Monday, October 16, 2017

Texas Farmworkers Union "March for Human Rights" (1977)


On Feb. 26, in San Juan, Texas, there was a gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Texas Farmworkers Union’s “March For Human Rights”. Exactly 40 years earlier in 1977, the TFWU started a march in San Juan that took them to Austin by April, then ultimately to Washington, D.C., in September. Altogether they marched more than 2,000 miles demanding human rights for farmworkers and to repeal ‘Right to Work’ laws protected in the Taft-Hartley Act. This video from Abel Orendain, one of the son's of Antonio Orendain, has footage from this famous march in Rio Grande Valley history. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Upcoming Lucha Libre in the Rio Grande Valley


The weekend of October 21-22 is a major one for professional wrestling in the Rio Grande Valley. In the lower Valley, Hallowmania 9 is taking place on Saturday night, October 21, with the Lucha Brothers (Penta el Zero M and King Fenix) in action at the Jacob Brown Auditorium in Brownsville. In the upper Valley, Robles Promotions is presenting a lucha libre extravaganza that is set for Sunday afternoon, October 22, headlined by top AAA star Psycho Clown. It will be taking place at Famoso Fuego in McAllen, starting at 3 PM.

The show will is schedule to include many luchadores, including Pagano, Hijo del Fantasma, Texano Jr., former TNA star Hernandez, Ramses, La Mascara, someone being promoted as Nacho Libre, Big Neurosis, Corazon de Barrio, Christy Jaines, Mystique, Aguila Azteca, Black Cougar, Al Cruz Jr., Rey Negro, Brysin Scott, Danny Chance, Veronica Brazier, Myzterio, Nite Mare, Pete Pain, Rey Kuervo, Aqua Fish, cult favorite Ronald El Jorobado (a Ronald McDonald hunchback character...), Minion 1, Mini Spiderman, and an appearance from legendary lucha libre pro-rudo commentator Arturo Rivera. No word yet on what matches are going to be taking place, who will be fighting who, between all these luchadores.

This show is being built off last months “Gran Homenaje Brazo de Plata (Super Porky)” event at Famoso Fuego on September 17. Porky is the father of Psycho Clown, who is one of the many members of the legendary Alvarado wrestling family. Clown has been climbing up the ranks at AAA (one of the top professional wrestling companies in the world; based out of Mexico) in the past few years and had his breakthrough match on August 26 at Triplemanía XXV.

On that date, Clown took on lucha libre icon Dr. Wagner Jr. in a ‘Lucha de Apuesta, Mascara vs Mascara’ (Mask vs Mask) match, the biggest type of gimmick match one can have in Mexico. After 28 minutes of back and forth action, and lots of mask ripping and plenty of blood from both men, Clown defeated Wagner Jr. with his version of the ‘Code Red’. Wagner Jr. was thus forced to remove his mask, which he has had since 1985, and reveal himself for the first time in public as 52-year-old Juan Manuel González Barrón. The biggest win a luchador can have is beating a legend in a Mask vs Mask match, and this cemented Clown as the top star in AAA.

The match was a huge success for AAA and Clown. The card drew over 20,000 fans to Arena Ciudad de Mexico. It aired on Twitch for viewers around the world in English and Spanish, and the Clown-Wagner showdown also aired on Televisa in Mexico on the same night as the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Conor McGregor fight. With both matches being aired for free on Televisa in Mexico, Clown-Wagner drew an amazing 22.8 television audience rating, edging out Mayweather-McGregor's 19.9 television audience rating on that same channel.

This will be Clown’s first appearance in the Valley since his career-turning match with Wagner Jr. Presale tickets for the event are going for $20.00, and can be bought at Novedades Martinez in Pharr. For more information on this lucha libre extravaganza, one can call at 956-681-7998.

There is so many lucha libre shows going on at this point in time in the Valley, that it's difficult to keep track for those that don't listen to Spanish-language radio or go to Mexican restaurants where flyers are up. Right before press time, I found out that there is yet another show happening this Saturday night, October 14, at the South Texas Fighting Academy in Mission, Texas, at 7:30 PM. The show will be main evented by Caristico, who formerly went by Mistico during the CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) boom period of the mid-2000's, and who used the Sin Cara moniker in the WWE from 2011 to 2013. During his glory days in CMLL, Mistico had a memorable feud with the late, great rudo Perro Aguayo Jr. and his group Los Perros del Mal. Attempts to make him into the next big Latino star for the WWE didn't really pan out and he's back in the lucha libre circuit.

Joining Caristico for Saturday night's card will be Los Ahijados del Dracula, Los Reyes, Black Cat, Misterioso Jr., Temblor, Gemelos Pantera I y II, Pantera Blanca, Turok, Imagen de Oro, Principe Celestial, Aslum, Turok Jr., Temblor Jr., Mariposa Salvaje, Panda, and Imagen 2, who got Monitor headlines in 2013 after the FBI and SWAT invaded a lucha libre show in McAllen because they confused him for a drug-trafficking luchador that used the same Imagen 2 name. Someone didn't alert the FBI that luchadores use the same (or similar-sounding) names way too often.

Pre-sale tickets are $20.00 for adults, $10.00 for kids, and for more information you can call 956-570-0174.

There is a lucha libre and independent wrestling renaissance going on right now, and I just love it. So much great, great stuff going on right now, it's fun to keep track of everything that is happening in the world of professional wrestling.

Remembering Danny Yanez

Danny Yanez and Esteban Jordan. Photo by George Ovalle. 

Over the years, the Rio Grande Valley has produced an incredible amount of great accordionists. There are so many wonderful ones here in South Texas that we sometimes take them for granted. One legendary figure is from Donna: the late, great Danny Yanez.

I very much fell in love with Yanez’s unique accordion style when I first saw his videos. My dad would talk about him over the years, since he grew up in Donna and was very familiar with Yanez and his family. According to Yanez's son, he played guitar with Elsa’s Esteban Jordan and he considered Jordan his favorite accordionist.

Yanez would later start his own band called Danny Yanez y Los Chavos. He recorded several albums, including recording at Ramiro Cavazos’ Discos RyN, and was clearly influenced by Jordan's accordion style and music. Yanez even recorded his own takes on “Borracho de Gusto” and "Squeeze Box Man", classic Jordan tracks.

Donna was a place that was fertile ground for Tejano, norteño, and conjunto music in this region. Yanez grew up in an area where Pedro Ayala and Los Donneños pioneered this music, where his peers were acts like Frankie Caballero, Los Hermanos Ayala, and Mexican Generation. The nearby El Rincon del Diablo was a place where many of Donna’s musicians would find themselves playing at. 

Yanez recorded with his accordion hero, when he and Jordan collaborated on the song "El Parrandero", released on Little Joe y La Familia's record "Nosotros La Familia de Little Joe" (1974).

Later in life, Yanez was usually found playing at Christian churches and using his great skills there. He joined Paulino Bernal in the niche category of conjunto accordion-playing evangelists. During this phase of his life and career, he became known as the "Puro Holy Ghost" accordion player.

To get a sample of how he played at church, look up the video "Danny Yanez & his Accordion" on YouTube. Wonderfully jazzy and unique. He was still clearly influenced by Jordan as he took Jordan’s "Gozalo Mulata" and turned it into "Gozate con Cristo". You can also find that “Gozate con Cristo” performance video on YouTube, which would ultimately be Yanez’s final concert ever. He would pass away 7 months after that on Feb. 3, 2011.

Yanez was a great talent, and someone I really regret not getting into when he was still alive and playing locally. Luckily I’ve heard a lot about his skills from my dad, including learning that two of my uncles played with Yanez, and from a friend who saw Yanez many times over the years. Also, I’m glad we live in an era where the sharing and distribution of videos is so easy, and that we get to enjoy the stylings of Yanez on the internet. Definitely one of the best accordionists in South Texas history.

Friday, October 6, 2017

26th annual NMCAC Conjunto Festival

This week, I'm going to be recommending different recent videos from 2017 to check out of top conjunto musicians who were originally scheduled to perform at the now cancelled 26th annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival.


“Mi Ranchito” by Los Donneños - Ramiro Cavazos, who celebrated his 90th birthday in February and who is one of the great pioneers of music in the Rio Grande Valley, is still playing the bajo-sexto and singing at his shop in McAllen, on 23rd street. Cavazos first recorded with Mario Montes in the late 1940s for Falcon Records, where they were named Los Donneños by label owner Arnaldo Ramirez. In this video, he is joined by longtime his longtime accordionist Beto Espinoza, as they do their rendition of “Mi Ranchito” at Cavazos’ shop. Cavazos, along with Montes, appeared in a few films that starred Piporro, and with Narciso Martinez in the Les Blank and Chris Strachwitz documentary “Chulas Fronteras”.


