Friday, June 21, 2013

Conjunto artist Mario Saenz Sr. one of five to be inducted in hall of fame tomorrow

This Saturday night, five individuals will be inducted into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame in San Benito. Bajo-sexto legend and Palmview resident Mario Saenz, Sr. is one of the featured inductees of the evening.

"For me, I think it's about time," laughs Mario Saenz Sr, 86-years-old, about his induction.

Mario's son is excited about the ceremony on Saturday night. He can't wait to be there to experience the moment.

"Super honored for him, because he's worked so hard," said Mario Saenz, Jr. "He's been playing since he was thirteen years old."

Born on December 31, 1926, it's not surprising that Saenz ended up becoming a bajo-sexto player. Raised in La Sal Colorada ranch, he grew up admiring his father, Manuel Saenz — a skilled bajo-sexto player. Mario Sr. made the decision at a young age to follow in his father's footsteps.

To those not familiar with what a bajo-sexto is, it's a unique 12-string rhythm-based instrument. Along with the accordion, this powerful instrument has become one of the key symbols that represent conjunto and norteño music.

After two-years of serving the country in the U.S. Army during World War II, Mario Sr. returned home to his family in Mission on 1946. In the 1950's was when his music career really took off. It was in 1952 when he became a professional musician, and that led to the formation of Los Gavilanes de Mario Saenz. During this span, he performed with accordionists Ernesto Flores and Chano Peralez.

But he still found time for other projects outside of his conjunto.

When norteño pioneers Los Alegres De Terán crossed over to the U.S. and recorded for Discos Falcón, Saenz was called in to the studio to back-up the two iconic stars.

"I started accompanying them with the bass and I recorded many songs with them," remembers Mario Sr. "I also played with them (live) and toured with them."

Those weren't the only musicians that he collaborated with. He worked regularly as a studio musician, being hired to record music for Discos Falcón and Ideal Records. Other musicians he did business with throughout the decades — in the studio or at live shows — include Narciso Martinez, Pedro Ayala, Ernesto Guerra, Juanita Garcia, Beto Cano, Marcelo y Aurelia, Lupe Salinas, and many, many more.

Perhaps his biggest and most successful partnership was when he joined forces with accordionist Wally Gonzalez in 1967. Los Gavilanes de Mario y Wally went to Discos Falcón and recorded many hits;“La del Moño Colorado” (The One with the Red Bow), "La Triste Gata“ (The Sad Cat), "Frijolitos Pintos” (Pinto Beans), "El Riky Riky" and “La Minifalda de Reynalda" (The Mini-Skirt of Reynalda). The two acclaimed musicians gained popularity and fame well beyond the Valley. They were in demand outside of Texas as well, making tour stops in Monterrey, Arizona, California, Ohio and Illinois.

Deep down in his heart, Mario Sr. feels the most grateful towards his wife, Esperanza, who passed away in 2003. He notes that he was playing every week for about 60 years and his wife was always there for him. They were together for 66 years and had five children together.

"I have to give a lot of credit to my wife, because she really supported me all those years," Mario Sr. said

Now in 2013, practicing daily on his vintage bajo-sexto is a routine that has remained strong for him after all these years.

"This bajo-sexto that I have (here) was made in 1968 by Martin Macias from San Antonio," Mario Sr. said. "A very famous man, he used to make great bajo-sexto's (handmade). I still got it."

That's the bajo-sexto that he's going to be performing with at Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum in San Benito on Saturday night. The other inductees for the evening include Johnny Canales, David Lee Garza, Ramon Medina and Juan Sifuentes. Mario Sr. is looking forward to getting up on the stage and performing with accordionist Oscar Garza and his two sons, Mario Jr. and Arturo Saenz.

"He's been a role model, as a father and as a professional musician," Mario Jr. said. "He was always there for us, he always cared about us."

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