With Cinco de Mayo Day occurring this week, it seems like a fine time to spread the word about a few recent releases that fall either directly, or nearby, the Tex-Mex sound. We begin with the third release from supergroup Los Super 7 which takes its inspiration in part from the border radio phenomenon of the middle part of the last century and uses it as a springboard for an album rich in flavor. From there it is into a series of releases from one of the leading domestic labels when it comes to reintroducing the real deal border sounds of yesteryear, Arhoolie Records. Let’s dig in.
Los Super 7
Heard It On The X
Call it the original free form radio. It was the phenomenon known as border radio, a time when legendary outlaw stations like XERA, XERF and XET with ice picks in the air were transmitting upwards of 500,000 watts and more of clear channel goodness from South of the border. Border blasters are what these radio channels were called. Coming into their own in the 1930s and broadcasting from Mexico for the simple fact that there were no restrictions on power, on a good night these signals blanketed a large chunk of the Lower 48 and Canada. It was these “X” stations that were instrumental in catapulting the careers of hillbilly artists from the Carter Family to Johnny Horton to Bob Wills to the Queen of Tex-Mex Lydia Mendoza. There was the howlin’ disc jockey himself, the legendary Wolfman Jack. There was also plenty of hokum coming from these channels, from psychics like Rose Dawn to Dr. John R. Brinkley hawking goat glands to help the male libido to the irrepressible Reverend Ike spreading his unique gospel. In the spirit of these flavorful sounds heard on border radio in its heyday comes the latest release from Tex-Mex supergroup Los Super 7 titled Hear It On The X. With this latest Los Super 7 installment, the axis shifts some, precisely from California over to Texas. Gone is the Los Lobos West Coast connection that prevailed on the first two releases, replaced by an Austin, Texas one what with guitar slinger extraordinaire Charlie Sexton at the production helm along with a cast of comrades with decidedly Lone Star roots. Leading the charge are Los Super 7 alumni Rick Trevino, Ruben Ramos, Freddy Fender, and Joe Ely. Joining them are “rookies” Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Raul Malo (The Mavericks), Delbert McClinton, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown all of whom assume vocal honors for at least a track. Add to that a supporting cast of thousands that runs from Joey Burns and John Convertino of the band Calexico to the San Antonio-based West Side Horns to accordion god Flaco Jimenez to ace guitarists Redd Volkaert to Denny Freeman and it adds up to a can’t-miss collection of musicians. And can’t-miss is just one way to describe Heard It On the X. Taking its title from the ZZ Top song of the same name which celebrated those border blasters and on which for this album Latino crooner Ruben Ramos delivers a deeply funkified version, the flavors are plentiful and as Tex as they are Mex. It begins in appropriate fashion with the mariachi drive of the Burns original “The El Burro Song” with Malo on the vocals. Malo passes the baton to Fender and Trevino on the next cut, the number “Cupido” which is more in the style of a Cuban son and is the most ill-fitting track on the collection. The ship gets righted in a hurry thanks to the Texas swing injection given “My Window Faces the South” featuring Lovett on vocals and salutes to two West Texas greats in Bobby Fuller (Joe Ely rocking out on the Fuller nugget “Let Her Dance”) and Buddy Holly (“Learning The Game” with Crowell taking the vocal lead). Trevino adds a little more border to the proceedings with “Ojitos Traidores” while the legendary bluesman Brown celebrates the Texas blues tradition with a cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That Grave Is Kept Clean”. Aficionados of the Tex-Mex sound will notice the distinct scent of the late Doug Sahm lingering over this recording. It was Sir Doug who more than any Texas artist blurred the barrier between Tex and Mex creating a melting pot of third coast sound that won favor in most all camps. Intentional or not, Sahm’s influence hangs heavy over Heard It On The X, most notably McClinton’s fine rendering of a Doug favorite in “Talk To Me” and the inclusion of two Sahm compositions, “I’m Not That Kat (Anymore)” with Hiatt doing the honors and long-time Sahm collaborator Augie Meyers on piano and the “Song Of Everything” with Malo atmospheric on the vocals. Featuring some wonderful artwork and liner notes to boot, Heard It On The X is as big a sound experience as those border blasters in their heyday, a multi-stylistic melange made for moving the senses. (Telarc Records, 23307 Commerce Park Road, Cleveland, OH 44122, or www.telarc.com)
