In the 80s my girlfriend lucked into a job in the music business. The deal was sealed when, as part of the interview, she was introduced to Mick Hucknall off of Simply Red. She was neither flustered in the presence of a “celebrity” nor gave the ginger soul boy the poke in the eye with a sharp stick he deserved. Her sang froid in her dealings with pampered popsters impressed her employers. She once asked me just who Ozzy Osbourne was for him to get so pissed off about her calling him “Ollie” all day ! It was the time she answered the phone & a voice said “Hello, this is Ry Cooder calling from Los Angeles” that her cover was blown. Ms Cool became a fan-girl, the phone was dropped, papers went flying & the best she could come up with was a very lame “Hi Ry” !
She worked on a Cooder tour which was just the (complimentary) ticket…twice…Brighton & London, fantastic. We often ligged around backstage at these things, sometimes there was free booze & it was always of a better quality than that sold to the hoi-polloi out there. Not this time. There were legends in that band, Chris Ethridge, the 2 Jims, Keltner & Dickinson, Harry Dean Stanton showed out at Wembley , the Repo Man for Jah’s sake. I was better out of those places. I have enough self-awareness to know that my inner idiot drops by at times like these. I would rather Travis off of “Paris Texas” is blissfully unaware of my existence than remember me as that jerk who said that dumb thing .
Anyway, the next year we did get the chance to meet one of the band & what a fine night out we had.
My first Ry Cooder concert was on the “Chicken Skin Revue” tour, January 1977, Birmingham Odeon. He was still playing the solo acoustic dustbowl Depression blues of his first records but his more recent LPs “Paradise & Lunch” & “Chicken Skin Music” broadened his palette. He was ready to put on a show, world-class guitar picking is just great but Ry wanted to play with a band. The guys he chose were quite a sight at a rock concert in the 70s. It wasn’t satin & tat or denim & hair but these big Mexican dudes in pastel lee-zure suits sure could play. At the heart of the music was Flaco Jimenez who is now probably the most eminent accordionist around.
Flaco is a Tex-Mex/conjunto/tejano (my ear is not yet developed enough to know the difference) musician. It’s a family affair, his father, Santiago, wrote the rulebook for this folk-dance music while brother Santiago Jr knows his way around a squeezebox. Conjunto (group) music is an infectious mix of Mexican & European influences. The Germans brought the button accordion & the polka rhythm to Texas, those already resident absorbed them. Flaco is a master player. If anyone, the Stones, Dylan, Dr John & others, needed a smack of the Texan border then he was the guy. When Ry Cooder takes centre stage & solos it is what you have paid your dollars for. There were 3 singers there to help his voice along but if you are going toe-to-toe with a master you had better be able to bring it. Flaco Jimenez is that good.
Our part of the city was more “Mean Streets” than “Manhattan” & we liked it just fine. London’s glittering West End was just up the Walworth Road, Big Ben, Nelson’s Column, St Paul’s Cathedral…ain’t that pretty at all. We had the Hohner factory, where the best harmonicas & accordions in the world are created…that’s enough. One Friday night we are going about our business, listening to some fine, fine music, getting ready to go see Flaco play at a local venue. Benedicte (lovely name, lovely woman) said that Flaco had called her that day…”and” says I…he needed some spares for his accordion…”and”…I rang Hohner & put him on to them…”and”…we are on the guest list tonight. That seals the deal, this one’s a keeper !
On the guest list…funny…we were the bloody list. The Cricketers Arms in Kennington was a pub gig, a good music place but pretty small. We were early, even if 1 of the 4 Mexican guys at the bar had not been Flaco Jimenez they would still have been the people to talk to. My companion was Flaco’s London contact (oh yes), I wanted to buy this man a beer, so let’s get over there & press the flesh. We had a running start, Benny had helped him out & I knew where Texas was (you would be surprised). The band were glad to talk & we were glad to listen, the next hour was just a breeze. Of course I wanted to hear some stories about Ry Cooder & I got to do that. These polite, unassuming guys were travelling the world, playing their music & had their own interesting, funny stories too. They also had a Friday night audience in London to entertain.
It was a night where the more you drank the better the music sounded. These 4 guys from Texas were the perfect bar band. You remember the group from the Titty Twister in “From Dusk Till Dawn” ? Like them (Tito & Tarantula) only regular, nice blokes not vampires. The clips on the Y-tube of Flaco Jimenez tend to sound a little ” folky”, good but lacking a little attack. Their full set was relentless, an invitation to grab your best gal & to hit the dancefloor. Musically Texas has quite a mix of rock, country & Mexican influences & they all showed out, sometimes in the same song. In the clip we see the Texas Tornados, Flaco with Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers & Doug Sahm, the aristocracy of South Texan music.
It’s cool when you meet someone who’s art you admire & they turn out to be good people. Flaco Jimenez was a charming self-effacing man who’s ability has taken him from San Antonio to give performances all over the world. He has played with some heavy duty musicians but it’s only in houses like mine that he is himself a household name. The only regret he had was that there was so much work that he did not spend as much time in Texas with his family as he would like. He knew that as a working musician he had it pretty good. Man, his father was a respected musician too but I’m sure he never saw the audiences & the places his son had. The following month Flaco was playing in Japan & an Edokko couple would be walking home happy after a proper live musical experience just as this pair of South Londoners were…a nice thought.