Friday, December 27, 2013

A look back at 2013

As the executive director of Texas Folklife, Brownsville's Cristina Balli had a wonderful year full of accordion-related highlights.

One very special night for her was the Accordion Kings & Queens Live! CD release party at Antone's in Austin. The event featured a memorable jam that involved Max Baca and five young accordionists — Josh Baca, Nachito Morales, Michael Ramos, Roberto Casillas and Anthony Ortiz Jr.

"The reason that was really special is because we could see the strength of conjunto music right there, right before our eyes," Balli said of what she saw up on the stage that Summer night.

Seeing so many up-and-coming accordionists has lead her to believe that there is a strong future in conjunto music.

"For a long time, people were saying conjunto music was dying. But we are finding more and more evidence to the contrary. We our finding evidence that it's stronger than ever, but it's very grassroots. It's not mainstream, but with the 'Big Squeeze' over the last seven years, we have had 121 young conjunto accordionists enter the contest throughout the entire state. So that's huge, that's a lot of young accordionists and those are just the ones that entered our contests."

While she has a lot of events to look forward to in 2014, there is one in particular that stands out for her.

"The big thing we're looking forward to is our 30th anniversary on September of 2014," Balli said. "I can't announce any details yet since we're still planning but we will be having (an event). We hope to have musicians, scholars, folklorists that have worked with Texas Folklife throughout the years."

Texas Folklife played a major role in Tony Garcia's year. The Mission native was a "Big Squeeze" finalist at 24th annual "Accordion Kings & Queens Festival" in Houston. While he didn't walk away with the title, he considers it was one of his 2013 highlights.

"There were two dates in particular that I remember the most in 2013," Garcia said. "May 29, my (high school) graduation and of course who can forget about June 1st (in Houston). Playing in front of 7,000-plus people was a huge adrenaline rush and I really enjoyed doing that. But the thing that was really priceless about that the night was seeing some of my family members that I have not seen in so long and just appraising on how much I have advanced, skill wise, on the accordion in just 2 1/2 years, and how proud they were proud of me."

Garcia will be with his family when the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. He is excited about a new band he joined, as well as continuing his education in 2014.

"It's a very different flavor of music but I also like it and it keeps me striving for more every time," Garcia said of playing for Julio Valenzuela y su Norteño Banda. "I want to go to school this upcoming year because I would love to go further in my education, to have a better future for myself."

Peter Anzaldua is another Valley native that benefited from Texas Folklife.

"(2013) was great," Anzaldua said. "There are too many highlights, it's hard to pick one."

Some highlights that I can think of include Anzaldua performing at the 24th annual "Accordion Kings & Queens Festival" and at La Lomita Park in McAllen.

The 2012 "Big Squeeze" champion will celebrate New Years Eve with his family and friends in Brownsville. As for 2014, he already has some plans set in motion.

"I am looking forward to recording another CD and God willing playing more."

For Edcouch-Elsa accordionist Lucky Joe Eguia‏, he tells me his favorite 2013 memory was recording Suerte, his first solo album. As for what he's most looking forward to in 2014, he's straight to the point.

"Work, work, and more work," Eguia said, with a smile.

I also talked with Mando San Roman about his year. With Eli Gonzalez, and the Total Multimedia Team, he launched "Puro Tejano TV" in October. Roman also returned to the radio airwaves on December 9th, for the Super Tejano 102.1 morning block. While working on TV and radio programming was a significant part of his year, he did more than just that.

"With Zereno, the Tejano band I play keyboards and do backup vocals with, we released our latest CD (titled Zereno) after a period of about 10 years without any new releases," Roman said.

He tells me that fans of his radio and TV programs have a lot to look forward to in 2014.

"2014 brings some great plans for the 'Mando En Las Mañanas' morning show," Roman said. "'Puro Tejano TV' will be featuring the biggest names in Tejano music plus exposing rising new young talents that will cater to a new wave of Tejano fans. There are some great surprises in store."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Los Hermanos Ayala Promo Photo and "Guerra De Las Galaxias".


Funky, conjunto cover of the “Star Wars” theme by Los Hermanos Ayala. This was recorded at Discos Falcon (McAllen), and it’s so great.


Los hijos de Pedro Ayala don’t really get talked about much today, but every once in a while I’ll think about them and think how overlooked they are when discussion turns to local conjunto musicians. I guess maybe it’s cause they are from an era that had a lot of depth (Conjunto Bernal, Ruben Vela, Tony De La Rosa, Esteban Jordan, the list goes on and on). They also might be in their father’s shadow, who was known locally in the 1950’s as “El Monarca del Acordeon”. But still, they are such a tight conjunto with a really graceful accordion sound. I actually prefer them over a lot of more popular and well-regarded conjunto acts of their time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Silvia Garcia


 Silvia Garcia likes to say that Tejano music is made up of a variety of styles and sounds. She feels comfortable performing a hybrid-style under the Tejano banner.

Born in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, and raised within the Progreso area, Silvia was first exposed to music from her father, Jose Moreno.

"Mi papa siempre estuvo en la musica, la musica tropical (My dad was always involved in music, tropical music)," Silvia said.

While watching her father play cumbias, the little eight-year-old Silvia became fascinated by the drum-set.

"No mas mirando (Just looking at) the drummer playing, I learned," Silvia said, explaining how she learned to play the drums.

Silvia's parents have always been involved with church and church-related activities. To this day, she notes that her parents are pastors at the Casa De David on Alamo Road. Performing for the church choir is where she got her first taste of singing.

While she had plenty of experience with Christian music, her Tejano journey began about eight years ago.

It all started when she decided to help her suegro (father-in-law). He had difficulty finding a reliable drummer, so Silvia began filling in. They performed throughout the local area.

Eventually, Silvia talked her sister, Mari Moreno, into joining her for a new musical venture. Rene Moreno, Silvia's brother who had just returned to the Valley, also became involved. The three would become known as Grupo Eskala, a group that would be managed by Silvia's husband, Rolando Garcia. Local accordionist Jesse Yanez also performs with the group.

"This is what I always wanted," Silvia said. "Desde chiquita, de que me acuerdo (Since I was little, since I can remember)."

Silvia likes to joke that she's to blame for starting the band. Their first live performance took place at the local livestock show. Silvia remembers giving out her first autograph that night, to a man that made the trip from Austin. If you ever meet Silvia, make sure to ask her about that night. She has a great sense of humor, and she'll have you laughing within seconds of meeting her.

The family-trio went to a recording studio in Harlingen, where they completed an album within a short time span. Haciendo Nuestra Historia, Grupo Eskala's debut album, was released in the middle of 2012. The most popular track in that album was "Dime", a composition by local songwriter Kid Zapper.

Shortly thereafter, Grupo Eskala made an appearance on El Show de Johnny y Nora Canales.

"It's an honor to be a part of this," Silvia said of her appearance. "We grew up watching all these shows de Aqui Rogelio, Johnny Canales, all these shows (that) promoted the talent of the Valley."

Silvia already has some new material that she plans to release soon. The first is an upcoming single titled "Madrigal", that she recorded with producer Bob Gallarza. The song, which was composed by a late Puerto Rican songwriter, is a piece of music that Silvia has very much connected with. "Madrigal" was written for the composer's daughter, who Silvia hopes to talk to one day.

"To me it's a big thing to get to know the family of the man who wrote this song," Silvia said. "You really have to be connect with what you're going to produce, what you're going to sing. To me it's very important."

While no date is set, "Madrigal" is set to be released within the next few weeks. More information will be coming out soon on the Grupo Eskala Facebook page.

Another recording that Silvia recently completed is a song that she says came to her in a Jenni Rivera-inspired dream. As soon as she woke up, she snatched up her phone and recorded what she remembered from her mesmerizing trip. Her fellow musicians helped in crafting the melody for the song. The final product is dubbed "Dulce Amor".

"To me it has a lot of meaning," Silvia said of this upcoming tune.

While she's proud of her success, she hopes that other local musicians are able to find opportunities to succeed. She feels the Valley has a lot of talent that deserves more recognition that it is currently getting.

Tejano music is close to her heart, and she feels the most apt comparison to the genre is a certain Mexican dish.

"La musica Tejana siempre me a llamado la atencion (Tejano music has always piqued my interest). Sera porque it has a lot of diversidad, poquito de todo (Perhaps it's cause it has a lot of diversity, a little bit of everything). It's like the capirotada. I always compare la onda Tejana, con la capirotada. (This Mexican dish contains) bananas, apples, and everything. It's so good."

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Tejano Christmas

Ah, the holidays. Be prepared for Christmas music to be surrounding you for the next three weeks.

This may be surprising to some of you, but there is actually a large amount of Christmas-related Tejano songs out there. This is only a small list of releases that I'm pointing to, a quick top five to introduce to anyone that is interested. If you would like to hear some more suggestions or have an opinion on this list, shoot me an email so we can continue this conversation.

5. Hacienda Records Presents: A Tejano Christmas - This is a Christmas-themed album that featured the following Hacienda-contracted artists: Pio Treviño y Magic, Janie C. and Cactus Country Band, Romance (from Donna), Fuego, Ricky Smith y La Movida, Josefa, Dallaz, Tumbleweed Band, Los Laytons (de Edcouch-Elsa), Showband USA, Jerry & The Ruf-Nex and our old San Benito pal, Freddy Fender. This is very syrupy and honestly, nothing really stands out here. Nevertheless, it's a bit fun to listen to these different artists, doing bilingual takes on popular Christmas songs within their own Tejano-style.

