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Little Joe Birthday Celebration invites Central Texas community to honor Tejano legend

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Posted at 4:46 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 14:58:43-04

One of the biggest stars in music is having a birthday party right here in Central Texas and guess what? You're invited!

The lineup is set for the "Little Joe Birthday Celebration" and the gates open at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16 in Temple.

Little Joe Hernandez "King" brought us the music we call Tejano, but he also brought us a lot of artists the world may never have heard of because not only did he stay busy on stage, he also stayed busy promoting Tejano music behind the scenes.

Looking back Little Joe said he always had an inclination that his audience and market were going to grow, so he gave it the attention it deserved.

"I knew of a lot of great decisions that weren't recording because major labels weren't paying attention," said Little Joe. "There weren't any reporting companies for us. I knew the audience I was already drawing that there was a market out there that needed to be exposed."

The Tejano legend said he started his first record label in 1968.

"...I wanted to record the artists that I knew, kinda like ... Motown," said Little Joe.

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His birthday party will feature a Bobby Pulido outdoor concert and street dance, five live bands, food vendors, arts and crafts, and more.

Some of the groups paying tribute to Little Joe include Tyler Bigley and the Copano Cowboys, "El Chavalon" Eric Flores, "La Voz De Oro” David Marez, and Bobby Pulido.

As his thank you to Central Texas for many years of loyal support, Little Joe himself will take the stage with La Familia and Los Hermanos Hernandez.

Due to Little Joe's friendship with a universe of celebrities, you never know who may show up for the birthday bash.

The site is located at the big parking lot right behind city hall, at the intersection of Central Ave. and Main St.

Tickets are available online for just $20, and kids under 12 are free.

In the world music business, there are few names more important than Joe Hernandez... a friendly, unassuming man from Temple.

Maybe you know him better as "Little Joe" who along with "La Familia" keeps introducing new fans to new mixes of music.

He's a neighbor perhaps known better around the world, than in his own backyard.

From his early days... to now, the important thing to "Little" Joe Hernandez... Family.

It's where he says, his music career really began.

"All the family on my dad's side were musicians. And I guess it just rubbed off because all my brothers, sang and recorded at one time or another." he explained.

It led to the brothers and a few friends banding together to play for grateful audiences of mostly Texas farm workers more than 50 years ago.

Its a story Joe tells in the the book "No Llore, Chingón" released in May of last year.

This international singing star came up in an era that produced groundbreaking artists like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

In those days, musicians had day jobs. Elvis drove a delivery truck, Cash sold appliances. But little Joe chose some of the hardest labor around... picking cotton, for a penny a pound.

"I'm a cotton picker and, and I do music on the side.," said Joe.

The cotton fields and his family had a powerful pull for young Joe, who once in the late 1950's, traded music for the fields.

"And we actually booked a show in La Mesa where my parents were working, so I played the weekend and I told the guys I'm gonna stay here with my family, and do the field work," Joe said.

It made him appreciate the labor and especially the people.

It led him to support Farm Labor Activist Cesar Chavez and several political candidates and causes.... putting people first.

"I got to where I am, standing on other people's shoulders, I am proud of where I come from, I'm lucky in this way, it keeps me grounded. And I appreciate everything and everyone. I love people. I really do love people."

Joe got his first guitar, a gift from local plumber Tony Sujniga Senior, a Gibson "Les Paul".

And you can sometimes hear the reflection of the people of Temple, Texas in Joe's distinctive sound.

" I came from the bottom. I was born in a three walled garage and raised here in temple."

He discovered "Western" music when he saw Roy Rogers and the Sons of Pioneers sing "En El Rancho Grande" on TV.

He realized the weaving of different styles of Norteño, blues, rock, and even country had an appeal... an appeal that became the trademark of Little Joe and La Familia.

It also marked the begining of what we now call "Tejano music"

"Get some of that Tex-Mex guitar, Tom," Hernandez said during a recent political fundraising concert held online.

It earned him the title of "king of the Brown Sound"... putting him in a league with "The King of Rock and Roll" .
But in his book, you learn Little Joe's influence came from a much wider stage.

It tells the story of a man that has brought different types of musical styles to new audiences throughout his career, it sounds very much like the kind of musical groundbreaking Elvis Presley did when he brought the music of African-Americans to a mass audience. Would that make Joe Hernandez the "Mexican Elvis"?

