After more than 30 years in the Tejano music industry, Tony Guerrero of La Sombra still vividly remembers who it was that made him fall in love with singing.
“As I was growing up, my mom sang — God rest her soul,” Tony said of his late mother, Maria Guerrero, who passed away in 2004. “She would sing to me when I was a little boy so much that I ended up learning the words to the songs that she would sing. Then when I would start singing with her, she would start harmonizing.”
She liked what Tony describes as being “puras canciones viejecitas” (“old songs”). One tune he remembers his mom singing quite often was “Te Vas Angel Mio.”
He was born in Las Prietas area of Brownsville, but he and his family moved to Aurora, Illinois when he was still in elementary school. In addition to the strong influence of his madre, he would also enjoy listening to his sisters — Maria Luisa and Felipa.
Tony got the urge to try out the trumpet and saxophone during his youth. He soon realized that they weren’t a right fit for him.
His older brother Cruz was involved in a group named La Coleccion Latina. They would practice in the Guerrero family basement, and leave their instruments there after they were done. Tony decided then that he was going to try his hands at the keyboard.
“I learned it all on my own,” he said.
He was 14 when he started singing and playing the keyboard on stage.
By the early 1980s, Tony was having a blast performing with three different bands in the Aurora and Chicago area. One of those groups was a four-piece ensemble that would come to be known as La Sombra.
“I originally started La Sombra from scratch,” Tony said. “With a cousin of mine, a nephew and a friend.”
Tony would chose to leave the other two bands behind and focus on his work with La Sombra after the release of Mi Guerita Coca-Cola (1984).
“La Sombra recorded that first record, and it blew up,” he said.
Some of the elements that Tony introduced to his style still stand out to this day. He thinks that having an interest in music outside of the Tejano genre helped him break out.
“To be honest with you, my passion for music when I first started was hip hop, R&B and rap,” Tony said. “I was in love with Michael Jackson. I wanted to be like Michael Jackson. I was always in the basement, trying to learn his moves.”
While he admits that he couldn’t quite master those elite moves, he still choreographed his own dancing routines.
Two of the best examples of Tony’s brand of music are “El Sancho” and “El Sapo.”
The “El Sancho” music video, which features all the band members and a man that looks like David Byrne in True Stories, is wild nostalgic trip. The comedic piece ends with a rap by Tony in which he warns men that if they don’t take care of their women, a sancho (lover) will come along to do so.
“El Sapo” is a goofy cumbia that starts off with frog ribbits. It remains one of La Sombra’s biggest hits.
“That song went gold and platinum,” Tony said. “It was a very big surprise for me. I liked the song, but at the same time it kind of freaked me out because I thought, ‘This is a song about a frog.’”
When looking back at his career, Tony likes to use the year 1984 as his starting point. That’s when he knew he was going to have a future, thanks to the success of his debut album.
While he has been influenced by many over the past 30 years, he still points to his mother as his key inspiration.
“I was like a mama’s boy,” Tony said. “I saw a lot of groups performing as I was growing up, but most of (my style) came from my mom.”