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Arhoolie Records
Music Excerpts, Liner Notes, and Photos
All music excerpts, liner notes, and photos on this page are the property of:
Arhoolie Records, 10341 San Pablo Av., El Cerrito, CA 94530


San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s   animation

photo of hymie wolf in his record shop circa 1957 The letterhead proudly announced: "Wolf Recording Company, Home of the Rio Record" and the home was the back room of the Rio Record Shop from which the enthusiastic music merchant Hymie Wolf directed his one-man operation. Located at 700 West Commerce in the heart of San Antonio's old, teeming and bustling downtown area, the store was just a few blocks east of the Plaza del Zacate where produce was the main business. Here all kinds of folks would congregate and in the evenings listen to strolling musicians or buy hot tamales from street vendors. Just a few blocks to the south, off South Santa Rosa Street, was a busy area of honky-tonks and cantinas where Tejanos and Mexicanos would socialize, imbibe, dance, carouse, or relax at the end of a day of hard labor or try to drink away their problems. They would listen to live conjuntos or a jukebox, which was often better, and of course cheaper, at repeating favorite songs endlessly to their heart's desire.

By the late 1940s, musical ensembles known as conjuntos (groups), usually featuring two harmonizing voices, an accordion, a bajo sexto and a string bass, were making the music that Spanish-speaking factory hands, truck drivers, and other blue collar workers wanted to hear. Strolling musicians of all sorts, including duets with guitars, trios, mariachis, as well as conjuntos, wandered from cantina to cantina in search of customers willing to pay for songs to be delivered on the spot right there where they were sitting or standing. Singers had to know the latest hits and sing them well in order to compete with the jukeboxes. For dancing, however, musicians were hired for the evening. There, in addition to an appealing vocal delivery, stamina and endurance, a musician needed instrumental prowess, rhythmic energy and cohesion for his conjunto to be popular with the dancers.

publicity photo of tony de la rosa Accordionists, many of whom came out of rural south Texas and northern Mexico, had to know lots of polkas, waltzes, schottishes, mazurkas, redovas, and huapangos as well as the melodies to the latest rancheras, boleros, and corridos. Most corridos, or ballads, detailed the heroic deeds of brave men both past and present or the latest gruesome killing which was often the result of a smuggler's deal gone wrong. Once a song became popular via the radio, a movie, or the jukebox, every local musician had to learn it in order to please their customers who would pay for personal renditions. Often a customer "out on the town" would spend considerable sums for musicians to satisfy his craving to listen to or sing along with his favorite song or to impress other members of his party with his talent or generosity.

Most of the songs heard on this collection were created by San Antonio or regional composers. Although many are in the traditional Mexican ranchera style, several songs reflect local culture, values, customs, and slang. Some, like the opening number, are hybrids of various Latin traditions, while others reflect the tastes of "pachucos" from El Paso and the West Coast who developed great fondness for African-American traditions from Bebop to Rhythm & Blues (note: Las Güeras de Califa (RealAudio file | .au file) "Mi Dolorcito," (RealAudio file | .au file) and "Boppin' the Rock" (RealAudio file | .au file)). Many of the musicians also began to learn that if they could come up with their own songs, they could earn extra money when the opportunity came to make recordings or to get their compositions into the hands of established recording stars.

Las güeras de Califa by Raymond Stewart

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Los Chavalitos
Recorded 1950
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Arhoolie CD 376
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s
Boppin' the Rock (Clifton Chenier)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Armando Almendarez & Conjunto México
Recorded May 20, 1955
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Arhoolie CD 376
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s

The national record companies, Victor, Columbia, and Decca, just about stopped recording and releasing regional musics during World War II when the musicians' union led a strike against them and when shellac, from which records were pressed, was difficult to obtain. After the war was over, local enterpreneurs sensed a great demand on the part of the public, musicians, and especially tavern owners who had jukeboxes, for recordings by local performers. Hymie Wolf, like a number of others, got the idea to make his own records, and bought the basic essential equipment: a disc cutter, blank acetates, a mixer and a couple of microphones. Then the fun started, dealing with musicians, cutting the discs, having them processed and pressed, and finally collecting the money if the public bought what was in the grooves.

