Baldemar Huerta—better known as Freddy Fender—has been a major figure in Texas music since the fifties. First he was a rock and roller in his hometown of San Benito, then a country star, then a singer in the Tex-Mex supergroup the Texas Tornados; about the only constant in his career has been his inimitable high tenor. This winter he’s reinventing himself again: In January Virgin records will distribute Freddy Fender: La Musica de Baldemar Huerta, an album of sultry boleros. Although kidney dialysis has kept the 64-year-old mostly confined to his Corpus Christi home in recent months, he will play a concert at the Valley Race Park in Harlingen on December 8 to benefit the local Freddy Fender Scholarship Fund.
Did anyone in the Valley give you hell for being a Hispanic rock and roller back in the fifties, when you were El Bebop Kid? The only ones who gave me a hard time were some Mexican American musicians who resented the fact that I was not doing Mexican American music. About the time that Elvis Presley first came out, I was already appearing at dances, and the audiences couldn’t believe that this brown-skinned Mexican guy had a ducktail haircut with the sideburns, dressed up like a rock and roller with a zoot suit and suede shoes. I was so cool, you know? I got to play in Perez Prado’s band when I was young. He didn’t know who I was, and he didn’t want me to sing, but I went ahead and grabbed the mike from him. That’s the kind of guy I was: very aggressive.
What do you think about Texas music right now? In general, Texas musicians have wonderful taste in roots music—good, down-to-earth stuff about hot weather and a bottle of wine. That goes for rhythm and blues, country, and folk. Tejano has the same fiber as the music that I heard in the forties and fifties, when I was a young man, though it has been modernized. It has developed a cumbia beat. If you took the cumbia beat off of the songs, you’d see that they’re the same old rancheras. Tejano will remain the same until a big star changes it.
We have seen several incarnations of Freddy Fender. Do you expect to take another direction anytime soon? Oh, I have already. On my new album I recorded something I call “mariachi country.” Imagine my old songs “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Secret Love” with a mariachi background and horns. It will knock you out of your socks.