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".