"I've been called worse." he said.

"But yeah little Joe... the Elvis Mexican Elvis, Willie Nelson the Mexican Little Joe and you get a little James Brown in there through the years... It's an honor. It's an honor, you know." said Joe.

Fans say, Little Joe and La Familia may have brought many more types of music to much wider world audiences than any other artist.

"Mexican Elvis" or not, Little joe says, getting to the top of the the music business across the globe didn't always come easy.

"I get credited with being a great talent but I'm gonna fake it till I make it." he joked.

You'll find the global headquarters for La Familia Enterprises, one of the hottest music groups in the world, sitting across the street from this a field.

After a childhood picking cotton, "Little" Joe Hernandez became huge across the world with a sound he describes as "personal", but that sound struck a chord with people from all corners and all walks of life.

"I wanted to do the music the way I do, I do things my way because that's the way they work for me. I'm not good enough to copy to emulate anyone. I wanted to be a jazz guitarist. And when I figured it out that I was not going to be able to even keep up with my own band, I just fired me and hired a guitar player," he explained.

His first payday...5 bucks for a guitar playing gig in Cameron, a gig that practically scared Joe to death, until a troubling twist of fate pushed joe to double down.

"I'm a shy person. It was so difficult for me to get in front of them, even to just to play I wasn't singing. When I had to start singing.I sometimes, threw up before I made it on stage. I had to overcome it. It was a necessity," said Joe.

"I always claim I didn't start till like 1960 When I recorded under the name Little Joe and the Latinaires, then my dad went to prison in 1955 (on a marajuana possession charge). I was 15. This really started my career actually... a necessity, in order to feed the family," he said.

But record companies said they had no market for a Latin singer, even if he did sing in Spanish AND English.

It set Joe on a path very different from his contemporaries like Cash and Presley...

Out of necessity... Joe started calling his OWN shots.

"There weren't any recording companies for us.I started my record label my first record label in 1968, because I wanted to record the artists that I knew, kinda like but Motown," he explained.

He called the company "Buena Suerte"... Good luck.

The independence, forced on Joe, by necessity, sent shock waves through the Capitol Records building, when, in 1968, the company offered him a recording contract.

"...and I started reading the first paragraph, I understood they own everything... I said 'no thank you'. The record executive freaked out, this is Capitol Records you know... Hollywood. But I wanted to produce the music I want to produce, because this is MY people's music," said Joe.

Little Joe already knew what the record company suspected... Joe had some of the most devoted fans in the music business... and their numbers grew bigger with every song...Including one.. an early music video dedicated to his father.

Without the help of Capitol Records, he rose to fame on his own.

"I did, I had to, because no one was doing what I wanted done. And so I had to write the music, rehearse it record it distribute it. , we'd sell records from the trunk of the car And the final thing that was the hardest... getting paid for it. Yeah," he recalled.

Eventually the business started to catch up with Joe... he got offers to sing duets with his neighbor from Hill County, Willie Nelson... a the recording academy awarded him Grammys... kept in a room not every visitor gets to see... at the root of it all, the fans who learned to love the many styles of music Joe weaves into his songs.

"I love people. I really do love people. Signing autographs, i sometimes carry on three conversations at a time. ." Oh yeah, I totally remember 1972 You came to my house and we made something for you.". And what's amazing. Sometimes I remember," said the 80-year-old.

Temple remembered Joe with a street named for him. Even though Little Joe Hernandez is a man known around the world, he's still a little uncomfortable as a "celebrity" in his hometown.

He says that separation, keeping Temple, Texas as his "safe haven" helps keep this giant of the music business grounded and "real".

"People are more important than my career, than my music, causes are more important than me and my music," said the man who marched along Rory Kennedy in support of underpaid farm workers, who helped Cesar Chavez raise money to help them, and who today, helps political causes he believes in.

He tells the stories of many of those people through his music...music, which out of necessity... he writes HIS way. He understands his audience because he WAS dirt poor... he DID pick cotton as a farm worker. He wrote his OWN story from the beginning until now.

When that fact came up in conversation, Little Joe stopped to think.

"I hadn't really realized what You're saying. I wrote my story.... I mean... really... but I've tried forever, to do the right thing," said Joe.

He paused, and then added, "Music is magic. And it's not the language it's the soul." he said, "A soul which connects us all".