2006 – Baldemar Huerta, also known as Freddy Fende…

Freddy Fender

2006 – Baldemar Huerta, also known as Freddy Fender dies today this day in rock.

Freddy Fender (June 4, 1937 – October 14, 2006), born Baldemar Huerta in San Benito, Texas, USA, was a Mexican-American, Tejano, country, and rock and roll musician, known for his work as a solo artist and in the groups Los Super Seven and the Texas Tornados. He is best known for his 1975 hit “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”.

Early years

As a child, Fender and his parents traveled throughout the United States as a circus act. At age 5, he turned a sardine can and screen door wire into a homemade guitar, and by age 10, had his first radio appearance on Harlingen’s KGBS-AM radio station, where he sang “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and reportedly won a tub of food worth $5.

At the age of 16, Fender quit school and started a three year hitch in the United States Marine Corps. He returned to Texas and played nightclubs, bars and honky-tonks throughout the south, mostly to Latino audiences. In 1957, then known as “El Bebop Kid,” he released two songs to moderate success in Mexico and South America: Spanish language versions of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell.” This has made Baldemar Huerta the first Latino to have recorded and performed the first rock and roll song hit of “No Seas Cruel” in Spanish. He is known for his rockabilly music and his cool persona as “Eddie Con Los Shades rock and roll album which like more of his rock and roll CDs are still being sold as of today. In 1958, the musician changed his name from Baldemar Huerta to Freddy Fender. He took Fender from an amplifier, and ‘Freddy’ because the alliteration sounded good to him and it would,”…sell better with Gringos!” He then headed for California.

Initial success

In 1959, Fender recorded the blues ballad “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”. The song became popular, but he was beset by legal troubles in May 1960 after he and a band member were arrested for possession of marijuana in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After nearly three years in the fearsome Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola prison farm, he was released through the intercession of then Governor Jimmie Davis, also a songwriter and musician. Davis requested that Fender stay away from music while on probation as a condition of his release. However, in a 1990 NPR interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross (rebroadcast October 17, 2006), Fender said that the condition for parole was to stay away from places that served alcohol.

By the end of the 1960s, Fender was back in Texas working as a mechanic, and attending a local junior college, while only playing music on the weekends.

Number one on pop and country charts

In 1974, Fender recorded the song “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”. The single was selected for national distribution, and became a number one hit on the Billboard Country and Pop charts. His next three singles, “Secret Love”, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” and a remake of “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights”, all hit the number-one spot on the Billboard Country charts. Between 1975 and 1983 Fender charted a total of 21 country hits such as “Since I Met You Baby” , “Vaya Con Dios”, “Livin’ It Down”, and “The Rains Came”.

Fender also had much success on the pop charts. In addition to “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” going number 1 on the pop charts in May 1975, he also took “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights” into the pop top 10 and “Secret Love” into the top 20. Also “Since I Met You Baby,” “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” (his last pop top 40), “Vaya Con Dios,” and “Livin’ It Down” (his last pop hit to reach the pop top 100) all did well on the pop charts.

Not only notable for his genre-crossing appeal, more than a few of Fender’s hits featured verses or choruses in Spanish. Rarely did bilingual songs hit the pop charts, and when they did it was more because of a novelty status. Having bilingual songs on the country charts was even more uncommon, given country music’s regional insularity and fanbase.

Swamp pop influences

Fender was heavily influenced by the swamp pop sound that hailed from south Louisiana and southeast Texas, as evidenced by his recording of swamp pop standards on his 1978 album Swamp Gold. Indeed, Fender recorded one of his major hits, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” with a typical swamp pop ballad arrangement. Fender associated frequently with swamp pop musicians like Joe Barry and Rod Bernard, and issued many recordings on labels owned by Huey Meaux, a Cajun recordman who specialized in swamp pop recordings. As music writer John Broven has observed, “Although Freddy was a Chicano from Texas marketed as a country artist, much of his formative career was spent in South Louisiana; spiritually Fender’s music was from the Louisiana swamps.”

Later years

Texas Tornados

In 1989, Fender teamed up with fellow Tejano music/Tex-Mex musicians Doug Sahm, Flaco Jimenez, and Augie Meyers to form the Tejano supergroup the Texas Tornados, whose work meshed conjunto, Tejano, R&B, country, and blues to wide acclaim. The group released four albums and won a Grammy in 1990 for ‘Best Mexican American Performance’ for the track “Soy de San Luis.” Following the death of Sahm, the production of the Tornadoes slowed. A live 1990 appearance on TV’s Austin City Limits, one of three made by the group, was released in 2005 as part of the show’s Live From Austin, TX series.

Los Super 7

In the late 1990s, Fender joined another supergroup, Los Super Seven, with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas, Flaco Jimenez, Ruben Ramos, Joe Ely, and country singer Rick Trevino. The group won a 1998 Grammy in the Mexican-American Performance category for their self-titled disc.

