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Tex-Mex Singer Freddy Fender


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Tex-Mex Singer Freddy Fender

By Valerie J. Nelson

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Tex-Mex Singer Freddy Fender

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas -- Freddy Fender, a Grammy-winning musician who was one of the first Mexican American artists to successfully cross over to the mainstream pop market and who helped introduce Tex-Mex music to a wider audience in the 1990s, died Saturday, October 14, from lung cancer at his longtime home in Corpus Christi, Texas, a family spokesman said. He was 69.

Fender, who had been fighting lung cancer since early this year, was open about his battles with drug and alcohol abuse, Fender also had struggled with diabetes and hepatitis C. He had a kidney transplant in 2002 using an organ donated by a 21-year-old daughter. Two years later, he got a liver transplant.

"I feel very comfortable in my life. I'm one year away from 70 and I've had a good run," Fender told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in August after his cancer was diagnosed as incurable. His life as a performer could be viewed as three distinct acts and included an interlude in prison.

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Freddy Fender

He began as a 1950s balladeer who performed rock covers in Spanish as 'El Be-Bop Kid,' then came back in 1975 as a country act with the chart-topping hit, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." In the 1990s, he earned high praise as a member of the Texas Tornados, a Tex-Mex group of all-stars.

"Texas has been blessed with a handful of singular voices that define the sound of our state and the pinnacle of artistic expression," Casey Monahan, director of the Texas Music Office in Austin and a former music critic, told the Dallas Morning News in 1997.

In 2001, Fender received a Grammy Award for best Latin pop album for "La Musica de Baldemar Huerta." He also shared two other Grammys for best Mexican American performance in 1990 with the Texas Tornados and in 1998 with another group of Latin all-stars, Los Super Seven.

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Freddy Fender

With his pompadour haircut and Spanish-language cover of "Don't Be Cruel" ("No Seas Cruel") and other songs, Fender was considered the "Elvis of the Rio Grande." In a 2002 Sacramento Bee interview, Fender said, "I was the first to take Hispanic rock 'n' roll south of the border. I demand recognition for being the one that broke it in."

The curtain fell hard on Fender's early career when he was arrested in 1960 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for possession of a small amount of marijuana. He spent almost three years in the Louisiana state prison at Angola.

"I'm not bitter, but if friends ask, I still say the three years I had to spend in Angola state prison was a long time for a little mistake," he told the Associated Press in 1975. After his release, Fender spent several years living in San Benito, Texas, and playing gigs on weekends. He worked as an auto mechanic and studied sociology at a community college.

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Freddy Fender

He found fame on the national stage in the mid-1970s when record producer Huey Meaux persuaded Fender to bring his soulful tenor to country music. Recorded for a regional label in Texas, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" became the nation's No. 1 pop and country hit in April 1975. The mellow song included a verse in Spanish.

Later that year, Fender recorded a version of the Doris Day hit, "Secret Love," which reached No. 20 on the charts, and remade his late 1950s recording, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," which climbed to No. 8. Other pop and country hits followed.

The late 1970s were the "best years of my life" artistically, Fender told The Times in 1992, but drugs and alcohol had taken a toll by the mid-1980s. "Even well into my career, my thing was always music and a good time . . . Any problem I had, I would drink it away. I would cocaine it away," Fender told the Morning News.

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Freddy Fender

His wife and friends persuaded him to seek treatment, and he spent time in a drug rehabilitation center in 1985. After he emerged, his career took a mild Hollywood turn. Robert Redford called to ask him to appear as the mayor in the 1998 film, "The Milagro Beanfield War." Fender also acted in several other movies.

In 1989, Fender was "playing bookings for peanuts" when he was asked to team with three other elder statesmen of the Tex-Mex sound

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