Little Joe Continues to Outdo Himself
Little Joe Continues to Outdo Himself
Story and photos by Ramón Hernández
Actor-singer-songwriter-bandleader, guitar player, record label owner and producer, Little Joe celebrated his 77th year of life on October 17th,2017, yet he shows no signs of slowing down.
It was in late 1954 that four 14-year-old teenagers, David Coronado, José María de León, Tony Matamoros and Cino Moreno, got together and set out to – with a slight change in arrangement -turn standard Mexican rancheras into funky dance tunes.
Now, 63 years later, four Grammy awards and one Latin Grammy award later, this musical trail blazer says that despite his numerous achievements, his most monumental, major accomplishment is about to come to fruition.
As a national spokesperson, Little Joe was chosen to promote Schlitz beer in the 1980s, Coca Cola, GMC trucks, Tony Lama boots, Quaker Oats in the 1990s and most recently Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
It was in the early 1990s that Coca Cola built a float for this five-time Grammy award winner’s participation in San Antonio Battle of Flowers parade. And, he served as Grand Marshall for the Texas Cavaliers River Parade in 2011.
In 2015, Little Joe shared the honor of being San Antonio’s Fiesta Flambeau Parade Grand Marshall with John Quiñones. Last year, Little Joe released “San Antonio,” a song which he dedicated to the City and all its ‘fun loving’ residents. Now, he has been selected to help kick off the Alamo City’s Tricentennial New Year’s Eve celebration.
“I have a crushed velvet green coat that I was to wear; but, it’s going to be so damn cold that I’m thinking of wearing a big top coat or whatever. it’s looking like last year when it was going to be 28 degrees on Valentine’s Day in Valentine, Texas and it was down to10 degrees by the time we finished the set. It was the coldest gig I ever recall performing in and we wore double pants, shirts, sweaters, jackets and I was still cold, but la gente loca stayed; and it was a great party,” Little Joe said.
“I was so honored that Mayor (Ron) Nirenberg asked me to do the Tricentennial kick off on New Year’s Eve because he and his wife, Erika, are such ‘good people.’
Watching Little Joe and the mayor’s rapport backstage, it was evident they had such great chemistry (see color photo montage in this issue).
Needless to say, Little Joe put on a kick-butt show as he and La Familia alternated from an English-language tune, to Spanish, and back to English.
Mayor Nirenberg and San Antonio’s First Lady danced a few numbers behind the bandstand. And, out among the thousands of well-bundled die-hard fans, one could spot some couples dancing to keep warm.
Onstage, KSAT-12 TV had two cameramen and a remote operated camera on a crane. Backstage, KENS- 5 TV and a second television crew roped off an area where they interviewed Little Joe following his set.
It was here, where Little Joe summarized this memorable occasion in three words he slowly stretched out, “It – was – fa-bu-lous.”
Then he jokingly added, “To celebrate San Antonio’s Tricentennial is special to me because I won’t be here for the next centennial celebration,” meaning in 3017.
When this writer asked the Tejano star who had a line of GMC pickup trucks named after him in 1992; and who in 2015 added a ‘Star’ on the Palms Springs Walk of Stars to his many Platinum and Gold records, trophies, plaques, certificates, letters from presidents, governors and numerous other accolades what “he considered” to be his greatest accomplishment, the Tejano Music and Tejano Roots Hall of Fame inductee took a long pause as he played back hundreds of awards shows in his mind.
“You know, I really can’t pinpoint any one particular accomplishment, musical or otherwise. I guess I would say, staying healthy as well as I have because you know, when you get to my age, you must deal with and you may have to confront with high blood pressure, diabetics, high cholesterol and other ailments that come with age. I’m able to control my numbers because I approach everything in moderation. Then I enjoy hearing the doctor give me the good results.
Having said this, some fans have shared a concern about his liver since the see him drink many shots of tequila during his shows.
Little Joe seemed grateful for their concern. Then, he responded, “Contrary to what people may think, I do drink beer in my show. I drink tequila, but I don’t drink it here at home. I don’t go to bars, so the intake is not as much as people might think it is. And every three or four months, I do get a complete checkup.”
Little Joe’s mental wheels were still spinning until he obviously decided to let this writer be the first to know about his next major undertaking.
LITTLE JOE REACHES AGREEMENT WITH HARRAH’S HOTEL AND CASINOS
Ivan Hernández, Little Joe’s son, manager and booking agent said, “It all started about five years ago when Joe Ripoll, the president of Hispanic marketing in Las Vegas, began looking for a casino where dad could perform five or six nights a week.”
That move would have Little Joe joining the likes of Elvis Presley, Wayne Newton, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand and others as a resident performer in a big-name casino.
“I love Vegas because of the punctuality and the way things move forward. But, I really didn’t want to do five or six nights a week in one place. You know how I like to perform then move on. So, I kind of forgot about it,” Little Joe added.
“But the people in Vegas kept insisting and requested we do this. But instead of Vegas, we decided to do this in Laughlin, where I can say that I’ve performed in Laughlin many times and I’ve sold out every time.”
“We wanted to do this in a place that was not too big and not too small with an average capacity of 1,200,” Ivan continued.
