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Strachwitz Frontera Collection

Guest Blog: Chris Strachwitz’s 50 Favorite Frontera Recordings
Agustin Gurza | Wednesday, June 24, 2015 | 0 comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of guest blogs in which we ask musicians, producers, writers, and fans to choose their favorite songs from the Frontera Collection. Chris Strachwitz spent more than a half-century assembling the recordings that are now part of this unique digital archive. From the tens of thousands of songs he acquired, here are his 50 favorites.1
This list contains recordings that are remarkable for their performance quality. I’ve included a range of genres and styles. You’ll find many classics and several recordings that are sure to be a surprise. These are my favorites, but they are presented in no particular order! They are listed by song title, artist, label and catalog number.
1. “Canción Mixteca” by Los Donneños (Oro 233)
The most emotional and gutsy rendition of this classic Mexican song by one of the best norteño conjuntos. A real classic!
2. “Yo Me Enamoré” by Fred Zimmerle and Steve Jaramillo (Perla 1001)
To my ears, an incredibly emotional rendition of this song, with just two guitars and of course the two voices in the old rural crying style.
3. “El Troquero” by Regionales de Texas (Conde 1924 / Original Del Valle 959)
An all-time classic norteño song. Del Valle had the original recording and it was a huge hit. On a tour of California, Los Regionales recorded the song again for this tiny California  label, but with the full rhythm section. I like both recordings! 
4. “Tu Conciencia” by Dueto Río Bravo con Los Alegres de Terán (Columbia 9086)
The emotions are obvious in the gorgeous voices which deliver this great song—and with superb backing by Los  Alegres de Terán. I have loved this record for forty years. 
5. “Viva Seguín” by Santiago Jiménez (Imperial 232)
The first recording by the composer of this delightful and widely popular classic polka.
6. “Corre, Corre, Camioncito” by Las Norteñitas (Falcon 1193)
One of my favorite female duets, but not all their recordings are as good as this one. These strong singers are backed here by the driving Prado brothers with their typical Monterrey sound at its zenith. The accordion blends perfectly with an alto sax, backed by a good bajo sexto and string bass—a heavenly sound!
7. “Cuando Cae la Tarde” by Santiago Jiménez (Globe 2012)
Santiago at first only recorded accordion instrumentals, but in the early 1950s he suddenly introduced his voice in traditional duet style and made a classic version of this wonderful ranchera.
8. “Canción Mexicana” by Lucha Reyes (Victor 70-7099 / RCA Victor 23-6398)
The first ranchera queen is in top form here, giving it all she’s got on this wonderful Lalo Guerrero composition, with great backing by the mariachis. 
9. “Mariquita” by Mariachi Coculense Rodríguez (Victor 46375)
Dr. Rodriguez was only the patron of this mariachi by Cerilo  Marmolejo (the guitarrón player). He brought these mariachis from Cocula to Mexico City, where they were the first mariachi to make electrical recordings. This wonderful song in the pre-trumpet mariachi tradition is a pure delight!
10. “Mañana en Adelante” by Mariachi Tapatío (Victor 75238)
Led by José Marmolejo, a nephew of Cirilo, this is probably the first mariachi to record with a trumpet player (in the mid-1930s), Jesús Salazar. I love the way he plays this ranchera with the same sadness but also joy that I hear in the sound of the vocal duet. 
11. “La Primavera” by Mariachi Tapatío (Victor 75727)
Another ranchera by this wonderful mariachi, where the trumpet blends perfectly with the violins and does not yet go out on its own virtuoso trip. Such drive and gusto—love it!
12. “La Pena Mía” by Lola Beltrán (Peerless 3656)
Lola Beltrán followed the great Lucha Reyes into the world of ranchera divas. Her first recording (is it?) strikes me as remarkable—her young and strong yet controlled voice sings music that is pure and wide open. If only the mariachis had been a bit more simpatico.
13. “Rinches de Texas” by Dueto Reynosa (Oro 230)
A superb corrido composed by the label’s owner, Willie Lopez, about a melon strike viciously broken up by the hated “rinches,” or Texas Rangers. The singers and the conjunto on this performance really dig in behind this true story to create a classic. 
