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Interview with: Monico Garcia
Interviewed by: Thomas Kreneck
Date: November 23, 1982
Archive Number: OH 364
TK: 00:02 November 23, 1982, interview with Mr. Monico Garcia of 615 Embry, Houston, Texas. When did you first come to Houston, Mr. Garcia?
MG: I came to Houston in 1934.
TK: Where were you from?
MG: I was from Gregory, Texas. I came to Rosenberg in 1922. Then I stayed at Rosenberg. I got to Rosenberg when I was 16 years old or something like that—17 or something. When I got married in 1926, that’s when I started to play music. So I was playing music and then so-and-so. So in 1934 when they opened all the beer joints, I came to Houston in 1934 because I already had a little music experience. So that was me and my brother. We came to Houston in 1934.
TK: What was your brother’s name?
MG: Manuel Garcia.
TK: Manuel Garcia?
MG: Yeah, that’s right.
TK: Why had y’all gone to Rosenberg? Why did y’all first go to Rosenberg from Gregory?
MG: We came to Rosenberg to pick cotton from Gregory, Texas, from Corpus Christi. We came to Rosenberg to pick cotton. Then we stayed there, and then my daddy went into a farm. We were farming cotton.
TK: There in Rosenberg?
MG: In Rosenberg. That was 1922. So we stayed at Rosenberg, so it was 1922, ’23, ’24, ’25, ’26. That’s when I got married with my wife in 1926. I was 21 years old.
TK: Did you meet her there in Rosenberg?
MG: 02:28 Yeah, in Rosenberg. She’s from Rosenberg.
TK: Were there a lot of Mexican American people there in Rosenberg at that time?
MG: Yeah, yeah.
TK: I noticed this one picture that you have of the band. Who did you get together with to get into that band?
MG: You mean—?
TK: This one right here.
MG: I’ll tell you what. This fellow here, his name is Pedro Flores. He was from Monterrey. He was a professor, and then he organized this band here.
TK: There were six of y’all in the band.
MG: Yeah, six. This is my brother-in-law.
TK: What was his name?
MG: His name is Fidel Ramirez. And this one here, the professor was Pedro Flores. This was Mendes—I don’t remember the name. This one here was Lupe Enejosa.
TK: Where was he from?
MG: He played the bass.
TK: Yeah, the tuba.
MG: Yeah, tuba. That’s when we started. Now we’ve got another one—
TK: Who was this guitar player here?
MG: That’s our guitar player. That’s a brother to Mendes here.
TK: It was his brother.
MG: Yeah, or cousin—something like that.
TK: 03:57 And you played drums.
MG: Yeah, I played the drums.
TK: Why did you take up drumming? Why did you pick up the drums?
MG: The reason I picked up the drums, see, my daddy bought me a clarinet. My daddy was a musician. He was a violin player. He used to play lots of places. He played violin, flute, and bass and the guitar.
TK: Where did he learn to play? Did he just start on his own?
MG: He just learned. I’ll tell you why, why did he learn. It was in Corpus Christi and there was a man called Morlaco. He used to play that violin out of this world. And one time he was playing the violin and then rich men come in there and they heard him playing the violin, and you know what he done? He went out there and got his violin. He had a violin made out of a cigar box. My daddy was a little kid, a little boy, when that happened. He went out there, and they said, “You play a beautiful violin.” He got that box and broke it right there. They said, “You come tomorrow with me and go to the music house and pick up the best violin that’s in the music house.” He used to play “Mockingbird,” just like that, and they said, “You are good.” And the next day he got a brand new violin. That’s why my daddy started to play the violin, see?
TK: That was your daddy that—
MG: That was my daddy, yeah. All that commotion was going on on account of the violin. My grandfather had a brother in Spain because my grandfather was Spanish, born in Madrid, Spain. And then he had a brother with the name Federico Garcia who was the first violin in the symphony in Spain. So he came to Mexico. When he came to Mexico, then he came over and he was coming to the United States. In Montemorelos, Mexico, he found a little Indian girl, which was my grandmother, and he got married. So when he came to Brownsville, Texas, and then he won a maritime commission and he was a captain of the boat going on the river, going from Veracruz to El Paso or to Piedras Negras. So anyway, he got that job. Then he said, “Well, I’m going to move to the United States.” So he moved to Brownsville, Texas. That’s where my daddy was born, and that’s the first son. That’s why my daddy was an American citizen, because he was born in Brownsville, Texas.
TK: In Brownsville.
MG: 07:58 Yeah, that’s right. So he went there and talked to the symphony orchestra and told them he had a brother that was a first violin in Spain. They said, “Well, bring him in.” So Federico Garcia was a first violin in Brownsville, Texas. This was many years ago.
TK: Back in the 1800s.
MG: Yeah. That’s why we started the music, see? Right there, see? There’s music in the family. So right now I’ve got all my brothers that are musicians. I’ve got a trumpet player, sax player, piano player, drums—everything we’ve got in our family right now. Of course, that came from Federico Garcia from Spain.
TK: When were you born, Mr. Garcia?
MG: I was born in Gregory, Texas.
MG: 1905, the 4th of May. And then we started all the music.
TK: So it was just natural for you to pick up the drums, to be a musician?
MG: I just picked the drums because my daddy wanted me to be like Federico Garcia. He thought a professor and reading music and so-and-so. I never could make it on the violin, so he bought me a clarinet. I couldn’t make it with clarinet, so he bought me a guitar. On the guitar, I was making so-and-so. But in those days we used to have on the 24th of June, that’s San Juan, St. John. And I said, “I want to go out there and give a little party.” We were going to have a little party, so we wanted to go out there and play. So I said, “All right.” He said, “Will you take the guitar?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll take the guitar.” So at 4:00 in the morning we have to go in the window and play, (singing voice) da, da, da, da, da, da, de, da, de, da, de. So finally, I went and stood right there on the concrete. They got ants, those red ants. I went and stood on top of that damn thing. I was playing the guitar. So after a while I see the ants were coming over. I had to go out there and take my clothes and take everything off. The next day I smelled like hell because the ants got me. I told daddy, I said, “I don’t want that damn guitar anymore!” I threw that guitar away. (laughs)
TK: So then you took up the drums?
