Freddy Fender’s musical career has been a long and winding
road that began in the late 1950’s and is still going
strong. The chapters in his story include being a Spanish
language pop star in the 50’s, a country western and
pop star in the 70’s, and a member of the hugely successful
Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven in the 90’s.
He’s been featured in motion pictures, TV commercials,
numerous major television shows, and has toured with his live
shows for decades.
Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Huerta
in the Rio Grande Valley town of San Benito, Texas.
He grew up in a barrio called “El Jardin,” a poor
Latino neighborhood near the Texas/Mexico border. The
first music he heard was traditional Mexican music, mostly
the Tejano conjunto or Tex Mex style of music, which was influenced
by polka music originally brought to Texas by German settlers.
He also heard a lot of blues, some on the radio and some in
the fields where his parents were migrant workers. Many
of the black workers sang and played the blues which affected
him deeply and contributed to his unique musical style.
At 16, he joined the Marines for a three year hitch.
After his discharge, he began to play the honky tonks, bars
and dance halls of South Texas. His first successful
recordings were Spanish versions of Elvis Presley’s
“Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s
“Jamaica Farewell.” The recordings released
on Falcon Records achieved the number one position in Mexico
and South America in 1957. In 1959, he signed with Imperial
Records in Hollywood, the home label of the likes of Fats
Domino and Rick Nelson. (My dad, Lalo Guerrero, recorded
for Imperial Records in the late forties and early 50’s).
Hoping to reach the Anglo audience he changed his name, taking
the name Fender from the trade name of his electric guitar
and Freddy for the alliteration.
In 1960, Freddy had his first national
hit with “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”
Later that year he and his bass player were busted for possession
of two joints of marijuana. He served 3 years in prison.
After serving his time, he went to New Orleans, where he spent
five years soaking up rhythm and blues and Cajun music.
He returned home in 1969, where he worked as a full time mechanic
and enrolled in a community college, playing music only on
weekends. He struck gold in 1974 when a recording he
had done in Houston entitled “Before the Next Teardrop
Falls,” was purchased and released by ABC-Dot Records.
On April 8, 1975 it reached number one on Billboard Magazine’s
pop and country charts. His remake of “Wasted
Days and Wasted Nights,” which was virtually the same
rock & roll arrangement he used in the 50’s, shot
to number one on the country charts.
I met Freddy Fender in 1980 in Las
Vegas, Nevada, where I was working with a cover band at the
Union Plaza Hotel, while he was doing a stint at the Silverbird
Hotel. Linda Peace, the female vocalist in the band
I was playing with, knew Freddy and took me and her husband,
Dave Wendels (one of the guitarists in the band), to visit
him before his show. We went up to his room to meet
him and then saw a little bit of his show before we had to
go to our gig. After our gig, we went back to Freddy’s
room and hung out. We were sitting around passing the
guitar and talking. When the guitar got to me I played
one of my songs, “You Gotta Thank the Black Man (for
Your Rock & Roll),” a bluesy song that traces the
evolution of rock & roll. Freddy liked it and asked
me to send it to his office in Corpus Christi, Texas.
I was pleased that Freddy appreciated the song and wanted
a personal copy. I mentioned that my dad is Lalo Guerrero
and Freddy recalled hearing my dad’s records when he
was growing up in Texas. He particularly remembered
a recording my dad did which was a Spanish version of “Itsy
Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” called
“La Bikini de Mi Tia Trini.” Freddy gave
me an autographed picture of him in the 1950’s, which
I still have hanging in my studio. A few months later
our band ran into Freddy and his band again at a gig at Tahitian
Village in the Los Angeles area.
In the 90’s, Freddy joined
with Flaco Jimenez, Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers to form The
Texas Tornados. Doug and Augie had been members of The
Sir Douglas Quintet and Flaco is a Tex Mex accordion legend.
They proved to be very successful with record sales and as
a live act. The Texas Tornados recorded four albums
before disbanding. Freddy returned to his solo career
and then joined up with members of Los Lobos, Rick Trevino
and Flaco to form Los Super Seven.
Freddy Fender has won many awards
including a Grammy with the Texas Tornados in 1990, the Academy
of Country Music “Most Promising Artist” in 1975,
the Country Music Association “Single of the Year”
in 1975, and induction into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame.
He has appeared in movies such as Robert Redford’s “The
Milagro Beanfield War in 1989 and Luis Valdez’ “La
Pastorela” in 1991. (My dad also had a part in
the latter movie and shared a scene with Freddy). His
television credits include “Austin City Limits,”
“Late Night with David Letterman,” “The
Tonight Show,” and “American Bandstand.”
He’s been featured in magazines such as Newsweek, Rolling
Stone, People, and Playboy. The highlights of his performing
career include the White House, Carnegie Hall, and the Montreaux
Jazz Festival. Many of his CDs are available in stores and
on the internet, including various compilations as well as
his recordings with The Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven.
Freddy is still performing on the road as a solo artist.
Freddy Fender (Baldemar Huerta) passed away Saturday, October
14, 2006 in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. He
was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2006. You can
purchase Freddy Fender CDs from the amazon.com links below.