UT wordmark arhoolie records album cover featuring narciso martinez

Liner notes to Norteño Acordeon-Part 1 The First Recordings

All music excerpts, liner notes, and
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Arhoolie Records, 10341 San Pablo Av.
El Cerrito, CA 94530

Narciso Martinez was born October 29, 1911 in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas. He came with his family to the United States that same year and grew up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. An older brother played accordion a bit and by 1928 Narciso had begun to play the instrument. Most of the music Narciso Martinez heard back then was by Orquestras Tipicas, regional orchestras, consisting of violins, flute, bass, and guitar. photo of lolo cavazos with accordion But there were already accordionists in the area and Narciso was impressed by Jose Rodriguez, known as La Bamba, Lolo Cavazos (both heard on LP 9006), Francisco Gutierrez, and Alejandro Aguire, but Narciso insists that he mainly taught himself. The style Narciso developed on accordion was to be the most influential on other musicians in South Texas throughout the 30's, 40's, and into the 50's. Narciso started with a two-row accordion emphasizing the treble end and left the bass parts to his bajo sexto player, Santiago Almeida. Narciso was a fast and snappy player in contrast to Santiago Jimenez whose recording career began just a few years later as the most important accordionist in the San Antonio area playing more drawn-out notes. Until the time of these, Narciso's first recordings, when the bajo sexto (a 12 string guitar) was introduced in Texas apparently from Mexico, the accompaniment for most accordionists had been the Tambura Ranchera, as Narciso calls it, a simple country drum beaten with a stick.

La Gardenia (Polka)

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Lolo Cavazos: accordion; Jose Almeida -- bajo sexto. Dallas, TX. June 14, 1939.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records. ARHOOLIE/FOLKLYRIC LP 9006:
Norteño Acordeon Part 1: The First Recordings
La Petacona (Polka)

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Jose Rodriguez: accordion; with bajo sexto and tambora. San Antonio, TX. October 28, 1937.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Norteño Acordeon Part 1: The First Recordings

The Martinez family had settled near La Paloma, outside Brownsville and a furniture store owner by the name of Enrique Valentine heard about Narciso's growing popularity. It was Mr. Valentine who took Narciso to San Antonio to make these, his first recordings on October 21st, 1936. Narciso Martinez was so proficient on the accordion that he was able to record 20 titles in one day, at a time when recordings were cut directly onto masters and then shipped to the processing plant for metal plating in those pre-tape days. Mr. Valentine who also sold instruments and phonographs in his store, gave Narciso the title "El Huracan del Valle" - The Hurricane of the Valley, which was to stay with him throughout his long career as one of the most respected, imitated, and well liked musicians in South Texas.

This first recording session was not only important in spreading Narciso's name around South Texas, but the records were sold in far-off places like San Francisco, California for example where an elderly record shop proprietress in the Mission district told me that the records did not sell much to the Spanish speaking population of that sophisticated metropolitan center, but to the Basques who loved the sound of Narciso's accordion music!

Making records was also financially rewarding for Narciso Martinez in the deep depression years. For the 20 tunes recorded that first day, Narciso was paid $150.00 out of which he gave $50.00 to his bajo sexto player and good friend Santiago Almeida, even though the agent told him that the usual fee for side-men was $25.00 for a session. Some of Narciso's recordings were also issued on the company's Louisiana Cajun series (DELFO for example) where he was billed as "Louisiana Pete" and two sides (LOLO and OJOS NEGROS which became POCZTA) were issued on the Polish series under the pseudonym of "Polski Kwartet"! These marketing practices underline the fact that Narciso's music appealed to other ethnic groups who favored the accordion.

photo of narciso martinez with accordion In 1928, Narciso Martinez had begun to play in earnest and moved to Bishop, Texas near Corpus Christi where alot of people of Bohemian, Czech and German background lived. I feel that much of his repertoire which obviously was developing at this time was acquired to some extent from these Central European immigrants. In 1931 Narciso had moved back to La Paloma after marrying his wife Edwina in 1928 near Corpus. Narciso talks with much fondness about the Bohemians who apparently loved Mexican music, especially waltzes and redovas. He played many dances for them and was hired without a singer - just with his accordion!

