Friday, June 13, 2014

Lillie A. Gonzalez and Her Role in Bego‏

Joseph, Lillie, Joseph Jr. and Bob Tanner. 

On May 17, Lillie Arcos Gonzalez passed away. She was 98, and would have turned 99 on June 12.

"She was something else," said Yolanda Gonzalez, 61, Lillie's daughter. "If you never met her, she was a fabulous woman."

Most know about her contributions in restaurants and grocery stores.

However to fans of Tejano, conjunto, norteño, and garage rock music, she is best remembered as a producer that captured the regional sounds of the 1960's and early 1970's.

Her foray into the music industry began when Lillie's second husband, Joseph H. Gonzalez, started promoting dances featuring Mexican and Mexican-American bands in Michigan. One group they contracted was Conjunto Bernal.

Lillie loved the way they sung, but was perplexed by some of the material that Conjunto Bernal was recording during that period.

"(She) couldn't understand why most of their music was all polkas, huapangos, and things like that," Yolanda said. "They were such a good band. Paulino (Bernal) told them, 'Well that's what the record labels there in the Valley (want).'"

After listening to what Bernal was saying, about the lack of freedom to record what he wanted, Joseph asked him how much it would cost to start their own record company.

"They came up with a figure," Yolanda said. "My dad says, 'Okay let's do it.' My mom said, 'Let's get it rolling.' She wrote out the first contracts for those musicians."

Bego Records was launched around 1963. The company name stood for the first two letters of the last names involved. Initially the Gonzalez's owned 51 percent while Bernal was given the remaining 49 percent.

"He's a mover and a shaker," Yolanda said of Bernal. "He has the talent, he has the voice, the gift of gab."

When Rio Grande Valley bands would travel up to Michigan to perform, Joseph would ask how much money it would take for them to sign with his new company. Lillie would then draw up the contracts. Along with Conjunto Bernal, Bego released music from musicians like Tony De La Rosa, Agapito Zuñiga, Ernesto Guerra, Ruben Vela and Los Relámpagos Del Norte.

"My mom and dad were the money people," Yolanda said. "Paulino was doing a lot of the producing. It was him and Armando Hinojosa."

Most of the recordings were completed at Jimmy Nichols' studio on Dallas Ave. in McAllen, TX. Bob Tanner's TNT (Tanner N Texas), a pressing plant in San Antonio, manufactured the vinyl records.

The company started growing, so to better manage the finances, the Gonzalez's began making trips from Michigan to McAllen around 1966. They bought a house here in the Valley, and Lillie started overseeing the Bego office at 415 S. 17th Street in McAllen.

"She was the wheeler and dealer, let's put it that way," Yolanda said. "She was the one behind the scenes making sure that the company was growing."

Lillie's most nationally recognized musical achievement happened outside the Valley though, with a band she was managing at the time. In 1966, she recorded Question Mark and The Mysterians for a subsidiary record label known as Pa-Go-Go. One of the songs they recorded with her, titled "96 Tears", would go on to become a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Bego would later release a conjunto cover of that tune titled "96 Lagrimas" by Carlos Guzman y Los Fabulosos Cuatro, which proved to be a great Spanish remake.

By the end of the 1960's, Bego Records had emerged into one of the most successful Mexican and Mexican-American record companies in North America.

"It was always a competition between Discos Falcón and Bego," Yolanda remembers of that time period.

The Gonzalez's and Bernal went their separate ways around 1970. Bernal started up Bernal Records, while the Gonzalez's continued with Bego for a few more years.

In the early 1970's, the Gonzalez's sold their stock and rights to Discos Falcón. Lillie felt it was the right time to move on.

"At that time, we were getting ready to move back to Michigan," Yolanda said. "So they wanted out of the recording business. My mom was kind of like, 'There is so much pirating going on.' A lot of labels were popping up at that time too. She goes, 'Right now might be the time to get out.'"

Lillie's parents fell ill, and a decision was made between her and Joseph to stay in Texas permanently. The warm climate was a factor in their decision to stay in the Valley.

Her role in Bego Records is something that Yolanda hopes is never forgotten. At times, she feels that her mother doesn't get the credit she deserves. Lillie's work provided musicians and fans with years of quality music during a special era in Valley music. For that, we should all be grateful.

"My mother loved music," Yolanda said. "She lived a good long life, and did a lot in her lifetime."

To those who want to pay their respects, a memorial mass for Lillie A. Gonzalez will be held at the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen on June 14. The ceremony will start at 1:00 PM and the public is welcomed to attend.

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