Published February 19, 2013
They were unlike anything the music world had ever heard and they were undeniably Texan.
The “Tex-Mex Beatles” were a super-group composed of Texas’ most famous musicians from the world of country, soul, pop and even ‘conjunto.’
When Warner Bros. came calling, the group of childhood friends decided to form a band they ended up naming the Texas Tornados.
Decades later, though only half the Texas Tornados are alive, the remaining band members continue to take their unique musical genre to audiences across the country.
Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers were members of the 1960s pop group, the Sir Douglas Quintet. Their biggest hit was the song “She’s About a Mover.” Their friend, Freddy Fender, born Baldemar Huerta, was a pop sensation in the 1970s, with hits like “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”
Finally, Flaco Jimenez, the king of ‘conjunto’ music, was an accordion prodigy and master of the Mexican polka.
The Tex-Mex band was a hit in the 1990s – it won Grammy Awards and played at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
Their songs were a mix of ‘conjunto,’ blues, country and whatever else they wanted to be. And their lyrics, they were something else.
On their hit “Hey Baby Que Paso?” Meyers sang a combination of English and Spanish lyrics purposely speaking the Spanish in an American accent.
“I started dating this lady and she said 'why are you always playing that Mexican music?' I said I love it and she said 'well, I don’t.' So I said honey, well there’s the door,” said Meyers. “She walked out and I wrote ‘Hey baby que paso? I thought I was your only vato.’"
Meyers, a highly regarded musician who has played keyboards with legends like Bob Dylan and recently with Tom Waits, recalls when the Texas Tornados' only problem was trying to define their genre to the public.
“[In Chicago] we went to three record stores to do interviews… We asked where’s our record?” said Meyers. “They said we don’t know where to put you in blues, or rock... I said Tex-Mex. They said we don’t have a Tex-Mex section, we have a Mexican section.”
In 1999, things changed for Meyers and the rest of the Tornados.
Doug Sahm died of a heart attack while on a trip to New Mexico, leaving the band without their front man.
“It was real tough, me and Doug grew up together since we were 12… the next day he’s gone,” Meyers said.
A few years later Freddy Fender, who had a kidney and liver transplant, died while working on new Tornados music in 2006.
Meyers and Jimenez were left wondering what to do next. While they didn’t break up the band, they took a decade-long break.
On the 10th anniversary of Doug Sahm’s death they reunited with his son, Shawn.
“The reason we got back together was the 10th anniversary of my father’s passing,” said Shawn Sahm. “What better way to celebrate dad and Freddy and the whole legacy of the Texas Tornados than to go out there and play shows and honor them?”
Shawn had always been an unofficial member of the Tornados, touring and recording with the band while he was a child. His role in the band later seemed a natural fit.
“If you listen to the recordings we did with Shawn, he has his same voice, looks like [his father],” Jimenez said. “His movements are identical to Doug Sahm.”
In 2010, the band released “¡Está Bueno!” a tribute of sorts to former members featuring the last five songs recorded by Fender. The album was hailed by critics.
They also toured all over the county playing at South by Southwest, Jazz Fest and even a show in Brooklyn.
The band sees their continuation as a tribute to their fallen brothers and the music they all loved.
“No one was hesitant at all. There is no replacing these guys,” said Sahm. “There are people who get it… At the end of the day if you’re fans of Doug and Freddy, how can you not be at least supportive of something in their honor?”
As for how long this latest incarnation of the Texas Tornados will go on, Jimenez said no one knows for sure.
“I plan to continue with the music until God's willing,” said Jimenez.
Meyers, who had a kidney transplant three years ago, said they plan to continue touring for as long they physically can.
“Flaco’s 74 and I’m 73 and we’re still moving,” said Meyers. “I’m going to keep going as long as the good Lord’s willing.”
Follow Victor Garcia on Twitter @MrVicGarcia.