San Antonio's Frank "Pancho" Villarreal returns to the Valley tonight, at the Gaslight Club in McAllen. The leader of Grupo Rodeo took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about his lengthy Tejano career.
Festiva: How did you get started in Tejano music?
Villarreal: My father was a musician himself, he used to play with his brother. His brother had a orchestra by the name of Grupo Villarreal. That got started by listening to my dad, and wanting to be just like him. I started very young. At 13, I started playing professionally with my dad and my uncle. That was my beginning.
Festiva: I heard that you played sax, keyboard, and arranged music with Emilio Navaira. From what time period where you with Navaira, and what did you take away from your time there?
Villarreal: I was an original member. By '89 he had a band and I was the last member to join the band. He was looking for a keyboard player and I went to audition. I went ahead and took my sax, just in case. He liked the fact that I could play sax and keyboard, so he gave me the job.
As far as learning, I learned a lot of stuff from Emilio. Basically his concept was, "we're trying to make music that was commercial." That's always been what's stuck with me. He was right, his concept was correct, that what the people want to hear on the radio is just something that's going to be catchy enough, simple enough so they can dance, drink, and all that good stuff. So that's something that I learned along the way from them.
Festiva: What led to the formation of Grupo Rodeo in 1993 and why that name?
Villarreal: I had a good run with Emilio, we were already touring in Monterrey, and I had a lot of connections. I met a lot of people through the association with them. At that point with Emilio, I decided I was going to move on and do something (else). Originally I just wanted to make a group and play locally. I didn't want to do anything big. But because Capitol (Records) knew who I was, they gave me an opportunity and asked me for some demos. One of the songs that I did on the demo really blew them away. They offered me a contract within a month or so, to do a CD. Tejano at the time was booming in the '90's, so it was just the right time for me to do something.
Grupo Rodeo was chosen by me. During the tour with Emilio, we played in the rodeo in San Antonio, and it was one of the biggest rodeos. It was a big experience for me, I was shocked to see how many people were there. I don't remember the exact total, but let's say, it was like 56,000 people were there, or something like that. That had a big effect on me. As a matter of fact, I even saved the poster, I framed it. Every time I looked up at that frame, 'rodeo' stuck with me. When I was searching for a (band) name, I figured, "You know what, I'm going to put 'rodeo' here."
Festiva: How do you feel you've evolved as an artist throughout Rodeo's nine albums? How long ago was your most recent release?
Villarreal: Well when I first started, even with Emilio, we were just experimenting with ideas, sounds. Now I still do experiments, a little bit, but it's more refined. I'm more mature as a musician now than I was 10, 20 years ago. I know what I want to hear, I know what I want to do. I'm not guessing, I'm not just throwing the die. I know what I want to be.
My new CD is called Incomparable. It's been out already six months. It's doing great, if you can't find it at the record shops, we're going to have it at the Gaslight if people are interested in buying.
Festiva: How does it feel to be coming to the Valley this weekend?
Villarreal: We haven't been to the Valley in a while, so we're really, really eager to go over there. I've played there before with other people, it's a great venue, it's a great place. We're looking forward to it, man. The people are going to be surprised by the stuff we have and how we sound. We're hoping all la raza from the Valley come and support us. We've been around a long time y ya era tiempo (and it was time) to come back to the Valley.
Time: 7:00 PM
Phone Number: 956-572-8158
Location: Gaslight Club in McAllen, TX.