“Eva Ybarra Honored at the 2017 NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert HD at Concert” - Eva Ybarra showcases her unique and progressive accordion-playing style in this new video recorded by the National Endowment of the Arts. Ybarra is a San Antonio native, and developed a completely unique style that stands out on its own as one of the best in conjunto music. Ybarra became the first conjunto musician ever to be an artist-in-residence at a major university when she was invited to be one by the University of Washington’s Ethnomusicology Department in 1997. That experience inspired her to record an album titled “Space Needle”. Ybarra has been a regular at the major conjunto festivals over the decades, including both the Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio and the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito.


“Los Texmaniacs at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival: “México Americano’” - Los Texmaniacs have become conjunto music ambassadors, and this is another example of them doing just that. Led by bajo-sexto player Max Baca, his accordion playing nephew Josh Baca, and Edcouch-Elsa native and bass player Noel Hernandez, the group performs a great take on the classic “México Americano”. Baca has been playing the bajo-sexto since he was a child, and learned under the legendary accordionist Flaco Jimenez and bajo-sexto maestro Oscar Tellez. Baca also collaborated with Jimenez and the Rolling Stones for the album “Voodoo Lounge”.


"Linda Escobar on Domingo Live" (07/30/2017) - Linda Escobar has been singing for conjunto bands since she was a child, and continues to do so in 2017. A few years ago, she celebrated her 50th anniversary in conjunto music, just to give you an idea of how long she’s been doing this. In this video, she appears on the Corpus Christi-area program “Domingo Live” to sing several songs with her conjunto, Conjunto Amable, and to promote “Vi Una Nube”, the groups’ new album. The last time I saw Escobar perform in person was at the 23rd annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival, where she performed with the iconic Edinburg conjunto Los Dos Gilbertos.

Interview with Daga


Internationally known luchador Daga was in the Rio Grande Valley recently wrestling in McAllen for Lucha Powerhouse. The former AAA World Cruiserweight Champion is best known for his time in the AAA organization where he wrestled there for six years. He also made some appearances on Lucha Underground on El Rey Network. Daga left AAA earlier this year, to explore the independent wrestling scene, which is currently going through a unique boom period.

Recently Daga defeated Nicho el Millonario (the former Psicosis, who wrestled in AAA and WCW under that character name), in a Hair vs Hair match. Daga took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his training, his favorites, and the current professional wrestling scene in 2017.

EM: To start things off, I read that you trained with two great legends in Black Terry and Negro Navarro, what can you say are some things you learned from those two maestros?

Daga: I’ve always liked the classic style of lucha libre, I’ve always liked it. I’ve become a complete professional wrestler because I can fly, wrestle hardcore, wrestle on the mat. By training with Navarro, Black Terry, and I also trained with CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre), my maestros have always been ‘old school’, so the most important thing I learned was to love lucha libre and to project how it used to be, that pure science, that classic style. I’m in a revolutionary era where there is hardcore and high-flying, so I’m prepared to do whatever style but I learned how to love what I do from those two.

EM: Who were your favorite wrestlers when you were a child?

Daga: When I was a child, I had a few. When I was an adolescent, that’s when I had more. One of them was Negro Casas. I liked a lot of American [and international] wrestlers, like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dynamite Kid, Tiger Mask I, Mitsuharu Misawa, Masato Tanaka, Satoshi Kojima. All of them were wrestlers I liked a lot, and they are all part of the style I use today. I liked wrestlers from all over the world but those were my favorites.

EM: Do you keep up with current international and independent wrestling?

Daga: Yes, now that I’m an independent wrestler, my goal now is to wrestle more in America. So I keep watching American, ‘indie’, Japanese wrestling. It wasn’t that long ago that I saw [NJPW] Wrestle Kingdom 11, which was a really good event. So I keep watching. People recognize Daga from television, but now [that I plan to tour more] they are going to know a new different Daga, with more wrestling.

EM: You mentioned Wrestle Kingdom, what did you think of the Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada match that everyone is talking about?

Daga: I don’t think it’s a 6-star match, but I think it’s like 5 ½ stars, no more than that. Omega I think is one of the best wrestlers in the world today, if not the best. Okada is good too, but I think the one that made that match was Omega.

Note: The ‘6-star match’ is in reference to Dave Meltzer giving the match that rating in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which caused a lot of debate online.

EM: You mentioned Omega, who else do you think are among the best in the world today?

Daga: Today, there is Omega, The Young Bucks, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, there’s so many good wrestlers in the world today. La Rebellion in Mexico too, they are also good wrestlers. The European scene is really good too, with Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jr. There are so many good wrestlers, I think we are in a moment where I wished all the good wrestlers from around the world, from all countries, would start traveling and touring more so we could see professional wrestling grow more and more.

EM: Are there any wrestlers from the independent scene that you’d like to step in the ring with?

Daga: Lots of them (laughs). I would love to go to Japan and wrestle with everyone, Okada, Katsuyori Shibata (note: this was before Shibata suffered his serious head injury), Zack Sabre Jr., The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega. I think right now there are so many good wrestlers all around the world, that all I can say is that I’d like to wrestle them all. From Japan, Europe, to the United States, all of them.

EM: Last question since you mentioned La Rebellion and you’re in the group, what does La Rebellion mean to you?

It’s the best of pro wrestling. I think we have everything we need to do things the right way and succeed. We have Penta, who is a great rudo. Fenix who is a natural high-flyer. They have me, who wrestles with [submission] holds and strong style. Humberto Garza, who keeps moving forward and who women like a lot. I think it’s a great buffet of lucha libre, it’s a movement where La Rebellion are just not four people, but all the people that support us.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Interview with Penta el Zero M


Hallowmania returns to Brownsville on October 21 at the Jacob Brown Auditorium, and the main event is set: lucha libre superstars Penta el Zero M and his brother Rey Fenix, better known collectively as the Lucha Brothers, will be squaring off against The Mechawolf and Ultimo Ninja.

The Hallowmania 9 card will also include Willie Mack, Laredo Kid, Hijo de Fishman, Keira, Ivelisse, Ciclon Ramirez Jr., Canek Jr., and Eso el Payaso. Penta has been all over the place these past few years, and most recently competed at the PWG Battle of Los Angeles 2017 in August, a showcase event for the biggest stars of independent wrestling. He faced former WWE star Matt Sydal and former UFC standout and current Scenic City Invitational winner Matt Riddle there. Penta previously wrestled here in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this year at events promoted by Promociones Salinas and Lucha Powerhouse. This upcoming event is his return to the borderlands of South Texas.

I had the chance to speak to Penta about his career, his favorite wrestlers growing up, the state of wrestling today, and what he thinks of the Rio Grande Valley.

Note: This interview was conducted in Spanish, and this is the English translation of our conversation.

Eduardo Martinez: Why did you decide to leave (major lucha libre Mexican promotion) AAA?

Penta el Zero M: Because basically I want to be looking for other horizons, I want to explore and stand out more (in the wrestling world). Being in AAA has limited us a lot. So I wanted to embark on this new journey to grow more, professionally speaking.

EM: Do you have a favorite memory from your time in AAA?

PeZM: I always enjoyed all my wrestling matches. Wrestling, what happens in the ring is different from what happens outside of the ring. All the matches I had in AAA were pretty good, and I enjoyed being in the ring one-hundred percent.

EM: Who were your favorite luchadores when you were a kid?

PeZM: In my time my favorites were Fuerza Guerrera, the one who nowadays goes by L.A. Park [Note: L.A. Park is the original La Parka, who went by that name in the early days of AAA and late 1990’s WCW. He changed his name in the 2000’s to L.A. Park for copyright reasons, and now AAA has someone else using the La Parka name], Canek, the idols of the moment then like Rey Mysterio, Pierroth, Octagon. Those were some of the luchadores that were my idolos.

EM: Who do you think are the best luchadores in Mexico? Where do you think Mexico stands are far as talent?

PeZM: It doesn’t matter what promotion they are in, whether they are in the independents, in AAA, or in Consejo (Mundial de Lucha Libre), I believe that right now there is so much talent in Mexico. And I believe we’ve [Note: Penta is sitting with current lucha libre star and his friend Daga, who also left AAA, while this interview is being conducted] reflected that, by how we’ve transcended borders, how we are working on this side (of the border), and how much the people love Mexican wrestling, so I think that speaks well of the Mexican luchador.

EM: So the last few years you’ve been wrestling a lot in the American independent wrestling scene. I’ve seen you wrestle Chris Hero in matches that I’ve liked a lot, and many others. What are your thoughts on the American independent wrestlers and scene you’ve encountered?

PeZM: I think I’ve faced the best that the American independent wrestling scene has to offer, like Chris Hero, Sami Callihan, RVD, Ricochet, Raymond Rowe, Zack Sabre Jr., Will Ospreay, and so many other names that I’ve left out. So many people with who have built their great names and showcased their great talent. Also Rey Mysterio and Alberto el Patron, I feel like I’ve been in the ring with the best in the world, when it comes to lucha libre.

EM: You’ve become a regular here in the Rio Grande Valley, can you tell us what your impressions have been so far?