4. Freddy Fender's Christmas Time In The Valley - I feel like it wouldn't be a Tejano Christmas list without mentioning this release. Listening to this, it feels like a silly novelty album, but Fender has one of my all-time favorite singing voices. So even though this isn't Fender at his best — singing Valley garage-rock, country, or Tex-Mex — it's still charming listening to San Benito's favorite son working with lesser material. The songs are bilingual, and the title track is a pleasant enough song that I often share it with family on Facebook during Christmas Eve.

3. Esteban Jordan's "Esta Navidad" - Many years ago, I listened to a great NPR radio-documentary on Esteban Jordan. Latino USA's Alex Avila said of Jordan, "He won't put on other people's music. He even recorded a Christmas song so he'd have something to listen to during the holiday season." So far, this is the only Christmas song by Jordan that I've been able to come across. Looks like this is it. It hasn't been confirmed, but it's assumed by a few posters online that it's Jessy Serrata, accompanying Jordan on the vocals here. The vocals are tender but Jordan on the accordion is the main draw. His signature, jazz-infused style gels effortlessly with this sad Christmas tune. A neat, obscure gem for some of the Jordan fans out there.


2. Lydia Mendoza's "Amarga Navidad" and "Llorando En Navidad" - This is from the deleted scenes of the film "Chulas Fronteras". This footage can be found on the special features of that DVD release, as well as on YouTube. Lydia Mendoza is one of the great pioneers of the Tejano genre. She broke into the scene with her unforgettable rendition of "Mal Hombre" in 1934. In this footage, she celebrates Christmas 1975 with her family in Houston. She sings her composition of "Amarga Navidad" and Jose Alfredo Jimenez's "Llorando En Navidad". Both songs are heart-wrenching, as she sings about how she will spend her Christmas day crying about the past, or how if her partner is going to leave her, let it be on this Christmas day. Her deep, powerful voice is incredible. Mendoza recorded more Christmas songs for Discos Falcón, which I'm very interested in tracking down. Unlike some of the other Christmas songs out there, these are genuinely great pieces of music.


1. Joel Guzman's "White Christmas" - While Joel Guzman was born and raised in the state of Washington, his parents are Valley natives. His roots to the Valley become apparent through his accordion-based music. Guzman differs from his peers by branching out into different genres — Americana, country, and jazz. "White Christmas" wasn't the first Christmas song Guzman released; "Amor En La Navidad" was already on YouTube by the time this video was uploaded. But "White Christmas" showcases what Guzman is best at. With a black-and-white Dino Baffetti at his helm, Guzman taps his fingers on the buttons, pushing and pressing the air in-and-out, producing one of the most beautiful sounding accordion pieces I've ever heard. Debra Peters, a friend of Guzman, as well as a fellow accordionist herself, describes Guzman's take on this Christmas standard as "graceful and debonair". Like the Mendoza songs, this instrumental also captures the melancholy spirit of Christmas, and pulls forward towards something far more rewarding than most of the Holiday tunes out there.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Donna High School (Early 1970’s)

I was recently talking to someone that attended Donna High School, in the early 1970’s. He was a friend of my dad’s family, who also went to that school during that era.

I was asking him about racism in the school system. He told me a story about how when he was in high school, he overheard all the white kids talking about going to college.

So he went to go talk to Mrs. Young, the school counselor, to ask what he needed to do to attend college as well.

"I would like to go to college but I don’t know anything about it or how to do it," [x] remembers telling her.

She responded by scaring him off by asking how much money his parents made, and suggesting that he simply couldn’t afford it.

"You might consider joining the military," is what [x] said Mrs. Young told him.

He ended up going to Pan American University (as it was known then), after he received some assistance from the honors program at that institution.

"As the years have gone by, I have run into all these other people that I went to school with, who said, ‘Yeah, the lady told me the same thing: Go in the service, don’t go to college, you can’t afford it.’ Then we found out that all the white kids, the teachers were writing letters of reference for them, helping them with their applications; doing this, doing that. They were helping them into the school system, and they were shutting us out. We didn’t know that (then). I didn’t understand that for a long time."

A few years ago, when he visited the Valley, he ran into some old classmates that lived in the north-side of Donna, as opposed to the area that was known then as “East Donna”. The north-side area was populated by white people and/or folks with money; the east-side area was where lower-income Mexican and Mexican-American’s resided in. My dad, when we were growing up, would always say that he was from “East Donna”. I didn’t understand until much later why he would say that and not just say “Donna”. [x] was surprised when he heard that even his middle-to-upper-class, more-Americanized-but-still-of-Mexican-descent classmates from the north-side suffered from the same type of racial discrimination.

"I thought it was just us, on the East Donna-side," [x] remembers. "[But my classmate] told me she said, ‘No, I’m not going to give you an application. If you go to school, you’re setting yourself up for failure.’"

After this conversation, I called my dad up on the phone. I was like, “I have a question for you,” or algo asi. Then right after I mentioned, “Do you remember a counselor…”, he busts out with the same story, about how she wanted him and all the students of Mexican-descent to join the military, to go fight in Vietnam. Only difference in my dad’s story was that he told it in Spanglish.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jesse Flores Jr. y Eskandalo‏

Jesse Flores Jr.
 When he wants to bring the audience up on their feet, Jesse Flores Jr. busts out Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes The Hotstepper".

To keep the evening moving, he has plenty of cumbias up his sleeve. He likes to keep a consistent energy throughout his set. His love for singing started at a very young age.

"I started singing when I was two-years old, my dad had me singing," Flores, 39, said. "I would sing simple songs like 'You Are My Sunshine', 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' and all those."


Jesse as a young mariachi.
By the time Flores was six, he was already singing popular mariachi tunes in Spanish. At the age of twelve, he added keyboard playing to his repertoire.

His first exposure came from performing with his father, Jesse Flores Sr. When he turned fourteen, he secured his first professional gig with Wally Garza y Su Sangre Tejana. Shortly thereafter, Flores joined Carlos Miranda's band.

"I was the youngest keyboard player that he's ever had," said Flores of the late Tejano legend Carlos Miranda. "I was still going to (PSJA) high school when I was performing with him."

After high school, Flores became a part of Fandango USA in 1993. During that Tejano era, Fandango USA's "La Charanga" grew into a monster regional hit. It ended up winning "Song of the Year" (1994) honors at the Tejano Music Awards. Flores felt honored being a part of something huge. But according to him, the best was yet to come.

In 1996, Tejano superstar Emilio Navaira had an opening for a keyboard player. Flores filled that spot and was soon on the road.

Flores considers this the peak of his career. At the time, Navaira was attempting to branch out of Tejano music by participating in country music tours. One such tour took Navaira and Flores to Europe. Flores was not only learning about music, but about different cultures as well.

"We went to Switzerland and opened up for Billy Ray Cyrus," Flores recalls. "It was awesome, we did a whole week there."

Other country musicians that they performed with included Alan Jackson and Kenny Rogers.

After four in a half years of performing with Navaira, Flores decided it was time to move on.

"When I left Emilio, I left the scene for two years and then I came back to the Valley."

He and several other musicians created the Tex-Mex Kadillaks. Along the years the group won several awards, including "Most Promising Band" from the Valley Choice Awards in 2006. They released five CD's in their time together.

Flores then shifted to the next phase of his career, as he formed the Gaslight Club band. They released one CD, then Flores transitioned over to his current band — Jesse Flores Jr. y Eskandalo. The rest of the group consists of Guillermo Garcia (accordionist; segunda voz), Jerry Vasquez (bass player), Rene Espinoza (drums) and Javier Guerra (electric guitar).

When asked who his key influences are, he points to two figures.

"My idols were Brando Mireles from Mazz and the late Jerry De La Rosa," Flores said. "I've branched those two keyboard players and made my own style."

He also mentions being an admirer of Beto Ramon's signature composing style.

This past Summer, Eskandalo completed their first album — Vuelve A Mi. Local conjunto accordionist Lucky Joe Paredes is credited with composing the title track.

"It's a mix of conjunto, Tejano, and cumbias," Flores describes his new album.

Flores hopes to start working on his next album in January 2014.

He has become a regular performer at Club Rio in Edinburg, where he will be performing at this Friday and Saturday night. When he looks out into the audience and sees them dancing, he knows he has accomplished his goal.

"My forte and my focus in playing is to get everyone to dance," Flores said. "I try to stay on top of the game, because there are always new artists coming up, that are trying to bring their own style and a new era of music. I respect that so much because that's what we're trying to do, to keep the Tejano music alive."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Q&A: Bernardo Martinez II of Bernardo y Sus Compadres‏

Bernado Martinez II y Pepe Maldonado
Fresh off from completing his latest album, "Siempre" on JB records, regional star Bernardo Martinez II returns to La Lomita Park this Sunday night. Bernardo y Sus Compadres has been a conjunto circuit staple since the 1970's. For over forty years, they have been providing Texas audiences with old fashion, Taquachito-style dance music. In recent years, the Laredo native has been honored with several awards, including being inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame in 2007. While he's the type of man that lets his music speak for itself, he was happy to share some brief thoughts with us here today.

