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24 November 2006
By Barney Vinson
I grew up in Harlingen, Texas. Baldemar Huerta was raised in San Benito, a town even smaller than Harlingen and about six miles away. Baldy, as his friends called him, would probably never have made it in show business with a name like that. When he changed it to Freddy Fender, the musical world would eventually sit up and take notice.
I'd gone on to college, and in the early 60s I landed a job as a disc jockey in a town close to where we'd grown up. One night Freddy and his manager showed up at the radio station. Freddy had recorded a song called "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." His manager wanted me to plug it on my radio show, and pressed a $50 bill into my hot little hand to let me know how "appreciative" he was.
Well, the song didn't catch on, I went to work at a TV station, and Freddy just disappeared. I found out later that he'd been busted with a couple of ounces of pot in Louisiana, and wound up serving three years in jail. It's a wonder he didn't get life.
A few years later here came a song on the radio called "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." Ohmygod, it was my old pal Freddy Fender! Then there was a re-release of "Wasted Days," and suddenly Freddy was on top of the world.
By now I was living in Vegas, dealing craps at the Dunes Hotel. He'd gone one way; I'd gone another. In fact, he was scheduled to perform at the Silverbird on the Las Vegas Strip. So on a whim, I called him on the phone. Next thing, I was backstage in his dressing room, hashing over old times and drinking longneck Budweisers, one after another.
He had this line in his show where he goes into a Texas restaurant and orders a hamburger. "We don't serve Mexicans," the waitress tells him. Freddy replies, "I don't want a Mexican. I want a hamburger."
After about the fourth six pack, Freddy wobbled on stage to do his show. He got to his line about ordering a hamburger, and the waitress telling him they didn't serve Mexicans. Freddy slurred, "I don't want a hamburger. I want a Mexican."
The audience just sat there. Freddy finished the show, then gave me hell for getting him drunk. It was funny, though. Every time I saw him after that, I would holler, "I want a Mexican!"
Here's something you might not know. When Freddy first started singing, he was so broke he couldn't afford a decent guitar. He changed his last name to Fender, hoping the Fender Guitar Company would give him a snazzy electric guitar and maybe even sponsor his career. It didn't work, but the name Fender sounded good. And when he put the name Freddy in front of it, well it just sort of rolled off the tongue.
One of his greatest achievements, in his eyes anyway, was not all the hit records under his belt, or getting a Grammy for best country and western singer of the year. It was being able to recite the names of all the U.S. Presidents in order, and the names of their vice-presidents. He was really proud of that. And me, I'm still trying to figure out how to spell Eye-zen-hower.
In October, the headline in our hometown newspaper read "The Last Teardrop Falls." Freddy had died at 69, his body ravaged by cancer. I miss him, and all the wasted days and wasted nights. His music will live on, though, for generations to come. And that's a pretty good epitaph, if you ask me.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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