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]

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