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
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Lomita-Park/146095848797378
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.