This Time it's Tejas

Chicano Tex Mex singing legend Johnny Hernandez goes home

By Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: December 15, 2008

This Time it's Tejas

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.

AC: How long were you gone from Texas?

JH; I was away for 13 years.

AC: Why did you leave in the first place? 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.

I left Texas after being with Little Joe for almost 25 years and recording about 50% of the hits of the group throughout our career together. Once I left the band, to my surprise, the promoters we had been working with all those years were very reluctant to book me, even though they had seen me perform to thousands of people at their concerts/dances and knew all my "hits." They seemed to be afraid to book me and support me, perhaps for fear that Little Joe would not work with them if they worked with me too.

Even though I encountered that, I am happy to say that I have always gotten airplay as an artist. Tejano radio has been just wonderful to me in supporting my music as a solo artist. Now that I think about it, I've been getting air play since I first recorded in 1962/63 all the way to today with my new material. I ended up having to find new promoters in the business to work with. Some were good promoters, but not well-established, so it was hard for me and them to make things work.

I hope that now, with my new recording project coming out the first part of the New Year, these promoters will also support me, like they have supported my brother Joe.

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."

I am proud to have been invited to some of the local happenings, the dances in Whittier, the concerts at the parks with the amazing car shows, and private parties at my new friends' homes. And I enjoyed driving up and down on Whittier Blvd. in East L.A., and on Wilshire and Beverly Blvds. Then all the way up to Beverly Hills for acting auditions where I got hired to do a couple of shoots. I figured since I was in Hollywood, I may as well give it a shot.

The experience will stay with me always. I can close my eyes and see me going for walks in Monterey Park on a beautiful sunny day, or going downtown L.A just to look around in the fashion district. I feel an affinity for East Los and all the friends I made there. And hey, maybe we can meet for coffee at Jim's restaurant on Whittier Blvd. in Montebello some day. We could sit outside in the patio and listen to oldies.

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.

Gilbert and I had discussed the possibility of the two of us working on an Album/CD a couple of times before, and I got the urge to go into the studio and record the song "Gracias." It was written as a ballad but I wanted to do it Tejano style. When asked what a Tejano "Power Polka" is, my manager Hernando "Spiderman" Abilez says it's a polka on steroids. Its high energy 2/4 time, horn driven-sound makes you want to dance polka.

So Gilbert and I made arrangements to work on the one song first, and then we would continue with enough songs to do a whole CD. Right before I was to leave to San Antonio to record, I got a call from a couple of musicians that had worked with me when I lived in Austin. I had lived there up till the time I left on my journey of 13 years. My friends wanted to know if I would be willing to come back to Austin and put a band together and do the whole music thing again. The funny thing is that they did not know I was going to be coming to record, so the chance of them calling me to come back to Texas just as I had decided to record Tejano music again seemed like an omen of some kind. One thing led to another and I ended up moving back to Austin.

AC: How did you find the music climate in Texas? Why did you choose Austin specifically?

JH: 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."

As for the Tejano scene, 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.

My new release came out and has been embraced by my fans and by radio so the first phase seems to be going well. Mr. Hernando "SpiderMan" Abilez has taken over as my booking manager, publicist and media relations representative. Together we are very optimistic about the new year.

AC: How did the music community, the Onda Tejana, react when they knew you had come back? What has been the fan reaction?

JH: The reaction to my coming back has been just wonderful. Everyone, fans and people in the industry alike, have expressed how great it is to see me back and are excited about my up and coming new CD. This is a quote from a program director in Abilene, TX: "Johnny, I have got to say that this is an awesome song. This is really going to be a shot in the arm for the industry. I hope all radio stations get it together and spin it." Andy Olivera, KJTZ TEJANO 106.9FM

I do have other artists on my new single. Grammy award winner Chente Barrera plays drums on "Gracias" and shares vocal back ups with the lovely and talented singer/song writer Ms. Leslie Lugo. She wrote a song for Grammy award winning artist Flaco Jimenez that was used in the Woody Allen movie "Picking up the Pieces". There are a couple of other artists I will be inviting to join me in some of the other tracks.

First and foremost I plan to record with Mr. Sunny Ozuna, formerly "Sunny Ozuna and The Sun Glows" and "Sunny Ozuna and The Sunliners." (Sunny had the national hit "Talk To Me" back in the early 60's which got him a performance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand) We have been trying to get together in the studio for a few years now and do some duets. Now that I'm back, we agreed to set a date and have some fun in the recording studio.

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 "Norte??o" 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. That's what the program director Mr. Andy Olvero was referring to on his e-mail to me. I guess you could say my music has gone "back to the future." LOL.

AC: Who are you working with now?

JH: My manager's credentials: Hernando "SpiderMan" Abilez started his music career working as an on air personality and program director for KRGT Radio and for KTXZ Radio in Austin, while working his way to a degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

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.

I am just happy to have a management company (D?®j?á-Vu Entertainment Group) that believes in my talent enough to not put any limitations on where my career can go, besides doing what I love which is making music and performing. It is an exciting time in my life and in my career.

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.

About Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Al Carlos is a College Professor who rides choppers and race bikes.
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