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Bandleader Oscar Martinez celebrates 75th
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Bandleader Oscar Martinez celebrates 75th

Songwriter/ bandleader Oscar Martinez is among the most important pioneers in Tejano music history. Our correspondent, Rene Cabrera recently visited with Martinez and files this insightful  interview.

CORPUS CHRISTI - Former bandleader Oscar Martinez

 celebrated his 75th birthday with 200 of his closest friends and relatives here on Friday(1/2/09) night. 

The Tejano Music Awards and Tejano Roots Hall-of- Famer, who played trumpet with the Isidro Lopez organization in 1954, established himself as a songwriter and performer beginning in the 1950s.  Martinez wrote and recorded such well known tunes as “Tu Sabes Que Te Quiero,” “La Mala Cara,” “Makes No Difference,” “El Gallo Copeton,” and others.  “El Tejano Enamorado,” became Martinez’s most well known tune.  Written in 1965, the tune was promptly recorded by Isidro Lopez. 

Since then the polka-paced tune has been recorded by groups from all points in the Tejano spectrum, from Rudy and the Reno Bops, to Carlos Guzman, Little Joe, Joel Nava and most recently Bob Gallarza.  

Daughter Iris Simmons, a woman given to speaking her mind, spoke it loud and proud at the event as she reminisced from a personal level.  Addressing her father, she pointed to his lasting contributions to Texas music and culture, bringing the crowd to a standing ovation when she closed her remarks with, “You are the one and the only, the original, El Tejano Enamorado.” 

A representative of the City of Corpus Christi proclaimed January 3 as Tejano Enamorado Day. Following that, a number of friends and admirers, among them Freddie Martinez, who himself fronted an orchestra and who now heads Freddie Records, and Leo Saenz of Fort Worth-based Latin Express orchestra, spoke of Oscar Martinez’s achievements in Tejano Music. Naturally, Martinez was the object of some ribbing about his age.  Corpus Christi attorney Tony Bonilla said that he first met Martinez while they both worked on a presidential political campaign …..Abraham Lincoln’s.

Oscar Martinez made it to the Tejano band A List and stayed there until he stopped touring in 1977, but he continued writing and finding success with tunes like “Se Acabo El Dinero, Se Acabo El Amor.” So it’s far from over for this hall-of-famer. 

Obviously, the lines on Oscar Martinez’s face may be etched a little deeper, the bifocals a bit thicker and he’s not as limber as he once was.  But this proud Tejano can still jazz up a traditional polka as good as anyone and he’s still a valued contributor to Texas music and culture.  The individuals in the crowd that Friday night in Corpus Christi appreciate that and expressed it for all of us.

It’s hard to encapsulate a 30-some year career in music and honestly grasp the achievements of someone like Oscar Martinez.  But you do the best you can. We asked Oscar Martinez to speak with us one-on-one to answer some of our questions.  That interview, in Q&A format, follows. 

Rene Cabrera Goes One-On-One with El Tejano Enamorado

You were born and raised in Corpus Christi. What was it like growing up there in the 1930s and 40s? 

At the time I was helping take care of my grandmother.  She had some cows and chickens, rabbits, and goats, so we helped her with that until I was about 8 years old.  She also had rental houses.  That was my job growing up.

And you attended Corpus public schools. 

I attended public schools, Driscoll Jr. High and Miller High School.  I became interested in music in Driscoll Jr. High. I wanted to play trumpet but got handed the tuba instead.  I played the tuba through high school with the Buccaneer Band at Miller High School.  Throughout school I never played trumpet.  I picked up the trumpet at home.

How old were you when you started playing professionally?

I was maybe 17 years old.  We used to play at a beer joint every night. The people who played there were all older.  Me and a friend, Rudy Alvarado, used to play with them.  It was a seven piece orquesta.  It didn’t have an accordion. More like a dance band.  We had an alto and trumpet, drums, guitar, bass and a vocalist. 

Do you remember what kind of music you played? 


 

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