MG: 11:14 There was a Bohemian fellow who had an orchestra in Rosenberg. He said, “Why don’t you take drums? I’ve got old drums. I’ll sell it to you.” He sold the drums for $5—the snare drum, the sock cymbal and the pedal. I said, “Well, let me have it.” So I started to play. And then when I started to play, I went to all these dances and so-and-so. So in 1934 I moved to Houston. I used to play there on Congress Avenue for 50 cents a night on Congress. Then from Congress we moved to Chartres and Congress. That’s where the Atlantic Café used to be.
TK: Let me interrupt here, Mr. Garcia. This band here, where did y’all play?
MG: We used to play in Rosenberg.
TK: Was it a hall?
MG: No, dancing.
MG: Yeah. That’s all. That’s where we played, just dancing, see? We didn’t go in the nightclubs or nothing like that.
TK: That was the one. How long did y’all play? From 1926? For how long did y’all play?
MG: I played for them about 1926, ’27, ’28. I think I played with them for about five years. Then I moved to Houston. That’s when they opened all those beer joints here in Houston.
TK: What was the name of that group? Did it have a name?
MG: This one here?
TK: Yes, sir.
MG: You know what? (chuckles) Let me tell you what you—
TK: That one right there.
MG: No, no. His name is Luis Davila. He’s a Davila from Rosenberg. He said, “Well, what are we going to do with this?” He said, “You know what? We’re Bacon Orchestra.” You know bacon?
TK: Like bacon?
MG: 13:32 B-A-C-O-N?
TK: Yes, sir.
MG: Everybody liked bacon. We didn’t have too much, but if anybody called and said, “Come here,” we played free.
TK: Sure. Y’all didn’t get paid?
MG: Yeah. We just wanted to play. That’s all we wanted.
TK: Were you working at that particular time too?
MG: Oh, yeah. I was working in Rosenberg at a store.
TK: At a store?
MG: Yeah. I worked for them ten years.
TK: Were most of the other guys working too?
MG: Oh, yeah. Everybody was working at so-and-so.
TK: But y’all played for dances there in Rosenberg?
MG: Yeah, yeah. We played on the 15th, 16th of September, the Fiestas Patrias. We used to play at that.
TK: What kind of music did you play?
MG: We used to play mostly flamencos because they didn’t have no polkas.
TK: (laughs) They didn’t?
MG: No, no polkas. Flamencos. We used to play waltzes, we used to play “Cielito Lindo,” “La Paloma” and so-and-so and so-and-so. Then when I came here to Houston, then we used to buy music because he read music.
TK: 15:13 Your brother.
MG: Yeah, my brother. And we would buy the piano music, and then he would make it for clarinet or trumpet or whatever you have, for piano player. That one there, see? That’s when I came to Houston. We used to play “Zacatecas March” and “Cielito Lindo,” and “La Paloma” and so on. That’s what we used to play. We didn’t have too much Mexican music to play for all we’d play, and we’d play American music.
TK: Y’all played American music there in Rosenberg too?
MG: Yeah, American music. We used to play American music and Mexican, the same things. That was in Rosenberg. Then when I came here to Houston, then we used to read music and—
TK: Where did you live when you first came to Houston?
MG: I lived in Rosenberg.
TK: No, but I mean when you moved here into Houston, what was your address?
MG: Oh, my address was there on 2024 Courtney, way back there by Liberty Road. And there was water. It was hell. I didn’t like the place, but the only thing was I liked it because I bought that house for $500.
TK: You bought your house.
TK: Why did you come to Houston?
MG: The reason I came to Houston was because there was no life in Rosenberg. It was during the Depression. It started in 1930 and so-and so. The Depression started, so I said, “Well, let’s go to Houston.” When I came to Houston, they used to give us a grocery receipt. That’s when I was on the bread line. That’s when they started and opened all those beer joints. So I used to go out there. That’s why I came to Houston, see? They gave us food: eggs and milk and so-and-so, and we used to go and get our groceries every Tuesday of every week. That’s why I came to Houston, because in Rosenberg there was nothing like that. Then they started opening all those beer joints and then we started to play. I used to play in the Atlantic Café on Congress and Chartres.
TK: 18:27 Was that the first place you played here?
TK: The Atlantic Café?
MG: Yeah, Atlantic Café, for 80 cents a night—that’s from 8:00 to sunup—and then Saturday one dollar and Sunday one dollar. And then—
TK: Who owned that? Do you remember who had the place?
MG: It was a Krick. His name was Harry. That’s the same one who owned the place out there on—what’s the name of that nightclub? I don’t remember.
TK: Was it mainly Mexican American people or Anglo people that you played for?
MG: Yeah, American people.
TK: American people.
MG: Yeah, Mexicans and Americans.
MG: Yeah, both. They used to go in there. That’s Atlantic. All right. So you know what we had in tips? A nickel, a dime, 15 cents. We never had a quarter because it was during the Depression, see? There was no money. So we had 80 cents and then we had about 50 cents in tips. Oh, man. We used to take taxis from Congress Avenue to San Jacinto, and the taxis charged 25 cents. So we used to ride taxis, three of them for 25 cents to come home because we were afraid to cross that McKee Bridge because they used to rob you on the McKee Bridge.
