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Freddy Fender has had three successful careers already-as a Hispanic/pop star in the late 50's, a country pop star in the 70's, and a member of the Grammy award-winning Texas Tornadoes in the 90's. With his signing to Warner/Reprise, he begins a new chapter in an amazing career that spans nearly four decades.
Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Huerta in the Rio Grande Valley town of San Benito, Texas. He grew up in a barrio that, he is quick to point out, was not a crowded ghetto but just a poor Hispanic neighborhood. The first music he played was Tejano, conjunto, Tex-Mex- the rambunctious combination of polka (from the German settlers of Texas) and traditional Mexican music- he learned by watching and listening at weddings and other events in the neighborhood. In 1947, at the age of 10, he made his first appearance on radio, singing a current hit "Paloma Querida", on KGBT in Harlingen, Texas. Another performance of "Paloma Querida" (literally translated "dove" and "loved one") won him a tub of food worth about $10- first prize in an amateur talent contest at the Grand Theater in Harlingen.
At the same time, Fender was getting a first-hand education in the blues. His parents were migrant workers and he traveled with them during the picking season. Many of his fellow workers were black, and some of them, Fender remembers, were good enough singers and musicians to have been professionals. The blues music he heard in the fields would become an integral part of his own unique style.
At 16, he joined the Marines for a three year hitch. After his discharge, he started playing Texas honky tonks and dance halls. Two of his first records, Spanish versions of Elvis' "Don't Be Cruel" and Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell" on Falcon Records went to Number One in Mexico and South America in 1957. In 1959, Hollywood called him -- not to act but to sign to Imperial Records, the label of such greats as Fats Domino. In hopes of reaching the gringo audience, he changed his name, taking Fender from the headstock of his Electric guitar, and picking Freddy simply because it was alliterative.
In 1960, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" became a national hit, it also proved to be prophetic for Fender. Early stardom was stolen that year when he and his bass player were arrested and sent to prison for possession of two marijuana cigarettes. Three years later, Fender surfaced in New Orleans, where he spent the next five years further developing his interest in rhythm & blues and Cajun funk. By 1969, Fender had returned home to "The Valley". He worked full time as a mechanic, enrolled at Del Mar College and played music only on weekends.
In 1974, he cut Before The Next Teardrop Falls" in Houston. The master was bought by ABC-Dot, and on April 8, 1975, it reached the Number One spot on Billboard's pop and county charts, the first time in history an artist's first single reached Number One on both charts. His remake of "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights," essentially the same arrangement that had been considered rock and roll the first time around, followed "Teardrop. . " to Number One on the country charts, and his third release, "Secret Love," and fourth release "You'll Lose A Good Thing" also hit the top spot. The album went multi-platinum. Billboard named him Best Male Artist of 1975, and he won both single and album-of the-year honors from The Gavin Report.
Fender's broad appeal has been reinforced by his success with cinema and television projects, including the Hispanic classics "Short eyes" and 'She Came To The Valley", as well as his breakthrough performance in Robert Redford's 1987 epic "Milagro Beanfield War". His voice has also been tapped for successful national radio and television campaigns for McDonald's, Miller Lite and others.
In the 90's, Freddy Fender's role as vocalist/guitarist in the Tex-Mex supergroup, Texas Tornados, has delivered the venerable performer to major marketplaces and audiences traditionally oriented toward roots rock and progressive blues music.
David Letterman recently introduced Fender to his Latenight audience as "one of the greatest voices in all of music."