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Fender, Freddy (originally, Huerta, Baldemar)

Fender, Freddy (originally, Huerta, Baldemar), country- pop star of Hispanic heritage, b. San Benito, Tex., June 4, 1937. Baldemar Huerta’s family were migrant workers, picking crops from Tex. to Ind. Baldemar started playing the guitar early in childhood, learning Tejano wedding music by watching other musicians and learned the blues from the black migrant workers with whom he worked. By the age of ten, he was performing on the radio and winning talent shows. At 16, he left school and joined the Marines. After a three-year hitch, he started playing bars and honkytonks. Starting in 1956, he began recording both Tejano music and Spanish versions of American hits, including “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Jamaica Farewell.” These sides were popular with listeners in Tex. and Mexico.

In 1959, Huerta decided to make the move to the mainstream. He injected a bit more rockabilly into his sound and adopted the name Freddy Fender, taking his last name from the popular electric guitar maker. Fender signed to Imperial records, home of Fats Domino and other major late 1950s stars. His song, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” started to become a hit in some regions. However, before the song could catch fire, Fender was arrested for possession of two marijuana joints and sentenced to five years in La/s legendary Angola prison. He was paroled after serving three years of the sentence on the condition that he stay away from the “corruptive influence” of the music business.

Fender returned to Tex., took college courses toward a degree in sociology, and supported himself as an auto mechanic. After his probation was over, he started playing music in bars again. It wasn’t until 1974, over ten years after his release from Angola, that he recorded again. Legendary producer Huey Meaux who signed Fender to his own Crazy Cajun records revived his career. Meaux convinced Fender to channel his Tejano and rockabilly tendencies into a more country direction. Meaux produced a single of a Fender ballad, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Unable to license it, Meaux released it himself and it started to climb the charts until Dot records finally bought it. They took the record to the top of both the pop and country charts, and the single went gold. He re-recorded his 1950s song, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” and it also topped the country charts, rising to #8 and going gold. Those two hits were both on the Before the Next Teardrop Falls LP, which also went gold, rising to #20, Fender’s only Top 40 album.

He next cut a version of the old Doris Day #1 hit, “Secret Love” which Fender took to the top of the country charts and #20 on the pop charts. His last pop hit, “YouTl Lose a Good Thing,” reached #20 during the spring of 1976 and also topped the country charts. Fender followed that with a spate of country hits that lasted for the next seven years before his chart success began to ebb. Fortunately his face, etched with his years of tribulation, put him in demand as a character actor, most notably in the 1988 film The Milagro Beanfield War.

Fender’s music career revived in 1990 when he joined up with fellow Texans Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jimenez in a “supergroup” called the Texas Tornados. The band took a 1990 Grammy Award for Best Mexican American Performance. He alternated touring with the Tornados and as a solo act with a backup band that featured Meyers and Charlie Rich Jr. The Tornados did the song “A Little Is Better Than Nada” for the film Tin Cup.

When the Tornados broke up, after three albums, Fender went back to touring as a solo act. In 1998, he reunited with Jimenez and hooked up with Los Lobos member Rick Trevino in the group Los Super Seven. They took home another Grammy Award in 1999.

Discography

Are You Ready for Freddy? (1975); Since I Met You Baby (1975); Before the Next Teardrop Falls (1975); Rock ’ri Country (1976); If You’re Ever in Texas (1976); Swamp Gold (1978); Christmas Time in the Valley (1991); In Concert (live; 1995); Live at Gilley’s (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz

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Fender, Freddy (originally, Huerta, Baldemar)

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