Festiva: Your career started in Laredo in the early 1970's. Were there any local musicians that influenced your style?

Bernardo Martinez II: Not really in Laredo. In Laredo, it was just my dad (that influenced me). Pero the musicians that influenced me were Ruben Naranjo, Tony De La Rosa, Ruben Vela, Gilberto Perez. All of those bands. El compás of the conjunto (Their beat of conjunto). I liked it.

Festiva: When did you first travel to the Valley, to perform?

BMII: Oh it was in the early 80's when I used to go to (San Benito venues like) La Villita, 77 (Night) Club, KC Hall. (Then after that) it was all over (the Valley).

Festiva: Who are the current members of your band?

BMII: On drums I have (my son) Bernie Martinez III. On the accordion I have Charlie Saenz, from Pearland, TX. Bajo-sexto, Sunny Guerra. On the bass guitar I got Ralph (Perez). And then I have, who has recorded with me also, Gilberto Perez Jr.

I'm the vocalist but I play the accordion too. I learned by myself, when I was 14 years old.

Festiva: You will be performing on a double bill with Lazaro Perez y su conjunto. Are you familiar with this up-and-coming accordionist?

BMII: Oh yeah, he's a good friend of mine. I met Lazaro when he was around 14, 15 years old. When he first started to play the accordion, he used to play with me. Around Kingsville and Corpus, he would play a polka with me or two. Now he's a superman. It's a very good conjunto.

Festiva: For how long have you known musician and promoter Pepe Maldonado?

BMII: I have known him for forty years. He used to record himself and he had a lot of hits. I met him in Laredo, then I saw him in the Valley. Pepe Maldonado is a very good friend.

Festiva: You've played at La Lomita Park in the past, what are your impressions of this venue?

BMII: I like it, I like it, it's a real nice place. Se ve (I see) a lot of couples; young couples and old couples, who like conjunto. So I love it, La Lomita is one of my favorite places to play.

Festiva: Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.

BMII: Thank you.

Bernardo y Sus Compadres Albums You Can Listen To on Spotify: "Siempre", "El Enamorado", "Puros Compas", "Botella Maldita", "Tres Generaciones", "El Muchacho Alegre", "El Castigador", "El Rey", "El Huerfano", "El Hijo Del Pueblo", "Amores Que Van y Vienen", "Un Sentimiento" and "Las Isabeles".

Performers: Bernardo y Sus Compadres, Lazaro Perez y su conjunto.
Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 11/17
Cost: $10.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Lomita-Park/146095848797378
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Return of "Puro Tejano"

Margarita, Mando San Roman y Bonnie Hernandez.
Mando San Roman aims to help the future by reaching back into his past.

The longtime radio personality has brought back to life a format that was used to promote Tejano musicians during its most recent boom period.

In the early 1990's, KIWW 96.1 and Summit Productions teamed up for a television project that came to be known as "Puro Tejano". At the time, Roman was ten years into working as a Tejano DJ for KIWW.

"Summit Productions had an idea for a show and they came to us (at the radio station)," Roman said. "It was hosted by four of the DJ's, within the radio station. Which were Mad Mexican, Rock N Roll James, Iris Hinojosa and myself."

The Valley-based television show was launched on January 17, 1993, and aired locally on KGBT. Eventually, it spread through different markets via syndication. Over the years, the magazine-format program showcased Tejano artists via interviews, behind-the-scenes features and music videos. Old episodes that focused on Selena are regularly uploaded on YouTube, and remain very popular with fans.

Later on, the title would change to "Puro Tejano En Vivo", as the show started including more footage from live performances.

The series came to an end around 2001. There were several reasons as to why. KIWW was no longer involved with the product. Summit Productions evolved into Sendero Multimedia, Inc. and they decided to expand into radio broadcasting. Their interest with the show dwindled and it went off the air.

"A year later, they were thinking of bringing it back, but they had more pending projects, that were of higher priority at that time," Roman said.

In the past four years, Roman and his business partner Eli Gonzales, the CEO of Total Multimedia Team, discussed potential new projects. They came to the conclusion that the time was right to do another Tejano show. "Puro Tejano TV" was green-lit, with Roman serving as the producer.

To get the ball rolling, they turned to social media. On the "Puro Tejano TV" Facebook page, they posted short, online videos to hype the relaunch of the show. As of press time, the page has received 4,481 'likes'. The hosts were introduced on there in short vignettes — Roman, Tejano performer Margarita and longtime radio DJ Bonnie Hernandez.

The show hit the airwaves last month, airing Sunday morning at 9:30 AM on KVEO 23. Historically, Sunday mornings have been a go-to time-slot for Tejano music television programming. This show continues that tradition. The latest episode, which covered the 33rd Annual Tejano Music Awards, can be found on their Facebook page. While no timeline is set, the plan is to take the show to different regional markets.

A lot has changed since the original show went off the air. One key difference is the lack of major record labels involved in today's scene.

"Back in 1990s, when the show was going strong, companies Capitol EMI, RCA, Sony, they were all on board with a lot of Tejano artists," Roman said. "The biggest record label right now, that is out there exposing Tejano artists, is Freddie Records. But besides that, a lot of the artists are, as it was back in the beginning stages of Tejano music, independent artists, working with independent labels."

Roman's goal is to expose fans to a new crop of Tejano talent. When asked who he feels are some up-and-coming artists that deserve our attention, he points to Los Badd Boyz Del Valle, Llueve, AJ Castillo, Ricky Valenz and Cacy Savala.

By promoting these new musicians, within this television format and on social media, Roman hopes he can ensure a bright future for Tejano music.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Gilberto Lopez Sr.‏

Los Dos Gilbertos - Gilberto Garcia y Gilberto Lopez at the Border Studies Archive in UTPA.
The past continues to be a vital part of Gilberto Lopez Sr.'s life.

"Look at how far these roots have gone now," said Gilberto Lopez Sr., 77.

These roots can be traced back to when Lopez was born in Edinburg, on December 17, 1935. Lopez grew up in a migrant family, where he experienced hard labor early on as a child. His first exposure to the accordion came from his father.

"He didn't know how to play it himself but he still played a little bit," Lopez said, in Spanish. "I like the way it sounded."

Since there wasn't enough money to go around in the family, it was difficult for Lopez to get his own accordion. Eventually, Lopez' mom was able to secure $15.00 to purchase a used, one-row button accordion.

"That was a lot of money for someone who would pick cotton," Lopez said.

Initially, Lopez would just mess around with the accordion before he actually got serious about learning how to play it. At the age of 12, he started using one finger to hit the buttons, slowly learning his way around the instrument. After plenty of practice, he finally learned his first piece — La Pajarera.

"If it's in your heart, you'll learn," Lopez said. "I see it as a gift from God."

The following year, he was already playing professionally. He has fond memories of performing in backyards, patios and family gatherings. One venue he specifically recalls playing at is "El Patio Saenz" at La Villa, TX. Lopez' success would lead him to recording at Discos Ideal and Discos Falcón.

Around 1970, Lopez was thinking of calling it quits. His aunt intervened, saying his late mother wouldn't want him to sever his musical roots. Lopez didn't want to continue under his own "Gilberto Lopez y su conjunto" brand. An opportunity soon arose between Lopez and another Edinburg musician by the name of Gilberto Garcia. These two accordionists, who refer to one another as tocayo (namesake), decided to join forces after a brief conversation. They became Los Dos Gilbertos.

"We decided to try it, with two accordions," Lopez said. "It was beautiful. Real nice."

The two become one of the most popular conjunto acts of the era, making appearances all throughout the Valley.

"I'm very grateful for Gilberto Garcia," Lopez said. "I love him like a brother."

However, the run would be short-lived. One day, in 1976, Lopez couldn't sing. He couldn't talk either. After a visit to the doctor, a tumor was discovered on his right vocal chord. He had to get treatments for cancer and his music career was put on hold.

He went through a lot of soul searching during this period. Lopez explains that after a vivid dream, he felt like he needed to make a change with his life. He believed that he needed to stop his excessive alcohol drinking and smoking after this traumatic health scare. He made a promise to God that if he were to survive the ordeal, he would change his life and play the accordion to honor him. Once he received confirmation that he was cancer free, he left the medical facility in Houston and came back to the Valley with a new outlook on life. While he left Los Dos Gilbertos, he's proud that Garcia has carried the brand forward.

"Los Dos Gilbertos were accepted and to this day I'm proud that Gilberto has kept it going," Lopez said. "I'm very proud of him and I feel very thankful to God for Gilberto."

His first performance after his recovery was at St. Anne's Church in Pharr. Lopez says it was a different feeling at first, since Catholic Church's typically had organ music. He then joined Sacred Heart's Parish in Edinburg. After some encouragement from the Sacred Heart priest, Lopez decided to become a deacon at the church.

Lopez explains that while he struggles with various health issues — rheumatoid arthritis and high-blood pressure — his faith bring peace to his life. Along with Maria Elva, his wife off 55 years, he keeps himself busy with church activities and family gatherings. Recently, Lopez and his sons performed at STCA's "15th Annual Conjunto of the Year Awards" ceremony. The songs interchanged, back and forth, from Lopez' conjunto career to the religious music he currently engages in. The past is something that Lopez will never let go of.

