Freddy Fender

A maverick country artist, Freddy Fender, the King of Tex-Mex, is the only Hispanic entertainer to win both Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association awards, and two Grammy Awards collectively. Born Baldermar Huerta on June 4, 1937 in San Benito, a South Texas border town, he grew up in abject poverty, a migrant farm worker alongside his parents. He dropped out of high school and joined the Marines at 16, but too often landed in the brig and was discharged. In the late 1950s, he was back in San Benito, billing himself as ‘El Be Bop Kid’ playing rockabilly in local honky-tonks and dance halls. By 1958 his records, sung entirely in Spanish, were doing well in Texas and Mexico. Gradually he turned to the more commercial fields of rock’n’roll and country. A Spanish version of Elvis’ Don’t Be Cruel, went to number one in Latin America. A local club owner, Wayne Duncan formed Duncan Records, and using the name Freddy Fender (Fender came from the neck of his guitar), he scored a local pop hit with the self-penned Wasted Days And Wasted Nights in 1960. That year he was arrested for possession of marijuana. After three years in Louisiana’s Angola State Prison and a regular gig in New Orleans, in 1969 he returned to San Benito to attend community college, work as a mechanic and play weekend gigs.

In 1974 he was introduced to noted Louisiana record producer Huey P. Meaux, who placed Freddy’s distinctive voice in a country setting. They experimented in the studio, re-recording Wasted Days And Wasted Nights and reviving Before The Next Teardrop Falls, a minor 1968 country hit for Duane Dee. Performed partly in English and partly in Spanish, the latter was picked up by ABC-Dot and became a huge pop and country hit, becoming the CMA Single of the Year in 1975. The new version of Wasted Days And Wasted Nights also hit number one, followed by such pop-country crossover hits as Secret Love, You’ll Lose A Good Thing, Vaya Con Dios, The Rains Came and Living It Down. All of that success led to a proliferation of reissues of Fender’s earlier independent label releases, although the quality of many were pretty poor. By the end of the 1970s, Freddy’s chart successes had dwindled drastically. He signed with Meaux’s Starflite Records in 1979, then moved on to Warner Brothers three years later, but was unable to regain the enormous success he had enjoyed between 1975-78.

He was still indulging in drugs and also hitting the bottle, when in 1985 he entered a drug clinic and recovered. He found a new interest in filmmaking, appearing in the movie She Came To The Valley. In 1988 he appeared in the highly acclaimed Robert Redford-directed The Milagro Beanfield War. Two years later he became a member of the all-star Texas Tornados, with long-time friends Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez. The band enjoyed considerable success, both as a live act and on record. This rekindled interest in Fender’s older recordings and led to a new solo contract with Warner Bros. Throughout the 1990s he split his time pretty evenly between The Tornados, the star-studded Los Super Seven and his own solo career. He won a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album in 2002 for LA MUSICA DE BALDEMAR HUERTA. He also shared in two Grammys: with the Texas Tornados, which won in 1990 for best Mexican-American performance for Soy de San Luis, and with Los Super Seven in the same category in 1998 for LOS SUPER SEVEN.

He had to cut down his workload to weekends only when he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2000 and had had a liver transplant from his daughter. He had been in hospital up until a few days before he passed away and had been allowed home to be with his family where he passed away on October 14, 2006 at his home in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Recommended Listening

The Freddy Fender Collection (Warner-Reprise 1992)
Wasted Days And Wasted Nights (Prism 1993)
The Crazy Cajun Recordings (Edsel 1999)
20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection - The Best Of Freddy Fender (MCA 2001)