Rick Orozco: I’m an American of Mexican Descent and “This is My Country”
Photos by Ramón Hernández
“This is My Country” is a film documentary based on the obstacles that country singer Rick Orozco faced when he moved to Nashville in order to break into the American market.
“I grew up listening to George Strait and after seeing a George Jones and Tammy Wynette television special, I felt the calling to become a country and western artist,” Rick Orozco said.
“I was already singing country at six to seven years old and when I put Young Country, a country band, together when I was a sophomore at Clark High School. So I was singing professionally, for money on weekends through my high school years.
Rick’s band then consisted of Jason, keyboards; Mickey Cones, whose mother is one of the Cone Sisters, keyboards; Kevin, guitar; plus attorney Wayne Wright’s son, Cole Wright.
After Rick graduated in 1991, he left Young Country, hired a set of older musicians and started another band because as he says, “I wanted to go under my own name and do my own thing.”
Three years after graduating from high school, the singer-songwriter went into a studio and recorded a demo of his own compositions. Then he took his songs to Nashville, got a record deal with Artista Records and a publishing deal with EMI.
“I was signed within weeks, but then they didn’t know what to do with me and that’s where the problems started,” Rick continued.
“They started talking about how I was going to be released and how they could hide who I was, so they suggested changing my name and hiding my face.”
In the interment, in 1994 Rick recorded an album with Michael Martin Murphy and attended Belmont University where Brad Paisley was one of his classmates.
“In 1996, they released “Don’t Try to Find Me” without a picture as a gimmick in order to sneak me in and not let listeners know that I was Hispanic. They didn’t even put my name on the single since they were going to send out puzzles to let the people guess who the singer was because they were so terrified that the world would not accept a Hispanic country artist.
Rudy Sarno, who played bass with Quiet Riot, White Snake, Ozzie Osborne and Blue Oyster Cult added, “For a while I was angry at how they were because executives and marketing people are on you, on how to hide that you’re Hispanic and they hide you by not taking a picture of who you are and the essence of who you are. They’re signed a lot of Latinos, but they are afraid of what the world is going to receive a Latino country singer.”
“We had long conversations about Johnny Rodríguez, who had a hit before anyone realized that he was Hispanic, how Freddy Fender changed his name from Baldemar Huerta, how Charlie Pride wasn’t initial seen because there was no country television network at that time and they talked about they hid Raul Malo’s name by releasing his CDs as just The Mavericks. Rick Treviño came out at the same time, but he was light complected and had green eyes. In addition, Lee Treviño had already been accepted with that last name, so they just took the ‘ñ’ out of Rick’s name,” Rick continued.
“They did however release “Tejano Rose,” a Spanish tribute album to my heritage with the title tune inspired by Selena.”
After two years, I asked them to release my CD or release me. So they chose to release me, then Artista was shut down.
Rick was the one to go to Nashville, then the remaining members of Young Country followed and joined established prestigious country bands; and Cole became a huge publisher and had a couple of “number one’ hits.
“They too had a hard time, but not for the same reason,” Rick added.
“I had never spoken Spanish because my family always spoke English and I was playing honky tonk since I was probably 15 years old.
“I really never knew I was different until I went to Nashville. I had never experienced racism or discrimination until people came up to me and asked, ‘what kind of color are you? Or, what are you? I really didn’t know how to answer that question because I never knew I was different, until then. Before then, no one ever showed me that there was a different world,” the 39-year-old Hispanic country singer said.
“I guess that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see Mexican American or Latino. I didn’t even know that those words existed.
“You could think, look at what these Hispanics went through when in reality every artist goes through this in some way, fashion or form because the media is cruel. The media will tell you that you’re not the right color, the right size or anything.”
Cuban born Sarno questioned the why in regard to racism when “we’re all in this same space (planet earth) breathing the same air.
As for the film documentary, Rick says he approached Aaron López about doing this film based on his experience after producing “Honky Tonks and Cantinas” for Michael Salgado after childhood friend David Reyes told him about this great film crew called Mutt Productions.
The result is “This is My Country,” which also features some commentary on racism and discrimination from various American artists of Hispanic descent.
