Flaco Jiménez is one of the most renowned accordion musicians in the world. H has performed with everyone from Willie Nelson and Ry Cooder to The Rolling Stones and Los Lobos. Latinopia asked him about his musical influences, how he learned to play accordion and his approach to recording his music.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
My musical influence was my grandpa. Patricia Jimenez and my dad Santiago Jimenez. They were both accordionists. So when I was a young kid, around four or five years old I started getting the feel or the sound of what they played. It was Polkas and waltzes, with the feel of the German music, like ump-pah-pah music.
My granddaddy heard this kind of music from the immigrants of Europe who came to America and they brought this music with them. Especially they brought this music to this part of Texas. And my grandpa, my abuelito, used to go to their dances and shows in New Braunfels . So he started picking up this polka music. And he started practicing the European style of ump-pah-pah music.
The original style or the field of conjunto was the bajo and the accordion and the both of them classified as “brothers,” the background, which is the bajo sexto, and then the accordion. Narciso Martinez came along, he and my father Santiago Jimenez were the first ones to start exposing this conjunto style further.
I started liking Conjunto music since I heard my dad play it at home. I was interested in playing with my dad so I managed to learn a few licks I started to play along with my dad. I wanted to be a part of what he did so I was doing the guitar and then I changed to the bajo sexto which is a stronger instrument for the accordion.
Then I had an idea of playing the accordion . I picked up by just watching my dad what he played. I picked it up right away. My dad said I don’t think your instrument is the bajo sexto, I think your instrument is going to be the accordion. I could feel it right away. When I grabbed the first accordion, I felt that it was part of my life, the feel of it.
I wanted to be part of what dad did when he was really in demand. He would take me along. I would sit on the side while he was playing. In the intermissions, or whenever he wanted to take a break, I would sit in and play a few songs. I was seven years old. The crowd responded by giving me quarters or dimes or pennies!
Beside my dad another influence on me was Narciso Martinez and Pedro Ayala. And there was so many at that time that started recording at that time. I started getting ideas for my playing from those different styles. So I started making different phrases different from my dad and then I came out with my own style
My first title of my band was Los Caporales, it was just three guys. Henry Zimmerle, and Joe Ponce on tololoche (stand-up bass) and myself. So we became Los Caporales. At that time with Los Caporales we entered a contest with a radio station and there was twelve conjuntos. Who was going to be the best beginning conjunto group of San Antonio. We came in second! So from there on I decided to go beyond and practice.
My goal was to use the accordion but to add more versatility to the songs. I didn’t stick to the conjunto songs. I decided in my teens to listen to country music and then when rock and roll came in I said is there any way that I can blend in accordion into rock and roll? Yes, It can be done. Let me just start versitizing in country and rock and roll. That was during the fifties. I wanted to do something with different kinds of music but where I felt the accordion would fit in.
Nowadays the conjunto beat is slower. In my time it was faster, the beat was faster, more energetic, more punchy. It sounded more lively. When I do my sets, on my shows, I try to play from a country song to a rock and roll to a cumbia to a polka. It depends. And then I’ll go to the old style and do an old polka like Viva Seguín. I don’t stay in the same conjunto pattern. I respect Conjunto and know where it came from but still there needs to be versatility in conjunto and Tex-Mex. Like Los Lobos and many other groups that say let’s change things. And this makes it more interesting for the audience.
The CD, Squeezebox King, was the first CD that I put out on my own label, Fiesta Records out here in my studio. I decided I wanted to build my own studio which is not a big one but I feel comfortable in it. My house is right here.
So I decided to stay near home and record whatever I want instead of waiting for studio time. In my studio we do the whole thing here as far as recording. And mixing. Then for mastering I take it someplace else in Austin,. The whole thing is made here with the help of Max Baja because he isn’t just a bajo sexto player but he is a good engineer. It is teamwork. You can take all your time and do it right.
I am still recording and I am trying to still not the lose the feel or the energy or the love that I have for music. So I am not that young any more but still I have the feel and the energy to still perform. If I play in small halls or even in big festivals I know that it feels the same. I feel comfortable with a good conjunto. I fortunately still have an audiences that responds to what I do. Music is a thing that I will never give up.