PeZM: The people here have always received us very well, the people here are great, here and all of Texas. And that motivates us to give one-hundred percent up there in the ring.

EM: Thank you Penta.

PeZM: Gracias.

What: Hallowmania 9
Time: 7:00 PM
Date: 10/21
Cost: $20.00, $25.00 (ringside)
Phone: 956-518-2460
Location: Jacob Brown Auditorium in Brownsville.

Round-Up


This week, we're going to have a round-up of some of the most anticipated Tejano, conjunto, and cultural events of the month of October, and two updates regarding previous stories.

--South Texas conjunto legend Pepe Maldonado has lined up the month of October with another quality list of top conjunto acts from the Valley and beyond. Thanks to Joe Maldonado for reaching out and always letting me know the upcoming schedule. These are the following acts scheduled for this month of October: Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos (October 1), Los Nuevo Chachos de Jesse Gomez and Chuy Flores (October 8), Bernardo y sus Compadres (October 15), Los Texmaniacs (October 22), Ruben Garza y La Nueva Era and Orlando Rodriguez (October 29). Entry fee is $10.00, and the music starts at 6 PM every Sunday night. For more information on these upcoming events, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/lalomitapark?fref=ts or call La Lomita Park owner and promoter Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783.

--Elida Reyna y Avante will be playing at the Outta Town Dance Hall on October 14, Saturday night, in Mission. This year marks 14 years that Elida Reyna has been singing and leading the way with the group Elida y Avante. Tickets are $15.00 presale and $20.00 at the door. For more information call 956-584-1812.

--The legendary La Villita in San Benito has re-opened again this past Summer, and is the longest lasting conjunto venue here in the Rio Grande Valley. It has opened and closed during the past couple of decades, after first establishing itself during the 1940's and going through a conjunto golden era in the 1950's and 1960's. The following ats are confirmed for the next five weeks: Jesse Flores y la Ralea Tejana (September 30), Los Badd Boyz del Valle (October 7), Javier y Los Latinos (October 14), Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto (October 21), and Ramon Lucio y Conjunto Dominante (October 28). Doors open at 7 PM, with dances going from 8 PM to midnight. $10.00 per person. 

--Legendary accordionist Eva Ybarra, who we've written about here previously in a cover story for the Festiva and who is a regular at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center, was a recipent of the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. She received her award on September 14 in Washington, D.C. For those of you interested in seeing the video that they did in showcasing Ybarra's unique conjunto career, go to YouTube and look up: 2017 NEA Heritage Award Fellow Eva Ybarra.

--On October 12, 2017, the Roma ISD Choir, Orchestra, Conjunto, Folklorico, and Mariachi students will be having a grand showcase of performances during a benefit show called "To The Gulf Coast With Love". Tickets are $10.00 and will take place at the Roma ISD Performing Arts Center.

Friday, September 22, 2017

End of an Era for Los Fantasmas del Valle

Rodney Rodriguez.
After 17 years, 33-year-old accordionist Rodney “El Cucuy” Rodriguez of Rio Grande City has left the iconic conjunto Los Fantasmas del Valle.

This won’t be the place to spread rumors or chisme about what is exactly going on or what went down between the bandmates in this conjunto. I don’t know, first of all. The only things I do know and have heard is that Rodriguez is starting a new conjunto, the Facebook page for Los Fantasmas del Valle has been deactivated, and that the rest of the scheduled 2017 dates have been cancelled for the longtime conjunto.

The group has been one of the longest lasting conjunto groups in Rio Grande Valley history. This Mercedes-based band got the name Los Fantasmas del Valle from Alejandro Perez — the brother of the conjunto legend Gilberto Perez — after they recorded "Mis Pasos Andaran", a spooky song about a man who died but came back as a ghost to haunt his girlfriend.

At the time, Los Fantasmas del Valle was led by bass player Hector Barron, bajo-sexto player Julian Figueroa and accordionist Gilberto Rodriguez. The latter left after a run that lasted several years. Several accordionists rotated in and out, until Mike Gonzalez secured the role in 1975. He held on to that accordionist position for 25 years until he fell ill in 2000.   

That’s where Rodney Rodriguez comes in. The story is a famous one of how he joined Los Fantasmas del Valle. Barron received a recommendation from a fellow conjunto musician named Freddie Gonzalez to check out this young accordionist from Rio Grande City. An audition was scheduled at the Burger King in Pharr, near the Expressway and I Road (now called Veterans Road).

The 16-year-old accordionist had already been playing conjunto music for several years. He first started playing at the age of 13 in Rio Grande City at a air conditioning shop that was owned by Richard Lund. This was his big shot at joining one of the most popular conjunto acts in the Valley.

Rodriguez’s father gave his son a ride from Rio Grande City and he introduced himself first to the band.

"The Fantasmas thought that my dad was actually me," Rodriguez told me in 2015. "That he was the guy that was going to audition. Dice mi apa, 'Pues dejame traer a mi hijo.'" (My dad said, 'Well let me go get my son.')

He hopped out of the car surprising the band of older musicians by how young he looked.

"Me arranque con ella," (I started shredding it,) Rodriguez said. "They were surprised. They were like, 'O lo hizo igualito.' No mas oyeron esa y me dijo Hector, 'Alistate pa' el weekend.' Asi fue la cosa." (‘Oh, he did it exactly the same (as Gonzalez).' They just heard it and Hector told me, 'Get ready for the weekend.' That's how it went down.)

A few weeks later Los Fantasmas del Valle, with Rodriguez on board, traveled to Washington, D.C., where they represented South Texas conjunto music at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in the Summer of 2000.

As their accordionist, Rodriguez would be an important member of the group for the next 17 years. During that period Los Fantasmas del Valle became one of the most consistent conjunto acts of the 2000’s. They played all throughout the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas: at La Lomita Park in McAllen, the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito, and even at the Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. They also released multiple CD’s and merchandise during this time frame.

With Rodriguez gone, an era has come to an end. No word yet what is the plan with Los Fantasmas del Valle. But the good news is that Rodriguez, who at the young age of 33 already has a lifetime of experience, plans to continue carrying the torch (or accordion, in this case) for conjunto music well into the future.

I’ve been in touch with Rodney Rodriguez and we are planning to have an interview in the coming weeks to discuss his future in conjunto music. So we will keep you updated about what he plans to do in the conjunto music world. 

Television Time Remaining: Pirata Morgan in Hidalgo and my own personal history with wrestling.

Pirata Morgan spanking Corazon de Barrio.

It was Mexican Independence Day this past Saturday, and Promociones Salinas presented a free lucha libre event at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas. The main event featured Pirata Morgan, or as he’s been calling himself “El Mejor Luchador del Mundo” (“The Best Wrestler in the World”) for decades, teaming up with Super Parka, who is the uncle of the famous L.A. Park (the original La Parka that was in AAA in the early 1990’s and WCW in the late 1990’s). The two rudos took on the técnico team of Corazón de Barrio and Hijo de Mascara Sagrada.

In his prime during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Morgan was legitimately one of the best wrestlers in Mexico, and someone who could do a little bit of everything. He’s best known for his blood soaked brawls with El Dandy, El Volador, El Faraon, Masakre, and Los Brazos. Now at 55 years of age, he gets on by with his tremendous charisma, beyond vulgar trash talking, great looking and sounding strikes, and a unique connection with his audience. Legends who gave their body and dropped buckets upon buckets of blood during their long and storied careers will always have a special place in the hearts of lucha libre fans.

As is the case with traditional lucha libre, the técnicos and rudos were one fall a piece as they entered the third and deciding fall. Morgan started using weapons he found at ringside, including a “Caution: Floor Is Wet” sign to batter his foes, even spanking Barrio with it. The kids screamed when the rudos were in control, and went wild when Barrio and Sagrada made their comeback, punishing Morgan, Parka, and the corrupt referee with the very “Caution: Floor Is Wet” sign that was used against them. “Una sopa de su propio chocolate” (“A taste of their own medicine”) is something always pleases a crowd. The good guys one, the bad guys lost, and most importantly, the kids went home happy.

After the match, the rowdy Morgan turned into a gentleman as he sold shirts, cute little dolls of himself, and took selfies with anyone that was interested. One shirt had a Spanish saying that basically translated to: “Today is a good day to [expletive] you up.” An older woman near me laughed and shook her head when she read it. The crew packed up, and did it all over again for another crowd of fans at Rio Grande City later that day.

It’s been a great year for professional wrestling in 2017, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to many shows this year, from local lucha libre events to EVOLVE, NXT and the WWE Royal Rumble in San Antonio to the Scenic City Invitational in Tennessee. It’s been a blast and it’s been making me think of my own personal history with wrestling. I’m a fan of a lot of things, and share many interests, but nothing has caught my attention quite like wrestling has for the past 20 plus years. 

Recently I was talking to my dad on the phone and I brought up how I was watching WWE Monday Night Raw, and he asks, “Te acuerdas cuando fuimos a ver Andre The Giant y el Ultimate Warrior.” (“Do you remember when we went to see Andre The Giant and the Ultimate Warrior?”)

