Tex-Mex music was already a dynamic blend of genres when Freddy Fender, born Baldemar Huerta, appeared on the scene. But Fender pushed it in new directions, crossing over with mild success as a rock'n'roller in the '50s and with enormous success as a country crooner in the '70s without ever losing his Latin roots. In-between he was busted for pot and served three years in the infamous Angola State Prison; the All Music Guide reports that "he was paroled thanks to the efforts of Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, on the condition that upon Fender's release he stay away from the corruptive influences of the music scene." (Gov. Davis knew a thing or two about the corruptive influences of the music scene himself, but that's another story.) Still later he was a key member of two southwestern supergroups, the Texas Tornados and (in some of its incarnations) Los Super Seven.
Fender died yesterday, leaving Augie Meyers the last surviving Texas Tornado. I have nothing particularly deep to say about the man, just that he was a hell of a singer who made some damn good records. For those of you who have read my mighty tome Rebels on the Air, I'll add that Fender was one of the many talents produced by Huey P. Meaux, who has a minor but juicy cameo in the book. Minister Farrakhan's description of Hitler—"a great man, but also wicked"—applies in full force to Meaux, who made Fender's life miserable as the two of them recorded such fine albums as Before the Next Teardrop Falls and Rock & Country. Pissing off Freddy Fender wasn't the wickedest thing Meaux ever did, but that's another story too.
Obligatory YouTube link: A good performance of "Before the Next Teardrop Falls."
Bonus YouTube link: The Texas Tornados sing "Who Were You Thinkin' Of."
Update: My apologies to the king of conjunto, the Tornado of the accordion, Flaco Jimenez, who is every bit as alive as Augie Meyers. While I still have a vague recollection of my brother calling to tell me Jimenez had died, this was a false memory, no doubt implanted by a shady New Age therapist. Long live Flaco!