Later work

In 2001, Fender made his final studio recording, a collection of classic Mexican boleros titled La Música de Baldemar Huerta that brought him a third Grammy award, this time in the category of Latin Pop Album. Rose Reyes, who worked with Fender in 2004 for a Texas Folklife and Austin tribute titled “Fifty Years of Freddy Fender,” said of the album, “When he did Mexican standards at that point in his career, I expected it to be good because he’s a perfectionist. But that record is so beautifully recorded; his voice is perfection. I was so proud it was coming back to his roots.”

Death and aftermath

Fender underwent a kidney transplant in 2002 donated by his daughter and a transplant of the liver in 2004. Nonetheless, his condition continued to worsen. He was suffering from an “incurable cancer” in which he had tumors on his lungs. On December 31, 2005, Freddy performed his last concert and resumed chemotherapy.

He died on October 14, 2006 of lung cancer at his home in Corpus Christi, Texas with his family at his bedside. He was 69 years old and is buried in his hometown of San Benito. International news coverage of the death cited an oft-expressed wish by the singer to become the first Mexican-American inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, with reporters noting that posthumous induction remains a possibility.

A Freddy Fender Museum and The Conjunto Music Museum opened November 17, 2007 in San Benito. They share a building with The San Benito Historical Museum. His family has committed to continue the Freddy Fender Scholarship Fund and other philanthropic causes about which the musician was passionate.

Trivia
Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (April 2008)

Space Ghost character Brak’s real name “Baldemar Garza. Huerta” is a reference to Fender’s birth name.

In 1988, Fender played the mayor of a small New Mexico town in the Robert Redford-directed film, The Milagro Beanfield War.

Freddy Fender recorded a song called “Holy One” or “Only One” under the name of Scotty Wayne.

Freddy Fender also used the stage name Eddie Medina. His father Serapio Huerta was Saturnino Huerta and his mother’s name was Tiburcia Medina born in Soto La Marina, Mexico. His mother was Margarita Huerta.

Frank Black wrote a song about Fender, called “Dead Man’s Curve”. It can be found on his Christmas compilation cd.

Discography

Albums
Year     Album     Chart Positions     RIAA
US Country     US 200
1974     Before the Next Teardrop Falls     1     20     Gold
1975     Recorded Inside Louisiana State Prison
Are You Ready for Freddy?     1     41
Since I Met You Baby     10
1976     Rock ‘N’ Country     3     59
Your Cheatin’ Heart
If You’re Ever in Texas     4     170
1977     The Best of Freddy Fender     4     155
If You Don’t Love Me     34
Merry Christmas / Feliz Navidad
1978     Swamp Gold     44
1979     Tex-Mex
The Texas Balladeer
1980     Together We Drifted Apart
1982     The Border Soundtrack
1991     The Freddy Fender Collection
Favorite Ballads
2001     Forever Gold     70

Singles
Year     Single     Chart Positions     Album
US Country     US Hot 100
1975     “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”     1     1     Before the Next Teardrop Falls
“Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”     1     8
“Since I Met You Baby”     10     45     Since I Met You Baby
“Secret Love”     1     20     Are You Ready for Freddy?
1976     “The Wild Side of Life”     13         Since I Met You Baby
“You’ll Lose a Good Thing”     1     32     Rock ‘N’ Country
“Vaya con Dios”     7     59
“Living It Down”     2     72     If You’re Ever in Texas
1977     “The Rains Came”     4         Rock ‘N’ Country
“Sugar Coated Love”     flip         The Best of Freddy Fender
“If You Don’t Love Me
(Why Don’t You Just Leave Me Alone)”     11         If You Don’t Love Me
“Think About Me”     18
1978     “If You’re Looking for a Fool”     34
“Talk to Me”     13         Swamp Gold
“I’m Leaving It All Up to You”     26
1979     “Walking Piece of Heaven”     22         Tex-Mex
“Yours”     22         The Texas Balladeer
“Squeeze Box”     61
1980     “My Special Prayer”     83
“Please Talk to My Heart”     82         Together We Drifted Apart
1983     “Chokin’ Kind”     87         Single only

Honors

* Academy of Country Music (1975) – “Most Promising Male Vocalist”
* Country Music Association (1975) – “Single of the Year” for “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
* Grammy nominations in 1975, 1976, and 1997
* Tejano Music Hall of Fame (1987)
* Inaugural Balls – Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush
* Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album (1990) – for the Texas Tornados
* European Walk of Fame (1993) – in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
* Freddy Fender Lane (1994) – dedicated in his hometown of San Benito, Texas
* Hollywood Walk of Fame (1999)
* Texas Music Hall Of Fame (1999)
* Nashville Sidewalk of Stars (1999)
* Grammy Award “Best Mexican/American Performance” (1999) – for Los Super Seven
* Louisiana Hall Of Fame (2001)
* Grammy Award “Best Latin Pop” (2002) – for La Musica de Baldemar Huerta
* Annual Freddy Fender Humanitarian Award

Stage names

Fender had several stage names at the onset of his career. “Freddy Fender” became his legal name.

* El Be-Bop Kid, 1957
* Freddy Fender, 1958
* Eddie Medina, 1961
* Scotty Wayne, 1962

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