Special to The Monitor
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012 8:59 am
As a recording studio engineer, producer, band manager and song writer, Lopez has had a passion for the local scene for as long as he can remember. He grew up in the 1950's and fondly recalls his parents taking him and his brother Leonel to the bailes at the Old Roundup in Rio Grande City. Lopez has his parents to thank for exposing him to conjunto and tejano music.
"My dad and my mom were very good dancers, they were always at the dances," he said. "So my brother and I became good dancers; we were always invited to participate as chamberlains in Quinciañeras."
At these dances, Lopez experienced a who's who of South Texas musical royalty. The musicians who left a big impression on Lopez during his youth include Pedro Ayala, Ricardo Guzman y Los Tres Aces, and Conjunto Bernal.
"At that time, everyone looked towards listening to Conjunto Bernal; (there was) a lot of discipline in that group," Lopez said. "Later I enjoyed going to El Baile Grande and ‘Promociones de America.’ El Baile Grande on Monday to see El Conjunto Bernal, Los Relámpagos del Norte, Victor y Fina and many more that were in the Bernal Caravan. On Tuesday with Nano Ramirez to see the likes of Little Joe, Latin Breed, Rudy T and many tejano groups ... those were the days."
In 1972, Lopez finally got involved in the music industry as a manager for Rio Grande City's Los Artistas — mostly as a favor to his grandmother.
"One of the guys that was in the band was a cousin of mine, he was very young as well, my grandmother wanted me to take care of these kids," Lopez remembers.
Later Pete Tijerina joined Lopez to co-manage Los Artistas. Together the two promoted the band throughout the South Texas region, acquiring many opportunities for them. At one point, Los Artistas opened up for Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos.
Eventually, Los Artistas recorded with GCP (Guerra Company Productions), Manny Guerra's record label from San Antonio which featured huge acts like the Royal Jesters and Latin Breed.
Another high point for Los Artistas came in 1977, when they were invited to perform at the Port Lavaca Chicano Festival. The management experience helped Lopez gain connections throughout the tejano music world.
In 1979, Lopez moved to Edinburg for work at an oil company, but music still coursed through his veins. When he wasn’t working, he would visit Southern Sound Studio, which was owned by sound engineer Jerry McCord (also a musician from the popular local band "Playboys of Edinburg"). Lopez also enjoyed visiting Mark Ramirez, a prolific sound engineer for Discos Falcón. He would linger there, observing the producers recording and mixing.
By the early 1980s, the oil industry was losing steam and Lopez took the opportunity to create the Mestizo Record lable and build Texas Sunrise Studios at his house.
"I decided to make a recording studio, so I started doing recordings at night, on weekends, after the job I had," he said. "But at the same time, that got old so I had to go full-time with it.”
The experience taught Lopez about acoustics, electrical wiring and how to work around the limitations which come with having a home studio.
"In the recording industry, you had to learn mike placements for sure, what kind of mike you were going to use and why you were going to use that mike," Lopez said. "But at the same time, you had to do the best you could with what you had. The local industry and local record studios back in those days couldn't afford all this stuff that Capitol Records or CBS had."
His plan was to record the local talent; the South Texas "weekend warriors" Lopez felt were not getting the recognition they deserved. Among those he recorded included Danny Yanez, Country Roland, Los Dos Gilbertos, Durango, Los Artistas, Mel Villarreal, Rick Gonzalez y Pezado, Pepe Maldonado, Tacho Rivera, Job Gonzalez, Wally Gonzalez, Letty Guval and Elida Reyna.
"We started Letty Guval there; I introduced her to tejano music. She was performing with the Pan-Am Mariachi band," Lopez said. "Elida Reyna started recording with us, under the Mestizo Record label and those were her first two recordings. They were real nice vocals, very fresh vocals. Then she had an opportunity to go to with Sony and, of course, we released her contract so she could go."
In the 1990s, Lopez made the move to compact discs. The first CD he released was called Exposure, a compilation of musicians he wanted to have more exposure. It featured Elida Reyna, Grupo Loya, Animo Band, Raul Torres y Los Malos, and David Valadez.
Lopez spent about three years in Austin, where he build a studio and recorded artists there. He returned to the Valley 10 years ago.
“For over 15 years, that's all I did, recordings," Lopez said.
Lopez continues to write songs, but he’s worried about the future of tejano music, he said. As a lack of exposure becomes an issue for tejano music again, the producer works on remastering the entire Mestizo Records collection.
"Kids in this area need to be exposed to a lot of the local talent," Lopez said. "First of all, they should go into the history of it, what is the history of Tejano music? What is Mel Villarreal doing and what did he do? What did Los Fabulosos do? What did Paulino Bernal do?"
Airplay is an important part of solving the issue, but it also starts with finding ways to expose the local youth to South Texas’ musical past, he said.