Freddy Fender Biography

Baldemar G. Huerta, 4 June 1937, San Benito, Texas, USA, d. 14 October 2006, Corpus Christi, USA. Fender, a Mexican-American, came from a family of migrant workers who were based in the San Benito valley. A farm worker from the age of 10, Fender reminisced how he ‘worked beets in Michigan, pickles in Ohio, baled hay and picked tomatoes in Indiana. When that was over, it was cotton-picking time in Arkansas.’ Fender sang and played guitar along with the blues, country and Mexican records he heard on the radio, which eventually developed into his own hybrid style. He joined the US marines in 1953, spending his time in the brig and eventually being dismissed for bad conduct. Referring back to his military service, he later stated, ‘It has taken me 35 years to have my discharge changed from bad conduct, and this means I am now eligible for a military funeral.’

Fender began playing rockabilly in Texas honky tonks in the late 50s and he recorded a Spanish version of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ as well as his own composition, ‘Wasted Days And Wasted Nights’ (1958). He later recalled, ‘I had a gringo manager and started recording in English. Since I was playing a Fender guitar and amplifier, I changed my name to Freddy Fender.’ A fight in one club left him with a broken nose and a knife wound in his neck. Starting in 1960, Fender spent three years in Angola State Prison, Louisiana, on drug offences and he recorded several tracks on a cassette recorder while in jail, later collected on an album. Upon his release, he secured a residency at a Bourbon Street club in New Orleans.

Despairing of ever finding real success, Fender returned to San Benito in 1969 and took regular work as a mechanic. He gained a sociology degree with a view to helping ex-convicts. He returned to performing, however, and ‘Before The Next Teardrop Falls’, which he performed in English and Spanish, became a number 1 US pop hit in 1975. He had further US chart success with ‘Wasted Days And Wasted Nights’ (number 8 and dedicated to Doug Sahm), ‘Secret Love’ (number 20), ‘You’ll Lose A Good Thing’ and ‘Vaya Con Dios’. Fender’s overwrought vocals, which even added something to ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?’, were skilfully matched by Huey P. Meaux’s arrangements featuring marimbas, accordion, harpsichord and steel guitar. His fuzzy hair and roly-poly body made him an unlikely pop star, but his admirers included Elvis Presley.

Fender succumbed to alcohol and drugs which forced his wife, in 1985, to enter him in a clinic, which apparently cured him. Fender played a corrupted mayor in the 1987 movie The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by Robert Redford. In 1990, he formed an all-star Tex-Mex band, the Texas Tornados, with long-time friends Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers (from Sir Douglas Quintet), and accordionist Flaco Jiminez. Their self-titled debut album was a critical and commercial success, but subsequent collaborations failed to match its stylist blend of conjunto, country and R&B. Fender was signed to Warner Brothers Records as a soloist on the back of the group’s success. The Freddy Fender Collection, his initial offering released in 1991, was a disappointing collection of remakes of his early hits. He enjoyed more success as a member of Los Super Seven, winning a group Grammy in 1998 for best Mexican-American performance.

In 2001, Fender was reported as being unwell with hepatitis and the following year he underwent surgery for a kidney transplant (donated by his daughter). Nevertheless, his collection of Latin classics La Música De Baldemar Huerta won a Grammy award for Best Latin Pop Album. After receiving a liver transplant in 2004, Fender was diagnosed with lung cancer two years later. He succumbed to the disease in October 2006.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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