14. “Camioncito Pasajero” by Conjunto Tamaulipas (RyN 176)
I love this regional ranchera composed by Leonardo Salazar. It is performed with such feeling by this conjunto, both on the 45 and in their performance on the sound track to our film, Del Mero Corazón. 
15. “Zenaida” by Los Madrugadores (Vocalion 8596) or “Zenaida” by Hermanas Mendoza (RCA 23-5543)
I can’t get this wonderful melody out of my head—I try to sing or hum it constantly. Los Madrugadores (los hermanos Sánchez y Linares) were the first to record this story about Zenaida, and they did it in two parts. Great singers, they were very popular in the mid-1930s and the song soon gained widespread popularity as well. A shorter but still good version is by Las Hermanas Mendoza (Juanita and María Mendoza, with Lydia playing her 12-string), whose voices I also adore. 
16. “Al Pie de la Tumba” by Los Alegres de Terán (Falcon 2003)
I love the sound of these two men, the fathers of norteño music: Eugenio Abrego and Tomás Ortíz. I enjoy almost any song they sing, but this one, rather sad and almost morbid, somehow has stuck with me. During the filming of Del Mero Corazón, I requested the song by the Conjunto Tamaulipas, and their version, as you can hear and see in the film, is almost equally appealing. 
17. “Prenda del Alma” by Los Alegres de Terán (Falcon 1479)
A lovely song I just can’t get out of my head. They also sang it live for our film Chulas Fronteras in their superb style. (The one-hour documentary is available on Arhoolie  DVD 104.) Also check out the earlier version by the great activist, organizer, composer and radio personality from the 1930s, Pedro J. González, on Azteca 5102.
18. “Pancho Villa” by Hermanos Chavarría con Trío San Antonio (Falcon A323)
The Chavarría brothers were probably the fiercest singers ever to record. They started recording in the late 1920s and continued into the 1930s but then fell out of style.  Traditionalist Fred Zimmerle befriended them in San Antonio in the late 1940s and got them to record for the last time with his conjunto, backing them to create this masterpiece. 
19. “Marihuana Boogie” by Lalo Guerrero (Imperial 535)
I love this classic pachuco song from the father of Chicano music, here accompanied by a jazzy quintet. Lalo covered every aspect of Mexican American music—a true giant who performed and composed for over six decades.
20. “Chicano Boogie” by Cuarteto Don Ramón Martínez  (Taxco 117)
This pachuco boogie brings together all the elements:  boogie, be-bop, slang, Chicano swing, Caló. It’s all there in this delightful recording! The artist is actually Don Tosti’s Quartet and the song is included in the Arhoolie compilation “Pachuco Boogie” (CD 7040)
21. “Mi Único Camino” by Conjunto Bernal (Ideal 1637)
The classic version of this wonderful, powerful song performed by Paulino Bernal and his conjunto. 
22. “Luzita” by Narciso Martínez (Bluebird 2920 or Ideal 135)
This lovely old-time mazurka is played on the accordion by the father of the norteño accordion style. It starts in a minor key but then modulates to major and back again, which is how many older dance tunes were played until the 1950s, when that tradition was no longer in demand. Another classic!
23. “Atotonilco” by Tony de la Rosa (Ideal 1570)
A fantastic old polka brought up to date in the 1950s by the polka king of South Texas, Tony de la Rosa. I love it!
24. “There’s No Tortillas” by Lalo Guerrero (Ambiente 33 100)
I had to list at least one more by the incredible Lalo Guerrero. He composed and recorded so many different types of songs, from corridos to this funny parody. 
25. “Andale, Vamos Platicando” by Medina River Boys (Bluebird 3041)
This rare mix of gringo country and Mexican singing is a jewel. I love the steel guitar and the fine singing on this San Antonio recording from the 1930s. I wish they had made more records! 
26. “La India Bonita” by Banda Típica de Mazatlán (Caliente 7033)
I love this charming old waltz, especially as performed by this banda. It is one of the first recordings of banda sinaloense, a regional music that was not recorded until the early 1950s. 
27. “Mexicano Hasta las Cachas” by Banda El Recodo de Cruz Lizarraga (RCA Camden 33-289)
This killer version of an older song is brought up to date in the 1950s. It is sung with corazón and gusto by Las Hermanas Sarabia in front of this most famous of all bandas sinaloenses.