TK: Oh, somebody would be waiting there?
MG: Yeah. They were waiting there. So you’d cross that bridge and they’d grab you.
TK: 20:40 How long did you play at the Atlantic Café?
MG: I played for 18 months, making 80 cents and then a dollar Saturday and Sunday.
TK: Did you find other work anywhere, a job anywhere?
MG: I was working with the WPA, making ten cents an hour. You know what I’d do? I used to come home, and I’d just take my clothes and take off, and I used to go and they’d only give us four hours. And I’d come back home, I’d take my clothes off, and I’d go to sleep. And then at night I’d go back to work for I don’t know how long, maybe 18 hours or maybe 20 hours—I don’t know. But one time we started to play on Thanksgiving. It was a celebration. We played 8:00 until 11:00 in the morning, and I think we made about $3 apiece tips. Oh, man. We were crazy for that because we used to pay a dollar a week for rent for only three rooms. Three rooms for a dollar a week. And then the neighborhoods where I used to live, we used to pitch all together and we’d buy a barrel of bread for 25 cents.
TK: What was the name of the band you were playing with at the Atlantic Café?
MG: Atlantic Café was my band. It was Monico. Monico Band.
TK: Monico Band.
MG: Yeah. We used to call them Don Monico. This one here, that’s the Ott Hotel. This was Don Monico and His Band. That’s the name. I don’t know where this is. We had two clips from the Chronicle, announcements from the Chronicle.
TK: When did y’all start playing there?
MG: Here was in 1944. Mr. Fletcher was the owner. We used to play downstairs, and then 11:00 we’d go in the Blue Room upstairs and play for KTRH on the radio.
TK: After y’all got through with the Atlantic Café, though, where did you play after that?
MG: After I got through with the Atlantic Café, we went—I didn’t play nowhere else. The only thing we played was in 1934, ’35, ’36. That’s when we went into the WPA Orchestra.
TK: Let me ask you this. On the band there at the Atlantic Café, the Monico Band, who was in that band with you?
MG: In that band? Let me tell you who was in the band. All right. Let me tell you. In that band was Jake Guerrero and my brother and this is a trumpet, a sax, and let’s see what else was in my band. Oh, the bass player, Gomez. And the piano player—well, the piano player, I don’t have a picture with him.
TK: Who was he?
MG: That was Manuel—I don’t remember his last name.
TK: Did you know these fellows here, or did you know them from Rosenberg?
MG: No. All of these are from here.
TK: These are the ones you met? You met the guys here in Houston?
MG: Yeah, that’s right. The only thing that was here in Rosenberg was my brother and that’s all, see?
TK: The other ones were already here in Houston.
MG: Yeah, all of them. This is the one right here, see? I had this one. No. No, it’s not. Wait a minute. All of these here are musicians from Houston.
TK: That’s the WPA Band here.
MG: That’s the WPA Band. This is the professor. This is Jesus Rodriguez. He’s still living. Roy Salas is still living. That’s me. And Rosendo Garcia is still living. My brother is gone. This is the piano player we used to have at the Atlantic Café. Manuel is gone. He’s died. And this one here was—I don’t remember his name. I’ve got Pablo Morales and Mateo Garza. Oh, this one here is Lino Cruz. This is Pablo Morales. He is still living, this one here and this one here and this one here and me. That’s all out of this orchestra.
TK: How did y’all start that orchestra, the WPA Orchestra?
MG: 27:46 You asked me about this—
MG: Yeah, WPA. All right. Let’s start with American musicians. So when they started with American musicians, all those Americans, they asked if we had Mexican musicians in Houston. And then they went over all the applications. When I made my application, I was a musician. Then they started to call all the musicians, of which it was all of us, to play in the park—Baldwin Park, Mason Park, Hennessey Park—two hours a night. And in Buffalo Bayou way out there the hall so we could rehearse the music. And from there we’d go out and play. So we used to make $17.50 every two weeks, the oldest musicians.
TK: That was pretty good money, wasn’t it?
MG: Well, of course. Sure. I used to pay one dollar rent a week. That was 19—wait a minute. I want to be sure. That was 1936. Thirty-six, ’37, ’38, ’39, ’40, ’41. Everybody went to shipyard work. That’s when the war come over, see? 1941.
TK: Did the band disband then?
MG: Yeah, the band, all of it. Everybody went to work.
TK: In ’41.
MG: In ’41, yeah.
TK: Did y’all ever play for dances with that band, or was it just for—
MG: Oh, yeah, yeah. My orchestra here used to play in dances or something like that. Two dollars a night. Four hours, two dollars. That’s all.
TK: When you were playing in that WPA Band, did you work anywhere else or was it just with the band?
MG: When I used to play in 1936, I was cleaning up the ground in San Jacinto.
TK: You were working there.
MG: Yeah, I was working with the WPA, making ten cents an hour. That’s what we working at, cleaning it out. It was all woods all over. We cleaned everything.
TK: 31:02 There at San Jacinto.
MG: And I went on San Jacinto to the third floor. And then from the third floor then I went to another job. They sent me somewhere else.
TK: After y’all had built it up to the third floor.
MG: Yeah. I worked there in 1936. So still we were working with the WPA. We used to play at night at the parks, and I used to work—
TK: During the day.
MG: All of these papers here, in 19— (recorder malfunction) 31:49 to 31:55 in the Recreation Department, in which all these musicians—I mean this one here and all the rest of us were good musicians.
TK: In the WPA Band.
MG: In the WPA, sure. Every one of them. We made a play called “Pioneer of Texas.” We had Indians, men—what’s the name of that man? He was from Hollywood. He was—golly, I wish I could remember. He is the one—that man was our director. He was from Hollywood, and he came here to direct that. It was two hours and a half play.
