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Home Music Tejano / RegMex Pioneer Ruben Vela: 1937-2010 - Service details released
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Legendary conjunto pioneer Ruben Vela passed away late Tuesday in his home in Santa Rosa.
Vela was 72.

His 73rd birthday was coming up May 10. ***Details on funeral arrangements further below.

Vela was a contemporary of towering

conjunto notables as Santiago Jimenez Sr., Valerio Longoria, Paulino Bernal and Tony De La Rosa. Like De La Rosa, Vela was one of the first conjuntos to incorporate electric bass and drums into his conjunto in the late '50s.

A viewing is scheduled at Faith Please Gods Church (956) 412-5600, 4501 West Expressway 83 in Harlingen at 3-9 p .m Thursday with a regular service to follow at 7 p.m.

Another viewing and service is set for 8-noon Friday at the same church with funeral service to follow at 1 p.mj. Heavenly Grace Memorial Cemetary on rural Route 2 in La Feria. (956) 797-5614

"Vela was a memorable pioneer and he certainly had a very unique style that has been emulated by many other bands young and old," said RGV-based Quepass 99.5 PD Mando San Roman. "He left his mark and his memory will go on forever."

San Roman said listener response was overwhelming at the station and on their website www.quepasa9952.com.

"We've been inudated with calls, from all over the country probably because we're streaming on our website. Calls are still coming in."

“The Lord has a new called upon another one of his angels today,” said Houston-based promoter “Jumpin” Jess Rodriguez.

"The conjunto world is in mourning once again. We lost another one of the greats in conjunto music," said Juan Tejeda, organizer of the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival. "Ruben Vela was an important accordionist, stylist, composer, vocalist, recording artist and one of the most popular performers in the history of conjunto music. He was one of a kind and he will be sorely missed."

“Ruben recorded one of his biggest hits in the mid ‘90s, ‘El Coco Rayado’ when he was 65, so he really had it going on,” said historian Ramon Hernandez. “That says a lot about him.”

Vela has been hospitalized for various ailments in the past decade but he remained a steady figure on the conjunto circuit. Vela had been scheduled to perform at the 2010 Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio, scheduled in early May.

While “Coco Rayado” may have been his biggest hits, Vela also scored with such classics as "Adolorido," "El Pajuelazo" "Vencido," "El Regalo de Corazon," "Mi Amigo," "Angel de Mis Angelos" and "Genoveva."

Though he was born in San Antonio, (according to all his official biographies) Vela spent most of his life in the Rio Grande Valley. As a young boy he remembered his father playing drums when they were strung "de un arbol" (strung from a tree). Vela began playing in '50s and eventually became a marquee figure in South Texas conjunto music.

Vela recorded for numerous indie labels through five decades.  In 1983, Vela was inducted in the Tejano Conjunto Hall of Fame.

But it was “El Coco Rayado” that transported Vela to new markets and exposed him to new audiences.  The original tune, and a power remix by producers at the Hacienda Record label in Corpus Christi helped polevault "El Coco Rayado," into Billboard's Latin 50 CD charts.

Fueled by Vela's percolating accordion and a galloping percussion, the cumbia is infectious and easily danceable. Interestingly the cumbia isn't new. But Vela and Hacienda producers found a way to stylishly reconstruct the song and in the process reinvent it and increase awareness and popularity.

More details in a special report by our correspondent Ramon Hernandez follows below

If you knew Vela, liked his music or have a memory, please share it in a comment.

Comments:

"Charismatic musician best describes Ruben Vela's journey in this world. Music was his life and he lived it well for over four generations. Coming across his footprint during a recent photo shoot he revealed far more than a photo could capture. The images unfolded the movie of a true artist with a legacy carved out from the passion for his acordeón (accordion). Hasta la
vista maestro."
- Ruben Cubillos

"Ruben Vela was one of my favorites of the "old timers", his recognizable accordion licks, and grito inspiring vocals have made him one of the most popular Conjunto musicians among Conjunto music lovers world wide.  I believe he was a good model for other up and coming Conjuntos as well, he maintained a humble demeanor on and off stage, he would wear a tie at almost every performance, which exuded a certain respect and professionalism for the crowds and for the music.  To me Ruben Vela represented the best in Conjunto music, sadly most Tejano music fans will only remember him for El Coco Rayado and La Papaya, but those of us who are puro Conjunto will remember much more (A Medias de la Noche, Dame Más Amor, Piquetes de Hormigas, not to mention his many polkas, boleros, etc).  We have lost a legend in Conjunto music, luckily through his recordings, and youtube videos his unique and powerful style will not be forgotten."
- Martin Martinez, Los Padrinso

 

(Additional reporting by Ramon Hernandez. Special thanks to record promoter Norma Duran for an early alert.)