28. “Me Voy a Baracoa" by Sexteto Machin (Brunswick 41118)
This is a gorgeous 1929 recording of a son cubano by one of the best Cuban sextets, with a perfect balance between percussions, strings, and voices. Pure joy to listen to!
29. “Quiéreme, Camagüeyana!” by Sexteto Boloña (Brunswick 40158)
I had to name one more of these delightful Cuban songs. This one is by the Sexteto Boloña, with their crying voices and superb rhythms.
30. “El Gato Negro” by El Ciego Melquiades (Bluebird 3188)
The last of a vanishing breed, this blind fiddler, Melquiades Rodríguez, played at house parties and restaurants in San Antonio, Texas. He recorded this superb polka in the mid-1930s with guitar and violoncello—what pure old-time joy! 
31. “Carga Blanca” by Los Cuatesones (Corona 2032)
I love the tune of this still enormously popular corrido about smuggling heroin, and especially this version by the composer Manuel C. Valdez , whose partner in the duo was Andrés Alvarez. Whenever I request this seminal song, a part of the roots of the narcocorrido, the conjuntos still all know it!  Los Alegres de Terán also do a fine rendition. 
32. “Josefina, Josefina” by Los Reyes de la Plena (Brunswick 40752)
From Puerto Rico came much fine regional music, and this one is one of my favorites, with an accordion, a trumpet, strings, and percussion—and that funky rural-sounding lead singer. 
33. “Los Canedistas” by Orquesta de Guadalupe Acosta (Okeh 16783)
A great polka composed of many parts and performed by this lovely old world–sounding salon orchestra. Recorded in San Antonio in 1930, this track takes you back to a gentler era. Acosta was a well-known musician, music shop proprietor, and record scout.
34. “Sobre las Olas” (Over the Waves) by Banda Mochis de Porfirio Amarillas (Columbia 4020)
This waltz by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas became famous all over the world. Here in the US, it was especially popular among country musicians and among jazz musicians who were first exposed to it by the huge Mexican brass band that played at the cotton festival in New Orleans toward the end of the nineteenth century. I love this version by a typical banda sinaloense, this one obviously from Los Mochis.
35. “Lupita” by Mariachi Coculense de Cirilo Marmolejo (Victor 75517)
This track was by the first electrically recorded mariachi. By this time the Victor engineer in Mexico City had become really good at recording the guitarrón up front with plenty of volume, and in those days the guitarrón player had to really pluck that thing like a string bass! 
36. “Elena” by Las Hermanas Degollado (Brunswick 108)
I am a sucker for female duets, and here is another of my favorites: Adele and Panchita Degollado backed by the powerhouse Monterrey conjunto of Los Hermanos Prado, with that gorgeous blending of alto sax and the accordion. Nobody can create this sound today. 
37. “A Puñaladas” by Hermanos Prado (Del Valle 339)
This is one of my favorites by the Prado brothers themselves: Guadalupe Prado, accordion; Anselmo Prado, first voice and guitar; and Homero Prado, second voice and bajo sexto. Rudolfo Hernández plays alto sax plus string bass. What a gem!
38. “Sin Tu Cariño” by Valerio Longoria y Su Conjunto (Corona 2238)
This is a lovely bolero by the man who introduced this more genteel musical genre into the Tejano conjunto repertoire. But Valerio was also a master of cumbias, rancheras, corridos, etc. 
39. “Gregorio Cortez” by Los Hermanos Banda (Del Valle 347)
This important border ballad is well documented. You can listen to the first recording of it by Pedro Rocha and Lupe Martínez (billed as Trovadores Regionales), but that version is in two parts (Vocalion 835). But for a shorter version you can’t beat this superb rendition by the Banda brothers, Rodolfo and Armado. The song is still popular all along the Rio Bravo! 
40. “El Sube y Baja” by Los Donneños (Falcon 294)
I wanted a superb polka by this conjunto. This one features the accordionist Mario Montes, supported by his excellent bajo sexto player, Ramiro Cavazos, who still plays and operates RyN records in McAllen, Texas. Another all-time classic!
