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Freddy Fender - Thankfully, the legend continues... 
(Baldemar G. Huerta - agradecidamente, la leyenda continúa...)
By: Cheryl Harvey Hill, Sr. Staff Journalist

Baldemar G. Huerta was born in south Texas border town of San Benito. In 1958 he made up his stage name of Freddy Fender because he thought it would help his music "sell better with gringos." At various stages in his musical development he was known as El Be-Bop Kid (1957), Eddie Medina (1961), and Scotty Wayne (1962) before he finally settled on the stage name of Freddy Fender. He took Fender from the neck of his guitar and "Freddy just sounded good", he says.

Fender recalls that at the age of ten, his family "migrated north to work beets in Michigan, pickles in Ohio, bale hay and pick tomatoes in Indiana. When that was over came cotton picking time in Arkansas. All we really had to look forward to was making enough money to have a good Christmas back home, where somehow I'd always manage to get my mother to buy me a guitar if the old one was worn out."  

At the age of sixteen he dropped out of high school and joined the Marines for three years. The mid-fifties found him back in San Benito playing in bars and Chicano dances. In 1959 he had his first hit with "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" but circumstance, poor judgment and bad luck prevented him from having another hit until the release of "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" in 1974. In April of 1975, Teardrop reached number one on Billboard's pop and country charts so he re-recorded "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" which quickly became a hit all over again. "Secret Love" and "You'll Lose A Good Thing" became hits for him during that same time period which led to Billboard naming him as their "Best Male Artist of 1975" and the much respected Gavin Report honored him with the "Best Single" and "Best album," of the year. Finally, after twenty years; Freddy Fender was an "over-night success".

The first time I ever saw Fender in concert was in 1984 in Wuerzburg, Germany when he came to the military base to do a concert for the soldiers and their family members. There were a lot of local nationals working in the fest tent that day and during his performance two of the German waiters stood right behind our table. It was obvious that they were fans since they enthusiastically, and loudly, sang along on every song. When the concert was over I was eager to ask them how they had come to be fans of Freddy Fender.

I approached the waiter who had been singing the loudest and who had known the words to every single song. When I asked him how long he had been a fan of Freddy's, his surprising response was, "Es tut mir Leid, ich spreche kein English" which, translates to "I'm sorry, I don't speak any English." As it turns out, and as I eventually learned myself after living in Germany for six years and attending many fests where I learned to sing along with the band in perfect German, despite the fact that I had no clue to what I was actually singing, you don't have to understand even one word of a song to appreciate wonderful music and the cadence of melodious lyrics. This simple fact, no doubt, contributed too much of Fender's earliest success when he sang mostly in Spanish and it was always a treat later on in his career when he sang in Spanish on the chorus of some of his biggest hits.

Fast forward twenty years to August of 2005 at a popular venue in Las Cruces, New Mexico. As he enters the side door and heads towards the stage to join his band, everyone in the standing room only audience is immediately standing. With little fan fair, and an inaudible introduction that could not be heard above the thundering applause and cat whistles, he begins singing. I have no idea what song he sang first because, from where I was standing (less than twenty feet from the stage), the only thing I could hear was the nonstop cheering and applause that echoed throughout the building and continued for several minutes past the end of the first song and well into the second. I remember thinking that this was an appropriate reception for an artist who has clearly established himself as a bona fide legend by the body of his work for nearly half a century as a single artist and, in more recent years, as a member of the award winning super groups Los Super 7 and the Texas Tornados. Watching him perform, one thing was perfectly clear; it was from the heart, talent and desire of Baldemar Huerta that the musical pioneer we know as Freddy Fender was born and continues to thrive.

I had been able to talk with Freddy in the week before this concert and the thing that impressed me most about him was his humility and down-to-earth, relaxed sense of humor; not what you would expect from a multiple Grammy Award, CMA, ACM recipient who has a star on more than one "Walk of Fame" (including in Hollywood) in addition to far too many awards and accolades to mention here; several within the last few years. He also has a street named after him in his hometown of San Benito, Texas and they proudly display a fifty foot high portrait of him at the top of a giant water tower which proclaims that he is San Benito's favorite, and albeit most beloved and famous, son.

When I tell him that I first met him in Germany nearly twenty years ago, he laughs and says that he remembers little of that time. He admits to doing "just about everything in excess back then and for much of his early life" then says, lightheartedly, that it is probably better that he doesn't remember. But that was then, when he was young and, like all of us in our youth, fearless. He has come a long way since then and the road of life, for him, has been a very bumpy one with many twists, turns and steep hills to keep it interesting and challenging.

Life has taught him much and, he says, blessed him immensely. His devoted wife, Vangie, has gone through it all with him and, he tells me, that although her patience wore thin at times, her love for him never waned. He credits her with nurturing his talent and rescuing his spirit and he credits his daughter with, literally, saving his life in 2001 when she donated one of her kidney's to replace his which had been damaged "by years of too much of a lot of bad things." 

While doing research for this feature I found many interesting bits of trivia and all of them spoke to the diversity of his talents; singing, songwriting and acting. I didn't realize that he had written one of the biggest hits for the actress known in the 1950’s as "America's Sweetheart”, Doris Day. The song was "Secret Love" and became a big hit for Fender also in the mid seventies. Between 1975 and 1977, he had nine songs in the top 10 on the country music charts and several cross over hits on the pop charts. He has remained a radio staple, around the world, ever since.

Several years ago, he said that he would like to be officially recognized as "The First American Hispanic and Hispanic Rock and Roll Recording Artist in Anglo Latino Musical History." I'm not certain what all the labels mean and I'm not sure if Fender's music falls under Tejano, Tex-Mex, American Hispanic or some other hybrid title, but I DO know what "legend" means and I'm certain that it is a fitting designation for the amazing artist that we've come to know as the mega-talented Freddy Fender.

You will find a very long list of "honors" that he has received, to date, on his website at www.freddyfender.com.

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I loved the songs on the album. They can't get much better. Freddy was one of a kind. 
~ ciao Stan R.


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