Rubén Vela: A Self-Made Icon

By Ramón Hernández
(Originally printed 5/ 2000)

"I was not influenced by anyone," Rubén Vela said clearing the air once and for all during an interview at La Prensa.

That was his response to people who have stated Narciso Martínez, Valerio Longoria and Manuel Guerrero influenced the accordionist born in San Antonio, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

"Of course I was aware of Narciso because he was the first accordionist I heard in the Valley. The second was Pedro Ayala and Santiago Jiménez Sr. followed by Valerio and Tony De La Rosa. Then there was Paulino Bernal, Los Tres Reyes de Daniel Garzes and Jimmy Guajardo out of Kingsville, before I got my first accordion. But I was not influenced by anyone. One day I said ‘I want to do this’ and that’s it.

Vela’s father, who was a drummer since they strung drums from a tree, was opposed to his son being a musician. As it turned out five of his nine sons – Ricardo "Richey," Edelmiro, Alberto, Eduardo "Valdo" and Humberto, who became better known as Tata Vela – all played drums. Ricardo played with Los Cachorros de Juan Villarreal, Edelmiro with Steve Jordan, Tata with his own group, Los Valentinos; and Eduardo, later with Rubén’s first group. His other three other brothers were Héctor, Efrén and Joe. Olga was the only girl in the family.

In spite of his father’s protests, when the Crown label recording artist was 11, his mother bought him a $70 Hohner two-row accordion.

"I used to go to the dances to hear the music. However, I couldn’t learn by watching someone else. I learned by listening and then practicing until I could duplicate the tune. But I wanted to be different. I wanted for people to listen to my tunes and say, ‘hey, that’s Rubén Vela.’ To develop your own style takes time because you can’t copy anyone else. As a result, I developed my own style by improvising," Vela explained.

Vela’s earlier style was more rapid, more pronounced, more lively then his peers. It was such a joy to listen to him, he was dubbed "El Príncipe de la Alegría."

In 1949, he formed Rubén Vela y Los Embajadores in Relámpago, Texas with his brother, Eduardo on drums; and Elia De La Cruz on guitar. The group charged $15, or 35 cents per person. If the gig was an all-nighter they upped their price to $20, or 50 cents per person. Vela’s emergence on the conjunto scene came at a time when pioneering accordionist De La Rosa had just introduced electric bass and amplification to the traditional conjunto ensemble of the accordion, bajo sexto and toloche. Valerio Longoria had been the first to incorporate the drums. Thus Vela was one of the first performers to assemble his group based on these developments.

"I also saw that everyone had a three-row accordion and once I made enough money, I purchased a Gabinelli accordion," Vela said.

In 1955, to promote his group, Vela and his conjunto played live at various radio stations along the Valley’s border. Martín Rosales, who then worked at KGBT in Harlingen, introduced him to Arnaldo Ramírez of Discos Falcón in a meeting that led to a recording contract. A year later, he recorded his first two singles for Falcón Records. Up to this point, all of Vela’s music was strictly instrumental.

In mid 1956, Vela hired a kid named Ray Rivera as his first lead vocalist. Another year later, Tony Arames replaced Rivera and Vela started doing second vocals and duets. Of this period, Vela said, "God helped me, I made money and I bought my parents a house."

Up to this point Vela, whose parents moved to Progresso, Texas when he was one, had lived in Relámpago and Mercedes, Texas. There was also a period when he did a 45-week stint in Denver where he filled Colorado’s dance halls each weekend.

On April 19, 1962, he married the former Amalia "Molly" Garza. The next day they left on a four-month tour which took them to Chicago, Michigan, Nebraska, Denver and Phoenix, where they lived three months. Upon their return, they purchased a trailer home and settled in Santa Rosa, Texas.



 

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