Texas-Chicano music legend Tony "Ham" Guerrero

Another Chicano music pioneer gone at age 66

By Hector Saldana
Published on LatinoLA: February 3, 2011

Texas-Chicano music legend Tony "Ham" Guerrero

Veteran trumpeter Tony "Ham" Guerrero is being remembered as a pioneering musician who shaped the Tejano~Chicano sound with Tortilla Factory and Little Joe y La Familia in the early '70s.

Guerrero, 66, died Saturday at North Austin Medical Center in Austin. He suffered a heart attack on Jan. 10 and developed pneumonia after falling into a coma.

"We were like brothers," said legendary Tejano singer Johnny Hernandez, whose friendship with Guerrero dated back to the late '60s with the Latinaires, the group that eventually became Little Joe y La Familia.

It was alto saxophonist Jimmy Flores who gave Guerrero his nickname. "It was actually 'Big Ham,'" recalled Hernandez. "Se quedo con 'Ham.'" ("He stayed with 'Ham.'")

In those days, Guerrero would drive in from San Angelo to Temple to rehearse. He'd hold the steering wheel of his Ford Mustang with his left hand and practice his trumpet with his right hand, while reading the sheet music on the dashboard.

"That's how dedicated he was," Hernandez said." He was a pro all the way".

As times changed, so did the music. Little Joe y La Familia and the Grammy-nominated Tortilla Factory reflected the sounds of the Texas Chicano Movement ÔÇô blues, funk, jazz, rock, ranchera, and traditional polkas.

Guerrero's true gift was finding talent, and he brought jazz arranger Joe Gallardo into La Familia. "That's where the big change came," said Hernandez. "That's where the sophistication came in."

Hernandez also credited Guerrero's political activism.

"To the very end, he fought for la onda. He was a very strong and proud man".

Guerrero had continued to perform and was grooming his son, singer Alfredo Antonio Guerrero, to take over Tortilla Factory, which is in the running for a Grammy Award on Feb. 13. The band was nominated in the Tejano category for its latest album, "Cookin.'"

"He was looking forward to going to the Grammys with me," said Alfredo Guerrero, 39. "He was so happy that all the blood, sweat and tears had paid off."

A jam-packed tribute concert on Sunday in Austin attracted musicians from the East and West Coasts, said his son. The highlight came when 20 horn players jammed on "Watermelon Man." "He was a horn man," said Alfredo Guerrero. "It was amazing. He would have loved it."

Old friends shared stories about the music giant.

"I remember seeing Little Joe as a little kid," said producer/musician Rene Gasca, brother to jazz great Luis Gasca. "Tony always gave me the opportunity to sit in and play. He was a talented arranger, very into jazz."

Gasca also noted Guerrero's reputation as a band leader, his talented gift of musicality, and "the caliber of musicians in his band."

Guerrero is survived by his wife of 46 years, Norma Guerrero, sons Alfredo Guerrero, Sergio Guerrero, Sean Guerrero, Anthony Hernandez and daughter Laura Guerrero.

A rosary will be held on Tuesday in Austin at St. Louis Catholic Church, 7601 Burnet Road. A memorial service is set for Wednesday at 3 p.m. at St, Louis Catholic Church

About Hector Saldana:
Hector Saldana is a senior staff writer and music columnist for The San Antonio Express-News, based in Texas.
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