is that in the last six years, under the direction of the current Executive Director and Board of Directors, the NWA has gone nowhere and has little respect in the wrestling world. The NWA has many members who produce their own local television, using substandard talent, that does nothing but devalue the brand. The NWA does not have a written business plan, nor does it operate as profit generating business. How can any business operate without a written, well thought-out business plan? I am determined to change that.

We have offered the existing Executive Director and Board the opportunity to resign with dignity, and to allow a new regime to take over and take the NWA in a new and better direction. They have chosen to decline our offer and fight this lawsuit, in which they have much to hide. Through this litigation, they will be publicly exposed.

I come from a wrestling family who was closely connected to the original National Wrestling Alliance. My father was a longtime employee of Eddie Graham in the Florida territory and I worked in the Championship Wrestling from Florida Office myself. I hasten to say that if my father, and Sam Muchnick himself were alive today, they would be horrified to see what has become of this once great organization.

I refuse to idly stand by and allow incompetent and unethical businessmen destroy the NWA and that is what part of this lawsuit is about. The other part is to discover the truth about what misdeeds have occurred, and to hold those responsible accountable.

It would be easy for someone to turn the other way and ignore what is going on in the NWA, but it takes courage for people to stand up for what is right.

I am determined to clean up the NWA and do my best to restore its once great image. If it takes a lawsuit to do that, so be it. I strongly believe that the public will eventually see that my intentions are honorable, and that this lawsuit is far from being a "power play." This lawsuit most definitely has merit, and sooner or later, the truth about the individuals currently in control of the NWA will be revealed."

You know this is serious business when the names Eddie Graham and Sam Muchnick are mentioned so passionately. I can't remember the last time the pro wrestling world paid attention and took notice of a story that came out of the Rio Grande Valley. If Mr. Tharpe does indeed take over the NWA, will the Valley area be able to attract a much larger pool of independent pro wrestling talent from across the United States and Mexico? Will Tharpe do a better job at running the NWA than the current management? Will we one day see The Golden King win the NWA Championship and pretend to shoot people with his make believe gun?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Robert Runyon

Recently, I've been exploring the work of Robert Runyon thanks to The Library of Congress. His South Texas photographs are really wonderful, here are some of my favorites.

Armadillo! 
Possum!
Iguana!
Women washing clothes. 
Las nubes. 
This iguana looks so awesome.
Fair.
Brownsville Street Shot.
Another Brownsville Street Shot.
A sheriff convention here in South Texas. 
Harlingen lighthouse. 
Joe Guerrero of the Rio Grande Snake Farm!

Now these next four photographs are of U.S. Officials getting rid of alcohol in Brownsville, TX at the start of prohibition. 




Friday, February 3, 2012

The Monitor - Ramiro Cavazos

Photo Credit - Monikapolitan

I had the pleasure of writing an article for The Monitor that was published on January 29th, 2012. It's a piece on the legendary bajo sexto player of Los Donneños - Ramiro Cavazos. I met up with Cavazos in January at his music shop in South McAllen and had a good little chat with him about his career. His buddy Juanito was there for the conversation too and added a lot of good information about the career of Mr. Cavazos. Very classy and humble individual, Cavazos is a total class act. Here is my article:

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On South 23rd in McAllen, you will find a small charming music shop named RyN Music Store. Upon entering the music shop, you'll see it packed with a varied selection of regional Spanish music and see the walls covered with photographs, posters and even some musical instruments. The first person that is probably going to greet you while entering this business is the legendary Ramiro Cavazos.

Born on February 16, 1927 in Garza Ayala in the state of Nuevo León, he would eventually become a historical figure in regional Spanish music thanks to his success in South Texas. Before Tomas Ortiz and Eugenio Abrego were even named Los Alegres de Terán, he collaborated with them on various platforms in the 1940's and early 1950's in Mexico.

Cavazos eventually found his way over here to the United States, where he met accordionist Mario Montes in Donna, TX. He still fondly recalls the first time he met Mario Montes. Cavazos had moved from Raymondville to Donna in the late 1940's and was riding his bicycle one day when he saw two men playing music. He went up to them and one of the men asked him if he was a musician. Cavazos responded to that man saying he knew how to play the guitar and sing. That man turned out to be Mario Montes thus forming a lifelong friendship and musical partnership.