He was referring to a WWF (now called WWE) event in Edinburg, at the Pan American University Fieldhouse on September 1, 1989. The card featured Mission native Tito Santana, Rick Martel, Jim Duggan, Haku, The Rockers, and a short 30-second main event between the Ultimate Warrior and Andre The Giant. The Ultimate Warrior quickly beat Andre The Giant, who was near the end of his Hall of Fame career.

I laughed and answered, “No pos, tenia no mas 3 años, no me acuerdo.” (“No well, I was only 3 years old, I don’t remember.”)

He laughs and confirms I was sleeping next to him and my older brother Angel Pablo for most of the show. Decades later I very much regret that I slept through that experience.

I caught various glimpses of wrestling over the early 1990’s, and loved playing with my older brother’s WrestleMania NES video game, action figures, and a pair of board games that WWF and the Texas-based WCCW released during the 1980’s. My dad and older brother were big fans of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and when my little brother Christian was born in 1990, he got the middle name “Randy” because of that.

In 1993, I started watching a little bit of wrestling on my own, specifically WWF, and bought some trading cards of WCW, that I still have lying around somewhere. But it wasn’t until 1995 where I just got hooked, and never looked back.

One Thursday night, October 19, 1995 to be exact, I was channel surfing and came across the USA Network. They were showing a replay of a WWF Monday Night Raw episode that had originally been broadcast on October 16, 1995. The main event was a steel cage match between Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Isaac Yankem, DDS, an evil dentist that Jerry “The King” Lawler brought in to do his dirty work. Lawler’s interfering led to him being placed in a ‘Shark Cage’, and eventually Hart overcame Yankem by escaping the big blue cage. For whatever reason, this really silly match just resonated so much with me as a kid. From that point on, I kept watching wrestling week after week, catching Raw, WCW Monday Nitro on the TNT Network, and lucha libre.

During an episode of Raw, commercials began airing for a local wrestling event that was taking place in Harlingen, at what was then called the Harlingen Field. I convinced my dad to buy us tickets at the local HEB, and I ended up attending with him, and my two brothers. This is what I constantly refer to as my first live wrestling experience. The card consisted of mostly regional talent like Scott Putski, Black Bart, but the real draws of the show were the Guerrero Brothers  — Chavo and Hector Guerrero.

By that point, I had already become a big fan of Eddie Guerrero on WCW television, so I was excited to go see his older brothers wrestle in person. But what I didn’t know at the time was how experienced and great Chavo and Hector were, both as a tag team and in singles competition. That was the highlight of the night, seeing the Guerrero’s tear it up inside a ring that had the “Valley Morning Star” logo on the apron skirt. The peak moment for me was when the Guerreros busted out the “Estrellita” llave, a hold that is usually only seen in Mexico or in lucha libre influenced Japanese promotions. Just like my most recent experience, the wrestlers all hung out afterwards, and I got an autograph from the Guerreros on a program I had bought at the event.

Since then, I’ve been blessed to continue to go to so many wrestling events, seeing everyone from El Hijo del Santo to Ric Flair to Eddie Guerrero to the Undertaker to Perro Aguayo to John Cena. Like Miguel Angel Salinas was telling me right before his event this past Saturday, it’s a very addicting experience. From that first show I went to with Los Guerreros to this last one with Pirata Morgan, there’s nothing quite as fun as going to a wrestling show. I’ve been to a major UFC show, to big boxing fights, to Spurs games, and I’ve had a great time at all those events, but there is something special when it comes to a wrestling event, whether it’s in front of 50 people at the pulga or in front of 50,000 people at the Alamodome.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be sharing more and more about the current independent wrestling scene here in the Valley and beyond. There is just so much great stuff happening in 2017, and I think it deserves to be documented and covered. As for now, time has run out, but tune in next week for more on the independent wrestling scene of 2017.

Los Guerreros in Harlingen back in 1996.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Big Weekend of Lucha Libre Action

A young Pirata Morgan.
This weekend, two of the biggest Mexican pro wrestling stars from the 1980’s and 1990’s will be making appearances in the Rio Grande Valley. The legendary Pirata Morgan, a brawler who wears an eye patch (he legitimately lost his right eye during a match in 1981) will be part of the line-up at the Fiestas Patrias 2017 at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas on Saturday. The event is completely free and open to the public. Fito Olivares is also scheduled to be performing for that occasion. Brazo de Plata, better known to many as Super Porky, will be the focal point of the “Gran Homenaje Brazo de Plata (Super Porky)” event at Club Fuego in McAllen, Texas. Tickets for that event are $15.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.

Morgan has become a regular for the local Promociones Salinas crew in recent years. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the ring announcer would often refer to him as “El Mejor Luchador del Mundo” (“The Best Wrestler in the World”). Morgan has wrestled with so many of the major names in lucha libre, in singles, tags, and trios matches, including El Dandy, El Satanico, El Faraon, Masakre, and so many more. In 1989, he was part of a memorable rivalry, where his trio that included Hombre Bala and El Verdugo feuded with Los Brazos of El Brazo, Brazo de Oro, and Brazo de Plata (Super Porky). Morgan would later take part in the CMLL World Trios Championship Tournament Finals, where he teamed up wtih MS-1 and El Satanico to form Los Infernales. They battled Los Brazos in a classic match, one of the best pro wrestling matches of the 1990's. Morgan would reverse a victory roll from the late Brazo de Oro to win that match.

I first saw Morgan wrestle live in December 12, 2005 at the then named Tejano Saloon in Pharr. He teamed up with El Maniaco to face El Hijo del Santo and Alebrije in a great match.

While teaming with his brothers under the Los Brazos brand, Porky became one of the most beloved luchadors of the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s. The three brothers lost their masks in a famous match against Los Villanos (Villano I, Villano IV and Villano V) in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon in 1986. In May of 1991, Porky participated in one of the most popular matches of that year, when he teamed up with his brothers to face El Dandy, Popitekus and Super Astro. He would go on to hold the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship for one year, in 1993-1994. Porky had an interesting decade in the 2000’s, where he dabbled in mixed martial arts in the DEEP promotion in Japan, and as a comedic character on WWE Smackdown in 2005-2006. He would go to AAA after his time in the WWE was up.

I last saw Porky at Club Fuego when he teamed up with El Hijo del Santo, for what would be Santo’s last Valley appearance, on June 2, 2013.

Porky’s sons, Maximo and Psycho Clown, are two of the biggest current stars in lucha libre. Clown just beat Dr. Wagner Jr. in a great ‘Mask vs. Mask’ match at AAA’s TripleMania XXV, on August 26, further cementing him as one of the top faces of modern day lucha libre.

No matches have been announced yet for the Club Fuego event by Robles Promotions, but Mr. Electro, Maximo, Corazon de Barrio, Brazo de Plata Jr. are some of the names that are scheduled to be wrestling. Doors open at 3 PM. As for the State Farm Arena show by Promociones Salinas, Morgan will be teaming up with Corazon de Barrio to take on Super Parka and Hijo de Mascara Sagrada, and Quinto Elemento and Asterisco Jr. will face Mysterio and Cruz Jr. That event starts at 2 PM.

"I grew up watching live lucha since I was like 5 years old, watching my father wrestle in Mexico," said Miguel Salinas, promoter of Promociones Salinas. "Very entertaining, if you haven't seen live lucha libre you're missing something that will be addicting for the rest of your life. My son is 9 and has been watching wrestling for 5 years. He will probably do the same as his dad."

Friday, September 8, 2017

The 7th annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert

The 7th annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert took place this past Saturday night in Brownsville, and it was a loving tribute to conjunto music as a whole, and to the pioneers of this genre of music in South Texas.

Timo Ruedas, Juan Antonio Tapia, Lupe Saenz, and all the people at the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) deserve credit for leading the way for grassroots conjunto music here in the Rio Grande Valley. When this event was organized, the idea that the STCA Brownsville Chapter had in mind was to have sons of conjunto pioneers honor their legendary fathers. So we had Santiago Jimenez Jr., the brother of Flaco Jimenez and a 2015 recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, paying homage to his father Don Santiago Jimenez Sr.

Santiago Jr. went up there, drank a bit of beer (he famously has talked about how drinking beer helps him perform on stage, adding a little bit of flavor to his music and helping put him at ease), and delivered a great 45 minute set. At one point, someone asked that he play “El Rosalito”, and he honored that request. The highlight to me was seeing him perform “Viva Seguin”, the great polka from his father, and a piece that has lived on thanks to Flaco and Santiago Jr. At the end, Santiago Jr. got a bit choked up during his emotional rendition of “Homenaje A Don Santiago Jimenez”, a corrido that told the story of his father. Afterwards, Santiago Jr. sold copies of his new CD, which has a cover photo of him receiving the National Medal of the Arts from former President Barack Obama.

