Monday, September 22, 2008

Sep. 25th

The history of Tejano music spans back to the turn of the century, fusing the foundation of traditional Mexican music with elements of central and southern Texas immigrants (German, Polish, Czech). The polka bounce and accordion accent which is now most recognizable as traditional Tejano first became popular in the late '30s and blossomed more throughout the 40s. Tejano bands were hired to play weddings, parties, birthdays, etc. and the songs they played have now become legendary throughout the Texas Mexican-American communities. It was about 10 years later that traditional Tejano music, consisting mostly of Polkas, Boleros and Conjuntos, began to incorporate the sounds of modern radio music, namely the early rock-n-roll and doo-wop sounds. To be able to please the crowds at said functions, these bands would do covers of the latest national hits in between their songs, which were rarely heard or known outside of Texas. Especially with mid-to-late 50's doo-wop, the sound resonated and many Tejano bands made it routine to mimic and build upon it. Many of these early versions and originals are considered classics to this day, and can be found on many a "lowrider" style compilation. As English speaking music became more acceptable within the Tejano scene, an explosion of cross-cultured talent arose. Names such as Freddy Fender, Little Joe, Joe Bravo, The Sunglows, Sunny & The Sunliners, Spot Barnett, Royal Jesters, Augustine Ramirez, and Doug Sahm all contributed to make the backbone and foundation for Tejano, and Mexican-American music in general. I have put together some Tejano records that fall in the category of Chicano Soul an Rock and were all generally recorded around the mid 60's. When Tejano artists covered/created soul and rock music, there was always a slightly awkward edge to it. You can hear it usually in the vocals (and often the accordion accompaniment), the slight waviness which seems almost out of tune at times. It is almost as if the artists are trying to maintain the doo-wop style vocals and reuse them in the new format, which often had graduated too far for such an implant to work seamlessly. It is in these awkward moments and "slightly-offs" that i have come to love Tejano rock and soul. They hold an innocence and originality that, because of their "flaws", would never be allowed mass national exposure and a grit and "umph" that, although they are duplicating Black and White musics, represents uniquely and fully the 1950's and 60's Texas Chicano.

Sunny & The Sunliners -
No One Else Will Do

Sunny Ozuna is the Elvis, Beatles and Sinatra of the Mexican-American music world. No singer in Tejano history has made as much of an impact or had such a long and fruitful career. He began with a group called the Sunglows, then decided to leave Sunglow records and join up with Huey Meaux's Tear Drop label, where he reformed his backing band and called them the Sunliners. After an early tweak in members, the band stayed the same line up for over 10 years. As did most Tejano groups of the time, they predominately recorded polkas and boleros, but as the doo-wop and r&b sounds became more popular, they would find ways to incorporate these sounds into their sets to please their audiences. Sunny (seen here, on the right) has made several outstanding Chicano Soul sides, but after my years of searching them out, this one still remains my personal favorite.

Henry & His Kasuals -
Little Girl

Henry & His Kasuals is another in the long list of San Antonio bands with little-to-no information about them. Their only recorded material was released on the Cobra label throughout 1965 and 1966. The record credits the producer as Abe Epstein, who owned and played a significant role in many other Tejano labels, including the successful Jox label. Henry Pena was the leader of the Kasuals, who consisted of Gordy Saldivar, Frank Lujan, and Richard Hernandez. Henry was a local DJ at KUKA, which also employed another successful Tejano artist, Jesse Vallado (aka Little Jr. Jesse) at the time.

Los Stardusters -
All Night Worker

Little is known about Los Stardusters. There were releases by a Houston group called The Stardusters on the Pic-1 label (also run by Huey Meaux), but it has not been confirmed that they are the same group. Here they cover the Rufus Thomas classic "All Night Worker" and work it out quite nicely. There is an LP with the same name, and thus far, I haven't been able to track one down. One day.

The Royal Jesters -
Take Me For A Little While

The Royal Jesters are one of the more successful groups to have come from the San Antonio Tejano scene. They changed members quite often, but always maintained a quality group sound. When Dimas Garza joined the group in 1962, he brought to Tejano a profound increase in the soul and harmony that was becoming widely popular in black musics. The Jesters continued to produce great Chicano Soul, while implementing the hip sounds of the times. They even have more disco influenced records that aren't too shabby. This song is a bit of an oddity, combining the beefy production of soul music with a more pop-psych edge to the writing and arrangement. It gets a little "out there" at times, but is always followed by the minimalist bass and drums that really draw me to the track.

Side Note: There is very little written trail of information about the history of Tejano soul and rock. It is quite hard to find out who the players were and what happened when. To date, the most informative resource (and pretty much, only resource!) i have found is a book that was put out about a year ago, called "Chicano Soul" by Ruben Molina. It is quite informative and has many great pictures and label scans. I recommend checking it out.


Brian said...

¡Orale, compa! Ahorita estas platicando con mi alma. Yo encanto este pagina, mano. Mi corazon queda en Tejas.

¡Viva la Linea Segunda!

Delinquent said...

Absolutely fantastic post. I had just recently posted Sunny and the Sunliners on my blog, but just found your blog. Great stuff!!!

withoutpapers said...

Gabe, I esp. liked this post. I have a digital file of Henry & Kasuals doing 'ONLY ONE'..Is this the flip of the one you posted?
Keep up the great posts Gabe. I just found your blog and am going thru each & every post.


chicano soul said...

This is Ruben Molina author of the book "Chicano Soul." Love your post carnal. Its people like yourself that are going to keep this genre of music alive. In June we have a museum exhibit rolling into San Antonio. the exhibit is called "American Sabor" at it is touring the country. It has a good section on San Antonio and the South Texas area as well as East Los Angeles and San Francisco. Hopefully we'll see you there.

Ruben Molina

second line social said...

hey ruben,
thanks for the support. good work on the book! let me know if you ever need any help on info, if i can find it, i'm glad to share!