Flaco Jiménez - Biography

Five-time Grammy winner Flaco Jimenéz is the best known Norteño musician in the world. Almost single handedly, he took an obscure style of regional music from the Tex-Mex border and made it a part of the international world music scene. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he’s played every variation of American roots music imaginable: Norteño/Tejano, blues, rock, Hawaiian, folk, conjunto, and country.

Leonardo Jimenéz (his nickname Flaco is Spanish for “skinny”) was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1939, the son of famous conjunto accordion player Santiago Jimenéz, Sr. Jimenéz, Sr. had many regional Texas hits with his own conjunto in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and was famous for playing the two-row button accordion even after the keyboard accordion had come into fashion. Flaco started on the accordion early and by age seven was part of his father’s band. At 15, he started Los Caporales and developed his own unique accordion style. When he was 16, he joined Los Caminantes and made his first recordings for the Rio label. Thirty of these recordings are collected on Flaco’s First (Arhoolie), released in 1988. Early sides for the DBL label were collected on Arriba El Norte (Rounder) in 1988 and San Antonio Soul (Rounder) in 1991.

In the ‘60s, Jimenéz became a founding member of The Sir Douglas Quintet, although he never recorded with them. Jimenéz spent most of the ‘70s playing in conjunto bands, but that changed when Doug Sahm asked him to take part in the sessions for his solo albums Doug Sahm and Band (Atlantic) and Texas Tornado (Atlantic), both released in 1973. Jimenéz met Bob Dylan and Dr. John and played in their bands briefly as well, getting attention from rock audiences. Ry Cooder made Flaco one of the studio players on his 1978 groundbreaking album Chicken Skin Music (Warner), which also introduced Hawaiian guitarist Gabby Pahinui to the world. The resulting mainstream recognition sent Jimenéz into overdrive. Arhoolie began releasing Flaco’s own music with 1978’s Flaco Jimenéz & His Conjunto (Arhoolie) and 1980’s El Sonido De San Antonio (Arhoolie), which won a Best Mexican Song Grammy for the track “Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio” (a remake his father’s hit).

After releasing Flaco's Amigos (Arhoolie) in 1988, Dwight Yoakam tapped Jimenéz to play accordion on his Buck Owens duet “Streets of Bakersfield.” The song was a hit and Jimenéz toured with Yoakam for the next year. That same year, Jimenéz, Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, and Augie Meyers created the Tejano supergroup The Texas Tornados. Their 1990 debut, The Texas Tornados (Reprise), went gold and the song “Soy de San Luis ” — a Flaco original — won a Best Mexican-American Performance Grammy. He cut three more albums with the band — 1991’s Zone of Our Own (Reprise), 1992’s Hangin’ on by a Thread (Reprise), and 1996’s 4 Aces  (Reprise) — before they called it quits.

Flaco also made a few great solo albums during the 1990s, including Partners (1992 Warner) with Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris; the Grammy-winning Flaco Jimenéz (1994 Arista) with Raul Malo; and Buena Suerte Senorita (1996 Arista). In 1994, Flaco joined the Rolling Stones in the studio for Voodoo Lounge and added his accordion to The Mavericks’ Music for All Occasions (1995 MCA) the following year. On his own, he cut Tex-Mex Party (Easydisc) in 1997 and the countrified Said and Done (Virgin) in 1998.

Also in 1998, Flaco joined up with supergroup Los Super Seven with Los Lobos, Joe Ely, Freddy Fender, Susana Baca, Caetano Veloso, and other Latin stars. Los Super Seven (1998 Columbia) went gold. In 2003, Flaco released another country outing, Sleepytown (Back Porch), recorded with Dwight Yoakam, Doug Sahm, and Buck Owens. On 2003’s Squeeze Box King (Compadre), Jimenéz returns to his roots with a collection of traditionally played polkas, boleros, and rancheras. Dos Amigos (Back Porch), released in 2005, is a duet album with Freddy Fender and concentrates on Mexican hits of the past. It was the last project Fender completed before he died.

In 2008, Flaco released He'll Have to Go (Phantom UK), which blends country and Norteño tunes, and shows Jimenéz in good voice as he neared his 70th birthday.

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