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]