Bobby Pulido for example says, “The stereotype of the Hispanic is the guy that works in the fields … It’s going to take time, but the one thing I can tell you is the thing I am proud of is that for the most part, Hispanics get with the program.
“I may take us a little longer, but we’re proud to be American … the only difference between us and those others who sing country are the blue eyes.”
Blue-eyed Patricia Yvonne (Rodríguez) revealed that when she moved to New York, “to get more work I had to change my name and it’s helped me survive in more ways than one.
Augie Meyer said that when the Texas Tornadoes took off people would say, “They got a bunch of Mexicans playing accordion when there were actually three white guys in the band” and the only Latinos were Freddy Fender and Flaco Jiménez,
Rubén Ramos cited some examples of racism, but they weren’t tied in to music.
This is not a negative film documentary since both sides are presented in a well-balanced approach and most Americans of Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican descent agree that they all were initially attracted to and influenced by rock, country and western music, blues, Elvis Presley, the Beatles or other internationally famous white music icons.
As Carlos Álvarez said, “A genre is a genre. Good music is good music as is good lyrics, good structure and a good melody. So whether they like it or not, I think anyone that lives in America has been influenced by one type of American music.
The only Hispanics who downplayed discrimination in Nashville were Bobby Flores, who said, “I think right at first I did, but I don’t remember seeing it or feeling it.
Gabe García commentary was in part, “I think there’s only a small fraction, just a handful of Hispanics in country music and I stepped up and tried to bridge that gap. I said, ‘Let me just take a step because this is an awesome opportunity to bring Hispanics back to country music again.’ ”
“You go to Nashville and it’s an amazing journey … It has given me so much opportunity and knowledge.” But the truth of the matter as Edward James Olmos said is “Nashville has always been Nashville. It’s very hard to get in there no matter who you are. You just have to prove yourself.
This documentary, now available in DVD is also very educational as artists, songwriters and publishers such as the Bellamy Brothers, Larry Beaird, and Bart Butler give the view a music lesson or two.
It is fact that there are seven basic notes, A, B, C, D, E, F and G, but depending on the instrument, there are many octaves that these notes can be in. The seven note diatonic scale is do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti and do, but it is the 12 note scale that western music is designed on.
Needless to say, all this can get complicated, but as Larry Beaird explained, “We all used the same notes, but in a different way … to make you happy, sad or in love. It (music) brings emotions out of you by everyone using the same notes, but in a different way.”
“It’s what you do with those notes,” Sunny Sauceda added.
No wonderful, many call music the universal language of love.
Above all, this DVD is full of lots of good music by a star-studded roster of musicians, which are all the aforementioned artists plus Joél Gúzman and Pam Tillis.
An extra added bonus is a 19-song compact disc engineered and mixed by David Buchanan; and over-dubbed by Tony González and Grammy award winning Gilbert “Gibby” Velásquez.
“I’m a Southern boy from way down South … and I’ll tell my stories from songs I sing … I made my way to Tennessee” are some partial lyrics from Rick’s autobiographical “Two Fiddles and Accordion.”
“I don’t want to go back to San Antone. I don’t want to feel like I’m not at home, no I can’t go back …” are the beginning lyrics to “I Can’t Go Back to San Antone.”
Other Orozco tunes on this CD are “Somethings Telling Me It’s Going to be Alright” in duet with Pam Tillis, “A Todo Dar,” a countrified Tejano tune; the haunting “Perdonala,” the super, catchy, melodic, highly danceable “Give Me A Squeeze” and “La Vida Es Buena” telling us that life is good.
Indicating that he planned to make the transition from the stage to producing, summing up the DVD and talking about the future, the San Antonio-native concluded, “For me, this is not a film of anger, but to show that we have the talent to shine. We’ve already been through the wars, the pitfalls and victories, so there’s no reason to go through that again.
“Now we don’t have to hide because we have a large base in the Hispanic population who has the buying power and we’re more Anglo than Hispanic. So my goal now is to find talent and promote young acts that can produce.”
To purchase a copy of the “This is My Country / Twin Fiddles and Accordion” CD/DVD, it is available at www.apple.com/itunes.