Tony De La Rosa

Accordionist who brought 'Tex-Mex' music into the modern era

Tony De La Rosa was a major innovator in the field of conjunto music. A dynamic accordionist known as "
El Conde" ("The Count"), he revolutionised the music of the Texas-Mexico borderlands by introducing electric amplification to a previously acoustic dance form and, in doing so, ushered in a modern era for "Tex-Mex" that saw it gain international popularity.

Antonio De La Rosa, accordionist and bandleader: born Sarita, Texas 31 October 1931; married (three sons, one daughter); died Corpus Christi, Texas 2 June 2004.

Tony De La Rosa was a major innovator in the field of conjunto music. A dynamic accordionist known as " El Conde" ("The Count"), he revolutionised the music of the Texas-Mexico borderlands by introducing electric amplification to a previously acoustic dance form and, in doing so, ushered in a modern era for "Tex-Mex" that saw it gain international popularity.

He was born, one of 12 children, in the small town of Sarita, Texas, and his earliest memories of music were of his mother playing the harmonica on the family's front porch. Inspired by the accordionist Narciso Martinez, at the age of nine he acquired his first accordion, a $9 one-row model purchased from a Sears catalogue. He remembered:

I would sit on the porch making everyone mad, learning to play "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and "Old McDonald Had a Farm". I would

play around the rancho for little gatherings, little birthday parties on patios, anywhere there was shade. I made my début at a dance hall in Riviera. Then I played for dances and weddings around south Texas.

Many of his earliest professional performances were as a member of a country band, but he turned increasingly to the music of the Hispanic community and, buoyed by his success, began to develop a unique sound that highlighted his staccato-like playing. He also introduced a new dance craze to conjunto music, the still popular tacuachito or "possum", with its fluid gliding movements.

In the mid-Fifties, De La Rosa added drums and the electric bajo sexto (12-string bass) to his band, later augmenting his line-up with a pair of saxophones. Although some purists were horrified, De La Rosa's innovations enabled conjunto outfits to play in larger venues and rapidly caught on. Many of his most characteristic numbers date from this era, including " El Circo" ("The Circus") - an adaptation of Red Foley's classic country hit "Alabama Jubilee" - " El Sube y Baja" ("The Ups and Downs"), " La Periodista" ("The Journalist"), " Los Frijoles Bailan" ("The Dancing Beans") and the classic " Atotonilco".

He often worked alongside other major names in the genre including Carmen and Laura Marroquin and the charismatic Isidro Lopez, and featured a string of lead singers including Joe Ramos, Cha Cha Jimenez and his own brother, Adan De La Rosa.

Tony De La Rosa made his first recordings, the polkas "Sarita" and " Tres Ríos" ("Three Rivers"), in 1949. Over the decades that followed he cut scores of sides for regional labels, many of them later resurfacing on a series of Arhoolie conjunto compilations. In the 1990s he recorded a pair of acclaimed albums for Rounder: Así Se Baila en Tejas ("This is the Way They Dance in Texas", 1991) and Es Mi Derecho ("It's My Right", 1995), and in 2001 released a final disc, Mi Ultimo Beso ("My Last Kiss").

In 1982, De La Rosa was inducted into the Tejano Conjunto Hall of Fame and six years later received a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He remained modest about his achievements: "I don't know anything about music. I don't know one note from the other. I was completely self-taught."

Paul Wadey

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