Los Alegres de Teran
Original Recordings 1952-1954
From an album in the spirit to the real deal when it comes to the sounds of the Southwestern border, we move to an excellent collection of circa early 1950s recordings from Los Alegres de Teran. Thanks in large part to border radio and in particular radio station XET broadcasting out of Monterrey where they made their first radio broadcasts in 1947, Eugenio Abrego & Tomas Ortiz, a.k.a. Los Alegres de Teran, became one of the first superstars of the regional music today known universally as Musica Norteña. The sound is lively and unmistakable, the interplay between Abrego’s driving style on button accordion accompanied by Ortiz’ rocky steady rhythmic strokes on bajo sexto (a large, 12-string guitar for those unfamiliar with it) topped off by the “brotherly” duet harmonies of the two. Let’s just say that what groups like the Delmore Brothers and Stanley Brothers each were to the country duet tradition, Los Alegres de Teran was to the norteño. When it comes norteño music, performances such as this are the blueprint. Hailing from Northern Mexico before moving to Texas in the late 1940s, the duo built a solid regional following thanks in large part to the XET exposure. It wasn’t until they signed with McAllen, Texas-based Falcon Records in the early 1950s and released their first single “Carta Jugada” in 1953 that they truly became stars. This superb 15-song collection brings together all those historic sides made for Falcon by Los Alegres de Teran including that first hit “Carta Jugada”. (Arhoolie Productions, Inc., 10341 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, CA 94530, or www.arhoolie.com)
Fred Zimmerle’s Conjunto
Trio San Antonio
Back in the late 1940s when Los Alegres De Teran was making its mark, Fred Zimmerle was just beginning to establish himself with his spirited and especially lively conjunto sounds. Not yet out of his teens, Zimmerle’s initial incarnation of Trio San Antonio would become one of the first Tex-Mex bands to sign and record for a major label. That was 1949 and the suitor was RCA Victor Records. The RCA stay would be short-lived and Trio San Antonio would then label hop their way for the next year or so through many of the South Texas regional labels specializing in conjunto and norteño music. After marrying and settling down in the 1950, Zimmerle’s priorities would change and the recording career would take a backseat to his family and job. Whereas he would continue to lead his Trio San Antonio, the performance schedule would be relegated to weekend club dates only. The recordings comprising this collection date back to 1974 and a four day session in May of that year as captured on reel-to-reel tape by Arhoolie Records’ head ramrod Chris Strachwitz. The 22 tracks represent Trio San Antonio in all its purity. Featuring Zimmerle on vocals, accordion, guitar and bajo sexto accompanied by Andrés Berlanga on vocals and bajo sexto, Steve Jaramillo also on vocals and bajo sexto, and Juan Viesca on string bass and the occasional shouts, it is classic conjunto music from one of the pioneers of the sound.
15 More Original Hits, Vol. 2
While the name Isidro “El Indio” Lopez means little in the gringo scheme of things, when it comes to Tejano music, he is oft-times acknowledged as the father of the genre. Lopez began his recording career in the late 1940s performing with greats such as Narciso Martinez, Tony De La Rosa, and Eugenio Gutierrez’s Orchestra. Whereas he was a talent on the alto sax, it was his voice that truly established Lopez. A suave, debonair crooner with great lady appeal who brought a high degree of emotion into his singing, Lopez led a 15-piece dance orchestra called Orquesta Tejana which was the toast of South Texas, not to mention a big draw all over the U.S. This second volume of Lopez recordings made during the 1950s for the Ideal record label of South Texas picks up where last year’s initial offering left of…