|Johnny Canales in Corpus Christi.|
In 2015, Canales is still providing a platform for old and new artists alike. I asked him if we can start from the beginning.
"Well that's about 80 years ago..." Canales jokes. "Let's see if I can remember some parts."
Canales was born to Esteban Canales and Maria Hinojosa in General Treviño, Nuevo León, Mexico. He was the 6th child in a family that would eventually include 10 children. When I asked for his birthday, he joked his way around the question, not wanting to reveal his age. He came to the U.S. when he was 40 days old and settled in Robstown, TX with his family.
"We lived in the barrio, with no hot water," Canales said. "We used to take a bath with a hose, cold water only."
At the age of 6, Canales began accompanying his father to parties, cantinas and gatherings throughout his home area.
"We used to sing for 25 cents, 50 cents a song," Canales remembers.
His father taught him how to play the guitar when he turned 10 years old. They would go out together, with Canales on the guitar, and his father playing fiddle.
"Trying to make a living," Canales said. "We grew up like the average South Texas family — picking cotton, working on the fields."
Canales became involved with a Tejano orquesta featuring Albelardo Chavarria when he was 15 years old. Shortly thereafter, he went on the air as a DJ for a local radio station.
During the Vietnam war, he was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to the 3rd infantry division in Germany. He spent 2 ½ years there before being honorably discharged. When he returned to South Texas, he launched off Johnny Canales y su Orquesta.
"We played everywhere," Canales said. "Texas, California, New Mexico, Michigan, Chicago, Florida. I did that for about 7 years."
Canales points to "El Corrido de Augustine Ramirez" and "Ni el Oro Ni Las Piedras de Colores" as his biggest hits.
He decided to get off the road, since it was "mucha frega" ("too much hassle"), and go back to the radio studio. He was working at KCCT Radio Jalapeño in Corpus Christi when he received an offer to do something different.
"A beer company approached me, asking if it I wanted to do a 30-minute television show, locally in Corpus Christi," Canales said. "They would sponsor it, so I started at half-an-hour in 1983-84. I did my first show on Channel 6, NBC in Corpus Christi. The show did real good so in about 6 months, they gave me the whole hour."
"The Johnny Canales Show" featured the best Tejano, conjunto and norteño musicians of the era. The highlight of his program was usually when Canales would interview his guests. He had so many ways to make you laugh — witty banter, puns, broad humor, Spanglish jokes, amusing observations, obscure references and lighthearted teasing.
In 1985, Selena Quintanilla made her first appearance on his program at the KVEO-TV studios in Brownsville.
"That's where Johnny Canales became known all over the Hispanic world," said Canales of that location.
On that episode, Selena y Los Dinos performed and lip-synced to Ruben Armando’s "Oh Mama", a song she had just released in her album The New Girl In Town earlier that year. The lip-syncing was done for audio-quality purposes, and every recording 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 tune, Canales interviewed his first time guests. In Spanish, Canales asked her about the paint-job on the white jumpsuits they were all wearing. Selena responded in English. Canales, teasing her, asked, "Y la gente que los esta escuchando en Mexico?" ("And for the people that are listening to us in Mexico?")
Selena, confused, answered, "Los pintaron?"
They both burst out laughing about her "Pocha Spanish".
"She told me, ‘You know what, I’m going to learn how to speak Spanish,’" Canales said. "10 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."
In 1988, Univision contacted Canales about broadcasting his program on their network. Canales, who already had his show on 25 different markets, jumped on board.
"I was very excited," Canales said. "That was national and international. Univision went into South America, Central America, the United States and Mexico. So that's where I started again."
Jaime y Los Chamacos was one act that appeared regularly in the 1980's and 1990's.
"It was amazing what Johnny Canales did for all the Tejano, norteño and conjunto musicians," Jaime De Anda said. "He's gotten people to watch us from across the world, from all over the United States, that didn't know about us. But through TV, he helped us get the exposure we needed. That's what got us recognized all over the United States, across the country, and Mexico."
Some other acts that got early exposure on this platform were La Sombra, Elida y Avante, Bobby Pulido, Intocable, Duelo, and Emilio Navaira.
"I never say that I made anybody, because they made themselves," Canales said. "But I think we had something to do to get them where they are right now."
In 1996, he made the move from Univision to Telemundo, where he stuck around until 2005.
The show hit the road, going far beyond South Texas. He traveled all over the United States and even had tapings in Monterrey, Nuevo León.
"In one year, I put a million miles on American Airlines!" Canales claimed.
Canales took a break for about 4 years after some health concerns before returning with El Show de Johnny y Nora Canales in 2012.
"I felt there is a need for this," Canales stated as his reason for returning. "It's like musicians, the guys that get out for a while but they can't stay out because they love it. They come back and play. We can't live without it."
Canales and his wife Nora are now approaching their 20th wedding anniversary. The pair married one another on March 31, 1995.
"20 years, they went by fast," Nora said. "It feels very, very awesome. I think that like with every marriage, we make it work. We love each other every day. We support each other."
How does she feel working alongside her husband?
"That's a blessing," Nora said. "At first, I was very nervous. It's not easy being a co-host. But he's a wonderful husband, and now co-hosting with him, it's an amazing experience because he is beyond the best."
The current incarnation of the show is syndicated throughout several markets. Some of the cities where the show can be seen include Laredo, Corpus Christi, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, Amarillo, and San Angelo. They are currently working on getting the program back on the air in the Rio Grande Valley.
Canales was recently one of the featured guests at HESTEC 2014 at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg. It was a vintage Canales performance. After a set by Ruben Ramos, Canales and Nora interviewed NASA astronaut Jeannete J. Epps. She said she was born in Syracuse, New York, and Johnny replied, "Is that near La Grulla?" Later he told her, "Back in the day, only Wally Gonzalez could fly." He concluded the interview by recommending that she take tamales and chorizo into outer-space.
The married couple will be hosting a line-up at the Texas Onion Fest in Weslaco that will showcase Mario Aleman, Grupo Mixxto, Veronique Medrano, Lucky Joe, Desatados, Tr3n, Roble, and Intrusso de Nuevo Leon. It starts at 5 PM at the Weslaco City Park.
"I want to invite all my friends, from all over the Valley to come over," Canales said.
When Canales isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his daughters Seleste and Miroslava. He says he might have to do a book one day to get his complete life story out to the world. He has no plans of putting down the microphone anytime soon.
"Thank you everybody," Canales said. "When I thank my fans and friends that I have made throughout my career, I thank them also for supporting our music, musicians y grupos. Because if you don't support the groups, they will end. Se los acaba todo (Everything will be finished). You got it, take it away! And that's it!"