I used to be born in 1984, within the previous Dolly Vinsant Memorial Hospital, in San Benito. Me, my mama, and my grandmother lived a number of miles away from there, outdoors of Los Fresnos, in a trailer on Outdated Port Street. Rte three, field 87 was our deal with. Our trailer was parked on the sting of a resaca, the place we had been surrounded by grapefruit orchards and sugarcane, large agave crops and mesquite timber.
My mama did the climate on KVEO, a TV station out of Brownsville. She would sing Billie Vacation and ZZ High round the home, and I’d sing alongside together with her; that’s after I first began to get into music.
What I keep in mind most about San Benito, although, is Freddy Fender. Freddy was born there within the thirties, and even after he turned a giant nation star, he at all times got here again to play concert events. He was the native hero after I was developing, the delight of the Rio Grande Valley. He was in every single place.
A few of my earliest musical recollections are watching Freddy carry out on the Johnny Canales Show, a expertise present that targeted on South Texas music, like Tejano and conjunto. Selena sang on it when she was 13. I beloved Johnny Canales—he was so magnetic. They shot the present in the identical studio the place my mama labored, so she took me to see it a number of occasions. I beloved the variability present facet, the costumes, and the folks that Johnny introduced on. At residence I’d stand on a milk crate and fake to be him.
Every time Freddy appeared on Johnny’s present, he wore the flashiest fits and had the most important hair! He additionally had the sweetest voice and was a very optimistic presence. I’d see his tapes and albums with these wonderful covers, just like the again of Earlier than the Subsequent Teardrop Falls, which has an image of him together with his leg hunched method up. I keep in mind seeing footage of him and Dolly Parton singing the title monitor and so they had been so cool collectively. “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” was one in all his largest hits. I can keep in mind being within the trailer and listening to that track.
I didn’t notice it then, however I wound up doing quite a lot of issues that Freddy had performed years earlier than me. Like, we each used stage names. Freddy was born Baldemar Garza Huerta and got here up with Freddy Fender—the surname is taken from the guitar model—as a result of he knew it could assist him promote data to, as he put it, “gringos.” I used to be born Matthew Charles Crockett, however I began going by Charley fifteen years in the past as a result of my grandfather’s title was Charley Crockett and since, effectively, Matthew—I knew that wasn’t gonna pop. Freddy and I additionally got here up with alter egos: he known as himself “El Bebop Child” when he began enjoying rock and roll, within the late fifties, and I’m going by Lil G. L. after I do my extra conventional nation and blues songs.
We additionally each bought busted for weed. The distinction is, it was a lot more durable in his time: he served three years in Angola jail, in Louisiana, for a few joints! I had much more on me than that. In 1963 he was let loose early by the Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, himself a singer who beloved the best way Freddy sang. Me, I pleaded with my decide. I used to be busted in Virginia, shortly earlier than I used to be going to carry out on the Granada, in Dallas—my first headlining present at a theater, with a band. I despatched the decide my first two CDs and begged him to let me do unsupervised probation—and he mentioned sure. Music saved Freddy and me.
We additionally each spent about 5 years in New Orleans, studying our chops. He went there within the sixties after he bought out of jail; he labored as a busboy and would sit in with singers like Artwork Neville in any respect these little golf equipment within the French Quarter. That’s the place Freddy picked up quite a lot of his R&B really feel.
I spent a while in New Orleans, too, studying all about American music—early nation, jazz, and blues. Like lots of people from my technology, I used to be a hip-hop child; that’s what influenced me, that’s the place I discovered meter and improvise. Round 2006 I used to be touring across the nation and I wound up in New Orleans, performing with hip-hop dudes on road corners.
At the moment, after Katrina, there have been so many younger musicians in New Orleans. I’d see children enjoying Appalachian music on banjos, younger ladies enjoying fiddle tunes, gospel bands masking “Only a Nearer Stroll with Thee.” I found traditional songs like “All of Me” and began forming bands: brass bands, bands together with a man with a snare and bass drum, mixed-up bands of whoever was round.
I discovered swing in New Orleans. For those who take heed to banjo music from Tennessee, early blues from Texas, early conventional music from Louisiana, you’ll hear that they’re enjoying downstrokes, on the primary and third beat of every measure. New Orleans taught me to swing that previous conventional beat. It’s not troublesome, it’s only a paradigm shift—enjoying on the two and the four as a substitute of the 1 and the three.
I used to be studying what American music is constructed on. You may hear that on A Stolen Jewel, my first album—it’s nation music however it’s blues, it’s soul, it’s Louisiana. It’s Texas.
I discovered my voice singing my type of nation music, identical to Freddy Fender did. Music from South Texas is nation as hell: the homicide ballads, the revolutionary border music, the story songs. However there’s nothing pure about it; it takes in influences from throughout. Freddy spent his profession singing not simply nation, however conjunto, rock and roll, and R&B. When this middle-aged Hispanic dude with an enormous Afro took “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” a mash-up of nation music and “swamp pop” from Louisiana and Southeast Texas, to primary on the nation charts, it shouldn’t have been a shock.
I coated “Wasted Days” on my second file, Within the Evening. I modified it some. Freddy performed it in a significant key, E, and I took it to a D-flat minor and sped it up. He’s doing a waltz, I did a four/four beat and adjusted the melody a bit of.
After I sing Freddy’s track, I really feel the damp vitality of Texas nights—enjoying in smoky bars in Port Arthur, the bars on Greenville, in Dallas. It’s such a visible track. Even after I was a child, it was so highly effective. Who doesn’t have wasted days and wasted nights of their lives? Getting tousled, damage by love, going nowhere together with your life?
Freddy doesn’t get a lot credit score for his music, however I believe he’s as a lot an innovator as Chuck Berry—together with his rhythms and data crossing so many genres. One place Freddy does get respect is in San Benito, the place his face is on town water tower. After I put out my sixth album, The Valley, final yr, folks down there began saying they need to put my face on the water tower too. I haven’t earned it but—I’m not able to rise up there with Freddy. However I inform them, should you do put me up there at some point, maintain Freddy on the entrance facet, going through the freeway. Put me on the again, the place I can look out over the orchards and the sugarcane.
This text initially appeared within the April 2020 subject of Texas Month-to-month. Subscribe today.
Texas musical luminaries reveal the household histories, highly effective influences, and massive breaks that made them the artists they’re right now. Read more.