"We always say, the past is the past, right?" Lopez said. "But these experiences helped shape my life. When I would play (conjunto) music, I would see things that I thought were wrong. But it was part of my life at the time. I didn't see it then how I see it now. By reflecting (on the past), I see things with different eyes now."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Santiago Jimenez Jr., one of many, to perform at this weekends 22nd Annual NMCAC Conjunto Festival.

Santiago Jimenez Jr.
The musical lineage of the legendary Jimenez family can be traced back to the early days of the accordion scene in Texas. According to Santiago Jimenez Jr., it all started with his grandfather.

"Don Patricio Jimenez, was the one that started all this circo, como dice uno (circus, like one says) late in the 1800s," said Santiago Jimenez Jr., 69.

Santiago Jimenez Sr. was the next one in line. He began recording accordion music during the 1930's. His polkas "Viva Seguin", "La Piedrera" and "La Nopalera" have since gone on to become standards in conjunto music. Then the next generation broke ground in the 1950's — Leonardo "Flaco" Jimenez and Santiago Jimenez Jr.

"I feel orgulloso (proud)," Santiago said of his family and their history in conjunto music. "I feel very proud of what I've been doing all my life. Music is my life."

Both brothers started playing at quinceañeras, parties and weddings during their teenager years. By the age of 17, Santiago recorded his first album with the help of his older brother in 1961. Santiago played the accordion while Flaco, 21 at the time, accompanied him on the bajo-sexto. The album was titled El Rey y El Principe de La Musica Norteña; it was released on Lira Records. It would be the only album that the two brothers would collaborate on.

The two brothers would both become icons in their own, distinct ways. Flaco branched out to different genres and towards a modernized sound. Santiago has kept his style as close to its roots as any musician alive today.

"Un estilo unico," is how Santiago describes his unique style. "There is no other bands that compete with my style, because they don't play it."

One thing that sets Santiago apart from his peers, including his brother, is his choice in accordion. Jimenez makes a particular claim and as far as I can tell, it's true. There are no other, well-known modern-day accordionists in Tejano, conjunto or Tex-Mex music that use a two-row button diatonic accordion.

"My dad used to play two-row accordions all his life, he never did use a three-row," Santiago said. Other pioneers like Narciso Martinez and Pedro Ayala, started with a two-row before acquiring three-row accordions. "So I went back to buy me a two-row button accordion, like my dad and since then, I've been playing two-row."

With a Hohner Erica two-row, Santiago has established himself as the heir of his father's style. I point out to him that I've noticed that he likes to use the left-hand, bass-side of the accordion, something that is rarely seen in this genre of music. He explains that he is not happy without the bass, and how it's very important for him to have that additional layer of sound.


Santiago said that he has more than 80 releases to his name at this point in his career. Those releases include LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, cassette tapes and CDs. He's working on a new album right now, in his small, home recording studio. He's an analog-type of man.

"It's a studio, like you can mix it with frijoles, tacos, and tortillas, y todo ese jale (and all that stuff)," Santiago laughs. "Reel to Reel, I don't record with digital or nada de eso (none of that). I am using the original, the way we use to record."

I've never heard anyone compare their recording studio to homemade Mexican cuisine. It's a unique, clever comparison. Both music and food have a huge place within our culture, with family get-togethers and celebrations revolving around both. They each have family traditions attached to them. Also, nothing goes better with conjunto music than this type of food. I can't be the only one that wants to eat nopales when listening to "La Nopalera". Only thing Santiago forgot to mention in his comparison was la cerveza (the beer). Or maybe the preferred word would bebironga (slang word for beer).

Santiago feels that by playing and recording music in this manner, he's preserving the memory of his legendary father.

"That's why I never have changed my style," Santiago said. "So I started playing like my dad. Not identical, because you can not play like the original person but almost identical."

Schedule:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Karisma 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Ole Treviño y Los Imposibles 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Eddie “Lalo” Torres con Anita Paiz 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Conjunto Aztlan 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Los Pinkys w/ special guest Susan Torres 10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Conjunto Estrella, San Benito High School 4:15 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Ramiro Cavazos y Los Donnenos 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Bene Medina y Conjunto Aguila 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Edgar Vásquez y Sus Muchachos 7:00p.m. – 8:30p.m.
Los Ángeles Del Sur 8:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Santiago Jiménez y Su Conjunto 10:00 p.m – 11:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Frutty Villarreal y Los Mavericks 4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Gilberto Pérez y Sus Compadres 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Boni Mauricio y Los Maximos 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Rubén De La Cruz y Su Conjunto 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Los Garcia Brothers 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

The Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center
22nd Annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Festival Conjunto Festival
When: Friday, October 18, 2013 6:00 pm – 11:00 p.m.
Saturday October 19, 2013 4:00 pm – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday October 20, 2013 4:00 pm - 9:30 p.m.
Where: 225 E. Stenger Street San Benito, Texas
Cost: $5.00 per day
Website and Phone Number: https://www.facebook.com/nmcacsb and 956-367-0335 (Rogelio Nuñez).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Q & A with Jay Perez

San Antonio's Jay Perez returns to the Valley, for an event that will celebrate his twenty-plus year career in Tejano music. The award-winning vocalist took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his career and the future of the genre.

Eduardo Martinez: What can the fans expect to hear on Saturday night?

Jay Perez: What we like to do is we normally throw in the new stuff (first), that we've been promoting for the past year. Then we'll do some old school songs that launched off my career with the Latin Breed, off to (my stint) with David Lee Garza y Los Musicales and then (go) up-to-date. That's pretty much it.

EM: What did you take away from your time with Latin Breed?

JP: It was pretty much a free education when I was with the Latin Breed. They were much older than I was when I joined them. The singers that they had, both of them prior to me getting into the band, turned out to be some of my greatest mentors — Adalberto Gallegos, Jimmy Edwards. Of course the caliber of musicians that were on that stage — the horn players, the keyboard player, the guitar player, the drummer, the bass player — were all just monsters. These guys were at the top of their game, ahead of everybody at the time. They were just unbelievable. That was my time to learn, from people who knew.

EM: In 1993, you released your first solo album, "Te Llevo En Mi". What are the key differences in your style from then to now?

JP: It hasn't really changed much, man. I don't like to change my formula too much, because people are familiar with the first album that I recorded on my own. It just carried on from there. The style, the chord progressions, the melodies, the songs that I write, and the songwriters that have given me hits over the years, we have pretty much kept it the same way.

You don't really want to change much of your music and confuse the people. You really don't want to do that. But what you do want to do is give them a variety of things. I can sing country, R&B, a little bit of mariachi, not that much but I've tried it in the past, and of course my Tejano music. With all that, we've kept that same style, formula, and flavor over the years. It's worked asta la fecha (to date).

EM: How important has producer Gilbert Velasquez been to your career?

JP: He's another mentor of mine. The little genius behind the board, that's what I call him. He has done it all. I've learned a lot from him. A lot of the ideas, concepts have come from Gilbert. I'm not giving him all the credit but I'm giving him the majority of the credit. He's an icon in this business. Very well respected, not only as a musician, but as a producer, arranger and engineer as well. I'm still recording with him.

EM: Looking at the modern-day Tejano scene, what do you think should be done to ensure the future of the genre?

JP: I think that the new artists that are coming up and making a lot of noise, in a good way, have to step up their game. I think that if they lose track and lose focus of what the people are asking for, this industry is going to go down.

I think that the new generation has got everything in the palm of their hands to keep this industry going, to keep Tejano music alive. It's up to them. Dedication and the love for music is number one. They should realize that.

Over the years, I've won so many awards. I've earned my position in this industry because I've been dedicated to what I do. Our writing has always been up to par. Now the younger generation that is coming up right now, has to think along those lines and look at the musicians that have been doing this for years. Ruben Ramos, Little Joe, the Emilio's, the Ram's, the Shelly's, the Stephanie's, the Elida's. They have to look at those musicians and think to themselves, "If they are still around doing what they're doing, still very successful at what they're doing, what's keeping us from doing the same thing?" If they think along those lines, this industry can only grow bigger.

EM: Thank you for your time, good luck on Saturday.

JP: Thank you brother.

Time: 9:00 PM to 1:00 AM.
Date: 10/12
Cost: $15.00 presale, $20.00 at the door.
Phone Number: 956-460-5401
Location: Weslaco Catholic War Veterans Hall.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Rumel Fuentes and his Chican@ Music.


Rumel Fuentes.

Sadly, most people have never heard of that name before. A passionate activist for Mexican-American rights, this Eagle Pass native used music to speak out on a variety of issues that affected the barrios.

I first came across Fuentes in the documentary Chulas Fronteras. His brief, animated appearance featured him performing the song Chicano (a Doug Sahm tune that Fuentes improved upon) with the norteño group Los Pinguinos Del Norte. Searching for what else he's done led me to his lone release — "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of The Chicano Movement".

This album was released in 2009, twenty-three years after Fuentes had passed away at the age of 46. These songs had been stored away since 1972. The sound and content of them are very much of that time period.

This was a time when we had Colegio Jacinto Treviño, a Chican@ college, in Mercedes and San Juan. We also had "El Papel Del Valle", a local Chican@ newspaper that used the UFW emblem as its logo. It's history that doesn't get much exposure. Fuentes was able to experience a portion of that history and preserve it through these wonderful recordings.

