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Never Will Say Goodbye

Remembering the great Tony "Ham" Guerrero

By Ruben Cubillos
Published on LatinoLA: February 7, 2011


Never Will Say Goodbye


Recently, a ship set sail, metaphorically speaking, on a journey understood as "the Cycle of Life."

Sure, there's great sadness as the day ends and the night begins. It's bitterly cold across the country, yet even colder across the Tejano nation.

You see, a chapter in Tejano music has been inked for the last time. An era of cultural pride, creative expressionism, and the unconditional love of a pioneer for his music are now history.

Tony "HAM" Guerrero passed to a better world this week. To our world, he left behind a priceless legacy, one where he planted a footprint few have matched, or will ever be able to.

It is said that music soothes the beast in us all, so to live amongst a leader such as Ham--whose great passion for his music was greater than the physical pain on his body--is a respect earned with every minute passing.

In recent years, Ham's challenges were felt far beyond that of body aches, daily dialysis, and the confines of a wheelchair.

The sentence of not being able to physically blow life into his horn, at the highest standards he helped set, was as crushing as the energy the machine's stole from his body.

Even through all this, his heart and mind functioned clearly; he moved forward writing music charts, arrangements, and making plans only a man so consumed with creative fever can do.

One must admire the tenacity of the fierce bull, fighting inch by inch at a target right in front of him. To gore a single opponent from time to time generates a rise of glory and worthiness. Ham was exactly like the bull: not ready to give up on what he well understood--to battle on.

This man was born to contribute his soul to Tejano music and its culture on multiple levels, always leading and seldom following. Neither pain nor physical limitation stood a chance of draining the last energy from Ham's hopes of a planned Tortilla Factory road tour, or a new release featuring his signature style, nor attending the Tejano Music Awards last July.

The mind is a powerful thing to waste when one has given up. This warrior pressed on toward his goals, no matter what...and he never gave up.

Personally, we spoke every once in a while by phone or communicated through a blog known as Tejano Journal, then lately as friends on Facebook. He in Austin, and I in San Antonio, and together we compared notes of cultural issues brewing in the trenches.

Whenever we hit a wall of Tejano prejudice, cultural ignorance, or hater intolerance, we reached out as sounding boards. Our brotherhood bonded our ideals--Tejano lives--just not in the same form of his era, so one must speak up and educate.

You see, Ham was a musician from a whole different generation. A production of the 70's Chicano Soul movement, a dedicated lover of various genres--especially Jazz, Ham understood the mechanics of all great music--it's a vibe, it's the soul that moves the spirit.

Didn't Ray Charles say it best, "Soul? It's like electricity; we don't really know what it is, but it's a force that can light up a room."

From Poncho Sanchez to Los Lonely Boys, from Joe Gallardo to Tower of Power, those were his soldiers. The endless source of musicians he referenced, and was referenced to in return, were not only impressive, but tied to his core for their insight and influence.

Sure, haters will roll their eyes in disbelief and self interest indulged disgust agendas to try and make themselves relevant in his midst, but Ham's music was like a firm handshake--strong,unforgiving and methodical--something most haters can't even come close to matching!

It was easy to burn 45 to 90 minutes exchanging stories about La Onda, then and now, from the 70's creative era to his self described famous Sala Roja. His in depth coverage of this Sala Roja stirred the taste buds for spicing up his breakfast meals.

We laughed and argued, pondered and reflected about yesterday and tomorrow.

We were two souls cut from the same cloth, clearly at a different part of the spool.

The words we spoke started and ended with the idea that Tejano music lives on with one's affinity. Time stood still when comparing production values,marketing strategies, and rebuilding of the brotherhood that was, and may yet be, Tejano music.

Technology was no challenge for his tenacity. During the fierce battle with the Houston Rodeo vs. Tejano music, when Tejano music performances were to be deactivated from the main stage, Ham was at the forefront calling for support and a call to action of all Tejano musicians.

What a rush it was to have a handful of trailblazers (like Little Joe, Ruben Ramos, Roberto Pulido and many others), including Ham, on the bandstand contributing their solidarity once again for the greater good.

Not even while battling poor health was Ham deterred; his conviction never waned while joining forces at a Houston Rally. That was a sight of a true warrior, never to be forgotten.

While this man's journey continues onto a better life, his spirit burns like an eternal flame here on earth.

To be great is to be remembered. To feel sorrow is a human factor. To know that one's footprint set higher standards merits honor. Tony "Ham" Guerrero, bandleader of the well recognized, popular, and famous TORTILLA FACTORY championed at every level for his beloved Onda Tejana.

It is with great anticipation that his rewards be concerted. Ham, along with his original lead vocalist/friend Bobby "El Charro Negro" Butler, and his cherished pride--his children--will be anxiously watching the Grammys from the heavens looking for his Tortilla Factory to be "Cookin" one more time.

Happy trails, Hamster.

Ruben Saenz Cubillo

About Ruben Cubillos:
Ruben Cubillos is a creative musician, and founder of A Big Chihuahua, Inc, a dynamic San Antonio, Texas, based Hispanic advertising agency catering to the Hispanic market.
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