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Arhoolie Records
Music Excerpts, Liner Notes, and Photos
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Arhoolie Records, 10341 San Pablo Av., El Cerrito, CA 94530

The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music   animation

image of early string band The roots of Tejano and Conjunto music are as widespread and diverse, and run as deep, as the traditions, cultures and people which gave them life. The main root is the music of Mexico with all its regional and class variations, its extraordinary range of songs and dances, and its social and religious musics ranging from the solo voice to the powerful sound of the bandas from Sinaloa to the highly stylized format of today's mariachis. The genteel polished urban orchestras as well as the often untrained rural string bands, the romantic bolero singers, the smooth as well as the gutsy, male and female rural ranchera stars, the vocal trios, the Jarocho harp music of Veracruz, the Huastecan fiddlers and falsetto singers, the danzon and mambo orchestras, and above all the norteño sound of the accordion accompanying the duet vocals from the North, have all contributed to the sound of present day Tejano and Conjunto music.

Maria Christina (mazurka)
(RealAudio file | .au file)
El Ciego Melquiades -- Fiddle
Recorded in San Antonio, Texas, April 6, 1938
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Folklyric/Arhoolie CD 7018
Orquestas de Cuerdas (The String Bands)
"The End of a Tradition" (1926-1938)

The musical traditions of the Tejanos of South Texas and Norteños of Northern Mexico have been influenced not only by the mother country, Mexico, but also by their Anglo-American, African-American and immigrant neighbors like the Czechs, Bohemians, and Moravians as well as the Germans and Italians. Industry, especially brewing, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, was developed in part by German immigrants; and the distributors of German-made accordions aggressively marketed the loud, sturdy little "boom boxes" as far back as the late 1800s.

image of beto villa Norteño/Conjunto accordion pioneer Narciso Martínez learned many tunes from German and Czech brass bands. He'd listen with a friend who had a good ear and memory. The friend would whistle the tunes to Narciso when they got home, allowing Narciso to transpose them to his accordion! Anglo-American fiddle music, Swing, Rhythm & Blues, and later Rock & Roll and Soul, were widely enjoyed by Tejanos. Dances by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were advertised in San Antonio's Spanish-language daily paper La Prensa in the 1940s and were well attended by Mexican-Americans. In the 1940s, the Pachuco movement (which originated in El Paso and spread from there to Los Angeles) had its musical roots in the swing and jump music of that era. Listen for a bit of the Bob Wills influence on Beto Villa's recording of "Pachuca Blues" (RealAudio file | .au file); and for the Pachuco and Rock influence check out Freddy Fender as Eddie Con Los Shades (RealAudio file | .au file) and Mando Marroquín singing with the Conjunto Bernal (RealAudio file | .au file). The Tejano orchestras, although inspired by the famous orchestras of Mexico, Cuba, and the Anglo world, included in their repertoires the popular folk dances of the region, especially polkas, waltzes, redovas, and rancheras along with the danzones, mambos, boleros and other Latin American dance styles. (The best of the early Tejano orchestras can be heard on ARH CD/C368.)

Pachuca Blues (Blues)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Beto Villa's Orchestra; with Narciso Martínez -- Accordion.
Recorded January 1950
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 341
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music
La Novia Antonia (Rock)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Conjunto Bernal; with Mando Marroquín Jr. -- Vocals.
Recorded December 1957
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 341
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music

The songs were contributed by both Mexican and Tejano composers. Some became popular via the latest Mexican movies; others date back to Spain of centuries ago. Many new songs became popular through records heard on local jukeboxes or via the then rare Spanish language radio programs which also presented live music. Tangos came from Argentina in the 1920s, Mexican stage and vaudeville performers introduced new songs along with old favorites at every appearance, while local corridos (ballads or story songs) like the classic Gregorio Cortez (RealAudio file | .wav file) told of heroic bravery in the face of conflict between Tejanos and Anglos. Corridos were especially popular with cantina patrons and field workers. Most rancheras and corridos were sung to the polka or waltz rhythms which have been popular for over a hundred years with the largely rural population. They continue to be the mainstay of dance bands in South Texas to this day. Many romantic songs and boleros came from Mexico and Latin America but local Tejano composers contributed their share. Other rhythms like sones, redovas, mazurkas, schotishes, huapangos and more recently, cumbias from Colombia, have caught the fancy of dancers. The range and variety of dance rhythms as well as of poetic expressions in Mexican-American and Tejano music and song are quite extraordinary.