As with most traditional musicians, from the pre-record era, Narciso had learned a lot of tunes without having a name for the selections. Once he began to record however, a title had to be put on the label and Mr. Valentine apparently assigned titles for most of the tunes recorded at the first session. Narciso continued to record for the same label until 1940, when the big companies lost interest in regional and ethnic music. During World War II local labels began to spring up around the country and they specialized in regional music which was mostly distributed only on a regional basis as well. One of the first labels to start in South Texas was IDEAL in San Benito, Texas. They used Narciso Martinez as their first release and also had him back up many popular singers. Narciso's records began to sell very well and he was also popular backing the duet of Carmen & Laura (actually the wives of the two owners of the label!) By this time Narciso was paid $35.00 per record and continued to record prolifically throughout the 1950's. By the early 50's Narciso had gained considerable fame and was finally able to take advantage of his reputation and played dances not only in parts of Texas where he had never been before, but also in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. By the 1950's most of the money in the Mexican music business was in playing dances and shows. Back in the days when Narciso started playing he worked in cantinas in Matamoros while prohibition was putting a damper on drinking establishments on the US side of the border. The lean years of the depression presented few opportunities to make any money with music but Narciso had gone as far as Edinburgh, McAllen, and Mission to play dances by the mid-1930's. Most dances at that time were held in the streets where a small platform was erected for the musicians. Some people gave house parties where the musicians were usually required to play all night long. Such gatherings were known as "Fiestas" and food and drink was offered to all. Some dances were called "Bailes de negocio" where a group or individual would hire a hall and charge the attending dancers.

Flor marchita (Schotis)

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Narciso Martinez: Accordion; with Santiago Almeida
-- Guitar or Bajo Sexto; Santiago Morales -- bass. San Antonio, TX. September 13, 1937
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records. ARHOOLIE/FOLKLYRIC LP 9006:
Norteño Acordeon Part 1: The First Recordings

By the mid-1950's Narciso Martinez was still earning a living mainly as an agricultural worker but he played music on weekends. His popularity was increasing and he was put on shows with Lydia Mendoza and Isidro Lopez on the dance hall circuit of the Southwest. But by the mid-1960's younger musicians were coming along and Narciso went to Florida to work in the fields picking tomatoes and other produce. He also went north to Ohio in 1968 and about this time he once more recorded, this time for Willie Lopez's ORO label of McAllen, Texas. In 1973, Narciso went to work for the zoo in Brownsville, feeding and taking care of animals. At this time film maker Les Blank and producer Chris Strachwitz filmed Narciso Martinez for inclusion in their now widely acclaimed documentary film on the Texas Mexican border music "Chulas Fronteras" (note Arhoolie LP 3005). In 1977, Narciso retired from the zoo and he now lives on a small pension but playing dances almost every weekend.

By the late 1940's the three-row accordian had been introduced into the area and Narciso Martinez from then on played on this more flexible instrument. Like many musicians, Narciso felt that the piano accordion was a better instrument than all the button accordions. Upon trying it out in front of an audience however, Narciso received strong objections from his audience and went back to the three-row button instrument from then on! I have heard similar stories from other accordionists in Texas.

We hope that this record will not only make Narciso Martinez's finest records available once more after being out of print for over 40 years, but will also focus attention on a man who was perhaps the single most influential player of the accordion in South Texas for several generations. Narciso Martinez is also possibly the accordionist who first popularized what is today known as Norteno music by backing the duet singing of Carmen & Laura before any other such popular combinations were to appear on records. A few years later, in the late 40's, other vocal duets with accordion backing began to appear on most recordings and Los Alegres de Teran along with Eugenio Abrego on accordion were probably the most popular exponents of this style. The long established duet singing style and the accordion dance music of South Texas blended and gave the world Norteno music which spread throughout Texas, to the West Coast, north to Chicago, all over Mexico and even into Central and South America. Narciso Martinez is one of the founding fathers of our Musica Nortena!

Chris Strachwitz, 1977

Liner notes courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Narciso Martinez "El Huracan del Valle":
His first recordings 1936-1937 Arhoolie/Folklyric LP 9017:

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Return to  Border Cultures: Conjunto Music - Index Page

Arhoolie Records: Tejano Roots
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music / Orquestas Tejanas: the Formative Years / San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s / Narciso Martínez / The Women

Arhoolie Records Exhibit: Part 2
Norteño Acordeon Part 1: The First Recordings / Narciso Martinez "El Huracan del Valle": His first recordings 1936-1937

Last updated: March 5, 2004.
Created by: Craig Schroer - Electronic Services Librarian
Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin
Please send comments to: schroer@mail.utexas.edu

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