You don’t know Texas music if you don’t know Flaco Jimenez

This article is part Texas Monthlyspecial issue commemorating the fiftieth anniversary. Read about other icons that have defined Texas since 1973.

Flaco Jiménez, 83, from San Antonio – the son, grandson and brother of famous accordionists – has won six Grammys, including most recently a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the late sixties, my friend Doug Sam asked me if I wanted to merge with the country rock he was playing. He was on Atlantic Records, so I agreed. The album was Doug Sam and band. It was my first major label experience and that’s where I met Dr. John and Bob Dylan. From there, rumors began that I could play not only conjunto music – I could play country or a little bit of rock. I started getting offers to record with heavyweights like Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens and Linda Ronstadt. This was my heyday.

I like to cross. If I can understand what the artist is doing, then I can feel it and merge with him. When I was doing Streets of Bakersfield with Dwight and Buck, producer Pete Anderson said, “Just fuck off.” So when they started recording, I started doing some weird stuff and Pete was like, “No, not that much, man. You are doing something that doesn’t fit. Make it as easy as possible, and then people will understand.” I played more progressive stuff, more advanced stuff, but I was careful enough to know when to mix in and not overwhelm whoever I was recording with.

Along the way, Doug, Freddie Fender, Augie Meyers and I formed the Texas Tornados. There was no plan at all. We were in San Francisco. It was a place called Slim’s. I was on tour with my band and Freddie and the other guys were playing around. We were invited to a jam, no rehearsal, no nada. We played about three songs and there was a lot of good feedback about what we did. Paige Levy of Warner Records spoke to Doug and came up with a plan to record the album, which was Texas tornadoes [in 1990]. Our hit “(Hey Baby) Que Paso” skyrocketed. I mean everyone knows “(Hey Baby) Que Paso”. We released about four albums and then Doug passed away in 1999. We kept playing and then Freddie died in 2006. And then it was just me and Augie. Two tornadoes.

I think this young conjunto generation has changed a lot. Some bands started adding synthesizers and other instruments. I think it’s too mechanical. There is no feeling. There is too much sugar in coffee. I may be old fashioned, but being old fashioned is real. A long time ago, the conjunto was not respected at all. They called it cantina music. Nowadays conjunto is respected all over the world.

Music has been my life ever since I took up the accordion. This is the tool that I have. I can speak to my accordion and make it answer me; I can make him happy or make him cry. I started as a child, when conjunto was really fresh. I’m no longer young, but I still think I can handle the accordion. It’s in my blood. I can say that I will calm down a little because of my
age, but music was all my inspiration.

This article first appeared in the February 2023 issue of the journal. Texas Monthly with title “King of the Accordion”. Subscribe today.

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