Beginning in the mid-1920s, Tejano music was produced on commercial records by the major labels of the time: Victor, Brunswick/Vocalion, Columbia, and Okeh, who would employ regional talent scouts. These agents or entrepreneurs were often associated with music or furniture stores where record players and the discs were sold. The Great Depression of the 1930s forced all the labels which survived to produce cheaper records (35 each versus 75 common in the late 1920s). The widespread popularity of the jukebox by the mid-1930s as a major disseminator for recorded music contributed to record companies releasing more and more vernacular and regional music. This is in contrast to the refined nationally popular and classical music preferred by the middle class, which had always had the money to buy records and the gramophones to play them on.

record label from rio records or the song las gueras de califa By the 1940s and World War II, with its accompanying shortages of materials including shellac from which the records were pressed, the major record companies dropped regional and ethnic musics and even had difficulty filling the demand for popular music, which was promoted via national radio. This situation created a great demand, especially from jukebox operators, for regionally popular artists and musics. This demand eventually made possible the success of home-grown record companies, such as IDEAL. With the end of World War II in 1945, millions of workers all over the country, especially those of rural background who had found work in the lucrative war industries, were making good wages and were willing and able to support their favorite regional musics, musicians and singers.

IDEAL Records was launched in 1946 after Armando Marroquín of Alice, Texas released several records by the vocal duet of Carmen y Laura (his wife Carmen and her sister Laura) via a Los Angeles based firm. The success of these records in South Texas brought businessman Paco Betancourt from San Benito to Alice to propose a partnership with Mr. Marroquín. Under the agreement reached by the two men, Armando Marroquín would get new recording equipment, a studio, make all the recordings, and receive all the records he needed for his jukeboxes. Paco Betancourt for his part would arrange for the manufacture of the discs and their distribution both in the U.S. and in Mexico.

Vidita Mia (Canción)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Carmen and Laura -- Vocals; with Narciso Martínez -- Accordion.
Recorded July 1946
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Narciso Martínez: "Father of the Texas-Mexican Conjunto"

image of armando marroquin at work in his music studio Armando Marroquín (September 12, 1912 - July 4, 1990) operated jukeboxes in cantinas, restaurants, and other businesses in the Alice area. Before the war, records by the best known local artists were readily available from the major labels on their depression-special cheap 35 labels like Blue Bird, Vocalion, Okeh, and Decca. Narciso Martínez, Gaytan y Cantu, and the first female star of Tejano music, Lydia Mendoza, were probably the most popular. When record production almost came to a standstill in the United States during World War II (1941-1945), the record industry in Mexico quickly tried to pick up the slack. But the combination of not having recorded the music from up north (Norteño) and U.S. Customs making it very difficult and even illegal to import records left most jukeboxes high and dry for want of local favorites. Mr. Marroquín had purchased a disc recorder and sold acetate copies of recordings for up to $5 each to music hungry jukebox owners. The first recordings were made in Carmen and Armando Marroquín's kitchen. Carmen sang and a blind guitar playing neighbor, Reynaldo Barrera, backed her on guitar or bajo sexto. When the war ended, Mr. Marroquín contacted Four Star Records in Los Angeles, one of the first independent pressing and production companies, to manufacture his first mass produced 78 rpm records.

Se Me Fue Mi Amor (Canción)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Carmen and Laura -- Vocals; with Isaac Figueroa -- Accordion.
Recorded 1945
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 343
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)

publicity photo of musical group carmen and laura with narciso martinez and santiago almeida Among those first commercial releases was the timely song "Se Me Fue Mi Amor" (which can be heard on Arhoolie CD/C343 Tejano Roots: The Women) sung by Carmen and her sister Laura accompanied by another neighbor, Isaac Figueroa, on accordion. The sound of an accordion, both solo and backing singers, was rapidly becoming the attraction which drew listeners and dancers to cantinas and ballrooms. The theme of the song of that first record was "My love has left me, he has gone off to war" and it was an instant success throughout the Southwest. Once Armando and Paco began IDEAL Records, Armando supplied a steady stream of masters and soon went on the road with his rising stars: Beto Villa and his orchestra, singers Carmen and Laura, and accordion ace Narciso Martínez. This successful triumvirate had all the elements to appeal to every stratum of Mexican American society in the Southwest during the immediate postwar era. Armando Marroquín had a good sense for what kind of music the public wanted to buy on records and he was soon besieged by talent from all over the South Texas area.

photo of paco betancourt Paco Betancourt (January 15, 1903 - September 5, 1971) owned and operated the Rio Grande Music Co. in San Benito, Texas, primarily a retail record shop which, according to John Phillips from whom I purchased the IDEAL masters, also serviced over a hundred jukeboxes and 25 pinball games by 1946. In the 1920s Paco Betancourt had built and operated the Queen Theatre on Main Street in Brownsville, the first theatre in the Valley to show talking movies. He eventually sold out to a chain and went into the record business. By 1950 Tejano and Conjunto music had become a substantial business for record producers, jukebox operators, composers, nightclub, ballroom, and bar owners, as well as the singers and musicians who comprised the orchestras and conjuntos.

publicity photo of freddie fender Success brought competition and several smaller companies, including Falcon Records in McAllen, Texas, were soon on the scene. Due to their location close to the border, these companies recorded many artists from Mexico, especially from rural areas in the state of Nuevo Leon. Along with increased opportunities for the artists, problems and complaints arose and the partnership between Armando Marroquín and Paco Betancourt came to an end around 1959 although the two remained good friends. Mr. Marroquín retained the services of some of the artists, the recording studio, and started his own label, Nopal. Paco Betancourt's Rio Grande Music Co. continued to distribute the IDEAL label from San Benito where a studio was opened and new recordings were made by Paco and John Phillips. Some of the engineering chores were soon taken over by a talented young local singer and musician who also recorded for the label, named Baldemar Huerta, who would soon be known to the music world as Freddy Fender. Many of the best artists, however -- including Paulino Bernal -- went on to greener pastures at other labels or formed their own production companies. Towards the end of his career, Mr. Betancourt entered politics and was elected mayor of San Benito, Texas.