publicity photo of pedro rocha and lupe martinez Manuel Rangel Sr. was by most accounts the pioneer of Tejano record labels in San Antonio with a release on his Corona label by Valerio Longoria, probably in early 1948. After starting an electrical sales and repair business in January 1947, Mr. Rangel soon discovered that servicing jukeboxes was the most profitable aspect of his work. He got into the business of making his own records when the man who used to supply him with records from Mexico died. Mr. Wolf's Rio label was not far behind. He remodeled his liquor store into a record shop, and the first artists to appear on a Rio 78 rpm disc were the dueto of Andres Alvarez and Polo Cruz. They were accompanied by accordionist Jesus Casiano, who was already an established recording artist from the pre-war era. The label read: "Alvarez y Cruz y Los Tejanos" and the first song on Rio #101 appropriately was "Mujeres de las Cantinas" (Women of the Bars)! Honky-tonk music had arrived and Rio records, during the brief decade of its existence, documented some of the finest Spanish-language examples of this genre in San Antonio.

The whole business of recording local music was obviously a pleasure and a lot of fun for everyone concerned. Just listen to the joyful sounds of these recordings, look at the picture on the cover of these notes (or cassette) and the photo of Mr. Wolf at his record shop. These 28 selections constitute authentic audio snapshots of a vibrant culture and tradition which came to life and threw off its old conservative shackles during the social and economic boom period of the post-World War II era. Some of the singers and musicians who found their way into Mr. Wolf's backroom recording studio were already established artists who had been making a living with their music for some time. There was San Antonio's premier corridista, Pedro Rocha, who had recorded extensively in the 1930s and was well known on the local music scene. Jesus Casiano was one of the pioneer accordionists along with Narciso Martínez, Bruno Villareal, and Santiago Jimenez to put conjunto music on the South Texas musical map. publicity photo of gaytan y cantuJuan Gaytan, Frank Cantú, and Manuel Valdez were all popular San Antonio singers and composers who had been on the scene and making recordings for many years. Lydia Mendoza's sisters, Juanita and María, were a big name in San Antonio where they started their career at the Bohemia Club during the war. However, most of the performers to appear on the Rio label were young upstarts determined to be heard. Fred Zimmerle, along with his brothers, started his career on Rio and became one of the best and most beloved accordionists with his Trio San Antonio. Valerio Longoria came over to Rio and introduced the high-tone bolero to cantina patrons. Tony de la Rosa, on his way to becoming the polka king of South Texas, cut some early sides for Rio while visiting San Antonio. Conjunto Alamo with Leandro Guerrero or Felix Borrayo on accordion and Frank Corrales on guitar, became very popular around San Antonio. Pedro Ibarra also became a well respected musician in town and is still active on the local music scene today in 1994. Los Pavos Reales came to San Antonio from Seguin to become major stars of conjunto music.

photo of los caminantes playing the eastside club in 1957 A young man named Leonardo Jimenez, strongly influenced by Pedro Ibarra, made his first records for Rio with Los Caminantes. One of Don Santiago Jimenez's sons, he became world famous twenty years later as Flaco Jimenez. (Those first recordings by Flaco Jimenez and Henry Zimmerle are heard on Arhoolie CD/C 370.) Many of the artists on this disc were young rebels or the equivalent of today's blues, rap, or punk musicians: Los Tres Diamantes; Los Chavalitos; Conjunto Topo Chico; Conjunto San Antonio Alegre (RealAudio file | .au file); and from the lower Rio Grande valley, Armando Almendarez (RealAudio file | .au file), the accordionist who had obviously listened to the jukebox records of the King of Louisiana Zydeco, Clifton Chenier. An authentic Tejano orchestra, Alonzo and his Rancheros, as well as the classy ranchera singer Ada García (RealAudio file | .au file), who had a marvelously soulful voice, also appeared on Rio Records.