The opening track is Soy Tu Hermano, a spirited rally cry to fight for one's rights. One of the memorable lyrics of this song is: "Si sangre mi hermano, yo tambien sangro, la herida es igual." ("If my brother bleeds, I also bleed, the wound is the same.")

The song that resonated with me the most is Corrido De Pharr, Texas. In this heart-breaking ballad, Fuentes covers a series of issues (police brutality; city corruption) in Pharr that led to a protest on February 6, 1971. The clash between the police and the protesters reached its boiling point when an innocent bystander, Alfonso Laredo Flores, was shot in the head by Robert Johnson, a sheriff deputy. In a news-report of the incident found on YouTube, it's mentioned that witnesses saw Johnson aiming directly at Flores. Flores was taken to the Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, but he didn't survive the head wound. He was 20 years old.

This powerful, passionate corrido is a piece of media that I push to anyone who is interested in Valley history. Here is a brief excerpt of the lyrics, along with the transcriptions. From the liner notes:

"Una protesta calmada (A quiet protest)
en contra los policías,(against the police,)
la gente los denunciaba (the people denounced them)
por cosas que se sabían. (for things that were known.)

Mataron a Poncho Flores, (They killed Pocho Flores,)
fue un policía de Pharr; (it was a policeman in Pharr;)
a un hombre empistolado (a man who wears a gun)
no se le puede confiar. (you cannot trust.)"


I grew up a few blocks from where this injustice took place, so it's something that I think about quite often. Especially when I'm walking near the abandoned Ramos barbershop, on the corner of Bell Ave. and Cage Blvd. I can't walk through that site without thinking of what happened there 42 years ago.

The album also contains two versions of the song Mexico-Americano, a warm song about the melding of two cultures ("Dos culturas, tengo yo."; "Two cultures, I have."). The second version, the last track of this 13-track CD, is a live recording of Fuentes and Los Pinguinos Del Norte. I dig it a lot, it feels rough but alive. Also, adding an accordion is always an improvement!

The other songs cover a wide range of topics, from the walkout at Crystal City to the short-lived Raza Unida political party. One catchy huapango is also worth mentioning. With it's fast-pace tempo, Huapango Los Trabajos details the life of a migrant worker. I'm surprised that no one has covered it yet.

This collection is a treat for anyone that is curious about a part of history that has been obscure for far too long.

You can find a copy of "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of The Chicano Movement" at Arhoolie.com. The physical copy comes with excellent liner notes. For Facebook users, this album is available for free streaming on Spotify.

El Gallito Madrugador


On August 10th, Rio Grande Valley radio pioneer Jesus "Chuy" De Leon celebrated his 89th birthday. His family spent the day with him at the San Juan Nursing Home. 

Chuy, at this advanced age, has some issues with his memory.

"I think he enjoyed it, he recognized (us)," said Juan De Leon, 63, about seeing his father on his birthday. "Pero hay veces que no conoce (There are times when he doesn't recognize us), y hay veces que si (and there are times when he does)."

Born in Harlingen in 1924, but raised in Donna, Chuy found work at Weslaco's KRGV studios in 1941. As a teenager, he studied the craft of radio broadcasting under Benjamin Cuellar. According to STCA president Lupe Saenz, Chuy spent a brief stint away from the microphone, as he completed his mandatory military service.

Chuy returned to the Valley and KRGV in 1945. Two years later, on December 23, 1947, Chuy married Donna-native Julia Prado. Together they had four children; two boys and two girls. Julia passed away earlier this year, on July 12th at the age of 84.

Chuy caught his big break when he got the attention of Martin Rosales in 1955.

"At that time, Martin Rosales started working at KGBT as the program director, and he heard about my dad," Juan said. "The (KRGV) show was getting a bit popular so he offered my dad a show at KGBT and my dad took it at 4 o'clock in the morning. That's where Martin coined the name 'El Gallito Madrugador' (The Early Morning Roster)."

"El Gallito Madrugador" would often schedule guests for live performances, Saenz said. Musicians that appeared on Chuy's program include Ruben Vela, Gilberto Perez, Baldemar Huerta (Freddy Fender) and Pedro Ayala.

"He opened the door for a lot of conjuntos," Juan said about his father, who was also a local dance promoter in the Valley. "It was part of the job."

According to Juan, one of his father's most memorable moments took place in 1967. As Hurricane Beulah was set to hit the Valley, Chuy and a man that Juan identifies as "Mr. Vela" took off to La Feria, where the KGBT radio tower was at. While all the other radio stations were off the air, Chuy spent the night there covering the category five hurricane.

"He was the lone voice during Hurricane Beulah in 1967, " Juan said. "(He was) getting all the information from New Orleans and broadcasting it por todo el Valle (for all the Valley)."

Throughout his radio broadcasting career, Chuy found work not only at KRGV (Weslaco) and KGBT (Harlingen), but also at KXEX (Fresno, California), KIRT (Mission), KSOX (Raymondville) and KIWW (McAllen). After five decades of broadcasting, he bid farewell to the airwaves in the late 1980's. The fans got to say goodbye to him during a retirement ceremony at La Villa Real in McAllen. In 2008, he was inducted into the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame in San Benito.

I asked Juan, "How would you like people to remember your dad?"

"As a humble man, he served his people, his community," Juan said. "That's how I would like for him to be remembered. But most of all, as a loving caring father."

He notes that his father still has moments where glimpses of his past resurface. He shares a scene that his nephew witnessed recently at the San Juan Nursing Home.

"Somebody gave him a microphone and for about 15 minutes he was his old self," Juan said, as he described his father's Spanish-language radio DJ style. "He didn't catch it on video, it would have been great."

Silent film of MAYO march.

Silent home movie with footage of a memorial march organized by MAYO in Pharr, following the death of innocent bystander Alfonso Flores, at the hands of Robert Johnson.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Happy Birthday Gloria Anzaldua!


"I am a wind-swayed bridge, a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds… You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and -legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of web. Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me." -Gloria Anzaldua

WWE Hidalgo, 9/22/13 Results.

Rey Mysterio's Special Appearance. Photo Credit WWE.
This past weekend, the WWE returned to the Valley to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, TX. By all accounts, it was another successful event down here. From this weeks Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer writes:
Hidalgo, TX, the company’s hottest mid-sized market, a border town where they draw a ton from Mexico, ran shows on both 9/21 and 9/22, selling out the 6,300 seats both nights. They always sell out there, but with the exception of overseas shows, they never run the same building two straight nights. Hidalgo is actually a small town of 11,000 people, with the big city nearby being McAllen.
They have been consistently selling out shows here since Autumn 2003. I've gone to most of the shows, and this was actually one of the better ones I've been to. I love the intimacy of a WWE house show. I've been to a major UFC event (with two title fights), two Showtime Championship Boxing broadcasts, and I honestly feel that nothing beats a good, live professional wrestling/lucha libre show. I felt the same way after I saw El Hijo Del Santo perform in McAllen in June.

I'm really into combat sports, but when I'm at a live event, I can never shake off the feeling that I'm missing subtle details that I would be clearly observing if I was in front of an HD television. When I saw Canelo Alvarez vs Austin Trout live, in the midst of 40,000 fans, I had a difficult time seeing which punches were actually landing. When I go to a live MMA event, I will likely miss the intricacies of the ground work.

With professional wrestling, because it's very broad and it's being performed for a live audience, everything you need to know or see is being communicated clearly. The person at the very last row can see, through the selling of one or the mannerisms of another, what is going on in the ring. It's all body language.  

I wrote up this report for Dave Meltzer and James Caldwell (PW Torch), since they needed the details of the 9/22/13 event. I thought I would share it here:

(1) Brodus Clay & Tensai defeated Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal -- Tensai got the pinfall after a senton.

(2) Bo Dallas beat Antonio Cesaro -- Really good performance from Cesaro, carried Dallas to a fun, good bout. Opening part featured a lot of atomic-drops and inverted-atomic-drops that Cesaro sold perfectly. After eating an armdrag, Cesaro accused Dallas of pulling his hair, which everyone laughed at. Cesaro had a lot of great mannerisms and worked him over with his uppercuts, footstomp, holds, etc. Cesaro was getting a lot of heel heat throughout, except when he did his giant swing, which everyone seemed to dig. After arguing with the referee over a nearfall, Dallas snuck up behind Cesaro and pinned him with a school boy.

(3) Brie Bella beat Alicia Fox -- Short match, not much of note, but Bella went over with the X-Factor.

(4) Justin Gabriel defeated Fandango -- Solid match, Gabriel went over with a springboard 450 splash.

Rey Mysterio came out, on crutches, to a big reaction. He did a promo in Spanish, talked about the first time he came to the State Farm Arena, then titled the Dodge Arena, in Hidalgo, TX. Mysterio talked about how when he first came down here, Eddy Guerrero was on the first show in Hidalgo. Side note, but when Guerrero came here in 2003, that is still one of the loudest crowds I've ever heard, and that's including UFC and big boxing fights I've gone to. Mysterio did the old, Eddy-deal where he would lie across the top-rope and turnbuckle. Mysterio joked about the "I'm Your Papi" bit. Then said he wants to return next month, on October 16th, for the Mexico tour. He then repeated that last bit in English, and that's when The Shield (Reigns and Rollins) came out. Mysterio tried to keep them away by swinging his crutch, until he fell down and sold that he couldn't get back up. That's when the Big Show music hit, which got a monster pop. Just an amazing reaction. Show made the save, embraced Mysterio and it led to the next match.

