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 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 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

--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

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]

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Vera's Palladium in Weslaco

The locally famous Vera’s Palladium of Weslaco, Texas, was recently torn down on January 26, 2017. I never attended the place, but often heard of this place from the many musicians I’ve interviewed over the years. From Paulino Bernal of Conjunto Bernal, to Gilberto Reyes Jr. of Hohner Accordions, to the great Esteban Jordan of Elsa, they all spent a part of their lives at Vera’s Palladium.

But I first heard of this particular venue from my dad, when I was growing up. So I decided to interview him to try to get his personal recollections of the now, forever-gone Vera’s Palladium.

Felix Jose Martinez’ answers are translated to English in parentheses.

The demolished Vera's Palladium in Weslaco

Eduardo Martinez: Did you go to Vera’s Palladium when you were young?

Felix Jose Martinez: Si, ahí tocaba con un grupo que se llamaba Sandy and the Silhouettes. Ahí íbamos en los Sábados y Domingos, y luego también en Martes. Pagaba bien poquito Joe Vera, en esos tiempos. (Yeah, I would play there with a group that was named Sandy and the Silhouettes. We would go Saturdays and Sundays, and also on Tuesdays. [Promoter] Joe Vera would pay very little, during that time.)

EM: What do you remember from going there?

FJM: Ahí tocaban bastante grupos. Iba mucha gente para bailar ahí. Iban los ‘chucos, de mas antes. Hay veces que se peleaban ahí y todo. (A lot of groups would play. A lot of people would go to dance there. The pachucos, from those days, would go there. There were times where they would fight and all.)

EM: Tú conocías a Joe Vera? (Did you know Joe Vera?)

FJM: Si, el cobrava cuando entrabas a la puerta. (Yeah, he was the one that charged at the door.)

EM: No te acuerdas cuantas veces fuistes a tocar? (Do you remember how many times you went there to play music?)

FJM: 15 o 20 veces. Tenian algo every week. Cuando no tenían baile, tenían skating rink. Pero si fui con bastante grupos. (About 15 or 20 times. They had something there every week. When there wasn’t a dance, they had a skating rink. But yeah, I went there with a bunch of groups.)

EM: Cuáles eran los otros grupos? (Who were the other groups?)

FJM: Te puedo hacer name unos cuantos, pero no me puedo acordar de todos. Bueno, hay tocaba Johnny Canales [y su orquesta], Los Fabulosos Cuatro, Chano Cadena [y su conjunto], Los Dos Gilbertos, Los Únicos, tocaban muchos grupos. Todos los grupos de aquí, tocaban ahí. (I can name you a few, but I can’t remember them all. Well, bands that played there were Johnny Canales [y su orquesta], Los Fabulosos Cuatro, Chano Cadena [y su conjunto], Los Dos Gilbertos, a lot of groups played there. All the groups from here, would play there.)

(Delia Gutierrez-Pineda, along with Eugenio Gutierrez y su orquesta, sang and played at Vera’s Palladium for many decades.)

En esos tiempos, las orquestas dominated los conjuntos. Pero y luego hizo survive los conjuntos y las orquestas no. (In those days, the orquestas dominated the conjuntos. But then, the conjuntos survived, and the orquestas didn’t.)

EM: Y que le pasó a Joe Vera? (And what happened to Joe Vera?)

FJM: Se hizo retire Joe Vera. Tambien tenia Blue Moon [en Pharr] y un restaurante por la 281 de Pharr, por el pueblo. Se llamaba Joe Vera’s Restaurant. Se hizo retire y hicieron ahi una tienda de dollar store. (He retired, Joe Vera. He also had Blue Moon [in Pharr] and a restaurant by 281 in Pharr, downtown. It was called Joe Vera’s Restaurant. He retired and they made a dollar store there.)

EM: Cómo te sentiste cuando vistes que tumbaron el Palladium? (How did you feel when you saw that they destroyed the Palladium?)

FJM: Fue como surprise. Cada vez que pasaba, me acordaba. Nombre, hay muchas memorias de el Palladium. Tumbaron muchas memorias. Casi la gente de hoy en dia, no saben de todo eso. Estoy hablando de cuando yo tenía 19 years old. Ya voy a comprir 65. 46 years ago. (It was like a surprise. Every time I would pass by there, I would remember. There was so many memories of the Palladium. They tore down so many memories. The people of today, they don’t know about that. I’m talking about when I was 19 years old. I’m about to turn 65. 46 years ago.)

Muchas memorias de toda la música, canciones, todos lo que iban al skating rink, a tocar, todos lo que iban a bailar, todo. Muchas, muchas memorias. (So many memories of the music, the songs, everyone that would go to the skating rink, to play, everyone that would go to dance, everything. So many memories.)