Every year on March 31 and April 16, you can be sure of one thing — your social media feed is going to be buzzing about Selena Quintanilla. As your scroll down your Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, your friends are going to be posting her appearances on The Johnny Canales Show, various online memes, photographs, and many of her memorable Tejano hits. While we're 19 years removed from the terrible tragedy that took her away, the memories she brought us continue to be revered by those that witnessed her meteoric rise.
When Johnny Canales had his own orchestra, he played some events with Abraham Quintanilla, Jr. and Los Dinos. So he was already familiar with the Quintanilla family, and had heard the local buzz surrounding their young, talented daughter Selena. The first time she made her appearance on The Johnny Canales Show in 1985 was also going to be the first time he met her.
The 13 year old singer already had an eye for fashion that stood out, even at that young age. She, along with her group, got white jump suits for their debut on that program. They placed the suits on the ground, got a paint brush, and proceeded to splatter the suits with permanent fluorescent paint. The loud, bright colors were meant to make an impression on viewers. Selena also picked out guitar earrings to wear for the occasion, and got a second set of wardrobe to wear later on the show that she described as "dressy".
The Quintanilla clan arrived at the KVEO TV studios in Brownsville, TX.
"'Oh Mama', aqui esta," Canales said as he introduced Selena to his large television audience.
Selena and Los Dinos started to perform and lip-sync to Ruben Armando's "Oh Mama", a song that Selena had just released in an album titled The New Girl In Town that year. The lip-syncing was done for audio-quality purposes, and every artist that made an appearance there would do the same.
"I saw a little spark in her, she had something that just certain people got," Canales said.
After they finished the song, Canales went to interview his first time guests. Canales starts talking in Spanish, asking about their paint job. Selena responded in English. Finally, Canales asks, "Y la gente que los esta escuchando en Mexico?" ("And for the people that are listening to us in Mexico?")
Selena, confused and amused, answers: "Los pintaron?"
They both had a big laugh about how she didn't know how to speak Spanish.
"She told me, 'You know what, I'm going to learn how to speak Spanish,'" Canales remembers. "Ten years later, when she was almost 23 years old, I interviewed her, in what now is called the Selena Auditorium in Corpus. Interview was totally in Spanish. That's why I think she was big, because everything she wanted to do, she would do it."
Selena would become a frequent guest on Canales' program. Another early appearance is one that Canales remembers very well.
As they were standing backstage, ready to go out to the live audience, Canales asked Selena if she was ready. She said she was. Canales asks again, adding that he's going to make it a big presentation for her. She confirms that she's ready. As Canales is walking away, he blurts out, "Just take that little peace of bean that you have between your teeth out." There was nothing actually there, it was just Canales messing around, as he often did with his guests.
Selena's eyes widened. Her tongue started working its way around her mouth and teeth. She tried to get this imaginary bean out of her mouth, as Canales got on the house microphone. "Aqui esta Selena!" roared Canales, and Selena walked on stage. She was still working towards finding this bean, when Canales finally leaned close, and told her it was just a joke.
"Nombre, si no se acaba los dientes," ("If I didn't tell her, she would have finished her teeth,") Canales said laughing. "We used to play that way."
|Selena grabbing a hold of Johnny Canales' tie.|
Tejano powerhouse La Mafia had just offered Cande Aguilar Jr. a shot to perform with their group in 1988. The 15 year old gladly accepted, and looked forward to touring with the group that Summer. One of his first shows with La Mafia took place at a ballroom in his hometown of Brownsville, TX.
With his black Gabbanelli accordion strapped on, Aguilar stepped out on the stage, and began performing with Oscar De La Rosa's crew. While playing the accordion, he noticed a pair of sisters in the front row, near the stage.
After the baile was over, the two sisters came up to Aguilar and introduced themselves.
"At that time, I didn't know who she was," Aguilar said.
One sister was 20 year old Suzette Quintanilla. The other sister was 17 year old Selena Quintanilla. Both complimented Aguilar's accordion playing skills. The Aguilar and Quintanilla parents started conversing as well. From that point on, Aguilar very much knew who Selena was.
The Summer had begun, and La Mafia enlisted the services of Selena y Los Dinos to open for them during this tour. Now with the two talented teenagers on the same bill, Aguilar was finally seeing what Selena was capable of.
"Nombre, once you saw her, ya, that was it," Aguilar said. "You kind of had to keep up with her. You wouldn't forget her. Ya no se te olvidaba."
The tour took them to a dance hall in Victoria, TX. Before the show started, Selena and Aguilar were hanging out backstage. Selena started warming up, to get ready for the show that evening. She began twirling, spinning at a rapid speed, then would put her two fingers on Aguilar's shoulder to slow down her momentum. She would stop and start again. Repeating those dance moves, working towards perfecting them with Aguilar by her side.
At that time, Aguilar just thought that it was neat that she was practicing in front of him. Now looking back as an artist, more than 25 years later, it's become a cherished memory for him.
"I remember that so clearly," Aguilar said. "That was magical, it was a beautiful moment, beautiful experience to actually have her dancing literally right in front of my eyes."
It was showtime. Selena left the backstage area, heading towards the stage. The Tejano world was about to enter it's golden period.
"It was quite a moment," Aguilar reflects. "Knowing that with those moves, she conquered the world."
|Selena's letter to La Mafia.|
At a pre-party for the 1991 installment of the Tejano Music Awards, Carlito Miranda Jr. ran into A.B. Quintanilla. He asked what Miranda was up to, and wondered if they could meet up at a later day. Quintanilla heard Miranda sing when they got together, and before he knew it, he was touring with Selena y Los Dinos.
Carlito Miranda Jr. y Grupo Metal opened for Selena y Los Dinos as they were about to take off into super-stardom. When they were on the road, the Quintanilla family allowed Miranda and his band to use the famous "Big Bertha" bus.