(5) Big Show defeats Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns -- A lot of spots based on the size difference between Show and Rollins/Reigns, which the crowd really dug. Crowd loved that Show-spot where he quiets the audience and lands an overhand slap on his opponent's chest. A chop-block type move lead to Reigns and Rollins taking over until Show made the comeback later on. Show got the pin after a chokeslam on Rollins. Fun match.

(6) The Great Khali & R-Truth defeated Camacho & Hunico -- Truth worked almost the entire match with Camacho and Hunico. Truth's shtick got the most reaction in this match, then he got worked over by Camacho and Hunico until he tagged Khali. Khali hit a few overhand strikes and then got the pin.

(7) Dean Ambrose defeated The Miz -- The Miz came out, all bandaged up, still selling the beating from Randy Orton on Raw. Crowd was very hot for most, but I was still surprised by how big of a reaction Miz got here. Miz mentioned how he didn't want to let the people down here in Hidalgo. Ambrose worked over Miz's shoulder and used some good brawling. Like Cesaro earlier, he had awesome mannerisms that really worked well in a live setting. After some close near-falls, Miz rushed in after Ambrose in the corner, Ambrose moved out of the way, and Miz went shoulder first into the post. Ambrose rolled him up in a school boy, hooked the tights, and got the pinfall. Miz did a good job selling here, and Ambrose was good as the aggressor. Good match.

(8) Daniel Bryan defeated Randy Orton -- The night before in Hidalgo, Bryan defeated Orton in a singles match. So on Sunday, they had the fans vote via text and Twitter for what stipulation they wanted for the second nights main event. Fans could vote on either a '2 out of 3 Falls' match or an 'Hidalgo Street Fight'. An actual street fight in Hidalgo would leave you dead. Well, like the old William Castle voting gimmick, the fans obviously picked the street fight. Both Bryan and Orton got superstar-level reactions; the atmosphere was incredible. Lots of 'Yes' and 'Let's Go Bryan' chants. While Orton was booed at times, he was also being cheered a lot by a good amount of the audience. First part of the match was worked like a straight-up match,until Orton got frustrated and got a kendo stick. Bryan hit his tope suicida and even suplexed Orton on the entrance ramp. When Bryan would land his kicks, everyone would chant 'Yes'. They got a chair for a corner spot where Orton went shoulder-first into it. Later on, Orton hit a great superplex from the top rope for a nearfall. Bryan attempted a pescado to the outside but Orton moved out of the way. Bryan got a table from underneath the ring, which the fans loved. Orton teased doing a big move to Bryan off the ropes, through the table that was set-up near the corner. But Bryan countered that and powerbombed Orton, off the middle-rope, through the table. That led to a good nearfall. Bryan got the Lebell-lock, but couldn't get the submission, and Orton got out of it by hitting Bryan with the kendo stick. Orton hit his hangman's DDT. Orton was about to hit the RKO, but Bryan shoved him away, backed into the corner and hit the busaiku knee for the finish. That got a huge reaction. Excellent house show main event, both Orton and Bryan were working really hard. Match was on the same level as their "Smackdown" TV match in the Summer and their "Night of the Champions" match.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Max Baca and Los Texmaniacs


While he was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Max Baca has been representing Tejano-conjunto music to the world for the past three decades.

When asked what ignited his love for conjunto music, he quickly points to his father, Max Baca Sr. An accordionist of his own conjunto in New Mexico, Baca Sr. taught his five-year-old son his first two pieces on the accordion.

"I learned to play two songs, you know polkitas, 'Polka Monterrey'," said Max Baca, 46-years-old. "Then the next song I learned was Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood'. "

When Baca was seven years old, his father took him and his brother to Lubbock to experience the Tejano-conjunto style, as opposed to the norteño-conjunto style that Baca says was found in New Mexico at the time. In a ballroom in Lubbock, Baca got to see Flaco Jimenez and Oscar Tellez for the very first time.

"That blew my mind," Baca said of his first glimpse of Flaco Jimenez on the accordion. "Oscar Tellez really inspired me tambien."

Bajo-sexto player Oscar Tellez would end up becoming a big influence on the young kid, who was now playing the bajo-sexto. Curious about the history of the instrument, Baca learned about its origins and studied the 1930's recordings of Narciso Martinez and Santiago Almeida. In an interview with the San Antonio Current, Dr. Cathy Ragland came to the conclusion that Baca might be the only person alive today that can play the complex, dynamic bajo-sexto style that Almeida mastered in the early days of conjunto music.

With his fathers conjunto, Baca was able to perform for the local Native Americans, at dance halls, and quinceañeras. Then as a teenager in the 1980's, he split off with his brother Jimmy, as the two started their own conjunto called Los Hermanos Baca.

In Albuquerque, the two brothers received local acclaim after recording a cover of Augie Meyers' "Hey Baby, Que Paso". The duo got the opportunity to open for The Texas Tornados when the Tex-Mex group formed in 1989. The following year, Baca was invited to join The Texas Tornados, where he got to work side-by-side with his childhood hero.

"Flaco is like a dad to me," Baca said. "I can honestly say that Flaco took me under his wing and he's the one that was responsible for my success and my career."

Working closely with Jimenez and The Texas Tornados, Baca was able to learn on the job and develop into one of the best bajo-sexto players in the world. Tellez was also around for help, becoming another key figure in Baca's development as a musician.

One of his career highlights took place when him and Jimenez were at a gig in Los Angeles in 1994. Rolling Stones producer Don Was called Jimenez, looking for a 'Tex-Mex' sound, and asked him if he was interested in recording a part for their upcoming Voodoo Lounge album. Jimenez accepted, and suggested bringing Baca along for the session. Was agreed, so Jimenez and Baca headed to the recording studio.

When the two 'Tex-Mex' icons arrived, they met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. 

"Keith Richards saw the bajo-sexto and he wanted to buy it," Baca said. "He had never seen a bajo-sexto before in his life."

The instrument, which Baca had received as a gift from his father, was an original Martin Macias bajo-sexto. While Richards was determined and asked him to "name his price", Baca ultimately declined the offer. This vintage bajo-sexto meant too much to him.

"I came back home to New Mexico, to Albuquerque and I tell my dad, and my dad told me, 'Pendejo! You should have sold it and you could have bought the damn (bajo-sexto) factory Max!'," laughs Baca.

In 1997, he decided to go a different direction and formed his own band — Los Texmaniacs. He drew not just from his Tejano-conjunto influences, but also from the blues, rock and country music. It wasn't until 2004 that the band really took off, as they released A Tex-Mex Groove, their first CD. Now in 2013 they have six albums to their credit, including one with the Smithsonian Folkways titled Borders y Bailes, which earned them the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Tejano Album.

What might be their greatest achievement is how they've become international ambassadors for Tejano-conjunto music. They have flown out overseas, spreading awareness of a genre that was born out of the Mexican-American working class in Texas. In the past decade, Baca and his crew of musicians have performed Tejano-conjunto music in Russia, Holland, China, France, Argentina, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are the first conjunto, other than Flaco Jimenez of course, to take conjunto music around the world and represent conjunto," Baca said. "So we've been blessed to be considered ambassadors of conjunto music, representing our culture and our state."

Baca tells me that the line-up that will be performing at La Lomita Park this Sunday night includes himself, his talented nephew Josh Baca (accordionist), Chale Torres (drummer) and the newest member of the group, the Valley's own Noel Hernandez (bass player). When I asked him what type of set can attendees expect on Sunday night, Baca said that he plans to take the audience on a journey of Texas music, with a mid-set tribute to old-school, traditional conjunto music.

"We are going to give them a true taste of Texas," Baca said. "Whether it's a rock and roll song, a country song, a blues song, as long as it has an accordion and bajo-sexto, it's conjunto."

Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 9/15
Cost: $10.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Lomita-Park/146095848797378
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Lucky Joe Eguia

Little y Lucky.
Tonight, local accordionist Lucky Joe Eguia will be joining Little Joe Hernandez on a double-bill of conjunto and Tejano music at the Rodz Sports Theater in Edinburg.

"That first time I performed with him, it was just an honor," said Lucky Joe Eguia, of the time he joined Little Joe for an event at the Pharr Events Center. "It's very humbling to be able to share the stage with such a legend."

When I contacted the 34-year-old Edcouch-Elsa native, I had assumed that 'Lucky' was a nickname. I soon found out that my assumption was wrong.

"When I was born, I was a stillborn baby," Eguia said. "So the doctor's revived me and they told my mother, 'This is a very lucky baby, he's lucky to be alive.' So my parents named me Lucky; Joe is from my uncle."

While he was already playing the guitar due to the influence of his grandfather, his foray into conjunto music started when he met the late Benny Layton.

"My mother used to cut hair there in Elsa, she had a beauty salon — Rita's Beauty Salon," Eguia said. "Mr. Layton would go by and cut his hair there. One afternoon, Mr. Layton saw me messing around with a guitar, he told my mom, 'Hey you know what, I want him to enroll in (Edcouch-Elsa's) Estudiantina (Music Program).' So I enrolled in Estudiantina when I was a Freshman. Then I saw Mr. Layton play the accordion and that's when I got hooked on the accordion. I was about 15-years-old."

The year he got 'hooked' on the accordion, was the same year that Eguia lost his mother. Right before she passed away, she bought her son his very first accordion at Melhart's Music Center.