TK: Where was it? Where did y’all put it on? At the Recreation—
MG: We put it on at the Recreation out there where we used to have the hall where we practiced every day. It’s a big hall out there on Buffalo Bayou. Well, anyway, it’s a big hall. That’s where we put that play. And I mean, it was full. And everybody said the band was—first they started to say we didn’t have no radio station in Houston. Somebody built the first log home out there in Pasadena or somewhere, and we had nothing so we got so-and-so and so-and-so and got into the history of Houston. That was a beautiful play, I tell you. I wish I could hear that play right now and all the pictures we took. They took those pictures.
TK: That was during the Depression.
MG: Yeah, during the Depression.
TK: What year was that?
MG: 34:26 It was in 1936, ’37.
TK: So you played with that until 1941, that band.
MG: That’s right, that’s right.
TK: Then in ’41 you went to work at the shipyard?
MG: The shipyard. I worked four and a half years.
TK: With the shipyard. Which shipyard there?
MG: Houston Shipyard. And then I didn’t play because I was working seven days a week. For four years I didn’t touch my drums. After that I started to play again. It was 1941, ’42, ’43, ’44. That’s when I played at this Acapulco Night Club in 1944.
TK: You started playing at the Acapulco Night Club?
TK: What was the name of this band? Was this also Monico Band?
MG: No. This is Ray Herrera Band.
TK: Ray Herrera.
MG: Yeah. Ray Herrera. He died. This is Hernandez.
TK: Did he contact you to play with him?
MG: Yeah, because I was playing with another orchestra, and he wanted me to play with him because they were going to open this. This girl here played.
TK: What’s her name?
MG: Gloria Reyes. She played with a symphony in New York, this girl here, and is still here. She told me that she wanted one of these pictures. I told her to come over, see? Of course, she’s old now.
TK: 36:14 Who else is in the band?
MG: This is Hernandez, this is Manuel Garcia, and this Hernandez too and this is Ray Herrera, and that’s me, Monico Garcia.
TK: So you and your brother are in that band with them.
MG: Oh, yeah. I always played with my brother. This is my brother, this one here. That’s my brother.
TK: I forgot to ask you, when you played in the WPA Band, what kind of music did y’all play? Did y’all play any Mexican music in that?
TK: No Mexican music?
MG: No. Everybody was reading.
TK: Oh, y’all were reading music at that time.
MG: Yeah. We were playing jazz, swing, and all of that.
TK: Oh, I see.
MG: Our director, the one that was working, his name is Benny Bendetti. Benny Bendetti was Italian. He played in Italy, the first chair clarinet in the symphony orchestra. And he came here and he was playing with us in the WPA Band. Benny Bendetti. Him, Smith, and Williams made a little symphony—I mean, music. You ought to—oh, man. This is the first violin. He is from Mexico. This is Ignacio Mercado. He’s from Mexico City.
MG: Mercado, yeah. He used to play tuba in the SP Band. Mercado. He’s still living. He’s here.
TK: 38:11 Oh, this Mercado here in the WPA Band started with the Southern Pacific Band.
MG: Yeah. He used to play with Southern Pacific Band.
TK: Was he a good musician?
MG: Oh, he was a professional from Mexico City. He went to the university for music in Mexico City, this one here, Mercado. That’s why he was our—
TK: In this picture, was that all the guys in the band? Was that everybody? Were there other people too?
MG: Yeah. We got all of these, and we used to go—say I needed a trumpet. I’d get my trumpet player and so on.
TK: Oh, I see. Y’all would just get different groups in there.
MG: Yeah. And then the other one would go somewhere.
TK: Y’all would break up into groups.
MG: We’d break up the band.
MG: Yeah. We’d break up the band. We were still working. We were still getting $17.50 every two weeks.
TK: Where did y’all play here with the Ray Herrera Band? What places did you play?
MG: I’ll tell you what. We played here in Acapulco Night Club. I think it was 1944. So from there I didn’t play with him, so I took my brother and we went to this one here in 1945. We called it Don Monico and His Orchestra.
TK: Don Monico and his Orchestra.
TK: 40:05 Where did y’all play with that? Y’all were playing at the Ott Hotel?
MG: No. Yeah. It was the Ott Hotel. I had competition. I had competition from Dallas and so-and-so. Mr. Fletcher told me, he said, “I want you to get the job.” So we won that night. We were three bands. But we won because I had hillbilly, I had jazz, and I had Mexican music.
TK: You played all three different kinds.
MG: Yeah. I set up my jazz music and played jazz for one hour or 30 minutes, 40 minutes. So then I put the hillbilly music, see, all of this violin and guitar and bass and all of that and I played another 30 minutes. And then I put the Mexican music, and that’s why I won, because this here boy, this Torreon, this is an old singer in Houston. He started to sing here.
TK: What was his name?
MG: Manuel Arellano.
TK: Manuel Arellano. They knew him as Torreon.
MG: All the Mexican people loved him. He made a lot of compositions. He used to compose his music and all that. This was one of the boys.
TK: They called him Torreon.
TK: Why did they call him Torreon?
MG: He was from Torreon in Mexico. That’s why they called him Torreon, see?
TK: Who was the other fellow there with him?
MG: This is Luna. I don’t remember his first name, but his name is Luna. He died in California.
TK: Were these American boys up here?
MG: 42:17 Let’s see. This is an American boy, this is an American boy, this is an American boy, and this is Rosendo Garcia. And then from here that’s Manuel, my brother, Jimmy Castillo and then me and then Torreon and Luna. And that’s me right there. This is a boy from Corpus Christi that used to— His name was—I don’t remember. It’s been a long time.
TK: It’s been a long time.