Long story short, Little Joe recently signed an agreement with John Buschman, vice president of multi-cultural marketing for the Harrah’s Hotel and Casino family.
“I really look forward to working all the great events that the Harrah’s Hotel Casino people have for me. And as I’ve said before, they never really stopped pushing it. These guys don’t do anything without researching and getting their numbers together,” the legendary Tejano icon said.
“I’m excited about it, as you can tell. They want the Chicano crowd. That’s what they told us they want to do and there’s no one that can make it as easy for them. That’s the plan.
“They are really focusing on the Southwest and they also intend in doing the same in their casinos in Chicago, New Orleans, Kansas City and Atlanta City as ‘Little Joe Weekends.’”
“Kansas City and Chicago, that’s Little Joe territory,” Ivan gushed.
To kick it all off, Little Joe is performing in Laughlin on Mother’s Day Weekend, May 11 and 12 and they may add a day to that.
“In addition, dad will also be performing at the Harrah’s casinos in Kansas City in June, and Reno in July,” Ivan added.
“Furthermore, Laughlin is also proclaiming ‘Little Joe Month’ in October when they will name a showroom there, the ‘Little Joe Showroom’ with the focus being to cater to the Mexican American because they want the Chicano cliental.
“That’s where they will eventually begin to bring in groups such as Los Lobos, El Chicano, Tierra, Malo, plus other Chicano groups.”
“Harrah’s Casinos! That’s world-wide man,” exclaimed Little Joe. “Next to my health, that’s my most important achievement.
“Yes, I was initially intimidated, but you know what? What the hell, they have given me the opportunity to finish my showbiz career in some great spots. That’s an accomplishment.”
ON LITTLE JOE IS GOING TO CUBA
Little Joe was breathless with excitement as he spoke about upcoming trip to Caribbean island of Cuba.
“I’ve been wanting to go to Cuba for way over 40 years y nunca se me ha consedido (it’s never come to pass). So, when the opportunity came up and I was asked, ‘would you like to do a cruise going to Cuba?’ I said, ‘I’ve got my bags pack.’
The Cuban culture has always been real fascinating to me. When I had my Buena Suerte Records office in Los Angeles; and I was there over two years, I was in the middle of all the Latin major labels.
“And, when I was working with CBS Columbia before it was Sony, one of the record promoters that would take me to do all the interviews at radio stations, newspaper and TV was Cuban, Jesus Godoy and I loved him because he was always a gentleman. As we drove around Los Angeles, I had some wonderful conversations with him and the more I spoke to him about Cuba, the more learned about their cultura, about their food and the whole thing about Cuba,
“The more I got intrigued, the more I knew I really wanted to go; and I want to go before it changes, before it gets westernized because eventually it will.
“Para empezar con la música Cubana (To start with the Cuban music industry), I have great admiration for those people because of their tenacity and their drive. When (former Cuban President Fidel) Castro ousted them, they moved in. They came in (through Florida) and they quickly took over the entertainment field … They quickly became positioned in the record industry.
“Jesus Godoy, as I said before, was such an incredible amazing gentleman. So, I was always fascinated with Cuba. It’s a beautiful island from what I’ve seen in pictures and of course on TV. That’s why I’m so excited about going and I’m really, really, happy that I have this opportunity. That’s another reason I want to stay healthy, so I can enjoy the trip there.
“I look forward to seeing all the classic vintage cars and interacting with la gente cubana in their home environment; plus of course the cuisine.
“This quaresma will mark 29 years of being a vegetarian; but I’m not truly a vegetarian because I eat dairy products. I love cheese, and eggs.
“What I am is a pescatarian. Therefore, I’m looking forward to a great Cuban variety of pescado Cubano, marisco Cubano (Cuban fish dishes). That’s it, that’s it.”
Along with Little Joe going on this historic, voyage to Cuba, plus the Bahamas, is Rubén Ramos and Roberto Pulido as Los Tres Amigos.
In addition to the nightly performances from a lineup of amazing artists and exotic ports of call, your vacation will be filled with non-stop entertainment and fun with an exciting schedule of onboard events!
By now you’re probably saying, “Wow, wow, wow, tell me more.” For starters, block off November 5th to the 9th in 2018.
This is an all-inclusive cruise. Raza, this means the price of the cruise includes taxes, gratuities and all the alcohol you can drink. Is visiting the country that gave us the bolero, mambo and salsa music on your bucket list?
This trip will sell out quickly!!! So, don’t wait!!! Space for this cruise is limited and once it’s sold out, it’s gone.
A passport, and in some cases a visa, is required for this once in a lifetime golden opportunity. For more information and/or to sign up for this adventure of a lifetime, call (210) 318-5671 or go to www.tejanocubacruise.com.
This terminates PART 1 of a two-part interview with the ‘King of the Brown Sound.’ Be sure to read how Little Joe plans to turn Texas blue again, plus his upcoming new image here on River City Attractions; plus his take on the “Tribute to José Alfredo Jiménez” compact disc. In addition, he also answers all the questions on the assumptions and/or rumors of his retirement.
It’s a revealing, yet delightful, insight into what this living legend has up his sleeve for la raza.