"It was called a Gabbanelli 101," remembers Eguia.

During this time period, Layton would become an important figure in Eguia's life.

"Mr. Layton was my mentor, my teacher," Eguia said of the beloved program director, announcer and musician. "Basically he's the main influence that I had growing up through high school, as far as for conjunto music, tejano music and all kinds of music. He made us listen to the Beatles, Buena Vista Social Club, jazz, rock, anything that had to do with music."

After a few years of learning the accordion under Layton, Eguia secured his first professional gig with Alma Pulido, the sister of Bobby Pulido, at the age of 17. He soon recorded with her, embarking on a career that lead him to work with other regional music acts like Siggno, Elida Reyna y Avante and Frijoles Romanticos.

Now in 2013, he signed with Freddie Records and is scheduled to release Suerte, his first solo album, on October 15. "Amor Escondido", the first single off this upcoming album will start airing on select radio stations this very week.

"This isn't easy, it's a job just like any other job and you have to be dedicated," Eguia said. "It's a crazy market, you never know what will hit. Putting in long hours is the key."

When he's not working on his music, he's working at Besos y Caricias, an adult day care in Mercedes. He describes his day job as doing a little bit of everything — cooking, a floor assistant, a driver and whatever else is asked of him.

As for tonight, he is eager to share the stage once again with Little Joe y La Familia. Eguia says this upcoming event brings back memories of his late mother Rita, who he deeply misses.

"It takes me back to one Sunday morning, I was watching 'The Johnny Canales Show'," Eguia said. "I was about 14, (with) my mom we were watching it together and Little Joe comes on. My mom, God rest her soul, said, 'Un dia mijito, un dia tu vas a estar tocando enseguida de el.' ('One day son, one day you will be playing next to him')."

Time: Doors open at 8:00 PM.
Date: 8/30
Cost: Presale tickets cost $15.00.
Where to Buy Tickets: Rodz Sports Theater, located on 1204 East Canton, Edinburg, TX.
Phone Number and Website: 956-720-4700 and https://www.facebook.com/RodzEdinburg.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cosechando Juntos

Roel Sandoval Flores
"It was a hard life."

Those are the few words that musician-turned-artist Roel Sandoval Flores uses to describe a life of working in the fields. A brush, some paint and a canvas is all Flores needs to tell the story of the world he grew up in.

"I don't know how to write, so I do it with a brush," said Flores, 70-years-old, with a smile.

In 1995, the Weslaco-native was working for a local gas company and was under a lot of stress. One of his daughters said that it looked like he needed something else to do besides work.

"With no training, I just started with some paints that one of my daughters was going to throw away."

Flores, along with his family, experienced first hand what it was like to work on the fields. In 1955, after falling under the spell of Valerio Longoria's music, he picked up a bajo-sexto and started performing conjunto music. He became a part of several different conjunto acts, like Los Supremos and Los Originales. It wasn't about the money for Flores, it was a way for him to live his dream of being a musician.

"Music and field work, to me, go together," Flores said. "You can't separate them 'cause that's where the music was born. That's where I first heard it, doing field work."

Walking with Flores, looking at his "Cosechando Juntos" art exhibit, he would casually open up about his life when looking at his work on the walls of the Weslaco Museum. We stood in front of one piece — a dreamlike blue scene, with a flowing river and an accordion hanging off the moon.

"My mind goes back to when I was little, to when my dad would take me fishing," remembers Flores. "Actually, I always had the radio on, so it goes back to the music."

Another painting, titled "Historia De Tejas", caught my eye. Flores starts discussing the painting with me, remarking on his use of colors and symbols.

"The pink is like the hopes and dreams that we had then," Flores said. "The hills were like open wounds of all the times we had a lot of people die on the fields."

While his themes are consistent, Flores' paintings reveal a broad spectrum of styles that include portraits, landscapes, and abstracts. He likes to bring a new, fresh ideas to his paintings, some of which are inspired by dreams he's had.

"I don't know anything about styles, I don't know anything about paintings," laughs Flores. "I don't go by the rules 'cause I don't know the rules."

Flores hopes that young Tejanos and Tejanas are able to get an idea of their past from the art he has created.

"To me, it's real important that people don't forget where they come from," Flores said. "We should be proud of who we are and where we came from."

With the help of his wife of almost fifty years, Epifania, he's been able to travel around and expose his art to people outside the Valley. He's had his art displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., Texas Folklife in Austin and Houston, the University of Chicago, Mexico and many other places. When he makes appearances at schools, Flores tells students that his biggest regret was dropping out in the seventh grade. He hopes that they can learn from his mistake.

In the past twelve years, he's had to overcome a series of heart-related ailments. After a heart attack in 2001, he said he was given zero chance to live by his doctor. He feels lucky that he's been able to escape death on multiple occasions.

"Maybe why I haven't died (is) 'cause there is something I have to do," Flores said optimistically.

Nowadays, Flores keeps himself busy with a family that includes five adult children, fifteen grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren. Despite having his hands full with his family and his art career, Flores still finds time to practice daily on his bajo-sexto and guitar. While he stopped performing at bailes in 1985, he's been playing music at local area churches since 1986. He is eager to inform me about a project he's been working on with a granddaughter of his.

"One of my granddaughters, Priscilla (Renee Cardenas), she's into singing," Flores said. "We started doing a CD of gospel music but Tejano (style). Hopefully we'll finish it this year."

Looking back at his transformation into an artist, he's amazed at all the opportunities that he's received since he first picked up a brush. He's not entirely sure how it came so naturally to him, but he's grateful that he's been able to express himself in a way that he never even imagined.

"A friend of mine, way back in the beginning, said, 'I didn't know you painted.' (I said), 'Well I didn't know either,'" laughs Flores.

Weslaco Museum's Cosechando Juntos exhibit started on Aug. 13, and ends on Sept. 28. Opening reception is Aug. 24, from 6 PM to 8 PM. Admission is $4, adults; $3, senior citizens, college students; $2, children 5 to 17; free, children 4 and under. For more information, call 956-968-9142.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Peter Anzaldua

Peter Anzaldua
Last October, I took a trip over to San Benito, eager to experience the 21st Annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival. It was going to be a stacked event with groups like Los Texmaniacs de Max Baca and Los Monarcas de Pete y Mario Diaz.

One of the acts featured that day was a 16-year-old, Veterans Memorial High School sophomore by the name of Peter Anzaldua. I had heard about him — the conjunto world is a tight community — but this would be my first time getting a glimpse of what he had to offer on the squeeze box.

He got up on the stage and busted out two dynamic polkas — "Atotonilco" and "Viva Seguin". Within minutes, the dance floor was filled up with people bailando in a circular motion.

"It feels good to know that people dance to your music," said Peter Anzaldua. "I never would have thought I would have been playing, much less people dancing to music that I'm playing. I feel blessed at that moment."

Anzaldua's been interested and involved in music from a very young age. He credits his family for giving him the 'conjunto-bug'.

"My uncles played, so I would see them play whenever they would have cookouts," Anzaldua said. "(Conjunto music) is the only thing we listened to, like Tony De La Rosa."

While his family has photographs of the prodigy playing with a toy accordion as a baby, it wasn't until he was 7-years-old that he received his first actual, button-diatonic accordion.

"My cousin taught me a polka here and there," Anzaldua said. "Then I let it go, 'cause I wouldn't have the patience 'cause I wouldn't get it. Then I kind of picked it up on my own."

Working at it by himself in his home in Brownsville, he was inspired by the music he heard from Tony De La Rosa and Ruben Vela. One day, his mom's co-worker received an email about the "Big Squeeze" accordion contest. She passed on the information to the Anzaldua family.

Anzaldua auditioned in 2010, but he didn't make it to the semi-finals.

"I remember the first time I performed (there), I was thinking, 'Man, these guys are all doing different things.'"

He didn't try-out in 2011 due to school activities getting in the way. He returned in 2012 and things would be different this time around.

"I wanted to stand out," Anzaldua said. "I just wanted to play something different."

That "something different" turned out to be "Carmela Medley"; a crowd-pleasing, showcase potpourri of different pieces, one of which was "Folsom Prison Blues". With that, he ended up advancing to the semi-finals and winning the "Big Squeeze" crown in Houston in the Summer of 2012.

"It was a good energy," remembers Anzaldua of that night, which also included him jamming out with Flaco Jimenez and Mingo Saldivar. "I feel like I've gotten a lot more exposure because of (the 'Big Squeeze' win)."

What Anzaldua seems most happy about is the community and camaraderie he's found in the local conjunto music scene. When he's at La Lomita Park, or around his fellow conjunto musicians, he feels like he's right at home with his family.

"La Lomita is like family there. I go to dances there and all the musicians there, they always get me up (on stage) to play. I want to thank all the musicians that have helped me out — Ruben De La Cruz, the Badd Boyz (del Valle), Los Dos Gilbertos, Lazaro Perez, Ricardo Guzman. All of those, I want to thank them for getting me up there to play with them and throwing me out there."

That night in San Benito, I remember observing what happened after Anzaldua got off the stage. Roy Rodriguez, the curator of the Hub City Conjunto & Tejano Museum, went up to Anzaldua and asked him to autograph a conjunto book of his. That particular book has been signed by many, if not most, of the top names in the conjunto music industry. If Anzaldua decides to stick with the accordion after high school and college, he's going to have a career that's every bit as bright as those musicians that signed their names in that book.