TK: When did you start this band? Don Monico?
MG: ’31. The reason I started this band here was because I wanted to play to this Ott Hotel. It was only this here, this here, this here, and this is the piano player, two saxes, a trumpet and me and a bass. So Mr. Fletcher told me, “Look, I’m going to open this.” He didn’t open it. He only had a little nightclub or something like that. He said, “I’m going to open this Ott Hotel. Why don’t you fix me a good band because I want to bring three bands, and whoever gets it, that’s the one that’s going to stay.” I said, “All right. Mr. Fletcher, how about if I fix hillbilly, jazz, and then Mexican music?” That’s three of them, see? He says, “That’s a good idea. Get it.” We opened that Ott Hotel, and we had three orchestras.
TK: What year?
MG: It was 1945.
TK: How long did you play there?
MG: Oh, we didn’t play too long. We just played, say, about three or four months. And then we took off. I couldn’t get a job with a big orchestra. I had to divide it or something like that in order to make a little money because they only would pay about $3 or $4 a night. That’s all.
TK: It was hard to make a living with music.
MG: Oh, yeah, yeah. After all of this, we had a hard time. I used to go up there and get a job for about $2 a man, and then somebody would go out there and get it for a dollar and a half. I don’t want to mention the names, see? But they used to go out there for a dollar and a half.
TK: Undercut you.
MG: 45:14 Undercut you. So I couldn’t make no money.
TK: Where were you working at that time?
MG: Let me tell you what. After the shipyard I went into La Grange. There was a used car lot and they needed a sander to sand the cars to paint them. So I started work as a sander for $1.25 an hour. I worked with them and finally I learned, and there was a German man who was a painter, and he told me, “You learn quick. How about you learn painting?” I said, “Sure. Teach me how to learn painting.” In those days we used to paint with lacquer. It was no enamel or nothing like that. It was lacquer. You know those Packards that looked good, black, and beautiful? It was lacquer. So he taught me how to paint, so I started to paint. And then he took off because he said, “I think I’m going home,” because he was about 56 or 60 years old and he said, “I’m going home because if I die, I want to die in my country. I don’t want to die here in the United States.” So he took off, so I took the job. Then I started to paint, and I painted for about 10 or 12 years. And then I got sick and got emphysema on account of that paint and so-and-so, so I had to quit. That was in 1946, ’47, ’48. In ’48 I went to work to Port Houston Iron Works.
TK: The Iron Works.
MG: Yeah. I used to work cleaning up the ships that were coming in and so-and-so. I worked for them 11 years. That was Port Houston Iron Works. I used to go out there when the ship was coming in. I used to go out there and tell the captain, “How are you? What kind of scotch do you drink? What kind of beer do you drink?” I used to take the beer to them, trying to get a little job out of them. I got sick and I didn’t work for many years. I got well, so in 1966 I went to work with this Chateau de John. I’m still there for 17 years. I’m still working there. I’m the gardener. When I started work, I started to work for $1.80 an hour. He taught me as a gardener, and he gave me some books. I used to read the books, and I’m a good gardener right now. I can plant you something right there and it will grow.
TK: You’ve been working there for 17 years.
TK: 49:07 After Don Monico, did you have another band after that?
MG: No. No, no. That’s the only band we used to have because it was my friends, all of these musicians here.
TK: When did you disband that band? When did y’all—
MG: This one?
MG: This one here?
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
MG: That’s when I opened at Ott Hotel. That was—
TK: No, but I mean, when did y’all quit?
MG: Oh. We quit the Ott Hotel?
TK: Yeah. I mean, when did you quit that band?
MG: I quit this band. I’ll tell you why. The reason I quit this was because I only had—this one here. No, no. The reason I quit this band was because I went to play with him.
TK: Oh. That’s when you went to play with Ray Herrera.
MG: Yeah, Ray Herrera. He wanted me and my brother.
TK: Oh, so Ray Herrera—with that you came after Don Monico.
MG: Yeah, yeah.
MG: Don Monico was gone, so I was playing for him. I went to play with him.
TK: With Ray Herrera.
MG: 50:19 Ray Herrera. That was the last part of 1945, see? That’s when we were playing at the Ott Hotel. We quit then and we went, because he wanted me to work with him. I used to play with another band called Johnny Velasquez Serenaders. I went to play with them. I went to play with him. We used to play Beaumont, Rice Hotel, and we used to play in Port Arthur, and we used to play in Austin, we used to play in Victoria and so-and-so, so I was on the road all the time with Johnny Velasquez Serenaders. Then we moved. Johnny got the job at 105. That was 1946, I guess. We were playing at 105 on Main Street. So we started to play there, and we played there about a year because there was no dancing hall in Houston. The only one was 105 on Main.
All right. So from there, then they started to open other nightclubs—what do you want to call them?—Havana Club. Havana Club was right there on Market Square where there used to be Market Square. It was right there. It was the Havana Club. Then that’s when they started all the nightclubs. I used to play in the ballroom on Walker and Main.
TK: With Johnny Velasquez or—
MG: Yeah, with Johnny Velasquez in the ballroom. Then from there Johnny Velasquez had no more orchestra, so I went to play with him.
TK: With Ray Herrera.
MG: With Ray Herrera.
TK: After Johnny Velasquez you went with Ray Herrera.
MG: Yeah, uh-hunh (affirmative). We opened the Acapulco. There was Havana Club and there was Acapulco, the only two nightclubs in Houston, that’s all; no more. There was only two: Acapulco and Havana Club, that’s all. Then from there I was playing somewhere else. I went away. I used to play.
TK: Did y’all go out of town with Ray Herrera?
MG: No, no. I never went out of town with him.
TK: Not with Ray Herrera?
MG: No, no, not with Ray Herrera.
