My name is Horacio Oliveira, but you can call me El Dusty.
When I was a kid growing up in Corpus Christi, we used to travel about an hour north to visit my uncle Joe Henry Perez in the town of Beeville.
My uncle was a bit of an unusual guy—he was gay, and being gay in small-town Texas isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Everyone knew he was gay, but it was mostly left unsaid. His family was really against it, so he never talked about it. Joe Henry was a well-liked art teacher, and he also collected albums—so many that he built a whole garage to store them in. He sourced these albums from his cousin, also named Joe, a local radio DJ known as La Voz de Oro (the Golden Voice). They were best friends, grew up together, and loved a lot of the same music.
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I was still a kid when Joe Henry died, and after his passing, my family—my mom, my dad, my two brothers, and I—inherited his LP collection. It was huge! Like, three thousand albums—everything from disco to Tejano to pop to Mexican ballads. It was all there.
By that point, I was already a music fanatic. My parents had a big record collection. My mom had one of those music subscriptions that sent you records in the mail, so she had a lot of records. My dad, who was a Vietnam vet, was into what I think of as Vietnam War–era music: funk, seventies rock, Chicano soul music. And when I say he was into music, I mean he was really into it. When I was very small, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Sitting in a bed or wheelchair for thirty years, he built adventures in his mind.
Then there’s my older brother, who’s about eight years older than me. He was into gangster rap and eighties rock and heavy metal. I’m soaking up all these different kinds of music.
And there was cumbia. When I was in middle school, Selena, who also grew up in Corpus, was getting a lot of attention singing cumbia. But we heard lots of cumbia, on the radio, at street festivals, at shows.
So I’m just surrounded by all this music and vinyl. And I thought, “Hey, I’ll be a DJ.” Not a radio DJ, like my uncle’s cousin—I’d be a DJ with two turntables who plays at clubs and parties. I got my first turntables when I was eleven. I’m not particularly proud of how I got them—or maybe I am! My older brother and his gang pulled up in front of a quinceañera, they saw a trailer that was open, and they stole all the equipment! And they gave me two Technics 1200—the best DJ turntables around.
I was the person in our family who fixed everything. I’m just good with machines. So DJing came to me pretty easy. I got good fast, and was stitching together different kinds of music that people don’t usually think of in the same breath: hip-hop, Tejano, funk, Latin house.
Read More: The Stories Behind the Music
Because I was playing so many different kinds of music, when I started DJing I brought hundreds of albums and twelve-inch singles in crates, carrying them up and down stairs. It was a way different time, before you could put hours of music on a flash drive or your laptop’s hard drive and just mix from that. I know how to do a lot of things—scratch, beat-juggle, beat-match by ear—that most people coming up today don’t know how to do, because I learned how to DJ straight from vinyl.
I also played lots of sets on a local radio station, Z95. That was fun, but the real reason I did it was to get on the radio “promo” list: if you got on that list, the record companies would send you free vinyl nearly every day. So I sent a fax with the radio station’s letterhead at the top, and it worked; the albums and singles just started coming in.
I was getting albums every day, for years—the Fugees, Backstreet Boys, Cher. My mom was getting so pissed! “Get them to stop sending stuff!” she yelled at me. I didn’t know how to make it stop, or who to call.
So I have all these albums, from my uncle’s collection, from my parents’ collections, from my promo list collection. It’s probably 15,000 albums. A friend did the math for me, and that’s about eight thousand pounds of records—four tons of vinyl. And it’s always weighed on me, and not just literally. I can’t go anywhere without thinking about my collection. If I ever left Corpus, what would I do with it?
In 2011, after I started making my own tunes and my career took off, I signed with Universal and I was going to L.A. every week. I thought about moving. But something kept me in Corpus. And maybe that something was my vinyl collection. Because I like having the records around and, really, who’s going to haul four tons of records across the country?
My mom passed away in 2013 and my dad died four years later. But our massive collection still lives in a room of its own at their house. When I go back and listen to some of those old records, I think of my mom, who was always dancing and singing—she was a little girl at heart. And I think of my dad, sitting in his wheelchair, listening to his music, letting it take him places his body couldn’t go.
Those records are my way of traveling back in time.
I always assumed that after my parents passed I’d finally move to L.A. But that’s not how it’s turned out. In 2017 I bought an old property in Corpus’s crumbling downtown. I started a company called Produce and we make cool stuff that shows where we come from, like “Made in Corpus” flags and a CUMBIA! hat. I live on the building’s second floor, but downstairs I set up an art studio and a wine bar and we’re building a recording studio. I’m trying to create something in my city, something that Selena would have been proud of, something my parents would have been proud of.
And I’m building a special place for my family’s music collection. I was inspired by my uncle’s garage in Beeville, the one where he stored all his beloved vinyl that’s now mine. I’m constructing shelving that’s eighteen feet wide and eleven feet high. There’ll be one of those ladders that’s attached to a runner that’ll let you get to the records way up high. It’s all the music that has made me what I am. It means everything to me. And I want to have it with me always.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.
The Stories Behind the Music
Texas musical luminaries reveal the family histories, powerful influences, and big breaks that made them the artists they are today. Read more.