The second chapter of the night was with Ricky Guzman III and Ricardo Guzman Jr. paying tribute to Ricardo Guzman Sr.; Ricky III’s grandfather and Ricardo Jr.’s father. Ricardo Guzman Sr. had the locally famous band Ricardo Guzman y Sus Tres Ases (bajo-sexto player Ricardo Jr. has carried on the brand of the band in recent years). Ricky III is one of the best young accordionists around today, and there were more people dancing during this set than at any other point of the night. Last time I saw Ricky III was at my neighborhood Jamaica at St. Anne’s Church, and I love his unique, Edinburg-conjunto-Tex-Mex style. Some of the Guzman family was in attendance, wearing a Guzman conjunto t-shirt that said “Conjunto Hasta La Muerte” with a skull. It looked so cool. Best moment of this set for me was when Ricky III started busting out “El Coco Rayado” and “Juana La Cubana”. 

Finally the Gilberto “Chore” Perez Jr. y su conjunto stepped on the stage to close at the night in Downtown Brownsville. Bajo-sexto player Gilberto Jr. announced a warm message from his father, Gilberto Sr., who resides in Mercedes and is still an active performer in the local conjunto scene. The conjunto played a nice variety, including a polka, a huapango, and even the Gilberto Sr. classic “El Dia de tu Boda”, one of my all time favorite songs. Composed by Ramon Medina, the song was recorded at Falcon Records by the composer and Gilberto Sr. on November of 1959. The emotional song also reminded me of my own father, who always remembers the song from his childhood.

"Ibamos a piscar algodon, y el troquero tenia un radio (We went to go pick cotton, and the trucker would have a radio)," Felix Martinez, my dad, told me. "Las muchachas jovenes, todo el dia estaban cantando la cancion (The young women would be singing 'El Dia De Tu Boda' all day long)."

Tapia deserves a special shout out for the different roles he took on during the night: a key member of the Brownsville chapter of the STCA, the bajo-sexto player for Santiago Jr., and the accordionist for Gilberto Jr. He did a great job on all fronts.

So all in all, it was a lovely night of conjunto music in Brownsville this past Saturday night. Was also happy to see many conjunto regulars in attendance, like Raul and Amelia Martinez, and the Perales Family. You know it's a great conjunto event when you see these folks there.

I’m very much looking forward to the next year’s celebration of conjunto music. With the future of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival being uncertain, after having established itself during its 25-year run, this annual event in Brownsville might become the only community conjunto festival for this region. So if you can make it out there the next time this extravaganza takes place, I strongly recommend you check it out and support it. Like that shirt said, "Conjunto Hasta La Muerte".

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Round-Up


This week, we're going to have a round-up of some of the most anticipated Tejano, conjunto, and cultural events of the month of September.

--Two of the biggest stars in Tejano orquesta music will be returning to the Rio Grande Valley on September 9, Saturday night. “The Legend Dance of the Year” will be headlined by Little Joe y La Familia and Ruben Ramos. Joe and Ramos are two of the very few Tejano orquesta leaders from the glory days of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s that are still consistently working. The event will be taking place at the Catholic War Veterans dance hall in Weslaco, and entrance is $25.00 for the first 300 people, and $30.00 for anyone that arrives after the initial 300. For more information, call 956-522-5962.

--The great Sunny Ozuna and Big Crown Records teamed up for ‘Mr. Brown Eyed Soul’, a compilation of Ozuna’s beautiful songs from 1966 to 1972. I plan to have a full review up in the coming weeks, but to give y’all a preview right now, it’s strongly recommended. Amazing track selection of what made Ozuna such a special voice in Chicano Soul music. This is being released in several different formats including MP3, CD, LP, and a limited edition special colored vinyl LP. To pre-order, go to https://bigcrownrecords.com/store/

--La Lomita Park will be back in action in September, and they start things off this Sunday night, September 3, with Los Fantasmas del Valle. Pepe Maldonado is still working on the rest of the acts for this month, but we will have more information as soon as the rest of the bands for September are confirmed.  Entry fee is $10.00, and the music starts at 6 PM every Sunday night. For more information on these upcoming events, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/lalomitapark?fref=ts or call La Lomita Park owner and promoter Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783.

--Tomorrow, on September 2, the 7th annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert will be taking place in the Historic Brownsville Downtown District, between the Capitol Theater and El Jardin Hotel. The theme of the event is “Sons of Conjunto Legends”, and will feature performances from Gilberto Perez Jr. y su conjunto, Ricardo Guzman Jr. y Los 3 Aces, and Santiago Jimenez Jr. y su conjunto. There will also be a “So You Think You Can Dance Conjunto” competition, a 20-plus minute dance marathon where participants will dance in different conjunto styles and rhythms like vals, bolero, redova, shotiz, cumbia, polka, and finally, a huapango. The event is open and free to the public, and is being organized by the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) Brownsville Chapter.

--If you’re looking for something to do before the big boxing showdown between Saúl ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, his years September 16's Fiestas Patrias at the State Farm Arena will feature the iconic cumbia hit maker Fito Olivares, and lucha libre that includes the legendary brawler Pirata Morgan, who used to be announced as “El mejor luchador en el mundo” (“The best wrestler in the world”) during his heyday in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. For more information visit http://cityofhidalgo.net/events/.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Oscar Hernandez is Someone To Look Out For

Oscar Hernandez is a Pharr accordionist that is often overlooked when talking about the giants in accordion music. I think he's someone that more people should be familiar with, he's one of the greatest musicians of this region.

His name is spelled two different ways, sometimes it's spelled "Oskar" and other times it's spelled "Oscar". Not sure what is the actual correct spelling but I'm going to refer to him as "Oscar" in this piece. When he was a kid, he already had his own band here in the Valley.

His first band that got him a lot of attention was Oscar Hernandez y Los Profesionales. He also performed with Oscar Hernandez y Los Alegres del Valle.

There had been a rumor that the reason Paulino Bernal hired him to be in El Conjunto Bernal was because he saw him as an accordion threat or as someone better than him on the squeezebox, during that early 1960's era. I asked Bernal about it once.

Bernal begins, "I said, 'Well I started hearing him, he was a tough musician playing great accordion [music] and if you can't beat him, join him," he laughed and then continued, "We did incredible things with those accordions."

Manuel Peña talked about Hernandez's addition to El Conjunto Bernal in his amazing book "The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music":

"[Paulino] Bernal broke ranks with his peers by not only adding a second accordionist to the group (in the person of the young but highly regarded Oscar Hernandez) but at the same time following Hernandez's lead in switching to the unheard of chromatic, or five-row, button accordion. With this addition El Conjunto Bernal's break with past practice was accomplished in one stroke. The contrast between the old and the new Bernal was nothing short of radical, especially when viewed in the light of the musical climate of the time. The new combination made possible a wide range of sororities, as the Bernal-Hernandez tandem combined to record such polkas as "Idalia", with its intricate execution and fast chromatic passages."

In his post-Conjunto Bernal days, he played with Oscar Hernandez and the Tuff Band, which included the recently departed Jessy Serrata as the singer. One of the cool songs they did together was "Desde Ayer", a progressive-sounding Tejano-conjunto cover of The Beatles' "Yesterday". The group as a whole had a very post-modern conjunto sound to it that was very unique at the time. They really built off what Conjunto Bernal had done in the 1960's and took it to another direction.

In the 1990's Hernandez would release a rare solo CD titled "Playing With Myself". It was arguably the most experimental and jazzy sounding conjunto album I've ever heard. One of the great gems of conjunto music, and can't be compared to anything else out there.

So if you ever want to treat yourself to an accordionist that hasn't gotten the attention he truly deserves, check out the music of Oscar Hernandez of Pharr, Texas. He's up there with the giants like Esteban Jordan, Eva Ybarra, and Paulino Bernal when it comes to accordion music.

Note: Oscar Hernandez has declined to be interviewed several times over the past five years. People interested in wanting to know more about him can learn about him at the Border Studies Archive, where an old interview of him exists there.

Friday, July 7, 2017

WWE's first show in Hidalgo

As WWE returns to the State Farm Arena this Sunday night with their ‘WWE Smackdown!’ brand line-up, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the first WWE show I attended.

Before 2003, I had attended local pro wrestling promotions, lucha libre in Reynosa, and a taping of WCW Monday Nitro. WWE hadn’t had a show in the Rio Grande Valley since 1995, when they stopped by at South Padre Island. So this would be their first show here in 8 years, at the then newly opened Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, now named the State Farm Arena.

I was a 17-year-old Senior at PSJA North High School in Pharr, and was bugging (and begging) my dad to take my brother and me to the show. The week before the event, he went to the arena and got us some tickets for the 'WWE Smackdown!' house show (untelevised event) that would take place on Monday night, November 17, 2003.

We arrived pretty early, and teenaged me was so pumped up when I saw Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jr. — my two favorite wrestlers at the time and now at 31 years old, I can add "of all time" — approaching the fans as they came out of their rental cars. They started hanging out at the parking lot before the start of the show, autographing everything that was put in front of them. I lent Eddie my pen so he could sign an autograph for me and the other fans that were there in that particular area. After he finished signing autographs, he handed the pen back to me, and said “Thank you” in his natural voice. He was all smiles that day.

