By Jayme Fraser | March 24, 2013 | Updated: March 24, 2013 10:07pm
Oscar Gonzales, Henry's youngest brother and the band's frontman now known as De La Rosa, remembers hanging out in the parking lot at the family's night club, Henry's on North Main, with other teenage nephews when gunfire started.
"I was devastated to see my brothers get shot and truthfully I thought Henry would die. At that time he was in really critical condition," Oscar Gonzales said. "He got through that."
The family talked it over, closed the bar opened by their recently deceased father and decided to focus on trying to make it big with a version of the house band that included brothers Oscar and Leonard.
More than three decades after La Mafia formed, won Grammys and defied the regional nature of Tejano music to become international stars, the group's founding manager Henry Gonzales Jr., 69, died Friday from cancer.
Gonzales quietly assumed the role of family patriarch when his father died, including keeping his younger brothers out of trouble and focused on achieving their dream of musical success, said Oscar Gonzales.
Ramiro Burr, author of the "Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexico Music," described Gonzales as a pioneer who helped lead the Tejano renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s.
Burr said Gonzales guided La Mafia as they modernized the Tejano sound with pop and rock influences, incorporated the flash and slick stage production of the MTV era, signed with a major label, and broke past boundaries of the regional genre by taking the American-born band to stages in Mexico.
"They were the first guys to put on a massive stage and that reattracted the youth," Burr said. "Before that, they said that's my dad's music, my grandpa's music. La Mafia revived Tejano."
Gonzales left La Mafia at the peak of the group's success in 1993 after reportedly disagreeing about financial matters. Five years later, just after the group won its first two Grammys, Leonard Gonzales, too, would leave to pursue a solo career. Shortly after that, the group briefly disbanded, but reemerged, winning two Latin Grammys in 2005 and 2006.
Burr said the breakups are typical of the music business, particularly for small-time genres managing rapid expansion and success.
"All these rock stars outgrow their original managers," Burr said. "The fact Henry was manager for La Mafia was so traditional and typical of the Tejano market. Obviously, you cannot afford an L.A. type to manage you, so you really had to rely on your father, uncle, brother. They're the only ones who are going to sacrifice that time when there's not money."
Oscar Gonzales agreed, admitting the split with his brother was hard on the family, but credits Henry with giving the band and his family a solid foundation for continued success.
"He had that same dream we had to make it big, and we did. I owe a lot to him," he said. "He was the big brother and the dad."
Gonzales fostered other Houston Tejano artists into success through the independent label Voltage Discos, which he opened after leaving La Mafia.
Even during the busiest years with his brothers' band, friend and music promoter Nick Hernandez remembers Gonzales' generosity and interest in the wider success of the genre.
Hernandez remembers Gonzales once asking that he help Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, who was having difficulty booking venues and getting radio playtime. Selena would soon be dubbed "Queen of Tejano" on her rise to international stardom.
Several Houston artists, like Fama and Los Palominos found success after being mentored by his brother, some at the independent label he founded, Voltage Discos.
"He was good at what he did as far as helping people get their career started," he said.
'Show must go on'
Gonzales retired and cared for his mother, now 93, until getting cancer.
Thousands of fans, friends and family posted hopeful prayers on La Mafia's Facebook page as the band updated them on Henry's condition. Fans wrote condolences under a photo showing a packed Houston performance Saturday, just a day after Henry Gonzales died.
Oscar Gonzales said he wanted to stay home with family, but recalled what Henry told him when another brother died during an early tour of the band.
"He always taught us the show must go on," he said. "I'm doing what he taught me."
Gonzales was preceded in death by his wife, Olga Gonzales; father, Henry Gonzales Sr.; and brothers, Rudy and Roland Gonzales.
He is survived by his mother, Juanita Gonzales; daughters Diana G. Quiroz, Cynthia G. Wunderlich and husband Bill, Christina G. Wichkoski and husband Carl, Joann G. Chapa, Vickie Cruz, Rosann Gonzales and Crystal Gonzales; brothers Martin Gonzales, Leonard Gonzales and Oscar Gonzales De La Rosa; sisters Vera Tijerina, Ofelia Palacios and Corina Martinez; as well as 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, all from the greater Houston area.
The family is hosting a visitation from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Compean Funeral Home, 2102 Broadway, with a rosary recitation at 7 p.m. Celebration of life services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Compean, followed by a Rite of Committal at Historic Hollywood Cemetery.