Monday, February 14, 2011
The King of Tex-Mex Rules: Little Joe Y La Familia
We pull up to the house on Adams St. to meet up with my virtual pal, Linda Stockton, who I had only known solely through Facebook messages between us. She has arranged the whole thing through the Mexican radio station she works for. They have paid for the tickets and she has arranged a trade in services for the Limo.
We are greeted by her lanky, freshly-groomed white poodle, Blanca who sniffs us out thoroughly. She is especially interested in the snacks we have in a bag. Linda and Arlene are already there, sitting on the porch and sipping on a Corona. My compadre keeps pressing me to uncap the tequila we have in the bag, so we can have a couple of shots before the others and the Limo arrives. So we do.
It is a fine February evening, unusually warm for the season. Soon the others begin arriving, and then the Limo. It is a 36' white, stretch Cadillac. Class.There is an air of excitement as we introduce ourselves and board. It is tight inside like the belly of a whale with plush leather seats. Blacklights provide the ambiance and the letters on my jacket glow like neon.
The owner of the Limo, Jaime has decided to come with us but he is not driving today. He kicks on a CD of Little Joe, cranks it up, and we head out, pulling onto Hwy. 4, and through the winding waterways of the San Joaquin Delta, towards the small town of Antioch, California on the edges on San Francisco Bay, to the El Camanil Theater where the concert will be held. We break out the Tequila and offer shots, but only a few brave souls accept. Coronas are passed around as we prime ourselves to what we all already know will be a great concert.
About an hour passes, and the trip seems longer than expected. But it's more than just the anticipation. We are lost and have driving around in circles for 15 minutes! It's already 7:45 and the concert begins in 15 minutes. My comadre has to go. The driver assures "we'll be there in 10 minutes." But my comadre has to go, now, real bad. "Driver, can you find a gas station?" She does and we all race out to relieve ourselves.
It is already late, 8:05, and we are all restless. Soon the bright marquis of the theater appears. At the entrance, we are short one ticket. The usher speaks to the lady at the box office. They confer. We are willing to pay for the extra ticket. But wait, that means my compadres, who are the only ones without tickets, may have to sit in different sections! Soon, the usher appears. "We have decided to give you a complimentary ticket but one of you will have to sit in a folding chair. My compadre gallantly volunteers.
As we enter the lobby, Little joe is rocking the house. We are greeted by his classic "I'm Just a Lil' Ol' Redneck Meskin' Boy." We have arrived!!
The theater is a beautifully renovated gem from the 30's or 40's, seating about 700 people. We are in row 7, and can see Joe perfectly. No frills, no huge monitors, Just plain Joe Hernandez, clad in a sports coat and pants, and sneakers, a guitar player, keyboard player, two trumpets, bass and timbales. But it is plenty as the King of Tex-Mex, works his adoring audience.
I see familiar faces. Barrio faces. Old vatos and young ones, moms, grandmas and grandpas. White haired veteranos, still wearing their tidy brims, and still doing the walk. They interact comfortably with Joe, shouting acclaims and petitions from the audience. Occasional white faces are spreckled throughout the audience, brave souls. The white ushers, seated in folding chairs along the edges, tap their feet to the addicting beat of Joe's songs. I feel like Big Stuff in my Lowrider jacket. I am home. We are home.
My compadre, behind us in the folding chair is beside himself. He is working himself to frenzy. In a moment of fervor, he stands up, rushes to my comadre and asks her to dance. She is embarrassed. "Sit down, Julian!" She whispers loudly to him. But it's too late! Julian grabs his imaginary partner and begins to feign dance towards the stage! The audience goes wild. They are cheering him on. I expect security to charge him at any second. He will be arrested. Joe sees him and eggs him on! When the number ends, Joe asks for a round of applause for my compadre, and he proudly takes his seat again.
These are the songs we grew up with. Why is it they never grow old? How is it Joe can just keep singing them, these old Mexican classics over and over, and his audiences never tire of them? He belts out his classics: "Ella", Indita Mia", "Cartas Marcadas", "Prieta Linda", "Que Culpa Tengo?", and "Las Nubes", the audience sings along, and as I listen, I wonder what the old Mexican singers would think, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, if they could hear this now, how Joe has taken their songs, added keyboards, timbales, and trumpets to them, and requintos done with electric guitar, a belts them out "a todo pelo", blasting from towers of amplifiers and speakers!? He pushes the envelope.
He does a couple of Oldies, and he dedicates the beautiful classic "You Don't Know Me" to the Keyboard player's deceased mom. "This song was her favorite", Joe tells him. In a meddley he goes from "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" right into "Por un Amor", in the same breath! Now, tell me, how many other musicians do you know who can do that? Maybe Freddy Fender.
This is the night before the 2011 Grammy's. We know he has been nominated for another Grammy, having netted 3 already. He says nothing about it until the concert ends, saying the nomination is for the album "Recuerdos" (Memories) he recorded awhile back and he forgot all about. It contains his favorite songs and was recorded simply with voice, guitar and bass and drums. He thanks the audience and excuses himself onstage (no encores) saying the band must pack up and head for the Grammy's in L.A.. The next day we will find out he is awarded his 4th Grammy for "Best Tejano Album".
We line up in the lobby. After a while, he hurries in and begins to sign autographs and pose for pictures with whoever asks him to do so. He is like a brother, a friend. No sass. When my compadre poses with him he reveals he was the frenzied dancer, boasting 'I'm from Textas, too." "Then, I forgive you", Joe quips. No superstar persona here. Just Joe. My wife says "Did you notice his haripiece?" I get up close and then I see it. "It matches real nice", I whisper to her and my comadre. Hell, he deserves it. He is 71 after all.
The trip back to Stockton is relatively uneventful. We are all like a family, after having eaten a BIG Thanksgiving dinner, filled, grateful and thankful to have seen the King of Tejano, Tex-Mex. My compadre and I have a final shot, a few more Coronas are passed around.
What a night it had been. When I thank Linda for the invitation and the complimentary tickets, she says:"I wanted to make sure only people who love Little Joe would be invited". She had made some excellent choices.