Cavazos and Montes went on to do their first recordings for the McAllen based Discos Falcon in 1947. These early recordings featured Cavazos on the guitar as opposed to him using the bajo sexto, which he would be more famous for doing in later years. The two men will forever be associated with the name Los Donneños and Cavazos credits the name to one person. After completing their initial recordings, Discos Falcon owner Arnaldo Ramirez decided to give Cavazos and Montes the name Los Donneños based on the fact that they were now residing in Donna. Both Cavazos and Montes were perplexed, they thought to themselves why would we be called this considering we're from Mexico and had just recently moved to Donna. But the name stuck and he's now proud of the legacy that he has created with Mario Montes under the name Los Donneños.

After those early recordings, he decided to change from guitar to bajo sexto. "The guitar didn't sound too good," reflects Cavazos in Spanish. "The bajo sexto is a lot more stronger than the guitar."

Later in the 1950's, Cavazos and Montes would go on to work in the Mexican film industry with major motion picture star Lalo "El Piporro" Gonzalez. "We did five movies with Piporro," Cavazos recalls. "We were with him for over three years playing music." Cavazos, Montes and Piporro would go on to tour all over the United States, Venezuela and Cuba.

Cavazos would also appear on the silver screen once again in the the great Les Blank and Chris Strachwitz documentary "Chulas Fronteras" (1976). This iconic documentary on conjunto and norteño music features Cavazos and Conjunto Tamaulipas opening up the film with a great interpretation of Canción mixteca. Cavazos is later featured once again in the film with conjunto pioneer Narciso Martinez.

Other record labels that Ramiro Cavazos has recorded for include Discos Del Valle, Discos Torero, and Columbia Recods (aka CBS Records) in Mexico. "We recorded with them for 17 years," recalls Cavazos on his major deal with Columbia Records. Then in 1972 he would start his own record label called Discos RyN, which included a partner in Monterrey, NL. He would record many artists under the Discos RyN brand like Ernesto Guerra, Narciso Martinez, Conjunto Tamaulipas, Beto Quintanilla, Los Fantasmas and Ruben Vela.

After the passing of Mario Montes in the early 1990's, Cavazos has gone on to play with Rene Maciel, Juan Antonio Coronado and Beto Espinoza in various incarnations of Los Donneños. In 2007, at the age of 80, he was inducted into San Benito's Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame for his achievements as a musician.

"We are blessed that he is still here with us and continues to play the best ballads, corridos, and just great bajo sexto playing no longer seen in new conjunto musicians," says Lupe Saenz, president of the South Texas Conjunto Association. "His compositions are constantly being recorded by conjuntos because they know that his songs are quality compositions. Composers like Mr. Cavazos are few and far between. Ramiro Cavazos is an icon and a legend in his own style that only he can produce."

Now at 84 years old, he still has many things to look forward to. He is looking forward to his 85th birthday next month that he plans to celebrate with his family and friends. He is also very excited about the release of a new CD he recorded with his accordion playing grandson Alan Cavazos. "In about two weeks the CD will be released out to the market," Cavazos eagerly informs me.

"I have sixty five years as a musician," Cavazos enthusiastically says. He jokingly concludes, "My [friend] Juanito doesn't want me to play anymore but I can't retire."

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I thought I would share some videos that would add to what Cavazos has done in his long storied career.

Ramiro Cavazos told me that he has come out in five films with Piporro. This is one of those films that features a great musical number with Piporro and Los Donneños. The name of the film is "Dos corazones y un cielo" (1959):



Ramiro Cavazos and Conjunto Tamaulipas performing Canción mixteca in "Chulas Fronteras" (1976). This documentary on conjunto and norteño music was selected to be in the United States National Film Registry. On the commentary track, Chris Strachwitz credits Ramiro Cavazos with being the person that helped Strachwitz get a hold of a lot of the musicians featured in this film.



Ramiro Cavazos with his young grandson Alan Cavazos playing "Los Coconitos" at RyN Music Store. They have a new CD coming out soon, make sure to check it out at RyN Music Store on South 23rd in McAllen.



I want to wish an early happy birthday to Ramiro Cavazos, he will be turning 85 years old on February 16th, 2012. I hope he has a great time with his close family and friends.