When we first started blogging a few years ago over at ranchoalegretexas.com, I wrote what I thought was a brilliant analysis of Ruben Naranjo’s cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s hit, “She’s About a Mover.” I went on and on about how there was no accordion, and it was in English, and what a great voice, blah, blah, blah. Periodically, when I would tell people that I “write” about Tejano and Conjunto music, I would point to that post.
The thing is, while I did okay overall, it wasn’t Ruben singing. And since there wasn’t any accordion, odds are very good that he wasn’t even in the studio. Turns out that the voice on the recording was that of original Gambler and longtime second voice and bajo sexto player, Pico Ramirez.
How did I find this out? From an off-hand comment I made after we interviewed Pico’s successor in the Gamblers, Ruben Rivera. I mentioned to him how that recording was such an anomaly in Naranjo’s catalog. He just smiled and said, “That was Pico. Ruben never sang in English.”
I can’t be too hard on myself, though. How could I have known? There was no way to verify. Even Frank, who has listened to thousands of hours of Ruben Naranjo y Los Gamblers, thought it was Ruben.
How could this have been avoided? Well, some more descriptive liner notes would have been helpful. Especially for unusual things like this, that stand out from the rest of the album. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or flowery. Something like “Pico Ramirez: Second Voice, and Lead Vocals on ‘She’s About a Mover'” would suffice.
But even then, it further casts a light on just how underdocumented this music is. There are very few books. Hardly any magazines. A handful of recorded interviews exist, few of them in depth. Much of the information passed on is by hearsay or the equivalent of a game of telephone.
This past December, we headed to San Diego, Texas, just across 281 from Alice to interview Pico himself. On the way to the meeting place, I told his son Rene this whole story of mistaken attribution. He laughed. Later, he told me that he told his dad the same story. He said that although Pico laughed too (who wouldn’t?), he was humbled and amazed by the thought that someone would take the time to listen to his music and write something about it.
Wow. That someone would take the time to listen? During their years on El Zarape records, Pico’s second voice was one of the keys to the magic of the immensely popular sound of Ruben Naranjo y Los Gamblers. Even though I personally didn’t witness it myself, all I have to do is say Ruben’s name or mention a song title or album, and it sets off a flood of memories for just about every Tejano or Conjunto fan or performer.
This is one of the reasons we do what we do. One of Rancho Alegre’s goals is to help construct a more complete record of Tejano and Conjunto. During our interviews, we ask about the artists’ biographical details, where they’re from, etc., but we also ask about bandmates. Hopefully one day our interviews will be transcribed and indexed properly so that information like this will be easier to find and performers can be recognized for their contribution to the culture.
And so people like me can write brilliant analyses and not sound like complete idiots.