December 19, 2008

First Person:

This time it’s Tejas, Chicano legend Johnny Hernandez goes home

By Al Carlos Hernandez

Tex-Mex music superstar singer Johnny Hernandez and I go way back to 1983 when I produced Little Joe, Johnny y La Famila’s first album for Warner Brothers International, entitled No Quiero Mas Amar. It is ironic for me to have a long talk with an old friend about No Quiero Mas LA.

Al Carlos: How long were you gone from Texas?

Johnny Hernandez: I was away for 13 years.

AC: Why did you leave in the first place? I couldn’t walk down the street with you without someone recognizing you, asking for you to sing Las Nubes.

JH: I had been on the road with my band Third Coast for 10 years and felt I was burning out and needed a break. I needed to get away from the Southwestern music scene. By this time, including my traveling with Little Joe and the Latainaires & Little Joe y La Famila, I had been on the road 33 years pretty much non-stop. To date I’ve been performing for 46 years.

AC: Why LA?

JH: I came to LA in July 2007 (and left in July 2008) to promote my CD “This Time (Again)” planning to stay one month and ended up staying a year. The highlight in LA for me was having my blues recordings “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Further On Up The Road” played by DJ Mr. Bubba Jackson on KKJZ 88.1 FM, the number one Jazz/Blues station in the country. My good friend Jose Rizo, station music director for KKJZ and host of the “Jazz On The Latin Side” program, introduced Bubba to my music and Bubba liked it so much he decided to play it. I never would have expected that to happen.

AC: How were you treated when you arrived there?

JH: Although I was an outsider, I was made welcome by people in the music industry like Mr. Frankie Firme, DJ (columnist, and scholar), Mr. OG DJ, Mr. Richard Duran (of the Mr. Duran TV show), bands like “Soto” “The Company Band” “Angel Sabroso” “Pepe Marquez” and “The Brotherhood” from the area. Plus musicians from nationally acclaimed bands like “Red Bone,” “El Chicano” and Rudy & Steve Salas of “Tierra” (whom I’ve known for many years, and are my good friends - they came to Texas to live and play with Little Joe Y La Familia during the mid 70’s), trumpet player extraordinary Bobby Loya, his brother and fabulous sax player Tony, and their whole family.

The nice thing is that all these bands knew my musical history and went out of their way to be hospitable. I also met Mr. Ruben Molina, author of the book “Chicano Soul: Recordings and History of an American Culture” at one of the car show fund raisers. Molina asked Frankie Firme to play my recording “Why Don’t You Write Me” which I recorded in the early sixties and hadn’t heard since. This was Molina’s way of saying, “We know you and your music, Johnny, and you’re among friends.”

AC: What made you decide to go back home to Texas? Where the hometown folks making you offers you couldn’t refuse?

JH: I had been holding on to some material that my friend Jerry Lopez (Santa Fe horns and former guitar player with Tom Scott, and vocalist on the mega hit Sarah Sarah on the “Reed My Lips” CD) had given me and which his father had written. I decided to go to San Antonio and record one of the songs. I called Gilbert Velasquez, producer and owner of Velasquez Productions Recording Studios in San Anto, and told him I had a beautiful song I wanted to record.

The reason I decided to move to Austin is that, in our conversation, my friends said they were interested in not only doing the Tejano music thing but also blues music. That’s what really got my interest. Because I had recorded my English blues/oldies/jazz CD “This Time (Again)”, I was very interested in being in a city that is recognized worldwide as a music hub. We decided we would work on both genres simultaneously, Tejano and blues/R&B music. Austin is very diverse in music genres and there seems to be enough room for every style. At the same time (all of this is being discussed over the phone while I’m still back in Vegas) another friend called and said he was interested in booking me for the South By Southwest event that takes place once a year during March in Austin. He added that he wanted me to perform the blues music I had recorded. So now I said to myself, “Hey, it’s time to go home to Texas.”

I figured once I released my first single “Gracias” and did some preliminary promotion, interviews etc., I would be able to start booking my new band “Johnny Hernandez y La Gente” for the beginning of 2009.

AC: How has your music changed since you left?

JH: One of the comments I keep hearing from fans and radio is that my new single “Gracias” is “real” Tejano music. Our industry has experienced a surge of Mexican “Norteno” music being labeled as Tejano music, and even some Tejano groups have strayed away from the “true” Tejano sound. My new recordings’ arrangement captured the flavor of the early and original Tejano style while maintaining the modern progressive sound that has developed in our Tejano music industry. It’s the interaction between the trumpets and saxs that remind the people of the music we were recording in the late 50’s and early 60’s while we were creating the genre that became known as Tejano Music. I guess you could say my music has gone “back to the future.” LOL.

AC: What is in the works?

JH: I have been working on my next Tejano CD which will be released sometime in February. The first single, “Gracias,” was released to radio on November 24th and has been very well received. Plans are for my new tour to start in January with my new band, Johnny Hernandez y La Gente.

AC:What kind of new music can we expect? What kind of a live show can folks anticipate?

JH: My love for both Spanish and English music compels me to do a juggling act between the two. For the English/Blues music I will perform with a three horn and four rhythm band doing covers and originals. For the Tejano music I will use four horns with the four rhythm section, also performing the new original songs that will be on my CD and of course my Tejano recording standards like Las Nubes, Por Un Amor, El Rancho Grande, Diganle etc.. The real fun part is that while I perform at the Tejano venues I can always include a couple of my blues selections in the repertoire, thus affording me the best of two musical worlds.

Besides focusing on the Tejano music market, I will also be at indoor and outdoor venues performing my blues material from my last CD. For the Tejano music gigs I will be performing around the Tejano Club and Festival circuit, as well as doing major concerts that come up during the season. I am happy that my management is also looking into opportunities for me to expand my fan base and exposure by doing product endorsement and sponsorship deals, as well as perhaps appearing in parts in motion picture movies.

My management company believes in me. They want me to not limit myself just to the recording of my music and the performing live end of the music business, which I love to do. The tour will begin in January and we will be concentrating on the entire major markets, in Texas first, but certainly we will be glad to perform out of state too. Promoters can contact my manager by going to my website www.Johnnyhernandez.biz , where they will find SpiderMan’s phone number 210-832-0465, or they can contact him by his e-mail address dj_spyder2002@yahoo.com.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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