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September 20, 2022

Tejas Got Soul: Behind the scenes

Editor’s note: Tejas Got Soul Sundays at Discovery Green consists of three days of live music featuring bands that exemplify the history and legacy of Tejano music developed in Houston. Isaac Rodriguez discusses what drove him to document Houston’s contributions to Tejano music and how the concert series was put together. The full lineup is available at www.discoverygreen.com/tejas

As a 5th generation Houstonian, Tejano music has always been a big part of my culture. It runs through my veins. My parents were married at the legendary Pan American Ballroom on the Northside; as a kid growing up I can remember hearing the echoes of KQQK (Tejano radio station) throughout the neighborhood. 

I strayed away from the music when I was younger. But I feel it wasn’t just me. The city of Houston kinda did as well. All the big radio stations and legendary clubs started to disappear. Although there were venues, bars and promoters still keeping the music going, it definitely took a hit – maybe even thought of as a thing of the past. 

It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I started to realize how important this music is and how the story needed to be preserved and documented for future generations of younger Chicanos. We have a beautiful culture and we should definitely all be proud of it! 

I had always been a DJ — years before I got into specifically focusing on Chicano music. One day I went to visit my Grandma and I noticed my aunt was having an estate sale. My grandma then told me if I saw anything I wanted, to just take it. I immediately asked if they had any records. My aunt then replied. “Yes, M’ijo, I have a shoebox of 45s. Let me go get them.” When she brought the box, I opened it and immediately noticed records from groups like Sunny and The SunlinersLittle Joe and The Latinaires.

These groups I had heard of before, but there were dozens of other Chicano groups on local labels, some here in Houston that I had never heard of like Los StardustersBig Lu Y Los MuchachosNeto Perez and the Young OriginalsRocky Gil & The Bishops. The list goes on.

I took the records home, cleaned them off and as soon as I dropped the needle on the first record, I knew this was going to be my focus from now on. Another thing that caught my attention was all these records had last names like Rodriguez, Villanueva, Martinez on the credits — but the actual songs were in English. That blew my mind! I discovered that the roots of Chicano music started in R&B, all the groups that would go on to be pioneers of Tejano music were teenagers when they began their career singing in English. This era of Tejano music was eventually labeled Chicano Soul. 

Tejas Got Soul was formed to shine the spotlight on some of the artists I was coming across. I was meeting them and hearing about their amazing musical journey. Some of these guys had careers in Tejano music that spanned over 50 years. I also wanted to show the world how cool this was and how great the music is. The drive behind Tejas Got Soul Sundays is to promote the artists and the music to a whole new generation of music lovers!

All the bands playing the Discovery Green series were very carefully hand picked. They all represent a distinct Chicano music legacies and styles in Houston. I’m very honored that we could have them all on board for this project. Bring the whole family out for this one — your kids, your parents, grandparents, tios, tias, so that you can all share this experience together. AND bring a dance partner, because once that accordion gets going, it’s gonna be hard to stand still!

I feel like this is a victory and sign that Tejano music is receiving its due, thanks to Discovery Green. Our musical culture is center stage in beautiful downtown Houston. 

Isaac “Simmer Down” Rodriguez, August 2022

Isaac is one of a team of five creatives that make up the Tejas Got Soul and Sonidos de Houston projects. The other team members are Nick Gaitan, Angel Quesada, Roberto Rodriguez and Pat Jasper. Follow Tejas Got Soul: Early Chicano Sounds of Houston on Facebook

Isaac "DJ Simmer Down" Rodriguez of Tejas Got Soul

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