Peter Anzaldua and Los Badd Boyz Del Valle are scheduled to perform at La Lomita Park in McAllen on Sunday night. Event starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Entrance fee is $10.00. For more information, please call Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Lomita-Park/146095848797378.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Remembering Esteban Jordan.

Esteban Jordan in Japan.

This upcoming August 13th will mark the 3rd year anniversary of the death of Esteban Jordan. The Elsa-native is considered by many to be one of the greatest accordionists ever. So I'm going to use this occasion to pay tribute to "El Parche" by listing the five must-see videos of his long storied career.

5. "Fly, Robin, Fly" (YouTube) - What an odd trip this turned out to be. This curious gem of a video first appeared online two months ago, uploaded on YouTube by the sons of Jordan. Jordan takes the European disco hit, "Fly, Robin, Fly", and makes it his own with his mind-bending accordion-playing skills. It takes a special kind of conjunto accordionist to branch out and do something as experimental as this. Part of the charm of this late-1970's video is its dated special effects — superimposed images and 'far-out colors'. I have been straight-edge my entire life, but I imagine this is what a hallucinogenic experience must feel like.



4. Caliente y Picante (DVD) - In August 1989, Los Angeles hosted a who's who line-up of Latino musicians. This one-night extravaganza was released on DVD in 2007; one can purchase it on Amazon for a good price. The internationally known stars that appear include Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. Jordan makes two brief but memorable appearances in this fantastic DVD. The first one is at the mid-point of a Santana and Garcia scene, where the two are playing "Get Uppa". Jordan hops on the stage, feels out what his fellow musicians are playing and then goes an dynamic run on his signature Tex-Mex Rockordeon. After stealing the spotlight, he starts banging on some drums and disappears off stage. There is something enigmatic about this particular Jordan moment. The second cameo is during a joyous jam-out session with over a dozen star musicians performing and singing "America The Beautiful".



3. Hermes Foundation (DVD/TV) - Jordan considered himself a jazz musician and these pair of videos are an examples of what he could produce when working within that genre. These two videos originate from a documentary that the owner of Hermes filmed during the 2000's. I've asked around for the DVD but have found nothing available for purchase. I did find out that a TV-version of this aired on syndication, in Mexico and certain areas of the U.S. After the death of Jordan, these two videos were uploaded on YouTube by Hohner's Gilbert Reyes Jr. The first video is Jordan's version of George Gershwin's "Summertime", a hugely popular jazz standard. The second video is a cover of George Benson's "Clockwise", which sounds incredible on the button-diatonic accordion. These recordings contain what might be the last two brilliant Jordan performances captured on video. Incredible stuff.


2. "Rhythms of the World" episode (TV) - Appearing on a double bill that included Valerio Longoria, a TV crew from Europe flew in to San Antonio to film some quality conjunto music in the early 1990's. This episode of the "Rhythms of the World" documentary series has aired in various countries in Europe. We wouldn't have known about this over here in the U.S. if it wasn't for the YouTube uploads of Netherlands' Kok De Koning. This episode includes five songs performed by Jordan — "Ran Kan Kan", "Por Un Amor", "La Cumbia De Chon", "Georgia On My Mind", and "La Hilacha". Longoria joins Jordan for the latter two songs. My favorite tune of this collection is "La Hilacha", which highlights the brilliance of both accordionists. Near the mid-point of the video, there is a shot of an older-gentleman, with a huge smile on his face. He gets so excited by what he is witnessing that he raises his fist in the air.

 

1. "Austin City Limits" episode (TV) - One of the ultra-rare video treasures in conjunto music. Never released commercially on DVD or VHS, this episode of ACL aired in 1979 and was headlined by a double bill of Little Joe y La Familia and Esteban Jordan y Rio Jordan. On TV, approximately 26 minutes of Jordan's performance aired, which showcased five different songs. I've also been fortunate enough to watch the unaired, raw footage of Jordan's ACL taping. That obscure footage runs for 64 minutes and features twelve songs. In my estimation, this is the best footage found of Jordan's work. Thanks to Jordan superfan Rick Cortez, three video excerpts have surfaced online on DailyMotion.com — "A La Heavy" (Jordan introduces this tune as a Disco Polka and says, "Disco is where its at right now."), "Vengo A Decirte" and "El Cascabel". The first two songs are examples of Jordan's use of the echoplex, a tape-delay effect that was mostly used by guitarists. Jordan, being a total original, uses it to give his accordion a unique sound. The latter song makes use of a phase-shifter, providing a whirlwind-like sound to the accordion. Let's hope that some day, ACL decides to release the entire session on DVD. Trust me, it's something special and it deserves to be out there on the market for purchase. We see Jordan playing jazz guitar, going on masterful accordion solos, and creating an otherworldly-sounding mash-up of "La Camelia" (a song about drug-trafficking) and "Squeezebox Man" (a powerful, psychedelic instrumental).

Steve Jordan Austin City Limit - Vengo a decirte by rcortez911

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Feliz cumpleaños Gilberto Perez!


Gilberto Perez has been playing conjunto music in the Valley and beyond for the past seven decades. It's been a life full of cherished memories for this proud accordionist and vocalist. 

"So many years, so many things," said Gilberto Perez, 77-years-old. "We can sit here for a whole day and I wouldn't get through (all of them)."

Perez was born on August 3, 1935, in Mercedes, TX. He was the youngest member of a family of 12 children. 

"We were only 12 in the family, no mas," laughs Perez.

To most, he is the epitome of what good, old-fashion conjunto music is. Interestingly enough, he actually got his start in a different genre of music.

"When I was in the teens, I started playing guitar, rock and roll," remembers Perez. "(Then) I started liking the accordion. Only one of my brothers didn't play the accordion, it was Alejandro. Most of my brothers were playing accordion. And I went to conjunto music."

In 1957, he got married with Amelia and the two would go on to have four children; two daughters and two sons. The two sons, Gilberto Jr. and Javier, have become well-known musicians in the Valley.

His first big break was joining Ruben Vela's conjunto in 1958. Vela, Perez and Manuel Medina recorded a few songs together before the latter two split off the following year.

In November 1959, Perez recorded with his own conjunto for the very first time. At Mission's Discos Falcón , Perez recorded "El Dia De Tu Boda" (The Day of Your Wedding), a tear-jerker ballad of a man, as he witnesses an old-flame getting married. Written by Medina, the song went on to become a major regional hit at the time.

When talking to my dad about this tune, he still remembers working on the fields and hearing some of the women singing this powerful tune — Me lloran gotas de sangre, al verte tus labios rojos (I cry drops of blood, as I see your red lips).

The group would eventually be dubbed Gilberto Perez y Sus Compadres, and they would become known for other popular tunes like "Mis Parpados", "Con Cartitas", "Por Que Dios Mio", "Aguanta Corazon" and "Te Estare Esperando".

"We tried as much as we could to record our own stuff. Alejandro, my brother, and Ramon Medina would do most of the writing. Everybody played a part but they were a little better at writing songs."

From 1962 to the 1980's, Perez would be on the road, from four to eight weeks at a time. From coast-to-coast, he and his fellow musicians toured across various states, bringing their original style of working-class music to the people working in the fields.

"Back in the early 60's, there was a lot of people that used to migrate to work on the fields," Perez said. "That's what we did at the time, we followed the people."

He stopped going on the road during the 1980's, but if an opportunity arose for something that interested him, he would make plans to travel for the performance. One such example was in 1999. Perez was invited to perform at the Smithsonian Institute, an honor he is deeply proud of. Shortly after that, he started making appearances in Monterrey, Mexico, where he played in front of thousands of fans on multiple occasions.

Unfortunately, open-heart surgery on November 2003 put an end to Perez going to Monterrey on a regular basis. A few years after that, he went back to the hospital for a pacemaker implant.

"That slowed me down, I have to take care of my health but I still play," Perez said.

When asked how many albums he's released over the years, Perez provided an honest answer. He says, that the market has seen about 50 of his albums, but many of those albums were using the same material as previous releases. Perez explained that re-releasing tracks was common for some of the labels he recorded for. Some of those labels include Freddie Records, Joey Records, Hacienda Records, Discos Falcón, and Ideal Records.

He still has the urge to record music at this stage in his life.

"I'm working on some new material that I'm writing up," Perez said "We just got through recording one (album) on instrumentals."

A recent song of his that caught a lot of attention is titled "Mi Ultimo Deseo" (My Last Wish). The heartfelt song is a personal one for Perez.

"Me and one of my friends thought of the idea of writing up a song about when I pass away," Perez said. "(The song) means I'm asking what I want my family or friends to do, because when I'm gone, I'm gone."

Let's hope it's a very long time before that happens. For now, the soft-spoken accordionist is looking forward to celebrating his birthday this upcoming weekend by performing at two gigs — La Villita in San Benito on Saturday and La Lomita Park in McAllen on Sunday. He says to those who plan on attending, be ready for a lot of singing.

"I love what I do, my plans is to keep doing it until the big man says you can't do it anymore," Perez said. "I'm no quitter and I won't change the music. When I started (from) rock and roll, I went to conjunto. I decided I was going to stay with conjunto because it's what my father liked and I'm going to please my father until the last day."