SUNNYSIDE — What is Tejano music?
John Gonzalez says it’s a little bit of Mexican culture, a little bit of American country music and all about love.
“All of the songs are about love, they’re more mellow,” Gonzalez, 69, said. “I love playing it.”
The Sunnyside resident has played venues from Texas to Nebraska and California to Washington, and in January he will return to his native Lone Star State to be inducted into the Tejano Roots Music Hall of Fame.
The nomination process was fairly easy. A friend in Seattle who Gonzalez has played with for years put his name into the pot for consideration alongside dozens of other artists. But only 13 were chosen for the 2014 class, Gonzalez said.
Talent goes a long way in the selection, but so do things beyond playing music, such as community service. Gonzalez, who works for an energy assistance program overseen by the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, said his outreach performances at local schools and youth programs factored in to his selection.
“I love to take the music out to my community, to the young musicians, to encourage them and teach them to play,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez grew up in a family of migrant workers in Robstown, Texas, about 30 miles east of Alice, Texas, home of the Tejano Roots Music Hall of Fame. There he picked cotton with his siblings, who would eventually total 10.
Music was always a part of his family. His father could play the accordion and the trumpet, his mother was a singer, and most of his siblings knew at least one instrument.
“I guess it’s in the genes, as they say,” Gonzalez said.
They moved around the West picking cotton in Texas, apples in Washington, oranges in California and potatoes in Idaho. His parents settled in the Sunnyside area in the mid-1960s, said Gonzalez, who eventually moved to Los Angeles to work in the California State Employment Security Office.
But while the cash crops changed and his career moved forward, everywhere he went Gonzalez always played and wrote music.
“I never stopped,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez moved back to Sunnyside in the 1980s to be closer to his parents in their old age. He plays in several groups, most frequently in his band Los Emocionantes (The Emotionals), at weddings, quinceañeras, local festivals and even funerals.
“I try to pair myself with the proper music for whatever the occasion is,” he said.
His approach to the music is also sentimental. Gonzalez has played with the same Fender bass guitar since the 1970s, and plans to bring it along for the more than 2,000-mile journey to his induction ceremony in Texas the first week of January.
“It’s the workmanship on the older guitars,” Gonzalez said. “They’re sturdier, they’re stronger, they sound better.”
Gonzalez is one of two Washington residents who will be inducted into the hall of fame. Juan Barco, a resident of Brier known for his talent with a 12-string Mexican guitar known commonly as the bajo sexto, will also be making the trip.
“It’s a very humbling feeling,” Gonzalez said.