Oscar Hernandez: Texas Conjunto to Another Level
So I’m writing about the use of accordion in Texas-Mexican border music. Pretty cool, I’ve never felt like I knew what was going on there. I’m getting a beginning of a feel for it.
Some standout players really intrigue me. One is a man named Oscar Hernandez who played the unusual chromatic button accordion (five rows, rather than the diatonic three-row that most use.) He’s pretty amazing. Hernandez played with a group called El Conjunto Bernal with another accordionist Paulino Bernal in the 60s. It was a pretty radical move to have two accordions, but they had two who were each extraordinary.
Here’s one of Hernandez by himself. Note how he starts by stating the tune once, and then slowly goes way beyond it while staying somehow linked to the original style.
OSCAR HERNANDEZ, “Ciudad Victoria”
Here’s a flashy one of the Conjunto Bernal, with twin accordions:
CONJUTO BERNAL, “Polka Idalia”
No other conjunto group ever approached this level of technical ferocity. It’s really quite ridiculous. One of the books I’m reading described how Paulino Bernal took his music as far as the audience would follow him, and that was pretty far. Bernal had also earlier made a stir with three-part harmonies, which were an almost bigger deal, but that’s not three-accordions, so not our topic.
Later Paulino Bernal left his own band to join the ministry. Hernandez led the group for a while, later forming his own Tuff Band. Here’s one with stylish harmonies (it was the 80s) and rich accordion riffs.
OSCAR HERNANDEZ Y TUFF BAND, “Mi Linda Mujer”
If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check out the (very live) vid of Joel Guzman playing traditional diatonic three-row in duet with Oscar Hernandez on five-row chromatic button accordion. Joel has to work a lot harder, and the two techniques are a wonder to watch. The trading solos that start at about 2:30 are where it’s at.
The most frustrating thing about learning about this stuff is that so much of it is unavailable. In a world where we might assume everything is online, to run into the fact that the majority of non-mainstream recordings are not available is almost startling.
In this day and age, it’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around the fact that most of the world’s information is still not online, and not digitized with optical character recognition software. Scholars and researchers know this – but many “digital natives” don’t. – Jonathan Ward of the amazing Excavated Shellac site, and producer of archival world music compilations.
I haven’t found where to get much by Hernandez or of him with Bernal in their most experimental phase of the late 60s and 70s. Similarly, the immortal Steve Jordan’s first (I think) psychadelic-rock-soul-accordion album, “La Bamba” has been pretty much out of print for decades, and I want it.
This is the kind of thing we’re missing. Youtube only taunts us with the greatest version of Lady of Spain ever.