Little Joe and La Familia make another visit to Denver with new album in tow
When Little Joe Hernandez began his career as a musician over sixty years ago, his plan was not to be gracing the spotlight 50-plus albums and three Grammys later.
“When I started I thought, ‘I’ll do this until I’m 35 and have 15 grand in the bank,’” said the 76-year-old singer and songwriter of the beginning of his career. “Well I’ve been 35 twice now. I never got the 15 grand in the bank, but I’m working on it.”
Runs in the family
What Little Joe has done, however, is release decades worth of music to an onslaught of fans around the world. As far East as Japan, through the Caribbean and into Europe, Little Joe and La Familia have an expanding presence. Though his early years were spent picking cotton and working construction in his home state of Texas, Little Joe seemed destined for a career in music.
“My brothers and sisters, my dad, uncles and aunts, everybody in my family played instruments and sang,” he said of his musical upbringing. “I wanted to play guitar. When I joined my cousin’s band they told me, ‘hey, you’re a singer. Everyone in your family sings.’ So that’s how my name got up there.”
A timid Little Joe
Even after the band formerly known as David Coronado and the Latinaires changed its name to Little Joe and the Latinaires, the new frontman did not find it easy to get up in front of an audience and perform.
“I was a timid kid,” he said. “I was the one who would sit in the back of the class or hang out in the back of the line. Even after we started the band under my name I would still get nervous getting up in front of people. Sometimes backstage I would walk outside and vomit, because I was so nervous about it.”
He stayed with it though, particularly out of his love for music and lack of career alternatives. Soon enough the vision to make Little Joe and La Familia Borrachera a success, became a reality.
“It was 1955 when I first got paid for a show and I thought, ‘wow five bucks for playing the guitar is much better than picking cotton,’” he said. “I stuck with it, because we started building demand and I could actually get paid for doing it.”
Though often generalized as Tejano music, Little Joe said his influences vary across the musical spectrum, including blues, rock and jazz.
The band’s latest record “San Antonio” presents a particularly poetic look on the Southern Texas city, while the single of the same name takes the listener through the city’s landmarks and historical sites.
“It’s a little different from the usual mix I have,” Little Joe said of the album. “It’s not your regular rancheras polkas that I include on my albums.”
Indeed the song plays more like a rock ballad, which may be, in part, why it could play a prominent role in the city’s 300th birthday celebration next year.
“A friend of mine in San Antonio heard me rehearsing it and told a friend and then they told somebody else about the song and they presented it to the Hispanic Chamber,” Little Joe said. “They asked if I could make it bilingual. So I wrote the English lyrics to it and now it’s probably going to be the official song for San Antonio.”
Don’t Complain, Campaign
Having grown up in an era where rights for Chicanos were limited and discrimination was rampant, Little Joe Hernandez found himself taking an activist role on many prominent political issues. Something he continues to do today.
“What I tell people is don’t complain, campaign,” he said. “We have to vote, we have to learn the process. We have to get involved as a people and hold the politicians accountable.”
Little Joe & La Familia will be performing at the National Western Expo Hall in Denver on June 24. For tickets visit www.ticketswest.com and search Little Joe.