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Latin Notes: Struggle, fame and a second chance

Latin Notes: Struggle, fame and a second chance
Updated 12:56 pm, Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In the fall of 1976, Tejano songwriter Roger Contreras was a 15-year-old choirboy, literally.

Life for the Edgewood High School sophomore revolved around music and his girlfriend, Aurora. Then one afternoon after walking her home from school, life changed one block away on Abshire Street.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” says Contreras, who was attacked by teenagers from a rival school hassling some friends. “They thought I was with them.”

He was stabbed five times, receiving wounds to his torso and right arm, cutting arteries. Bleeding profusely, he managed to stagger back to his girlfriend's home on Chulita Street before losing consciousness.

He nearly died on the ambulance ride to the hospital. His right arm was paralyzed. He required a transfusion of 5 pints of blood. Unfortunately, it was tainted and he contracted hepatitis-C.

The resulting liver damage has been devastating. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Contreras, 53 — whose songs such as “Entre Cantina y Cantina,” “Poquito a Poco” and “Con El Tiempo” were giant hits for Ram Herrera, Jay Perez and David Lee Garza — received a new liver in December. He'd been on a waiting list for years and battled liver cancer during that period.

That brings the story to Sunday's Tejanos For Tejanos benefit concert/dance at Pueblo Hall, 3315 Northwestern.

The lineup includes Conjunto Sereno, 5-Star Band, Grupo Maravia, Henry Lee & The Tribute Band, Texas Latino, David Marez & People, Ram Herrera & the Outlaws and David Lee Garza y Los Musicales.

Music runs from 6 p.m.-midnight. Admission costs $10. Food plates will also be sold to help with medical bills. Call 210-434-0872.

“I've written a lot of songs for these people,” said Contreras, acknowledging his appreciation. “I'm blessed with so many people supporting me. There are times when you have cancer, when you feel like giving up. If I didn't have the support of people coming to me constantly and asking me not to give up and keep fighting, I wouldn't have made it. It kept my spirits up and made me believe.”

He admits that the stabbing left him angry for years and “mad at the world.”

“I was in a state of shock. The next thing I know, I'm in the hospital, and they're working on me. They said that I had died in the ambulance and that five seconds later I wouldn't have made it,” he said.

But the incident also informed his early songwriting. The bass player had lots of time to ponder. “I always had a way with words,” Contreras said. “After the stabbing, I decided to write about love.”

He really couldn't imagine the road ahead or the upbeat '80s and '90s hits.

“Oh, man. My biggest payday was getting heard on the radio. You can't believe the chills that went through my body,” Contreras recounted. “I was so green in the industry I didn't even know they paid you for songs.

“All of a sudden I became real popular. The Tejano music world is all about being original and trying to (stand out) and sound different. They're constantly looking for good songwriters and I became that person. I was kind of astonished.”

What happened to Aurora, the girl he walked home that fateful day in 1976? She became his wife. They've been married 21 years. “She actually stuck by me. She's been an inspiration to me all this time.”

hsaldana@express-news.net

 

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