5Q: Topeka Tejano

(from left to right): Roger Ortega (bass/vocals), Ray Ayala (trumpet/keys), Ray Ortega (guitar/lead vocals), Arthur Ortega (drums/vocals), Steve Ortega (trumpet/keys/guitar/vocals) and Tony Vargas (percussion/vocals).

Performing the music from their youth, Tejano band Paradize is celebrating 35 years of music-making this year.

Growing up in the Oakland neighborhood, with a career older than most of the upstarts usually featured in the pages of seveneightfive, the members of Paradize can keep you entertained for hours with stories from the road. Featuring vocational highlights (and lowlights) that include performing at the Surf Ballroom (the last venue Richie Valens played before his death), to watching their tour van go up in flames on the way home from a gig, these guerreros de camino just may be one of the last practitioners of the unique and wonderful style of Mexican music known as Tejano.

Join me as the six members of Paradize share a snap shot view of the last three decades in the life of Topeka’s own venda del Tejano. And so it begins.

What bands or musicians have influenced you?
Roger Ortega (bass/vocals): I would say Little Joe y La Familia. He’s the guy who started it all. He’s like the godfather of Tejano music.
Ray Ortega (guitar/lead vocals): The four brothers Arthur, Roger, Steve and myself, we all grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, so we incorporate a lot of Motown and a lot of rock music . . .but Roger is right, Little Joe is the first one who brought Tejano music to the forefront, with horns and keyboards and drums and percussion. Prior to that, it wasn’t that advanced. That’s where we picked it up.
Ray Ayala (trumpet/keys): For me, Little Joe definitely, but Maynard Ferguson was a big influence.

You recently released your new CD, Past Due. How is that being received?

Steve Ortega (trumpet/keys/guitar/vocals): We almost sold out of our first batch (375) and that was really by word of mouth . . . and we have 10 or 11 left.
Roger: They have a top ten on Picante radio stations and we were number five on the top ten, which is fantastic.
Arthur Ortega (drums/vocals): Some of the people down in Lubbock TX; they couldn’t believe it was a band out of Kansas, everybody thought it was a band out of Texas, ‘cause that’s the kind of music that grows down there.

What are some of American bands that you cover?

All: Garth Brooks, Kool and the Gang, Earth Wind and Fire, Bryan Adams, Loverboy, Blues Brothers.
Roger: I think that the big diversity is we’ve been together for so long, and we first started playing for weddings. It was more Mexican weddings, and we played Mexican music. As time went on, interracial marriages made us change our style. If a girl is marrying a white guy and he likes country, of course we provide country. DJs weren’t big back then, so we had to learn country.

Are there any performances that particularly stand out in your memory?

Arthur: We played the Wichita Cotillion, we were outside, in the stadium, and we played for about 5000 people.
Roger: Even here in Topeka, I think we’re the only Mexican band in Kansas that’s ever played at Landon Arena . . . we played for a wedding there.

Do you see any younger players coming up to replace you in this type of music?

Roger: We were the ones to carry on the tradition when they left . . . but we’re at an age and there’s nobody left.
Tony Vargas (percussionist/vocals): Kids growing up today, they got the interest in it, then all of a sudden, when they hear the new style of music, that catches their ears and they just lose interest in it.
Arthur: Our dad had a group when we were little. He would come home and had some guys from Fort Riley that he knew. They’d come down to the house, and my dad would wake us up like at 10 or 11 o’ clock. And we were kids and we’d have our equipment set up downstairs, he’d wake us up, come on I want these guys to hear you play. And we actually started playing in bars with my dad when we’re like thirteen, fourteen.
Steve: Our dad was a big influence on us four brothers, he’s the one that got us all started when we were young.
Arthur: Whether we wanted to or not, through osmosis, we just absorbed it.

[published June 1, 2011 | Robin Cremer | photos by Lydia Barnhart]

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