"They had a new bus," Miranda said. "We were pretty much like a big family. For those amount of years, I learned a lot being there."
From 1991 to 1994, Miranda was there as they made stops all over the Southwest. One event happened to be in Dallas, at a night club known as Monopoly's. While they were waiting for the show to start, a messenger came to Miranda and told him that Selena wanted to see him. He got up and went to go find Selena.
Selena started talking to him about his upcoming album.
"I want to help you on it, vocally," Selena said, according to Miranda.
"Great, whatever you can help me with," Miranda replied.
Selena started helping Miranda with his singing during that period.
"She was always willing to help," Miranda said. "She knew how close me and Chris (Perez) were. Me and Chris go way back, before the Dinos."
As they grew up in that era of Tejano music, Miranda would find himself spending a lot of time with Selena and Perez. One time at a gig, Perez had to go run an errand. Selena needed some eggs, and asked Miranda if he could go get some for her. Miranda answered, "I don't have a car". Selena, who had just bought a brand new Porsche, tossed her keys at him without hesitation. When the keys were in the air, it looked to Miranda as if they were coming to him in slow motion.
"I just thought to myself, I better not wreck this car," Miranda laughs. "Hell yeah I was nervous. I wanted to find the nearest store so I wouldn't have to drive so far."
Miranda arrived back safely, without a mark on the car or the eggs. All he could think at that point was, "Thank god." Miranda concludes that Selena lending him her car without much thought showed that, "She was that cool."
He hasn't talked about these days much since the passing of Selena, but if he catches one of her songs on the radio, it takes him back to those glory years.
"When I hear it," Miranda said, referring to Selena's music. "I can just close my eyes, and go back in that time. I can visualize and see everything the way it was."
The work on Amor Prohibido was underway. A trumpet player was needed though. Henry Gomez told A.B. Quintanilla, "Why don't you use Rene (Gasca)?"
Quintanilla called Gasca, who was living in Houston at the time, after a stint in California. Quintanilla talked about how they needed a trumpet player to record a few songs — "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom", "El Chico Del Apartamento 512" and "Fotos y Recuerdos". Gasca agreed. After getting ready, he hopped into his car and drove from Houston to San Antonio, where Manny Guerra's recording studio was located.
"It felt great that he had called me," Gasca said, about how he felt when Quintanilla offered him this job.
Gasca had met Selena before, when he played for La Mafia years earlier. However this was when he first really got to spend time with her. It was a great experience for Gasca, who describes Selena as being a very fun person to collaborate with.
"She would come to the studio, always really happy," Gasca said. "Always laughing and joking around. She was pretty nice. I always remember her being real down to Earth."
Gasca told Selena something Kiko Cibrian, Luis Miguel's music director at the time, told him. Gasca informed her that Cibrian wanted her to know that he was a big fan of her music.
"She was really happy," Gasca said. "That someone like that was her fan. You always feel good when another musician, somebody that's important likes your music."
Months after they recorded, Selena was playing in Laredo, TX. Gasca was there too, so they all decided to meet up for a hang out session. After a while, Selena and Suzette approached Gasca with a question.
"Can we borrow your car?" asked Selena, according to Gasca.
Gasca didn't mind at all and gladly allowed the sisters to use his vehicle.
"I think they were going to Pollo Loco," Gasca remembers. "They became my friends."
What was just one phone call became much more for Gasca as the years passed by. He established new friendships, and become a part of one of Selena's most treasured albums.
"I'm very glad I was able to record with her," Gasca said. "At that time, when I recorded Amor Prohibido, I didn't know it was going to be such a big hit."
Dreaming Of You (Literally)
As one of the hosts of Puro Tejano, Mando San Roman found himself right in the middle of the Tejano whirlwind in the 1990's. He would often be in attendance for most of the top shows in the Valley. There is one event in particular that stands out for him.
Selena was scheduled to perform in front of a packed house in Harlingen. As she sat in the backstage area, people in her close circle debated whether she should even be there. She was very ill, and struggled when she tried to talk. They asked her, what she wanted to do.
"I have to go up there and sing," was Selena's response, according to San Roman.
Her entourage was hesitant but they allowed her to go out on stage with one condition. They advised her to go immediately to her bus after her performance was over.
"You know what, she got up there, she sang her lungs out, dancing como si nada," San Roman said. "She gets off stage, and instead of going to the bus, she started going down the line, along the fence, shaking everybody's hand."
Her associates got near her, asking her to please go back to her bus.
"No, no, I need to go say hi to my fans," Selena answered back.
Some time later, San Roman was set to do an interview with Selena. The night before, the local radio DJ and TV show host had a vivid dream about Selena. In this romantic vision, there was a strong mutual attraction between San Roman and Selena.
"I got nervous, pos she is pretty," San Roman said laughing. "I had never seen her like that, I always looked at her as a friend."
San Roman was waiting at the KIWW FM 96.1 studio and couldn't get this dream out of his head. After a sound check at La Villa Real, James Echavarria drove Selena over to the studio in a car without air-condition.
"Vinieron todos sudados," ("They arrived all sweaty,") San Roman said. "She was cool with it."
San Roman wasn't himself as he conducted the interview. He had never had difficulty before when interviewing Selena. As he completed the interview, he felt comfortable enough with Selena, that he told her why he was acting odd.
"Oh my god, I can't believe that," Selena laughed, after hearing what he said.
"I know, pretty freaky," San Roman said, laughing.
Later that night, the two met up again on stage at La Villa Real. San Roman and Echavarria presented her with an award that honored her record sales and contributions to Tejano music.
"She touched so many lives," San Roman said. "That was the last time I saw her."
|Mando San Roman, James Echavarria and Selena.|