Signup for a folk alley account


The Family Roots of Conjunto: Flaco Jimenez & Max Baca

July 17, 2014

Flaco Jimenez & MaxBaca 300 crop Photo at Mission San Jose Photo2641 by Tom Pich_lores copy 2.jpgby Devon Leger, KITHFOLK


Flaco & Max. Legends & Legacies.
2014. Smithsonian Folkways.

Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca are two of the most famous artists in Texas Mexican (Tejano) conjunto music. But they're also both the sons of legends as well. Flaco's father, Don Santiago Jimenez, was a pioneering accordionist, singer, and songwriter in Tejano music, and Max's father, Max Baca, Sr, was also a great accordionist and bandleader, though based out of his native New Mexico, rather than Texas. Both Max and Flaco are actually third-generation accordionists, as their grandfathers played as well. For both artists, this is a family business, so it's a real pleasure to hear them both going back to their family repertoires on their new release on Smithsonian Folkways: Legends & Legacies. Together, Flaco and Max make up the classic duo that is at the heart of all conjunto music: the three-row button accordion and the bajo sexto (a large stringed instrument somewhat similar to the 12-string guitar). Both artists, Flaco on accordion and Max on bajo, are considered among the very best in the world and have become ambassadors both for their music and for the instruments. So what you hear on this album is the very best Tejano conjunto music there is. Here it's gloriously simple, but also devilishly complex, tied to the family roots that sustain it, and freed from the glitz and glamor of modern conjunto music (not that there's anything wrong with a little glam in your accordion music!). The songs are rustic and heartfelt, drawn from their fathers' songs, but also from classics of the genre. The songs, like most country music, are about lost loves, unrequited loves, and the love of drink.

The album is also an ode to fathers and to families, with great stories about how both Flaco and Max grew up in the dancehalls of the American Southwest, surrounded by seminal music making. Growing up in San Antonio, Flaco remembers his father playing Friday through Sunday night at the Gaucho Garden and working as a janitor during the day to support his kids. "He always wanted me around," says Flaco in the liner notes, "and I wanted to be around him, because I loved the accordion, I loved how he played. I used to check out everything. I took care of him in some ways, and I packed his accordion in his Model A car. Then afterward, I started growing up a little more, and he decided to take me to where he played because I think he knew that I was ready to perform. It was like him taking me to Disneyland or something, you know, for me to go with him to where we played! It was a spontaneous thing, because I was just sitting on the side of him because he was playing at the dances." Eventually, Flaco got invited up onstage and cause quite the fervor in the joint with his accordion playing, though he was too small to reach the mic (they had to put a case of Lone Star Beer under him to get him to reach). He was only seven years old.

Max grew up in New Mexico, and his father was responsible for pioneering much of the New Mexican Hispanic music that still exists today, though there clearly have always been ties with the Tejano community in Texas. I interviewed Max Baca over the phone at his house in San Antonio a little while back, and he talked about the fascinating story of his father's music and his father's influence on "chicken scratch" music (the music of Southwest Native Americans). Here's an excerpt from that interview with Max Baca:

"I remember as a kid growing up, playing at different festivals and events, especially the fiestas at the Indian reservations. My dad would play and I was just a kid, I was maybe 6, 7 years old. I was tagging along with my dad, he had me go with him to gigs and by the time that I was 8, I was already playing the bajo, I was already playing the bass. I was actually my dad's bass player, and that's how I got into the music. My dad would say, "Okay, here's the bass guitar and learn it! I need a bass player. We need you. We're not going to pay another musician, I'd rather pay you." We all contributed: me and my brother were part of my dad's band as well, plus my uncle. It was kind of a family band type thing. My uncle played the drums and my other uncle played the bajo. I was the bass player and my brother was the back-up accordion player for my dad. My brother would play accordion and my dad would grab the trumpet. It was pretty cool, a different sound, accordion and trumpet. They would sound beautiful together, harmonizing."

