Friday, December 5, 2014
Hargill's Casey Cantu to be inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame
"Cuando 'taba chiquito, there was un viejito there in Hargill," ("When I was small, there was an old man there in Hargill,") Cantu, 67, begins.
The old man used to sell "árboles de naranjo" to Cantu for 50¢. Cantu would dig down to its roots, pull the trees out, and place them in a burlap sacks.
"I would go around Edinburg, McAllen, Mission, and sell them on the weekends for a $1.00, $1.25."
Cantu saved the profits, hoping to buy his first guitar. He was already deep into his obsession with music. As a young boy, he would regularly listen to Tejano and conjunto music thanks to his parents. But as he got older, country music and the blues caught his ear tambien.
"I always loved music," Cantu said. "We used to travel pa' norte a los trabajos (up north to work). We used to listen to a lot of country music over there. En la noche (At night) I would listen to the Grand Ole Opry from WSM (650AM) in Nashville."
When he entered his teenage years, he had just enough to buy his first instrument.
"Desas que había (Those that were around) back in the day," Cantu said, about the guitar he secured from the now defunct Silverstone company. "So that's how I started getting into the music."
Cantu began teaching himself, and soon entered several local talent shows. He performed original songs, some protesting injustices that were occurring around the world; others were closer to poetry, observing the environment around him.
When he walked on to the stage with his guitar, he had a harmonica hanging around his neck, "en el estilo de (in the style of) Bob Dylan", Cantu describes.
"I won first place, twice, at the 'Hargill Talent Show', if you want to call it that," Cantu said.
In 1973, Cantu, with Blas Castaneda, Pablo Cavazos and Reuben Rodriguez by his side, launched The Tumbleweed Band. Cantu was on the vocals, and took care of the bass guitar, arrangements, and composing. Castaneda was on guitar and vocals, Cavazos on the drums, and Rodriguez on lead guitar, and steel guitar. James DeBerry joined them shortly thereafter with his fiddle.
The Tumbleweed Band had their first gig at Shakey's Pizza in Harlingen that same year. The band introduced a distinct blend of Country and Tejano music. Word spread about their unique style, and the gang soon found themselves on KRGV's "El Valle Alegre Show" with Mike Cantu. Local conjunto musician, promoter, and producer Pepe Maldonado took notice and asked them to record for his Comanchero Records label. There they recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Spanish Pipe Dream".
Later on, Maldonado played the accordion for the group on occasion.
Cantu would then create his own label that he dubbed Crazy Hat Records in 1976. He released "The Bottle Let Me Down" and "Pack Up Your Sorrows" under that umbrella. The ensemble then recorded several releases for Falcón Records, and made an appearance on the "Fanfarria Falcón" TV show.
"We got well known, all over the country and Mexico," Cantu said, crediting Falcón for the popularity that followed. "That's when we started traveling."
As the decade was closing, the Tejano-Country outfit was traveling throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
In 1980, The Tumbleweed Band signed with Hacienda Records, out of Corpus Christi. They recorded three albums there — The Tumbleweed Band (1980), Wanted (1981), and Hear To Stay (1982).
"And that got even bigger," Cantu said. "We started getting nominated in a lot of award programs, Tejano awards."
The biggest hit from these releases was "Haste Pa'ca y Dame Tu Amor", a cover that was originally composed in English by Don Williams.
"Pego porque (It was a hit because) we played it, pero Cali Carranza also recorded it," Cantu said. "He recorded it in a cumbia style. He was playing it, and we were playing it. So we were two different versions of the song. So it got double air-play. I think that's one of the reasons. And el estilo que tenia la cancion (the style the song had) because it had a country beat, pero tambien era Tejana (but it was also Tejano)."
The group would ultimately disband in 1998.
"We started getting old," Cantu laughed.
In a scrap book that Cantu showed me, he revealed the different people who supported his induction into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame. One of those individuals was Tejano icon Roberto Pulido.
"This is to verify that I've known Casey Cantu since he started The Tumbleweed Band back in the 70's," begins Pulido, in a letter he wrote to The Tejano Roots Hall of Fame committee. "They were one of the bands, along with Country Roland, that influenced me to also do some Tejano Country recordings. We played various gigs together and the crowds of people in the dance halls really got into their music."
Cantu received word a month ago that it was official, and he was set to recognized as a Hall of Famer on the first weekend of 2015.
"One of the reasons I got to be in the Hall of Fame is because they say I was an innovator," Cantu said. "That I started a new type of music (style). Because people would play country, and people would play Tejano, conjunto. But I fused them together. So we exposed a lot of country people to the conjunto style."
Cantu is eager about the weekend, but also admits that he is a little nervous about his speech. He plans to put the finishing touches on it during the final week of 2014. With this exciting event coming up, it's only natural for Cantu to reminisce about where he first developed his love of music.
"My dad was always singing," Cantu remembers. "Ibamos al trabajo en la mañana (We would go to work in the morning), and he would always be singing en la labor (in the fields), you know, pa' que se pase el tiempo (so the time would pass by quickly). So I would join in, to harmonize with him. So if I had to name somebody (that inspired me), it would have to be my father."