Retono Sprouts New Conjunto Sounds
Retune is the newest sprout in conjunto music.
Samuel Ramos Jr., vocals and bajo sexto; Salomon Ramos, accordion and vocals; and Pablo Ramos, bass sprouted from the music seed of Samuel G. Ramos, accordionist and vocalist with Los Tesoro’s. Then there’s their cousin Armando Villela on percussion and drums.
Born in Brownsville, reared in Edinburg and now living in San Benito, Texas, their primary influence was their famous father and their uncle Rolando Ramos, who played bajo sexto. On their mother’s side, their uncle is Juan P. Moreno of the Renegades.
“That’s all we heard when we were growing up,” Samuel Jr. said during an interview in McAllen, Texas.
“Dad recorded 15 to 16 vinyl albums and cassettes; and he’s still recording compact discs. As children, when dad saw we had the desire to learn, he bought each of us an instrument. Salomon actually started out on drums, but when dad sold the drum set, in desperation, he picked up the accordion.
“He bought me a saxophone when I joined the Miller Jordan Middle School, but I liked sports more. But once we got to the age to form a band, I learned how to play the bajo sexto.
In 2000, Samuel joined San Benito’s high school Conjunto Estrella as part of a class offered as a fine arts course. Two years later, Samuel, 17; and Salomon, 15 formed Retono and recorded their first CD, “Primizias” for JB Records. Their sophomore effort, “Prefiero La Soledad” garnered the brothers a Grammy nominated for “Best Norteno Album” in 2006 as they went up against Pesado, Los Huracanes, Conjunto Primavera and Los Tigres Del Norte. The latter group won.
Then came “Mundo de Colores” for Joslin Records in 2008. As they honed their talent and kept getting better and better, they came to the attention of Isaac Bazan, who signed them to Tex Mex Records in March 2010.
Reflecting back on their ascent, Samuel said, “I was listening to Billy Joel, The Carpenters, Earth, Wind and Fire. So we actually started out on the progressive side, but what I was writing had too much funk and using minors and sevens. Minors are notes that are not used that much and sevens is a form of throwing notes, but I put more harmony by hitting other strings. Since then, we have simplified our style. We have two lead vocalists and now our music is catchier.”
Samuel started writing the group’s material at 16 when he was inspired by a girl in Bakersfield, California and he hasn’t stop composing since.
“This is when we were working the cotton fields and on some evening, we barbequed, had a few iced ones and jammed. In fact, we were migrant workers until two years ago,” Samuel added.
“As for our latest CD, Rocky Beltran, from the Badd Boyz kind of brought us together when he told Isaac Bazan about us.”
The result is “Campanitas de Amor,” their best production to date. Among the gems in this CD is “Samuel’s Medley,” the potpourri consists of “Hasta Cuando,” “Paloma Sin Nido” and “Ella y Tu,” all composed by Samuel Sr. and if they sound very familiar, that’s because they were all recorded by David Lee Garza y Los Musicales.
Then there’s the haunting “Dame Mas,” in which Salomon makes his squeezebox sound like two accordions. “That song is based on the melody to Steven Bishop’s “On and On” being played in the bridge,” Samuel explained.
And Samuel Junior’s “No Me Engañes” is sure to become another hit due to harmonies that are reminiscence of Conjunto Bernal. For more information on Retono, go to www.facebook.com/pages/RETONO/137090879641383. To listen to their CD, go to www.myspace.com/gruporetono.
L-R: Pablo Ramos, Salomon Ramos, Samuel Ramos Jr. and Armando Villela.