Living in such a multi-cultural society, there were many ties to Southwest Native American culture. In blood, but also in music. Here's Max on his father's influence on chicken scratch music:

"I remember going to festivals, or fiestas rather, when I was playing in the afternoon and then we'd always play the "baile" or the dance at night. I remember there was a couple of [Native] accordionists, and they would go to my dad and my dad would actually teach them a few pointers here or a few songs and that's how they got started in the "chicken scratch" scene. Now there's a lot of Native Indian chicken scratch. In Tucson, there's quite a bit. My dad was a big influence on that because he had his band. His band was really popular and he had a big band. He had 2 accordion players, he had 2 sax players, he would grab the trumpet and would play with the sax players and they would have a kind of orchestra with the conjunto, it's cool. Some of these Native Indians would pick up on it and before you know it, when I was maybe 12 years old, and we'd go back to play these festivals and they would be getting a band together and, of course they would never sing the songs because it's another language. So, I noticed they would just play instrumentals and they would play the same songs and they would play them but instrumentally without the words. It was interesting and it was really cool and I think that's pretty much how they do it nowadays too."

"My dad was New Mexican, Indian, he had a little bit of these different influences... My dad, for some reason, he was a polka freak. He came out with polkas that were off the wall. Flaco Jimenez loved my dad's polkas. They were just different. They had this really cool twist to them. They'd sound hard. hey were simple but they sounded kind of hard. It was a technique that he would use. Really catchy polkas and really, really catchy music. It's funny because the native Indians, when they would dance my dad's polkas, they would dance like the Germans. They would jump up and down, instead of like the Texans. The Texans would dance really slow, in a circular motion, clockwise and shuffling their feet but the native Indians would dance. They would actually jump; they would hop to my dad's polka music! It was different. I have seen some of the German polka dancers. They hop like that. They jump and have little hops with it."

Native Indian dancers, accordion riffs with no words, polkas you can't stop thinking about, songs you can't stop drinking to, and Germans lurking at the edges of the music, this was the roots of Tex-Mex accordion and bajo sexton, and these glory days live on in Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca. Long may they reign as the kings of conjunto!

#####

kithfolk logo.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of KITHFOLK, a digital roots music magazine based in the US. For more information and to read additional articles: www.kithfolk.com









Posted by Linda Fahey at July 17, 2014 2:00 PM


Comments

Registered users can post comments in the blog. Please register or log in to share your views.

Support Folk Alley During Our Spring Fund Drive!

 

Recent Topics

 

 

October 2014
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
         1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31   


October 2014


September 2014


August 2014


July 2014


June 2014


April 2014


March 2014


February 2014


January 2014


December 2013


November 2013


October 2013


September 2013


August 2013


July 2013


June 2013


May 2013


April 2013


March 2013


February 2013


December 2012


November 2012


October 2012


September 2012


August 2012


July 2012


June 2012


May 2012


April 2012


March 2012


February 2012


January 2012


December 2011


November 2011


October 2011


September 2011


August 2011


July 2011


June 2011


May 2011


April 2011


March 2011


February 2011


January 2011


December 2010


November 2010


October 2010


September 2010


August 2010


July 2010


May 2010


April 2010


March 2010


February 2010


January 2010


December 2009


November 2009


October 2009


September 2009


August 2009


July 2009


June 2009


May 2009


April 2009


March 2009


February 2009


January 2009


December 2008


November 2008


October 2008


September 2008


August 2008


July 2008


June 2008


May 2008


April 2008


March 2008


February 2008


January 2008


December 2007


November 2007


October 2007


September 2007


August 2007


July 2007


June 2007


May 2007


April 2007


March 2007


February 2007


January 2007


December 2006


November 2006


October 2006


September 2006


August 2006


July 2006


June 2006


May 2006


April 2006


March 2006


February 2006


January 2006


December 2005


November 2005


October 2005


September 2005


August 2005


July 2005


June 2005


May 2005


April 2005


March 2005


February 2005


January 2005


December 2004


November 2004


October 2004


September 2004


August 2004


July 2004


June 2004


May 2004


April 2004


March 2004


February 2004


January 2004


December 2003


November 2003


October 2003


September 2003


August 2003