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Little Joe embodies heart of Tejano music (w/video)

By Bianca Montes
July 20, 2014 at 2:20 a.m.

Tejano recording artist Little Joe of Little Joe y La Familia, right, is interviewed by Cathy Ragland, left, a music journalist and professor at the University of North Texas's College of Music, during an interview at Club Westerner in Victoria on Sunda.

Debbie Cavazos-Oliva has fond memories of her parents returning from the dance hall and pumping up the music of Tejano legend Little Joe y La Familia at the house.

"That music," she said, her eyes widening as if her internal jukebox was spinning the trumpet-filled music, "it does something to my blood."

For Cavazos-Oliva and many of the people who gathered early Sunday evening at Club Westerner for an intimate gathering with the musician, Little Joe is a nod to their youth and a signifier of a cultural uprising in the Chicano community that began with his music in Texas more than 50 years ago.

"Being Hispanic, especially in South Texas, his music just warms your heart," she said.

During the meet and greet, Little Joe and former music journalist Cathy Ragland, who teaches ethnomusicology at the University of North Texas, delved deep into the artist's life, music and history.

The session also was filmed for a documentary.

In front of the crowd, Little Joe relaxed in a large chair, dressed in white pants, a blue shirt and a loosely fixed tie, and talked about his stature in both Spanish and English music as well as his activism in education, politics and health.

"It's difficult to describe me," he said when asked by the audience about his role in the Chicano movement set in motion by his friend and activist, Cesar Chavez. "I just became part of what was happening."

Rudy and Janie Adames both said that humble, down- to-earth outlook lends to the artist's appeal. The couple, who have traveled from The Valley to Houston watching Little Joe perform, said he's always treated them as if he knows them and never hesitated to pull them on his tour bus for a drink and a conversation.

"For us, Tejano music is like breathing," Janie Adames said. "It's what we've heard since we were young - it's what we know."

Adames' older brother, John Davis, used to perform in the Victoria band Los Ultimos in the 1980s and fondly recalls opening up for Little Joe y La Familia.

"It was unbelievable," he said. "When Little Joe performed, it wasn't just a dance. It was an event."

Davis said he craves to be swept away in that sort of entertainment in today's Tejano music scene.

"It's our tradition," he said. "Yet, it's hard to find people that still want to dance to it. Back in the day when you'd go to a dance hall, it was so packed - it was so unbelievable - but you don't see that anymore."

Little Joe echoed that sentiment, encouraging the audience to continue supporting Tejano music, even when the sound differs from what they grew up listening to.

"Tejano 20 years from now may not be what it is today," he said. "But Tejano is in the heart. It involves other genres, and the more it evolves, the better it'll get."

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