TK: 54:06 How long did Johnny Velasquez have his band?
MG: Five years.
TK: He had five years?
MG: Five years, yeah. Five years.
TK: What happened to him? What happened to Johnny Velasquez?
MG: Johnny Velasquez, he was—well, I don’t want to say nothing. Let me tell you what. In 1935 I had this boy, Jake, and I had this one on the piano, a piano player, and then I had this boy on the guitar, and I had this and the bass, Mateo, and we played in the Blue Moon. It was 1935. It was ’34, ’35. That was the first time we went out. In 1935 I went to Blue Moon. I was playing here on the highway at Blue Moon. And then Harry James was playing about two miles from me at the Silver Dollar. So when he found out a Mexican band was at the Blue Moon, when he got through there, he came and he had his coronet in a little bag.
TK: Paper sack?
MG: Yeah, paper sack or something like that. He come in there, a little skinny guy, and say, “Hey, hey, hey!” He was friendly. He said, “Let’s go play Mexican music.” And then he started to play. And this boy here, this one here, this is my trumpet player. He used to read plenty of music. So he said, “You’ve got reading down?” He said, “Yeah.” Then we had “Marie Elena,” we had “La Paloma,” “Cielito Lindo,” and we had a polka—I don’t remember the polka. But anyway, they started to read the music. You ought to see those trumpet players, both of them playing together.
TK: Harry James.
MG: 57:04 Yeah, Harry James. He was playing first and second trumpet. He came in there, “My name is Harry, Harry, Harry.” “We don’t care about your name. The only thing you say is ‘Harry.’” So he said, “I’m Harry James. The only thing I got is my piano player. That’s all I got.” We said, “Why didn’t you bring your drummer?” He said, “No. He just got married. He can’t go out too much.” We said, “Well, all right.” So he started playing with us. And we didn’t know until he came up.
TK: That it was Harry James.
MG: Yeah. Yeah, that’s all.
TK: That was in what year?
MG: 1935. He weighed about 119 pounds, 116 pounds. He was a skinny guy. Now I wish I could see him. Then in 1936 I went up there and helped a little Mexican conjunto. They had mandolins, a guitar, and a bass and so-and-so in the Centennial of Texas in Dallas. We was making $15 a week, and that’s where I know all these musicians. I think Armstrong was for Texaco and Artie Shaw had another, and then what was the name of that other big orchestra? Anyway, all the orchestras were playing. You see, we had Texaco here, Gulf here, and another one here, and right here was chili powder. We used to get that chili powder so you can make some chilies or enchiladas and things like that. That’s why we were playing, for the chili powder.
TK: You were playing for that chili powder.
MG: Yeah, for the chili powder. This one would start at 7:00, 7:00 to 8:00. This one would start at 8:00. This one would start at 9:00. So we’d start from 10:00 to 11:00 and we’d play one hour. That’s why I know all those musicians, every one of them.
TK: How long did you play at the Centennial?
MG: We had a contract here for about three weeks, that’s all. Yeah, three weeks and then we had to leave.
TK: How did you get that job?
MG: The reason I got that job was because there was the people coming from Mexico, and they only let so many musicians to go across the border, and they caught the drummer and the bass and so-and-so. So that’s the union, see? I used to belong to the union. But when he got here, they wanted a drummer, they wanted a bass, and they wanted a trumpet player and so-and-so, so they called three musicians. So they called me, so I went to play with them.
TK: Through the union, huh?
MG: Yeah, sure. I belonged to the union.
TK: 1:01:12 Where did you join the union?
MG: I joined the union the same year that I went out there. One year before, I used to belong to the union.
TK: You joined it here in Houston?
MG: Yeah, in Houston. That’s why they picked me out, because I belonged to the union. I used to play in El Toro nightclub out there in Old Spanish—what do you call that?
TK: Old Spanish Trail?
MG: Yeah. It’s a nightclub called El Toro. I played there with George King.
TK: When was that?
MG: Let’s see. Was it ’35 I went up there? That’s when I was jobbing around, 1936, ’37, something like that. I didn’t play with nobody. I didn’t have no orchestra or nothing. I just waited until somebody called me so I can go and play.
TK: When was the last time you played in a band?
MG: The last time I had a band was—let’s see if I can remember. This one here was 1926. This one here, that’s 1945. This one here was 1946. And then I went to play with Velasquez ’46, ’47, ’48, ’49, ’50. The last time I played was with Johnny Velasquez, and then I quit him, so 1950. So after 1950 I started to play with everybody. I didn’t want to play with nobody, so anybody that called me, I’d go and play with him.
TK: You played with Ray Herrera, though, after Johnny Velasquez, right?
MG: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. I played with Ray Herrera, and then Ray Herrera—
[end of 364_D1] 1:03:48
MG: [beginning of 364_D2] 00:05 …odd jobs all the time, most of the time.
TK: But you quit playing with bands after Herrera or after Velasquez?
MG: No. I quit after Herrera.
TK: After Herrera.
MG: Herrera, yeah.
TK: What was Johnny Velasquez’s band like? Was it a good band?
MG: He had three sax, he had a trumpet, and he had a trombone, a piano, drum and bass. There were nine of them, and we all played American music.
TK: Just American music. No Mexican music?
MG: No, uh-hunh (negative). Once in a while we played “Rancho Grande” or so-and-so.
TK: But mainly—
MG: Yeah. Everybody was reading. Everybody had these papers—the piano player, even myself. Sometimes I’d have to get a little tough music and I’d have to read. I’ve still got my drums.
TK: 01:16 What years was that with Johnny Velasquez?
MG: Johnny Velasquez was—let me see. Wait a minute. Oh, it’s hard to remember. It was 1947, I guess. No, wait a minute. I can’t remember.