Christian Randy Martinez and Eddie Guerrero. 
At the time, Guerrero was starting to become a huge star to Mexican and Chicanx audiences across the Southwest. In 2015, I interviewed Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter about Guerrero during this time period for an article I was working on but that never got published.

"I noticed it very early on, it was probably about a year-in-a-half before he started getting the big push,” Meltzer told me during our phone conversation. “At the time, I was getting the quarter hour breakdowns of not just 'Smackdown!' but of 'Smackdown!' in all these different markets. So I noticed that Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, there were certain markets, where Eddie and Rey, whenever they were on TV, [the ratings] wouldn't just go up, it would skyrocket. Then at the same time, 'Smackdown!' was the number one English language network show in Hispanic homes. So I'm looking at those two things, putting one and one together, so that's when I figured it out. That's when I think [WWE] started opening their eyes, that Eddie was more than just a good [in-ring] worker, that he had that potential."

That night in Hidalgo, Eddie teamed up with his nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. for a match against the Basham Brothers. It was a really good match, but in that arena on that night, it felt even better than that, because the heat from the crowd was amazing. Super loud, non-stop "Eddie" chants throughout, from beginning to end.

Every minor thing he would do would get a huge reaction. There was a funny moment or two where Eddie asked the crowd to show Chavo some love as well. Which they did for a bit, as we got some "Chavo" chants before the crowd decided to go back to the "Eddie" chants. It's something me, my dad, my brother Christian, my friend Leo Avila, and many other folks who were there that night always remember. The Guerreros lost by disqualification, but most don't even remember that detail, as the Guerreros quickly made everyone forget when they just frog splashed the Basham Brothers and celebrated with a fan's flag of Mexico. 

Los Guerreros celebrating with a Mexican flag. 
In the months that followed, ‘WWE Smackdown!’ became so interesting. There was such a heavy Chicanx and Mexican presence all over the show and the storylines that were presented. In February of that year, "El Maromero" Jorge Paez appeared in Rey Mysterio Jr.'s super corny but pro-immigrant WWE music video "Crossing Borders". Eventually Paez became Mysterio's back up when he was feuding with Chavo Guerrero Jr. and Chavo Guerrero Sr. But more importantly, to me, the whole show started to revolve around Eddie Guerrero.

On February 15, 2004, Guerrero beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE championship at the "No Way Out" PPV at the Cow Palace in California and the main event storylines went on to touch upon racism, xenophobia, and much, much more. Some things could have been handled better but there was a clear attempt to cater to a pro-Guerrero audience. Guerrero feuded with Kurt Angle and JBL, resulting in a blodbath classic with the latter at the “Judgment Day” PPV on May 16, 2004, two weeks before my graduation.

In the years before and after that, I’ve gone to so many shows, from WWE to AAA to TNA to ROH to NXT to EVOLVE, seen John Cena, the Undertaker, Perro Aguayo Sr., AJ Styles, El Hijo del Santo, Ric Flair, Shinsuke Nakamura, Chris Hero, L.A. Park, Daniel Bryan, but that one night in 2003 still remains my favorite pro wrestling-related memory. It's the one I cherish the most, it's the one I've talked about the most. When I did the Pharr From Heaven Photo Exhibit last year at Yerberia Cultura, the exhibit started with the photo I took of Guerrero that night. It was so great, I ended up missing the next day of school since I legitimately couldn’t go to sleep that night from how excited I was about it. What a great memory. 

Autographs of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Negro Casas slipping off the ropes in his match against Ultimo Dragon, on March 26, 1993




Take a look at the slip in the video above. I see it as Negro Casas' own twist of a staple spot we see in high stakes, lucha libre singles, usually championship or apuesta matches in the 1980's and 1990's. In many matches throughout that era, a wrestler would go out on the apron, survey the crowd to see if he should do a high risk move off the top rope. The chances always felt like 50/50 if he could hit the move or if he would crash spectacularly.

These spots, when done right, might be the only time I've ever seen an audience actively encourage, sometimes beg a wrestler not to do something exciting, as the risk and stakes are just too damn high.

In this instance, Casas milks this spot for all its worth, as he looks to the audience, visually asking if he should climb or not. Listen to the loud "No!" from the audience. Someone in the crowd can even be seen wagging their finger. "El publico dividido, unos dicen que si, otros que no," ("The public is divided, some say yes, some say no,") the announcer proclaims.

Casas decides to take his chance, climbs up the corner, and slips in the most realistic manner possible. It's hard to really grasp whether he legitimately slipped or if this was intentional, but I believe in Casas so strongly that I can't help but lean towards the latter. The announcer, almost mockingly, says, "Ah...solito." ("Ah...all by himself.")

The audience reaction is huge. Some can be heard laughing, while others are whistling to tease Casas after his grave error. Casas would lose the third fall to Dragon a few minutes later with a Tiger Suplex, dropping his UWA World Middleweight Championship to his Japanese rival. "No se recuperó el Negro Casas," ("Negro Casas didn't recover,") said the announcer as Dragon celebrated in the ring.

Of all the guys I've seen do this spot, and I've seen many, this was by far my favorite take on it, and I felt like it worked so perfectly within this match. He just didn't have enough in him to even attempt his move off the top. His gas tank was running on empty, and the end for Casas started with a crash to the mat.

PS: This might be bullshit, but I sometimes think that the reason Casas beat La Fiera in a Hair vs Hair match 7 months later on October 1, 1993 with a top rope splash, was to build off this famous spot. A bit of a macho deal where he wants to prove something to himself, to the audience, to Dragon, to Fiera, and in this high stakes instance, his big risk paid off.



July Round-Up


This week we are going to take a look at some of the most anticipated Tejano and conjunto events that are coming up.

--The 19th annual South Texas Conjunto Association “Conjunto of the Year” award extravaganza is taking place at The Full Court venue, 1817 N. Broadway St. in Elsa on July 16. The following bands are nominated for the “Conjunto of the Year” award: Boni Mauricio y Los Maximos, Hache III, Conjunto Baraja de Oro, Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto, Conjunto Los Leones, Conjunto Impulso de Ernesto Cadena, Tomas Navarro y Conjunto Amable, Mikey G y Los Realez, Delta Boys, Jaime y Los Chamacos, Lazaro Perez y su conjunto, Los Garcia Brothers, Los Morales Boyz, Ruben Garza y La Nueva Era, Conjunto Kings de Flavio Longoria, Conjunto Fuego, Roger Arocha y su conjunto, Bernardo y sus Compadres, Los Thunderbirds, Los Texmaniacs, Ricardo Guzman Jr. y sus 3 Aces, Ruben Rivera y su conjunto, Santiago Garza y La Naturaleza, Mando y La Venganza, Conjunto Califas, Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers. Last year’s winner for the top prize was Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers of Alice, Texas. Other awards include honors for composer of the year, song of the year, drummer of the year, bass player of the year, bajo-sexto player of the year, accordion player of the year, vocalist of the year, and album of the year. To see all the nominees and vote on your conjunto favorites, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Coy192017. For more information contact Lupe Saenz, president of the STCA, at 956-463-6909.

--Rodolfo “Rudy” Lopez, bajo-sexto player and founder of the Conjunto Heritage Taller, and Juan Lugo, accordionist will be returning to the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito for the monthly series ‘Conjunto Nights at the Chicho’ on July 20th. $5.00 donation at the door, snacks and drinks will be provided during the intermission to the performance. For more information call 956-367-0335.

--Timo Ruedas of the South Texas Conjunto Association announced that the 7th annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert is taking place at the Historic Brownsville Downtown District on September 2, 4 PM to 11 PM. The theme of the event will be son's of conjunto legends. The announcement of what bands will be performing will be released in the coming weeks.

--Tejano powerhouse The Hometown Boys will be returning to the Valley on July 15, 7 PM to midnight, at the Outta Town Dance Hall in Mission. For more information and to buy tickets, call 956-584-1812.

--Jaime y Los Chamacos will be stopping by in Brownsville at the Tex-Mex Night Club on June 30, Friday night, at 9 PM to 2 AM. The legendary conjunto of Jaime de Anda has been playing conjunto music since the 1980's, and is regarded as one of the best conjuntos of their generation. Tickets are $15 presale, and $20 at the door.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Four Summer Jams To Check Out

This week, I'm going to recommend four great Rio Grande Valley jams to check out this Summer, to add to your Tejano and conjunto playlists.

“El Corrido de Jhonny el Pachuco” by Esteban Jordan - "El Corrido de Jhonny El Pachuco" is a wild take on Victor Cordero's "Juan Charrasqueado". The original lyrics are transformed into Jordan's unique language and Rio Grande Valley surroundings. He changes things up, adding terms from his own vocabulary like "al alba", "chismear", "cholas", "muy alto", and "slicka".

