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Isidro Lopez

Isidro Lopez is widely regarded as the father of Tejano music, fusing the sophistication of big band orquesta music with the accordion-fueled energy of conjunto to create a hugely influential sound that remains an elemental force within the Latino arena. Nicknamed "El Indio" on account of his father's full-blooded Apache Mescalero heritage, Lopez was born May 17, 1929 in Bishop, Texas; as a child he helped his family make ends meet by picking cotton, brutal work made slightly tolerable by the norteño music he heard daily over Mexican border radio. After first picking up the guitar, he moved to the alto saxophone while attending high school in nearby Corpus Christi, and by the late 1940s he was backing Tony de la Rosa and Narciso Martinez, both innovators behind the accordion-based folk music known as conjunto. By 1954, Lopez was a sought-after session saxophonist; one afternoon, tired of waiting around for a no-show vocalist, Discos Ideal producer Armando Marroquín instructed Lopez to handle vocal duties instead, and at the end of the day told him "Forget the other singer -- you record from now on." The Isidro Lopez Orchestra officially formed in 1956 -- though modeled along the lines of the tuxedo-clad big bands offering a Latino twist on the music of Glenn Miller and other swing-era favorites, Lopez's final touch was adding accordion to the mix, in the process inventing what is now commonly known as Tejano. With their dynamic arrangements, mariachi-styled rhythms and Lopez's warm, emotional croon, the orchestra quickly earned a massive fan following on both sides of the border, regularly touring Texas, California, and Mexico on the strength of regional blockbusters like "Nuevo Contrato," "Emoción Pasajera," and "Comprende Cariño." With songs like "El Mala Cara," their music also began incorporating elements of rock & roll, anticipating the later Tex-Mex experiments of Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender. Lopez recorded numerous albums for labels including Ideal, Hacienda, Falcon, Bego and Zarape, and his discography is something of a mess, with previously unknown sessions still turning up; the Arhoolie label's compilations of his work are probably the best place to start. He also continued performing live well into his 70s, in later years with a band featuring his sons Xavier and Isidro Jr. Lopez was inducted into San Antonio's Tejano Music Hall of Fame in 1982, and two decades later he received the Tejano Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. He died from complications of a severe stroke and brain aneurysm on August 16, 2004. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
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