Mi Dolorcito [Boogie] by Raul Zapata Ferrer

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Conjunto San Antonio Alegre
Recorded December 1954
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Arhoolie CD 376
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s
En Brazos de Otro Hombre [Ranchera] by José Morante

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Ada García - Vocal
Recorded December 14, 1953
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Arhoolie CD 376
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s

Perhaps some of these singers and musicians would have found their way to other enterprising upstart record producers, as many of them later did, but no other producer seemed to have had quite the rapport, enthusiasm, and congenial relationship with the artists as Hymie Wolf had. Besides all the fun and joviality which are evident on these recordings, Hymie Wolf turned Rio Records into a successful, if limited and short-lived enterprise with the help of his personality, resources, business experience, and the all-important cooperation of local singers and musicians.

flaco jimenez and fred ojeda singing into same microphone Hymie Wolf was the last of four sons born in San Antonio to Morris and Rose Wolf, who themselves were both born in Russia. Hymie's father had a clothing store in the area where Los Apaches Restaurant is located today. Hymie was educated in San Antonio, spoke fluent Spanish as well as some German, and eventually taught electronics at Kelly Air Force Base. Around 1948 he remodeled his liquor store and opened the Rio Record Shop which housed the Wolf Recording Company and became "Home of the Rio Record" for the next decade. In 1956 he met Genie Miri and they got married on June 23, 1960. For the next three years Mr. Wolf, who was an excellent pilot, also operated an aviation business and took his wife on many trips. The couple worked together at the record shop until Mr. Wolf's death on October 10, 1963. Mrs. Wolf continued to operate the Rio Record Shop for many years but the label stopped recording activities in 1963, except for Rio #455 by Luis Gonzales which was issued in July of 1964 and saw its last re-pressing in 1968. I met Genie Wolf at the old location of the store in the 1970s; and when I inquired as to which local conjunto impressed her the most she suggested that I record Flaco Jimenez, (RealAudio file | .au file) who she felt had a lot of charisma. In 1991 I purchased all the masters and contracts of Rio Records from Mrs. Wolf for Arhoolie Records.

La Complicada [Polka] by Leonardo "Flaco" Jimenez

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Los Caminantes with Leonardo "Flaco" Jimenez -- Accordion
Recorded November 29, 1956
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Arhoolie CD 376
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s

record label from rio records recording of las gueras de califa Most Rio 78s and 45s are quite rare because sales were small due either to Mr. Wolf's limited distribution or to the fact that no one heard or wanted them. Hymie Wolf did not believe in promotion, even going so far as to charge radio stations for copies instead of paying them to play his records as was the general custom at the time! Judging by entries in his ledger book, which shows sales for release #374 (by Henry Zimmerle in August 1956), he initially ordered 200 - 78s and 100 - 45s. Rio #374, however, became a popular item and re-pressings were frequent but in small quantities ranging from a low of 25 to a high of 110 copies, eventually resulting in a total of 2180 - 78s and 640 - 45s having been pressed by 1961. In contrast, the initial pressing order for Rio #441 by Los Navegantes in 1960 was for 150 - 45s and the item was never re-pressed. In addition to being hard to find, the recordings were somewhat primitive; and as the competition grew, most artists turned to more professional labels and producers including Jose Morante in San Antonio and Falcon and Ideal records in South Texas. For authenticity however, no other label or producer captured pure cantina music the way Hymie Wolf did on his Rio recordings.

(Chris Strachwitz -1994)

Francisco Martínez [Corrido] by Juan Gaytan

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Gaytan & Felix Solis -- vocal duet and guitar;
Tony Escalante -- accordion; Juan Hernández -- bass
Recorded 1949
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Arhoolie CD 376
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s

Liner notes courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Tejano Roots: San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s. Ideal/Arhoolie CD-376

Materials copyrighted by Arhoolie Records.
Presentation of these materials on UT Library Online by the General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin was made possible under a limited license grant from the creator who has retained all copyrights to the works.


Return to  Border Cultures: Conjunto Music - Index Page

Arhoolie Records: Tejano Roots
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music / Orquestas Tejanas: the Formative Years / San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s / Narciso Martínez / The Women

Arhoolie Records Exhibit: Part 2
Norteño Acordeon Part 1: The First Recordings / Narciso Martínez "El Huracan del Valle": His first recordings 1936-1937


Last updated: March 5, 2004.
Created by: Craig Schroer - Electronic Services Librarian
Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin
Please send comments to: schroer@mail.utexas.edu

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