The Legends: Freddy Fender
By the mid 1970s, Freddie Fender--born Baldemar Huerta--had become a darling of television variety shows after nearly two decades of battling discrimination and his own demons. Between 1974 and 1983 Freddie Fender had 21 songs on the Country music charts – many with Spanish lyrics. LATIN MUSIC USA airs Friday, April 28 at 9/8C on PBS (check local listings). Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
♪ If he brings you happiness
♪ Then I wish you all the best
♪ It's your happiness that matters most of all... ♪
SMITS: In country music, too, Chicanos were making an impact,
led by Freddy Fender, born Baldemar Huerta,
in a tiny Texas town near the Mexican border.
♪ I'll be there before the next teardrop falls... ♪
♪ Sí te quiere de verdad...
With two number-one songs in 1975,
the easy-going Fender had become
a darling of television variety shows,
after nearly two decades of battling discrimination
and his own demons.
Before Freddy Fender,
Mexican-Americans had been pretty much ignored
by national television.
FREDDY FENDER: It was 1959. I started recording.
I had a song going, but...
DINAH SHORE: Ah.
I got busted in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for smoking grass.
(audience cheers and applauds)
SHORE: And this time...
FENDER: And the song was... had just
gotten into the charts.
And I had just gotten into the prison.
SHORE: Into the clink, yeah.
FENDER: 'Cause the song...
I mean, they could not promote me.
SHORE: No. It's hard to...
It's hard to have you go out and talk to all the DJs.
Yeah. They gave me five years, anyway.
ROBERT MORSE: What?
FENDER: Five years. MORSE: Five years?
FENDER: For a handful.
And it was mostly seeds.
SHORE: That's Texas for you.
♪ Ai, nena, vamos a bailar
♪ Voy contigo para vacilar, hey... ♪
SMITS: Before being imprisoned at age 23,
as much for consorting with a married Anglo woman
as for possessing marijuana,
Baldemar Huerta had begun to make a name for himself
in south Texas,
recording Spanish versions of rock & roll hits.
TAMMY HUERTA: At a radio station,
they started calling him "El Bebop Kid"
because that's what he enjoyed, you know.
Uh, that's what he loved, was rock and roll.
That's-that's who he was, "El Bebop Kid."
♪ Di a tu mamá, tu papá
♪ Que no sabes cuando volveras, hey ♪
♪ Oh, yeah...
SMITS: Bent on reaching the English-language market,
El Bebop Kid used various names
before settling on Freddy Fender,
a name he appropriated from his guitar.
♪ Wasted days and wasted nights ♪
♪ I had wept for you because... ♪
SMITS: In 1959, Fender recorded a song in English
that he'd written about his own troubled love life.
TAMMY HUERTA: My mother tells me that he was at a club,
as he always was-- at the clubs, you know--
and I guess he was feeling blue and down again,
and he wrote that song in-in the toilet,
on some toilet paper, you know?
And he wanted to name it "Lonely Days and Lonely Nights,"
but, uh, a lot of songs were already, you know, titled that.
You know, so that's how
it came to be "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."
SMITS: That song would win Freddy Fender a Gold Record
years later when he re-recorded it with a new arrangement,
but at the time, he scrambled just to get it played
on local radio, and sang it night after night
in dingy dives around Texas and Louisiana.
The police, you know, would always have to come
almost every night-- you know, bar room fights--
and it was just wild and-and they just loved it, you know?
And-And, uh, and you know...
And my dad always said, uh,
if, uh, "If you didn't have a weapon,
they'd give you one at the front door."