TK: But in the late ‘40s?
MG: Yeah. See, because I was playing with him in 1946. Wait a minute, wait a minute. I went to play with him. Johnny Velasquez was 1941 during the war. No, it wasn’t. Johnny Velasquez was ’44, ’45, ’46, ’47. I just played four years.
TK: Four years with him.
MG: Yeah, and then I started to play with him.
TK: In ’47 with Ray Herrera.
MG: Yeah, uh-hunh (affirmative). Yeah, that’s right.
TK: Y’all went all around with Johnny Velasquez.
MG: We were on the road most of the time with Johnny Velasquez.
TK: All of you? How many? All nine of you?
MG: Yeah, yeah. We played in Beaumont, Victoria, Austin, and Port Arthur, and I don’t remember how many others.
TK: Mainly Mexican people there in those towns?
MG: Yeah. The Woodmen of the World, they had a dance, and they called us to go out there and place with them. We played in a Beaumont hotel like the Rice. We were sitting like this, facing this way. I set my drums like that. So when they started to sing “Mariquita Linda,” that was the theme song, see? (singing voice) Mariquita Linda, de, da, de, da, da.
TK: With Johnny Velasquez?
MG: 03:34 Yeah. Johnny Velasquez was singing that, and then we’d go like this, see? By the time we’d get to the front, they were on the platform.
TK: Oh, the platform would pivot?
MG: Yeah, the platform was turning around. We were sitting right here facing that way. So when he was singing, he was singing, the music was playing, and we were going like this, like that, like that, like that until we get to the front of the stage.
TK: But that was the theme song was “Mariquita Linda.”
MG: Yeah. That was the theme song. He used to sing. He used to be a good musician.
TK: What did he play? Did he play saxophone?
MG: He played sax, yeah. He played second.
TK: Is he dead now?
MG: Oh, yeah. He died about two years ago. Everybody knew him.
TK: Good musician?
MG: Good musician, yeah. They used to have good musicians here in Houston. We used to play good music, not accordion and things that’s going on right now. All of that is the same. I listened to the radio, and they said that conjunto was coming from Monterrey, Mexico. After a while they said conjunto came from Reynosa, Mexico. So conjunto come from so-and-so in Mexico. All play the same thing—the same song, the same polkas, and the same thing. And the people listen to it. You know what? If you ever let me get all the accordions, I’d get a big trailer—six-wheeled trailer—and I’d get all those accordions and put them in there and dump them out there in the trash. (laughs) It’s no music in there. It’s the same thing. They only got two keys, that’s all, and they’re playing the same thing. You go listen to this, you go listen to that. And then they come into the cumbias. They announce on the radio, “The Colombianos are coming from Colombia to play here.” Well, God darn it, the people are so dumb they think if ten musicians come from Colombia, I think it cost about $1,500 each one to ride the plane to come here. How in the hell are they going to play those Colombianos here. And the people think, “You know those Colombians were there? One of them is from San Antonio and one of them is from Austin.” (laughs) That’s what it is, see?
06:39 And then let me tell you something else. They put four conjuntos in one nightclub, four of them. All right. Listen, I’ll tell you one thing. When I play, I play for $15 an hour, or $10 at least. They got four conjuntos playing there one night. I think those conjuntos are making only $25 a night because there’s four of them. Twenty-five dollars each one, that’s $200, huh? All right. And the other one, that’s another $200. The other one is another $200. Six hundred dollars for those musicians to play there. Do you think they’re going to make enough money to pay $600 a night? I think they’re playing for less money. I got calls here. They call me and say, “Monico, I want you to go out there and help me to play drums tonight.” I say, “How much are you going to pay me?” They say, “I’ll pay $25 for 2 hours.” I say, “Yeah, I’ll go. I play from 8:00 to 10:00 and I come home?” “No. You’re going to play from 8:00 to 9:00, then the other ones play from 9:00 to 10:00 and then we start at 10:00 to so-and-so.” So I say, “In other words, I’m going to play four hours for $25.”
TK: You’re going to be there four hours for sure.
MG: I’ll be there four hours. I ain’t going to play that much, but I’ll be there four hours. So I say, “Look, I’ll charge you $25 to set my drums and $25 to play. What do you say?” “No, I can’t do that.” I said, “Well, no business.” Let them go. That’s why I quit playing, because there is too much competition in musicians right now, too many of them, especially from Mexico.
TK: When y’all played, did y’all play big band music, swing music?
MG: Oh, yeah, yeah. When I played with George King, we used to play, reading good jazz music, swing, slow numbers, and so-and-so.
TK: Did you know the other bands of this area at the time? Did you know the Alonzo y Sus Rancheros?
MG: Alonzo y Sus Rancheros sang less conjunto, less polkas and things like that. I was playing before Alonzo started playing the guitar. (chuckles)
TK: What about Eloy Perez?
MG: 9:43 Eloy Perez is doing all right.
TK: Is it the same kind of music you played?
