The Permanence of the Seminal Los Aguilares
Few conjuntos can top the longevity of Los Aguilares who have endured the test of time and then more.
Their parents, Santos and Dolores Aguilar, were both musically inclined. Their father played guitar, however, it was their maternal great uncles that influenced Frank, Emilio and Genaro Aguilar into becoming musicians.
“Our mother, an Elgin, Texas-native, was Galvan on her father’s side and Hernandez on her mother’s side. Her uncles were Fernando and Armando Hernandez who together formed Conjunto Imperial, also known as Los Hermanos Hernandez.
“Once we reached school age, since we were from the ranch near Lytle, Texas, our father sent us to stay with our grandmother in San Antonio during the week so we could attend Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School,” Emilio said. “She lived on Elvira Street.”
“Each Friday, dad would take us back to pick okra and squash, than it was back to grandma’s house,” Emilio said during a 1985 interview at his barbershop on S. Gen. McMullen.
For the original Los Aguilares, it all started in 1950 when Frank learned to play on a Gene Autry toy guitar. A year later, their father bought 12-year-old Emilio an accordion at Bustamante’s Grocery Store on Laredo Highway. Frank was now playing bajo sexto.
“And I’ve been playing the tololoche since I was nine because upright bass players were rare. There was also a period I learned to play drums just to get it out of my system,” Genaro said with a laugh.
Shortly thereafter, the siblings and Emilio’s brother in law, Arturo “El Muñeco” Gutiérrez on drums, formed El Conjunto Guadalupano, but because of the rarity of being one of the few tololoche players, Genaro also sat in with Conjunto Imperial, which consisted of his cousins, El Conjunto de Pedro Ibarra and Conjunto America de Lenco Trujillo.
In 1955 Frank joined the U.S. Air Force and they went through several bajo sexto players before they settled on Joey “El Canelo” López, who later founded the Joey, Dina and Sas record labels. Two years later, at Joey’s suggestion, they modified their name to Los Guadalupanos.
In 1958, Genaro traded in his tololoche for an electric bass and amplifier, Emilio enrolled in a barber college and two years later, Joey and the Aguilar brothers went their separate ways thus becoming Los Aguilares in 1960.
“Within a year, KBOP disc jockey Humberto Lozano López a.k.a. La Capirucha nicknamed us ‘Los Redondos Hermanos de Piedra’ because we were round and ‘rock’ because we were hard-headed and just kept on going,” Genaro said as he cracked up with laughter.
Then, in 1961, José Morante and Salomé Gutiérrez gave them the opportunity to record their first single, “De Aca De Este Lado” on the Norteño label.
In 1965, “Flor Del Rio” on Lira Records became the tune that took them out of obscurity.
“Other songs that followed, ‘Está,’ ‘Chaparrita’ and ‘Que Parde Es La Vida’ also kept us on the public’s mind and coupled with performances plus airplay, our reputation grew like wildfire,” Emilio said during a 1987 interview.
From the late 1960s to the mid ‘70s, they also recorded with the Bravo, Falcón, Tesoro Musical, Sunglow and El Zarape record labels; and in 1977 they founded a bit of stability with the Joey, Dina and Joey International records.
In between all those recordings, in 1975 their younger brother Luis Aguilar replaced his brother Juan Aguilar on drums when Luis left the group to form Los Bandoleros.
Santos Jr. and José Aguilar, whose twin brother is Luis, were the only non-musicians in this family of seven brothers.
From 1983 to 1996, they received eleven Tejano Music Awards nominations and four Mike Chávez Chicano Music Awards nominations in the Conjunto Song, Conjunto Single, Conjunto Album and Ballad of the Year categories. In addition Emilio and Genaro got six “Vocal Duo” nominations. And in 2001, they were finally inducted into Sam Zuniga’s Hispanic Music Hall of Fame.
Genaro said that one of the reasons they remained in demand is that they did not pigeon hole themselves. Instead they continued to progress.
“In 1986, we started to experiment with different styles and arrangements. For example having two accordions, a trumpet and we introduced keyboards in a conjunto, something which had never been done before.”
By now, Emilio’s son, Miguel Ángel Aguilar, who started out as a roadie a year prior knew how to play bass and drums, then Emilio bought him a synthesizer.
Los Aguilares were than combining the accordion and synthesizer creating what they called “conjunto music with an Onda Chicana sound.”
A year later, bass and bajo sexto player Charles Howthon joined Los Aguilares.
Los Aguilares entered the 90s decade with Santos Aguilar, Emilio’s nine-year-old grandson taking accordion lessons from Santiago Jiménez Jr., then joining the famed conjunto, but as a drummer. Then sad to report, in 1994, Emilio’s son/Miguel’s little brother Daniel, who had been singing country songs with the group for a couple of years, passed on.
In 2005, when Miguel Ángel relieved his father on second vocals, he was replaced as a keyboard player by Juan Carlos Moreno. Then, as Emilio’s health continued to decline, J.R. Ramos starting filling in for him more and more on accordion.
On December 27, 2009, Emilio went to be with the Lord at the young age of 70. Their bass player at this time was George Esquivel.
What is noteworthy and rare is that in spite of putting job security ahead of their music, they kept their full-time jobs. However, they endured the test of time with weekend gigs that took them as far as California, Arizona, Utah, Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois thus making them one of the seminal conjunto groups of all time.
Today Los Aguilares are Genaro, lead vocals, bass; Miguel Ángel, second vocals; Ricardo “Richard” Medina Jr., accordion; Juan Carlos Moreno, keyboards; Miguel Ángel Jr., guitar; Charlie Howthon, bajo sexto and bass; and Luis Aguilar, drums. Richard is the son of Emilio’s daughter Graciela “Gracie” and Richard Medina of Los Hermanos Medina.
On Saturday, January 19th Los Aguilares will be celebrating their 53rd Anniversary Dance with a big wing ding at the San Antonio Event Center at 8111 Meadow Leaf Drive.
The biggest event in January will kick off with Little Joe y La Familia, Jimmy González y Grupo Mazz, Elida Reyna, Chente Barrera, Marcos Orozco, and Grupo Ondo, which is the third generation of Los Aguilares and will of course be capped off with Los Aguilares.
Pre-sales tickets can be purchased at Janie’s Record Shop, Del Bravo Record Shop, Gilbert’s Restaurant and Bargain Beds, next to the event center.
For more information call (210) 978-2310, 393-1800 or go to www.aglentertainment.net.