The classic tune is now arranged with Jordan's accordion as the lead instrument, and he does some amazing things on the squeezebox on here. The tale that Jordan tells here is set in Robstown, TX, but McAllen, TX is referenced in passing, where this song was recorded in the 1970's. The master was later acquired by Arhoolie Records, and re-released there on vinyl and CD in later years. Might be my favorite Jordan song ever.




“El Dia de tu Boda” - by Gilberto Perez - This song was composed by Ramon Medina, a Rio Grande Valley musician who performed with Ruben Vela y su conjunto and Gilberto Perez y su conjunto. Esta cancion was first recorded by Gilberto Perez y su conjunto on November 1959 for the local Falcón Records company. It got a lot of airplay in regional music radio stations. In 1968, Los Tigres del Norte did a cover of this song for their debut album. This is such a great song, and a classic conjunto standard.




“Visito Estos Barrios” by Los Chachos - Los Chachos branched out from the style that Conjunto Bernal established in the 1960’s, and would go on to become one of the top South Texas conjunto acts of the 1970’s. Cha Cha Jimenez’s vocals stand out among everything else, but one of the most interesting sounds to come out from them is their accordion. "At that the time, I remember thinking it was an organ," Karlitos Way Accordions (Karlos Landin, Jr.) told me. "(The style) had a different edge because of the organ, but then I came to find out years later that that wasn't an organ. It was Bobby's Cordovox chromatic accordion that had like 25 switches on it. It had so many different sounds. It sounded like an organ; it sounded like a chromatic. It sounded like all these different things. The first one that told me about that accordion was (accordionist) Joel Guzman." Check out “Visito Estos Barrios” to sample this very unique sounding accordion.




“Luna Azul” by Delia Gutierrez Pineda - This is from Delia Gutierrez, originally of Weslaco, and her father's group, The Eugenio Gutierrez Orchestra. This was recorded either in 1951 by Falcon Records out of the Mission/McAllen area. Gutierrez was one of the most popular singers of the area during that era, where she also recorded with Discos Ideal. She came from a musical family, and one interesting note is that her mother was related to local accordion legend Pedro Ayala. This particular recording was acquired and uploaded online by Arhoolie Records. This a beautiful take on “Blue Moon” by Gutierrez.



Friday, June 16, 2017

RIo Jordan To Perform At Galax Z Fair VI

This weekend is the return of Galax Z Fair VI, and I’m most excited about seeing Rio Jordan and Juanito Castillo on Saturday night, June 17. I last saw the group at the “As I Walk Through the Valley” premiere in Edinburg, and it was awesome, as usual. I then saw Castillo, the group’s wild accordionist, who is the protege of the great, late Esteban Jordan, at Guilly's Honky Tonk in La Feria, where he did some awesome interpretations of “Las Nubes” and “Coco Rayado”. So I’m very familiar with Castillo, and if you’ve never seen him live, this is a great, great chance to go out of your way to check him out. Just an amazing musician. Here are three videos to check out, to get yourselves ready for Saturday night.

--Juanito Castillo y Rio Jordan in San Benito (10/25/14) - This is a video I took of Juanito Castillo y Rio Jordan opening their set with Esteban Jordan's "La Polka Loca" piece. It was awesome seeing Eva Ybarra and Rio Jordan back-to-back earlier that night in San Benito. Two great, unique accordionists that do a lot of experimental work within the conjunto form. Castillo here just goes all out, and it’s a great showcase for what he can do on the squeezebox.


--Esteban Jordan video uploaded by SuperMando1990 - This is a super rare video that appeared to have been recorded off television in Mexico. It includes Esteban Jordan y Rio Jordan performing, and a interview. Love the quality too, reminds me of messing around with the antenna when I was a kid to get channels outside the Valley. Some great clips of what the legendary Jordan could do on the accordion, along with his sons Esteban Jordan III, Ricardo Jordan, and Castillo.


--Rio Jordan featuring Juanito Castillo at TCF 2015 - Robert Treviño is someone who has recorded so much great conjunto footage these past few years and someone who I strongly recommend to check out. Here he gets up close and fantastic footage of current Rio Jordan band members Esteban III (on the guitar), Ricardo (on the bass), Castillo (on the accordion), and Alejandro Valdez (on the drums). Great footage of this young, great conjunto.


--”Acordeones de Tejas” (1/5/12)  - This was the longlasting show that was shot, directed, and edited by South Texas Conjunto Association mastermind Lupe Saenz, out of Donna, TX. It ran on KMBH, local public television, and was my favorite local program ever. This right here is a good episode of "Acordeones de Tejas", it features Frankie Caballero from East Donna, Rio Jordan with Juanito Castillo and Rocky Beltran. Really neat stuff from all the musicians involved.


--”Juanito Castillo - The Blind Me” - This is an amazing jazz piece on the Tex-Mex Steve Jordan Rockordeon. The title refers to Castillo being blind, and he just goes off on these amazing runs that no one else even comes close to doing in conjunto music. Please check out what he’s doing at the 1:45 mark, just running his fingers up the buttons, in total control of his instrument. Castillo is still very young, but he’s already a master when it comes to the accordion. He pretty much continues on this onda on another video that you should check out called “Juanito Castillo - Improv”, where it appears he says “AJ Castillo, take your jazz piece somewhere else”, essentially calling out, another conjunto accordionist for his jazz performance. Accordion call outs, what a decade we live in.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Road to La Villa Real Part 3

Selena performing at La Villa Real in 1992, photo from The Monitor

After many successful years of promoting events at the McAllen Civic Center, Arnaldo “Nano” Ramirez Jr. knew it was time to secure a venue of his own. He first secured ten acres on Bentsen and Expressway 83 in McAllen. Then one night at a club, while hanging out with some friends, Ramirez met someone that was involved in the insurance business.

"Discussing my situation, she said, 'I can get you the loan, if you insure yourself for the amount of the loan. That's all you have to do.' I can't believe it's going to be that simple but it sounds great,” Ramirez said. “So I did apply, and it was going to get approved. The only requisite was, that I had to get a local bank to do the inner-financing. It was an unbelievable how I came across this insurance agent."

After being denied at several banks across the Rio Grande Valley, Ramirez ended up at First Aid Bank and Trust Company in Mission. The president of the bank, Elliot Bottom, had a friendship with Ramirez's father. That played a role in Ramirez obtaining that meeting.

"I went to go visit [Bottom] and made my presentation. Right then and there, [he said], 'Why do you need to inner-finance? I'll finance this project for you. Give me some more details, bring me the whole package and let me look at it.' This was the end of June of 1977."

Bottom looked over the details and approved the project a few days later. Bottom said the only thing he needed from Ramirez, was for him to put the land up for collateral. One issue though — Ramirez was still making payments on that property.

"I went to Mr. Gegenheimer, asked him, if he could basically release the land, even though I still owed him, so I could put it in the bank and fund my project. He went ahead and released it to me, our payments were basically without even a contract, just a verbal agreement. It was an unbelievable relationship, the old school, the word of a gentleman, a handshake. It was unbelievable back in those days. He completely gave me the property. I went to the bank, put it for collateral, got the financing."

As soon as the papers were signed, everything started moving forward from that point on. Ramirez and his crew, broke ground on Labor Day Weekend 1977. Ninety days from that weekend was the target date for the grand opening.

With a week left before its first concert, Ramirez estimates he spent up to twenty-hours a day working to have the place ready. He had contracted the Country Roland band as his first act for his new venue.

Now a day away, Ramirez was worried because the tables and chairs had not yet arrived. At 1 PM on opening day, the shipment of the tables and chairs finally arrived, much to the relief of everyone. A crew of twenty people opened up the crates and set them up.

"I had everything set-up, it was basically a miracle," Ramirez said.

As the doors opened for the very first time, Ramirez headed home to get dressed. He estimates that he had not slept in two days by this point. He was as exhausted as he was excited.

After the event, the place was a mess. Beer cans were littered throughout. While he was originally distraught by how dirty the place looked, he soon found out that if his venue was clean after an event, it meant that the event was not successful. The messier, the better.

So on December 3, 1977, La Villa Real was born.

Friday, April 7, 2017

April Round-Up

Gilberto Perez and Pepe Maldonado Photo from Raul Robert Perez

This week, we're going to have a round-up of some of the most anticipated Tejano, conjunto, and cultural events of the month of April. Next week we will have part three of our La Villa Real series.

--South Texas conjunto legend Pepe Maldonado has lined up the month of March with another quality list of top conjunto acts from the Valley and beyond. Thanks to Joe Maldonado for reaching out and always letting me know the upcoming schedule. At La Lomita Park in McAllen, the following artists will be stopping by in the coming weeks of April: Los Badd Boyz del Valle and Grupo Soledad (April 9), Pepe Maldonado y su conjunto and Ruben Rivera (April 16), Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto and Los Delta Boys (April 23), Los X2Gs de Hector Gonzalez and Los Gilitos de Riley (April 30). Entry fee is $10.00, and the music starts at 6 PM every Sunday night. For more information on these upcoming events, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/lalomitapark?fref=ts or call La Lomita Park owner and promoter Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783.

