May 27, 1995


venue: Ventura Theatre
place: Ventura, CA
country: USA

Combining Best of Two Cultures : The Texas Tornados have attracted a loyal cross-cultural following with their blend of blues, country and rock.


A concert featuring the Texas Tornados should raise some dust at Ventura Theatre on Saturday.

Members of the Grammy Award-winning Tornados come from the San Antonio area and have been friends for more than 25 years. But they didn't join forces until 1989, when the quartet performed two nights as the Tex-Mex Revue at Boz Scaggs' San Francisco night spot. Soon afterward, Warner Bros. signed the band to record its unique mix of blues, conjunto, hard-core country and early rock 'n' roll.

The group's first album earned a Grammy Award for best Mexican-American performance on "Soy de San Luis," a conjunto classic by the late Santiago Jimenez Sr., legendary accordionist and father of Tornado member Flaco Jimenez. Conjunto is a blend of Mexican Norteno music and polka-waltz traditions imported by German and Czech settlers.

The 1991 followup single, "Zone of Our Own," scored a Grammy nomination for best country vocal performance by a group and attracted a loyal cross-cultural following. And the third Tornado record, "Hangin' On by a Thread," also displays the trademark energy and variety that fans and critics attribute to each band member's distinctive background.

Probably the best-known member is Freddy Fender, who parlayed success during the 1950s as "El Bebop Kid" into country balladeer fame with such million-sellers as "Before the Last Teardrop Falls" and "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."

Childhood friends Augie Meyers, on keyboards, and Doug Sahm, on guitar, go back to the early '60s, when Sahm's band the Sir Douglas Quintet was cranking out pop rock hits. Flaco Jimenez on accordion has collaborated with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Dwight Yoakam.

Here's what Fender had to say about the Texas Tornados:

With the attention "tejano" received after the death of singer Selena, many non-Spanish-speakers think it's simply the '90s politically correct word for Tex-Mex music. How about it?

Our stuff is not tejano , which is very beautiful and popular now. It used to be played by orchestras in the 1950s with big band sound, sophisticated organ, guitar and all those chords very well blended with regular polka music. But I would call our music Tex-Mex, gringo and Mexican combined, or Spanglish in reference to the south San Antonio area, where it developed as a bicultural musical endeavor using two languages.

The crossover trends between country music, rock, R&B and folk are driving radio program directors up the wall, and they recently created an American roots or "Americana" category, putting guys such as Tom Petty and Waylon Jennings on the same chart. Where do you guys fit in?

You can't categorize our music--it's unpredictable. We're like a juke box--just punch it in and we'll play it. The label wanted to make us commercial but we're too eclectic; it's not assembly line or factory produced. So the crossover idea came along after our second album, when the record industry didn't know what to do with a hybrid.

Speaking of commercial, each band member has his own albums and projects. But how do the Texas Tornados decide what to record?

You are listening to four very hard-headed individuals more interested in writing and recording what they want to do. It was never our intention to please the public--and it still isn't. But we've developed a following and we take for granted they like what we like.

As a Chicano musician who pioneered the way for Los Lobos and others, what was it like before radio program consultants dictated musical diets?

Ritchie [Valens] had a better chance in California because it was more progressive. Here in Texas, some people are still fighting the Alamo. We just tried to get a hit record before people realized they were listening to a Mexican singer.

At one time it was a fun thing. We used to cut a record and hustle the radio stations. We'd take the deejays for coffee, then go back and get the waitresses to call and request 'em to play the song. And you had to have a pickup, lose your mother and do time in the penitentiary to get career qualifications.

But those traditions are gone. Now it's more like a business where they get good-looking girls and good-looking men who could be models and pass them off as singers. And the promotion machine is planned like they're selling new cars.

But back when they didn't have videos and TV, it was the voice that mattered. And we had skinny singers, fat ones, ugly ones--even singers with pimples. But it was the voice --and everybody had a chance to make it.


* WHAT: Texas Tornados, The Last Real Texas Blues Band, the Rhythm Rangers.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

* WHERE: Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: $19.50.

* CALL: 648-1888.