Mexican Music in Texas, by Joe Nick Patoski @ East Texas Book Fest, 9-13-14

Joe Nick Patoski gave a presentation about the history of Mexican music in Texas while we huddled around his lap-top computer. Patoski is described as a Humanities Texas scholar; a free-lance journalist now, he has worked for the Texas Monthly.
First of all, Patoski sees the distinction between Tejano and Conjunto as the former is more a big band style while the latter is smaller. He hails the accordion as an instrument that unites several Texas ethnic groups: Mexican, Cajun, German, French, Czech,and Polish.
Some of the early Tex-Mex stars were Narciso Martinez, Santiago Jiminez, and Beto Villa y su Orquesta. Santiago Jiminez’s hit song was “Viva Seguin.” Isidro Lopez y su Orquesta achieved the first national Tejano hit with “La Cacahuata” (the Peanut) in 1955. Little Joe and the Latinaires became quite popular. This band from Temple included Bobby Butler “El Charro Negro,” an African-American who was fluent Spanish. “Las Nubes” (The Clouds) became very popular. A museum in Temple on I-35 is dedicated to Little Joe, whose later band was “La Familia.” Little Joe became best friends with Cesar Chavez, the famous civil rights leader and migrant farm worker. Tex-Mex music includes the corrido, a ballad that tells a serious news story, which may not have been covered by the journalists. “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” is a famous corrido.
Freddy Fender was described as the “Mexican Elvis,” and he sang in English a lot—starting in 1958. Sunny Ozuna and the Sunliners were on American Bandstand in 1962 and sang their English hit, “Talk to Me.” Abraham Quintanilla was a member of Los Dinos in Corpus Christi. Best known as Selena’s father, he faced the confusion of prejudice by getting booed by singing in the wrong language for the wrong crowd, both with Anglos and Mexicans. Sam the Shams and the Pharaohs had a hit song called “Wooly Bully,” which was rock. Sam was a cotton picker from West Dallas in the era of crops growing in the Trinity River before factories were built there. Flaco Jimenez teamed up with Doug Sahm, and Freddy Fender to form The Texas Tornadoes. Some of their songs were played by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Buck Owens. “’Ta Bueno Compadre” was one of the Texas Tornadoes’ hits.
Steve Jordan “El Parche” (1939-2010) was hailed by Joe Nick as a very progressive musician who thought outside-the-box. Jordan described his style as “psychedelic accordion,” and “You Keep me Hanging On” was a hit. I recalled a Steve Jordan favorite of mine, “Sin tu querer,” a wonderful vocal performance.
Now we reach the peak of Mexican music in Texas: the Selena Quintanilla era. Incidentally,that is when I was most familiar with Tejano and the like. Tejano finally added the accordion and played cumbias. The cumbia dance is quite easy too. Selena of Corpus Christi sold out the Astrodome and was selling more than Willie Nelson or Z.Z. Top at that time. Patoski feels that she would have continued to rise and crossed-over into more frequent performances in English if not for her tragic murder by her thieving employee. Emilio Navaira, Mazz, and La Mafia were other big Tejano bands of that era, but Tejano slowly declined after Selena’s death. Two of my personal favorites from that time are Jay Perez (San Antonio’s “The Voice”) and Gary Hobbs (“El Borrado del Eagle Pass”). The Texas Tornadoes came back to do “Hey Baby, Que Paso?” and “Soy de San Luis.” Freddy Fender’s portrait is on a water tower in San Benito.
Then Joe Nick Patoski concluded by telling us about three well-known Tex-Mex bands in today’s era that are of special significance to Joe Nick: (1) Grupo Fantasma, (2) Pinata Protest, and (3) Girl in a Coma (Nina Diaz—lead vocalist). Grupo Fantasma has moved from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin; they’ve backed up Prince in Las Vegas. They did a horn version of Black Sabbath called Brown Sabbath! Pinata Protest is San Antonio conjunto punk. Juan Tejeda sponsored them; they have a rapid fire style. Girl in a Coma is an all-girl band that mainly sings in English; however, Nina Diaz, their lead vocalist, did a remake of “Technocumbia” by Selena, and she’ll have a solo album soon.
Mr. Patoski gave a wonderful presentation on Tex-Mex music for the 2014 East Texas Book Fest at Tyler Junior College West that filled in some gaps for me: the early years and most importantly, the current scene. If you live in Tyler, or East Texas in general, Intocable–a top Tejano/Norteno fusion band–is as close as you’re going to get to “pure” Tejano, and “The Bad Boys from Zapata” visit often. It made me ready to get the old Tejano CD/s and root around the Internet for more of it. Later I would tell my allergy nurse about those three current Tex-Mex bands too. Thanks for the editing, Joe Nick.

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