--Salinas Promotions is hosting a lucha libre event at Los Portales Pulga in Alton on April 29, Friday. The main event will be a UWA championship match between Corazon de Barrio and Laredo Kid, who recently wrestled for EVOLVE during Royal Rumble weekend in January. Hector Garza Jr., better known to some as El Hijo del Ninja, and El Zorro will also be in action. More names and matches should be announced in the coming weeks. Pre-sale is $15 for adults, two kids can get in for $10, and those prices increase by $5 at the door. For more information, call 956-457-9828.

--The Rio Grande Valley premiere of the documentary “As I Walk Through The Valley” will be premiering on Saturday, April 8, at the Edinburg Auditorium at 7 PM. The documentary, which premiered at SXSW in Austin a few weeks ago, covers different eras and bands throughout Valley music history. Readers of this column may be especially interested since there is a section in the film on Esteban Jordan, the great conjunto accordionist from Elsa, and an interview with his sons. I also make a brief appearance at some point in the film. After the screening there will be a Q&A and performances from Ralph & The Cruisers, Rio Jordan (sons and family of Esteban Jordan), Confused, Panteon, and DeZorah. Even is completely free.

--There will be a High School Conjunto Competition and Conjunto Student Showcase at the Jacob Brown Auditorium in Brownsville on Saturday, April 15. For more information email info@brownsville.org.

--Texas Folklife will be having their ‘Big Squeeze’ Finals at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin on April 22, Saturday, at 1 PM. Rio Jordan, Ruben Moreno, and The Gulf Coast Playboys will be performing. We will see the finalists compete and one champion will be crowned in each of the following categories: Polka (German, Czech and Polish music), Zydeco (Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music) and Conjunto (Norteño, Tejano and Conjunto music). For more information, visit TexasFolklife.org.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Road to La Villa Real Part 2


The first event Arnaldo “Nano” Ramirez Jr. held at the McAllen Civic Center took place on October of 1971, and it was headlined by Tejano star Ruben Ramos and conjunto accordionist Tony de la Rosa. While they filled up the house, Ramirez ended up losing money at the concert. What exactly happened that first night?

"We had a packed [house] that night, and when we were doing the finances, I realized that we had lost money," Ramirez said. "I told my wife [Dalinda], she was in charge of the door, of the box-office. How could we have lost money, the place was almost sold out. She asked me, 'Where were you all night?' Well I was in the front door, greeting people. Thanking them for coming to the dance. She continued, 'Yeah, what else were you doing? Half of them, you let them in free, cause you knew them. The people that sell you the shirts at the department stores, do they give you the shirts? No. Do the people you let in from the grocery store, do they give you free groceries?'"

Ramirez proudly credits his partner, Dalinda Ramirez, for making him a successful concert promoter. The following Tuesday night, Ramirez had a second dance at the McAllen Civic Center. He still greeted everyone, except this time, he did so after they had already bought a ticket.

With his promoter career underway, Ramirez would soon arrive to a deal with a star that would push him to the next level.

"Freddie Martinez of Corpus Christi, had a big, huge hit, the biggest hit in the country -- "Te Traigo estas Flores"," Ramirez explained. "He was being dictated by Paulino to pay him $350. So I made a deal with him that I would pay him $1500, and I would book him in Harlingen on Monday, Tuesday in McAllen and Wednesday in Harlingen. "

Ramirez explains that Martinez influenced other bands to follow suit and jump ship, ultimately leaving Bernal’s umbrella of musicians. Ramirez would offer more money guaranteed than what his competition was offering. The dynamics in the local scene were starting to change and get heated. After a year in a half, a syndicate meeting was arranged between various concert promoters to discuss the Rio Grande Valley promoter rivalry between Ramirez and Bernal. Ramirez explains that this syndicate of promoters, which booked Mexican and Mexican-American musicians across various territories across the nation, attempted to pressure Martinez to go and team up with Bernal.

"At that time, Freddie and I had become very good friends, there was no cell phones back then, but he was keeping me in touch from a public phone, calling me at the house," Ramirez said. "At the end of the meeting, Freddie said he was sticking with his guns and staying with me. And if the other promoters [of that syndicate] didn't want to take him, there were other promoters in those other cities that would take him in a heartbeat. The meeting came to an end and I continued, still doing my events on Tuesdays. Paulino continued doing his on Mondays."

A year later, another syndicate meeting was scheduled in New Braunfels. This time they invited Ramirez, along with Martinez, to discuss a compromise. According to Ramirez, the group asked him if he would be interested in having alternate weeks with Bernal; one week a Bernal concert on Monday, the following week a Ramirez concert on Tuesday. Ramirez and Martinez stood their ground and rejected their suggestions.

Several months later, the rivalry between Ramirez and Bernal came to an end. Bernal took a different direction in life, as he left the music industry and moved on to become an evangelist. With Bernal out of the picture, Ramirez was now without any direct competition. He notes that there were other promoters here in the Valley, like Joe Vera and others, but they got along just fine.

"He had an old Lacks building in Weslaco called Vera's Palladium. But we were really not in the same type of competition, even though we were both utilizing the same bands. We respected each other and we had no problems. Of course, after a while, Joe Vera left doing concerts so I was by myself."

After many years of working with the McAllen Civic Center, Ramirez was ready to take a new step in his professional life. The idea of getting his own venue kept lingering in his mind. In 1976, Ramirez started looking for properties for where he could build a place of his own. During that year, he developed a friendship with Mr. Gegenheimer, who happened to own some property on Bentsen and Expressway 83 in McAllen. The two came to an agreement and Ramirez secured ten acres there. Now he needed to find a way to raise more money to continue his dream.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Road to La Villa Real Part 1


After a two-year stint in the Navy, Arnaldo ‘Nano’ Ramirez Jr. was discharged from active duty on May 1968. As he was driving down 10th street, he came across a marquee at the McAllen Convention Center. It read — "Tonight A. Ramirez."

"I thought in the back of the mind, 'Oh, they are going to make me a welcome back party here in the Civic Center. Welcome back A. Ramirez. Me. (laughs)'," Nano Ramirez explained in an interview in 2013. "Of course, the night came and nothing happened."

Shortly after, he found out that 'A. Ramirez' stood for Agustin Ramirez and that they were having dances at the McAllen Civic Center. Hosted by Paulino Bernal, these weekly events were known as El Baile Grande.

Now back in the Valley, Ramirez started working at Falcon Records, the family business. He took inventory, shipped records, and worked in the warehouse. He eventually became a part of the bookkeeping, taking care of the accounts and payroll.

It didn't take long for Ramirez to start getting involved in the recording aspect of his father's business. He went into producing, becoming more familiar with the recording process.

One day, while reviewing the inventory, he stumbled across a master of a Rene & Rene recording. Two school teachers from Laredo, they had a domestic and international hit in 1964 titled "Angelito". While Ramirez was away, his father Arnaldo Ramirez Sr. had contracted Rene & Rene for six songs. Falcon released two 45's that didn't resonate with the public. Ramirez estimates that less than a thousand singles were sold.

Ramirez took note that this master had two Rene & Rene tunes that had never been released. One of those songs was a catchy, bilingual number by the name of "Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero".

"I went ahead on my own and put it out for release," Ramirez said.

The song was a hit. Ultimately, a deal between Falcon Records and White Whale Records was struck so that label could distribute the song into the international market.

"It just so happens that the song broke all barriers, sold over four million records," Ramirez said of the song that gained international acclaim and a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Shortly thereafter, Falcon Records hired Rudy Banda, a producer to work on a subsidiary they named Bronco Records. This is the man that Ramirez points to as the person who pushed him into going up against Paulino Bernal and El Baile Grande.

"He was the one that basically influenced me to go against, who I considered the number one concert promoter in the United States, Paulino Bernal, right here in McAllen."

Bernal's Monday night dances had become a very successful weekly event here in the Valley. Along with his own group, Conjunto Bernal, these dances would feature the most popular Tejano and conjunto acts of the era.

"It was the biggest dance, I'd say, in the state of Texas," claimed Bernal in an interview I did with him in 2014. "Monday there was no competition and all the musicians were free (as in, not booked). Nobody would hire them anyway on Monday's. I had the choice of booking whatever I wanted to."

Originally, Ramirez was hesitant about competing against Bernal.

"How can I go against the biggest promoter in the United States? Not only is he one of the biggest promoter, he's got a TV show, he's a personality, he's got a record label, he's got Conjunto Bernal."

After a lot of persuasion, Ramirez was finally convinced to at least give it a shot. He scheduled his first Tejano dance, and contracted Ruben Ramos and Tony de la Rosa as his first two headline acts. These two performers didn't do business with Bernal, according to Ramirez. The event took place on October 1971, at the McAllen Civic Center.

[To Be Continued Next Week]