41. “La Guacamaya” by Conjunto Alma Jarocha (Arhoolie CD 354)
The son jarocho is still very popular in the Veracruz area, and this recording which I made in Boca Del Rio, just south of Veracruz, is one of my favorites. It features strong harp players, which I miss in most of the contemporary groups. (This version by Alma Jarocha is not currently in the Frontera Collection, but the UCLA archive does contain an alternate version in the same son jarocho style by the well-known Conjunto Medellín de Lino Chávez (Peerless 5052).
42.  “La Bamba” by Andrés Huesca (Victor 75-7538)
Andrés Huesca was the superb singer and harp player who put Jarocho music on the map by making many bestselling commercial recordings. If you have to hear “La Bamba,” then I love this early version from the voice of the master.
43.  “Indita Mía” by Freddy Fender (Ideal 2222)
One of my most favorite old songs is “Indita Mía,” and although there are many fine versions, I always liked Freddy Fender’s. His pure, beautiful voice eventually made him famous. Here, Fender is accompanied by Los Compadres De Amado Soto. (The label uses an alternate spelling of his first name, Freddie.) 
44. “La Chileca” by Conjunto Alma de Apatzingán de Juan Pérez Morfín (Alborada Cass. 31)
Probably the best conjunto michoacano (or conjunto arpa  grande) ever recorded. This is my favorite from the fine album recorded by Alborada Records, an Apatzingán, Michoacán firm that produced and preserved great local music. The engineer also knew how to bring out the driving power of the harp. 
45.  “El Gustito” by Los Caporales de Panuco (Arhoolie CD 431)
A typical Huastecan trio with violin, huapangera, and jarana, and of course falsetto singing—one of the many strong regional traditions still flourishing in Mexico. This is my favorite song from their album, which I recorded in a hotel room in Tampico, Tamaulipas, in 1978. (This version by Los Caporales de Panuco is not currently in the Frontera Collection, but many other versions of the song can be found here.) 
46. “Mexico-Americano”  by Rumel Fuentes with Los Pingüinos del Norte (Arhoolie CD 507)
A wonderful song about pride. Recently popularized by Los Lobos and Los Cenzontles, it is sung here by the composer.   It was recorded outdoors during my filming of the documentary Chulas Fronteras. The Frontera Collection contains another song in the same socially conscious vein, “Soy Chicano,” which I recorded in the artist’s backyard in Eagle Pass, Texas in 1975.
47. ”The Free Mexican Air Force” by Peter Rowan and Flaco Jiménez (Arhoolie CD 3027)
I’m addicted to this silly, crazy, but very catchy song by Peter Rowan. I recorded this version in San Antonio, Texas.  Although it is perhaps not fully representative of Flaco’s music, he nevertheless gets in fine licks and a long solo toward the end.
48. “Comprende Cariño” by Isidro (El Indio) López (Ideal 2497)
My favorite Tejano orquesta singer and alto saxophonist, with a fine vals ranchera. I love the way his trumpeter plays behind Isidro’s vocals. 
49.  ”El Cheque en Blanco”  by Chelo Silva with Flaco Jiménez (Arhoolie CD 423)
The queen of Tejano bolero, but also hugely popular all over Mexico, Chelo Silva was an emotional singer with a haunting, husky voice, who sang almost exclusively boleros.  I was fortunate enough to capture Chelo, during what was probably her last public appearance, on my car radio as I approached an outdoor park in San Antonio where KCOR was broadcasting live. A very emotion-charged performance with wonderful accordion backing from Flaco Jiménez. (The Frontera Collection contains another version by Chelo Silva accompanied by El Conjunto De Fernando Z. Maldonado.) 
50.  ”El Canoero” by Valerio Longoria (Arhoolie CD 336)
This great musician from San Antonio learned this fine cumbia by listening to shortwave radio from Colombia. He included it when I recorded him in 1989, and I have always loved his rendition of this catchy tune. (There are currently no versions online in the Frontera Collection.)
-Chris Strachwitz
1This list originally appeared in
Gurza, Agustín, Jonathan Clark, and Chris Strachwitz. The Arhoolie Foundation’s Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, 2012. The book is available through the distributor, University of Washington Press.


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