Tony “Ham” Guerrero and son (standing), Alfredo Guerrero. (Photo/Ben Skylar)

[VIDEO] Texas band, Tortilla Factory, modernizes Tejano music

Alfredo Guerrero might be a Tejano born and raised in San Angelo, Texas, but he says you will never find him wearing a cowboy hat. He has an eclectic sense of style, which flows from his wardrobe to his music.

When his father, Tony “Ham” Guerrero, the trumpet player and founder of Tejano band Tortilla Factory, passed away in January of 2011 from diabetes, Alfredo inherited the leadership role of the Grammy nominated group.

“I don’t know how my dad did this for 38 years,” says Guerrero, 41. “I watched him, and I learned — it’s a lot of work.”

He says as Tortilla Factory celebrates its 40th anniversary, he’s busy finishing up the anniversary album set to release mid-May, which will include some of his father’s hits, as well as new sounds of hip-hop, rap, and dance club music.

Being wide-ranging is pretty much a gene Guerrero got from his father.

“He used to put me to bed in my crib to the sounds of John Coltrane,” says Guerrero, who also remembers admiring his dad with his brother while he was performing trumpet on stage. “We would look and say, ‘We have a pretty cool dad.’”

When Guerrero was 10, he says his father recorded the mariachi song “La Malagueña” that he turned into a Latin rock tune.

“I remember crying,” he says, calling the song an “explosion” of emotions.

Although San Angelo, Texas is also the home to Los Lonely Boys, Guerrero says his father — a graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston — was the first to put the small town on the map.

“My father didn’t want me to be a musician, because it was a hard life,” says Guerrero, who originally pursued professional soccer. “I started following him and watching him. I was astonished, because he was an amazing musician and bandleader.”

One of the innovative things that his father did was, he says, hire Bobby “El Charro Negro” Butler, an African-American who used to pick cotton in Arkansas, to sing in the band.

“He learned how to sing Spanish and started singing Tejano music,” says Guerrero. “People would go bananas to see him.”

Now 75 years old, Guerrero is making sure “El Charro Negro” is on the new album.

“He says, ‘I’m a chick magnet boy!’” says Guerrero laughing. “I’m featuring him. I’m putting a couple of my pop’s tunes.”

Just like my father was changing things up in the 70’s, now I’m doing the same thing my dad did. It all stems from my father. He taught me. Tejano is in our roots, but at the end of the day, my father’s vision was world wide.”

Based in Austin since he was 14, Guerrero is now collaborating with rapper Paul Wall, who he calls Texas’ version of Eminem.

“He’s been a catalyst for me to work with the big names in the pop world, and he’s featured in the dance song I just realized called, ‘Com’on,’ says Guerrero. “We’re about to do a song with Chuck D from Public Enemy — Chuck D with a Tejano group!”

Guerrero says he’s branching out, just like his dad did. He says his dad didn’t look the traditional Tejano role either.

“My dad and his band looked like hippies, they were like Santana,” says Guerrero. “They got their name because they were rehearsing next to a tortilla factory one day.”

Tortilla Factory band  in the 1970's. (Courtesy Tortilla Factory)

Tortilla Factory band in the 1970’s. (Courtesy Tortilla Factory)

Guerrero says he really loves salsa and R&B, and anything that’s musically hip.

“What my dad did was use his influence of Big Band and Quincy Jones and put those riffs in Tejano music,” he says. “What I’m doing is what he did — use the best musicians in the world to maintain Tortilla Factory’s standards musically that my father set since day one.”

His father would tell him, “Mijo, if you’re going to be a vocalist and a bandleader, you have to learn to master every genre of music, because you’re not going to be a real musician, and you’re not going to survive,” so he says he practiced his vocals 10 hours a day until he got it down.

“Today, Tortilla Factory can go to New York and play in a salsa festival with Marc Anthony, and it can go to Los Angeles and go to an R&B/hip hop gig, or a Tejano festival in San Antonio,” says Guerrero. “Some of the old schoolers are saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ and I politely respond that nothing’s changed here. I’m doing the modern thing, but I still have El Charro Negro…”

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