Corina, Corina (Blues)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Eddie con Los Shades [Baldeman Huerta: aka "Eddie" and "Freddie Fender"].
Recorded January 1961
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 341
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music

I purchased all IDEAL masters in 1990 from John Phillips, Sr. who had inherited all the rights to the label. John's grandfather on his mother's side was a brother of Paco Betancourt's father. The Betancourt brothers had both been officials of the Mexican government under the Díaz regime and were sent from Mexico City to Matamoros to supervise customs and immigration. When the revolution spread through Mexico the Betancourt family fled across the Rio Grande to Brownsville and lost their property in Mexico. Paco Betancourt grew up during the boom days of the 1920s and as an enterprising young man started several businesses. John, on the other hand, born in 1922, grew up in the depth of the Depression and went to work for Pan American Airways in the early 1940s. After World War II, Pan Am relocated their Western regional headquarters and John did not want to make the move. He stayed in San Benito and in 1946 went to work for Paco Betancourt and IDEAL Records when the label was releasing record number 15. While Paco shipped masters, ordered the 78 rpm records pressed in California, made up the label copy, packed and invoiced in the shop, John was responsible for sales and contacting the various wholesalers, shops, and jukebox operators throughout the Southwest. When the partnership with Marroquín ended and the master recordings no longer poured in from Alice, Texas, John was made responsible for installing a recording studio next door and a record-pressing facility in the back of the Rio Grande Music Co. building. From that time on Paco and John Phillips did most of the recordings in San Benito and pressed the records, which by 1960 were all 7" 45 rpm or 33 1/3 rpm LP discs.

Armando Marroquín was the perfect recording director. He got along well with the musicians, had a good ear for talent and for what the public wanted to hear, and obtained a good sound with the recording equipment on hand. Looking back at the many fine master recordings he produced for IDEAL, we begin to realize how much excellent and historic Tejano and Conjunto music has been preserved on record thanks to the many talented singers and musicians and the tireless and patient Armando Marroquín.

Corazon del pueblo (Ranchera) by Juan Colorado

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Isidro Lopez with Conjunto IDEAL (probably Amadeo Flores - accordion).
Recorded 1955
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 341
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music

photo of los alegres de teran I personally have been interested in Tejano and Conjunto music for over 30 years and have recorded Flaco Jimenez, Trio San Antonio, Santiago Jimenez, Los Pinguinos del Norte, and others for ARHOOLIE. I have been an avid collector of historic 78 rpm recordings from South Texas and have made many of these available again on LPs and cassettes on the Folklyric label. In the 1970s I produced two documentary films, CHULAS FRONTERAS and DEL MERO CORAZON, with filmmaker Les Blank and editor Maureen Gosling. These films/videos have introduced some of the best historic Tejano and Conjunto artists, songs, corridos, and dance musics to audiences around the world. (See our catalog for details.)

photo of lydia mendoza When it came to my attention that IDEAL Records was for sale and that, contrary to local rumors, the masters were not lost or destroyed but carefully stored at the Rio Grande Music Co. building in San Benito, I suddenly found myself in the position of the ultimate record collector. l felt obligated to buy these priceless artifacts of a vital and strong culture not my own, to preserve this wonderful music for future generations and rescue it from oblivion. l have spent the past year listening to a lot of the tapes and 78s and contacted many of the leading artists to get their approval and stories. The music is no doubt the most important aspect of the IDEAL catalog, but I feel that these pioneer recordings of Tejano music deserve special attention. These recordings and the musicians and singers who created them are a part of our national heritage. Lydia Mendoza, Narciso Martínez, and Valerio Longoria, all of whom are represented in the IDEAL catalog, have been honored by receiving the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts; and many of the other artists have received formal recognition in one way or another. The songs are part of the vernacular literature of the people of South Texas and like books, deserve to be in libraries, classrooms, and homes. We hope that these researched presentations on CDs and cassettes of The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music will be appreciated and enjoyed by the people of South Texas as well as by new audiences around the globe.

Chris Strachwitz - 1991

Feliz Sin Ti (Bolero)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Lydia Mendoza; with Beto Villa's Orchestra.
Recorded August 1950
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 341
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music

Liner notes courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Tejano Roots: The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music. Ideal/Arhoolie CD-341

Materials copyrighted by Arhoolie Records.
Presentation of these materials on UT Library Online by the General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin was made possible under a limited license grant from the creator who has retained all copyrights to the works.

Return to  Border Cultures: Conjunto Music - Index Page

Arhoolie Records: Tejano Roots
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music / Orquesta Tejana: 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 Martínez "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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