MG: Yeah, the same time, but I never— He called me lots of times to play with him. He wanted me to play with him, but I had my own conjunto. The drummer he got, that’s Ramos. When he started to play drums, he was playing a log cabin out there on Old Galveston Road. He was playing drums. I got in. I took my girls because my girls never wanted to go out by themselves. I had four girls, four daughters. They’d say, “Daddy, I want you to take me to a dance.” I said, “I’ll take you all.” So we went to the cabin, and Ramos was playing the drums. He was 16 years old and playing the drums. He started to play with Adalia Gonzalez. He played the drums. There was a clarinet and sax and piano and so-and-so. So we had a guaracha. Guaracha is a tomando canja. (singing voice) Da, de, da, de, da, de, da. La, da, de, da, de, da, da. (clapping along) That’s guaracha, see? It is no cumbia because here those guarachas are playing right now and they’re playing like a cumbia tempo. So when I got in, Ramos told Adalia, he said, “Look at there. That’s a professional drummer.” He said, “Tell him to come over and play that tomando canja.” So he came and said, “Hey, listen. I want you to come and sit on the drums and play.” I said, “All right. I’ll go up there.” So I played one or two numbers, and then Ramos told me, “Monico, I want you to teach me how to play the drums.” I said, “Nope.” I said, “Because you don’t find one drummer that has the same licks. All the drummers have their different way because he figures his rhythm out of his mind. And I want you to keep on going and build your own rhythm, and that way you’ll be a good drummer, because if you go and pay attention to me and Andreas Ortiz and all of those drummers here, you’ll go crazy and you’re not going to learn nothing because you don’t know which rhythm you want. So now I wish you would talk to him and tell him.” And he said, “Look, the old man told me one thing, and I keep it in my mind.” He used to play with Eloy Perez. He was the drummer.
I had another one, Johnny Velasquez’s son. He was the best piano player in Houston, the best. Do you know who used to play with Rudy? That clarinet player, Luis Acosta, that played with Lawrence Welk? He was playing with him here in Houston. He was playing the Holiday Inn or somewhere. But he started to smoke that damn weed and got so-and-so. Johnny Velasquez told me, he said, “Look, I ain’t got no piano player.” I said, “What’s the matter with Rudy, with Roy?” We called him Roy. “Oh, no, he can’t play piano.” He said, “All right. Bring it in.” So we were playing American music out there in south Houston somewhere, and we set him at a piano, and I said, “Look, Rudy. Every time you go out of tempo, I’m going to get the stick and get you in the back. And then try to pick up and listen to the drums so you can pick up the tempo.” We played there that night, and they said, “Monico, I don’t want to lose you.” That’s what Johnny Velasquez told me. He said, “I don’t want to lose you on account of my boy.” I said, “Look, Johnny. We’re supposed to play in Texas City tomorrow. You take him. Take him.” Johnny takes him and then by that time he got in good shape, and then Roy came in and he said, “Tell Daddy to give me a solo.” And then I told Johnny, “If you’re going to play this number, give him a solo.” He said, “Oh, come on.” “You go ahead and do what I tell you.” You know, he played a solo and he said, “Monico, I didn’t know I had a piano player in the house.” I said, “Well, he’s a good piano player. He reads music.” So he took off, but the only thing is he got a bad habit and the things that he done and so-and-so. Acosta used to play with him.
15:39 I went to play there with my boys in the American Hotel. Do you remember the American Hotel in Beaumont? They had trouble a few years ago in that American Hotel. But they had a little nightclub. We went and played there. Out there in New Orleans all you played is Dixie music. I told the boys, “We have to play Dixie.” So we used to play Dixie, and after we’d get through we used to go in the other nightclubs, and all the black boys that played, those sons of a gun were good, especially the drummers. Golly! We used to go and listen to them and so forth. We were not afraid because we knew what we could play.
TK: When you were playing, was it hard to make a living as a musician?
MG: Yeah. It was hard because I used to go to play in Beaumont for $10 a night. I don’t go to Beaumont right now for $150. We used to play here in Houston for $2 a night. I used to play in Atlantic for 80 cents a night.
TK: How much did Ray Herrera pay you to play?
MG: When we used to play here at the nightclub, we were making $5.
TK: With Ray Herrera?
MG: Yeah. We were making pretty good money—five dollars a night. And then we went up to $7 a night.
TK: 17:31 What years did Ray Herrera have his band?
MG: About a year and a half, and then he took off. He went to Hawaii and he was all over. He went on the road.
TK: This was in 1947?
MG: Yeah. He went off. Then when he came back, he came back from Hawaii and he called me. He said, “Monico, it’s about seven years that I didn’t see you or nothing. Why don’t you come over and see me.” So I went up there and saw him. He was sick. I don’t remember how come he died. I think it was cancer or something like that. So I went up to see him. Johnny Velasquez died of a heart attack. I was sorry that he went because he was a nice looking boy. He had a beautiful wife—golly, out of this world.
MG: Yeah. I mean, no. Herrera. This one here.
TK: Ray Herrera.
MG: Yeah, Ray Herrera. Gloria was 16 years old when he was playing with her. Now she’s about 60 years old. She’s been here looking. She wanted one of these pictures. I told her I’m going to have one made.
TK: Make a copy for her.
MG: She wants one.
TK: Did you ever have any regrets about playing? If you could do something over, what would you do different about your musical experience?
MG: You mean, go over again?
TK: Yeah. If you could do it over again, what would you do different?
MG: (laughs) Well, I’ll tell you what, because I’m so tired of hearing music that I don’t— I’ve got music in my heart, but I’m old right now and I don’t know what to do because when music has changed so much that you can— Even if I go and play with somebody and they play “Cielito Lindo,” they’ve got a different rhythm. They mix up the rhythms, see? The rhythm is hard to get because I’m used to one rhythm like jazz and Mexican music and so-and-so. I can play a march. In 1926, ’27, ’28, ’29, in ’29 when Charlie Parker had his music down Main Street on the 4th of July, Charlie Parker was playing the coronet in the parade and I was playing the snare drum with Charlie Parker. He used to have that “Our Director March,” and we had four snare drums and had eight measures of solos in the drums. It was beautiful. (mimics drumming) Eight measures. (singing melody) Da, da, de, da, de. It was beautiful in those days. Every time I talk about that, I’d like to cry, to tell you the truth. Well, but you have to get old one of these days. (laughs) I got too much music in my heart, too much.
[end of 364_D2] 22:01