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The Story and Music of Freddy Fender

The Story and Music of Freddy Fender

Introduction to Freddy Fender

Freddy Fender (born Baldemar Garza Huerta in 1937 – died in 2006) was a Mexican-American singer and musician whose songs were crossover hits during the 70s music scene. Born in Texas to a Mexican father and American-born mother, Huerta made his first public appearance at age 10, when he sang “Paloma Querida” on a local radio show in Harlingen, Texas. After a stint at and subsequent discharge from the US Marine Corps due to his drinking, he returned to the US, mainly playing at local clubs and honky-tonk joints in Texas and in the south. He then made his first records and picked up many aliases. He released Spanish-language records under the name “El Bebop Kid”, and when he played rockabilly music Huerta changed his stage name into Eddie Con Los Shades before settling into a permanent name (legally) Freddy Fender in 1958. The following year Fender recorded “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”, and although the song was promising Freddy Fender got arrested for illegal possession of cannabis in Louisiana and served three years behind bars, only to be released from the help of then-governor Jimmie Davis (a former singer and musician). Several years later, Fender scored his first real big hit with “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” in early 1975, which topped both pop and country charts; he followed this later with his remake of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”, which also turned to be a Top 10 pop and country hit. Fender would churn out other hit singles such as “Secret Love” and “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”. His Spanish-language song “Vaya Con Dios” was a surprise Top 10 country hit in 1976. Overall, Fender had placed twenty songs on the country chart, including four number one’s there. He owed his crossover appeal to various influences such as rock, country, Latin/Tejano, Cajun/swamp pop (by which he got heavily influenced at the time he had previously performed in Louisiana), Tex-Mex, roots rock, and so many others. He had also collaborated with many artists such as Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven, a Latin supergroup which included David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. He won a Grammy in the category of Latin Pop Album for his work in La Musica De Baldemaer Huerta. Fender died in 2006 of lung cancer, aged 69.

Early Life

The late Mexican-American singer-songwriter Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Garza Huerta on June 4, 1937 in San Benito, Texas. During his childhood he was raised around traditional, polka-influenced conjunto music. Fender had his first radio stint at the early age of 10 singing “Paloma Querida” on Harlingen’s KGBT-AM. In 1953, 16-year old Fender dropped out of school. Inspired by John Wayne’s Sands of Iwo Jima, he lied about his age to serve the US Marines.

From El Bebop Kid to Freddy Fender

After three years, Huerta was dishonorably discharged with bad records from the US Marine and decided to pursue a music career. In 1957, he started with a pompadour haircut as “El Bebop Kid,” performing Spanish-language rock covers. His early hits included Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell,” Hank William’s “Cold, Cold Heart” (as “Tu Frio Corazon”) and Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” (as “No Seas Cruel”). Since he was doing covers of Elvis Presley’s songs, he also earned the title “Elvis of the Rio Grande.”

Wanting to capture the attention of the American audience, Huerta came up with a stage name “Freddy Fender” in 1959, after his guitar and amplifier he was using by that time. Later in that year, Fender released the hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” But the success was cut short by getting arrested due to possession of marijuana in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Along with a band member, Fender spent almost three years in the Angola State prison and was released through the request of Jimmie Davis, a former governor and also a musician. Although he had been released, Fender was asked to pause from performing and stay away from places that served alcohol. In 1960, he returned to his hometown where he worked as a mechanic, attended a local junior college to study sociology and played gigs on weekends as well.

Fender’s peak period

Success came in 1975 when Fender was convinced by producer Huey Meaux to switch to country music. He released the single “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” on Dot Records. The single became a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard pop chart and #1 on he Billboard country singles chart.  It also sold over one million copies and gained a gold disc status. The success continued with “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” Released in the summer of 1975, the swamp pop ballad went to #8 on the Billboard pop chart, and #1 on the Billboard country singles chart. It sold over a million copies and was awarded with the gold disc as well.

Through mid-1970’s to the early 80’s, Fender charted several minor hit records with “Secret Love,” “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” “Viva Con Dios,” and “Livin’ It Down.” These singles did well on the country but not on the pop chart.

Fender in other bands

In 1989, Fender formed Texas Tornandos along with Sahm and Augie Meyers of the Sir Douglas Quintet and released several albums. In 1990, the band received a Grammy award for “Soy se San Luis” as Best Mexican African Performance. On November 18, 1999, Sahm died which affected the band’s career.

By the late 1990’s, another supergroup which Fender formed was Los Super Seven. The band composed of David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Flaco Jimenez, Ruben Ramos, Joe Ely, and Rick Trevino. In 1998, their self-titled album won at the Grammy for Best Mexican American Performance.

Fender’s last years

Fender issued his final studio album in 2001 La Musica de Baldemar Huerta, consisting a collection of classic Mexican boleros. The album earned him his third Grammy award for Best Latin Pop Album.

Fender died on October 15, 2006. He succumbed to lung cancer at his home in Corpus, Christi, Texas. Fender was 69 years old.

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