Reminiscing: Musician recalls days with Freddy Fender

Special to the PRESS

February 26, 2015

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James Marvéll, an entertainer out of Tampa, Fla. who frequents the Valley with his wife Faye, remembers the late musician and hometown hero Freddy Fender fondly. “He was my hero,” Marvéll said of the San Benito-born singer.

Back then, according to Marvéll, there weren’t many Spanish speakers in country music. He and Fender were two of the few who spoke the language, so they shared common ground.

His first memory of Fender was in San Antonio, while the two were traveling as musicians with their respective acts. “Freddy asked me to babysit his guitar,” Marvéll recalls. “He said, ‘James, take care of my guitar,’” Marvéll spoke of the memory with a smile on his face.

“I guarded that guitar with my life,” he added with a laugh.

Marvéll explained that Fender’s music struck a chord with him even before their first encounter. This is because both were bilingual, and both enjoyed singing in English and Spanish. Speaking on how Fender was able to meld both languages into his music and release hit records, Marvéll said, “I guess it was coming, and Freddy’s the one that broke the ice.”

At the time, Marvéll was performing with his bandmate Buddy Good in a duo called the Country Cavaleers. The two wrote a song titled Flower of my Life (Flor de me Vida) in hopes that Fender could perform it. “We pitched it to him, and he wanted to do it. His producer didn’t want it at the time,” said Marvéll. “It didn’t happen.” Still, Marvéll said that Fender truly liked the song. “He had practiced it,” said Marvéll. “Sometimes in music you get a break, and sometimes you don’t.” Still, he said, “it’s a good memory – that he (Fender) thought enough of it (to want to record it.)”

Marvéll even shared some amusing anecdotes about Freddy Fender.

One night, while performing as the Country Cavaleers with Buddy Good, the pair decided to play When the Next Teardrop Falls, a song made popular by Fender.

“This was in Toledo, Ohio,” Marvéll recalled. “Buddy Good was (wearing a wig) impersonating Freddy, and he’s singing … Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”

The two had a healthy relationship with Fender, who would occasionally stop by their shows to watch them perform. “We didn’t know Freddy was there, and he snuck in back behind the curtains,” said Marvéll. “All of a sudden the crowd starts to go crazy, and I thought, ‘That’s great! They love us.’”

What was actually happening, said Marvéll, is that Fender – who had been playing his own show nearby at the fairgrounds – snuck in and started to sing his song, catching the crowd by surprise. “That was … just one of those things that Freddy would do. He was funny,” he added. It was not something either of the two had planned, according to Marvéll – it was just Fender being a joker.

That same night, after spending some time chatting with the Cavaleers at The Country Palace, the honky-tonk club where the duo were performing, Fender decided to explore downtown Toledo. Without warning, Fender was gone.

“We found him down the street talking to people like he was a regular guy,” said Marvéll, emphasizing that this was at the height of Fender’s popularity. “We pulled up in a car and said, ‘Freddy, come here! This could be dangerous!’” Freddy wasn’t very concerned about any such dangers. He stood socializing with his fans saying, “No, no…I love these people.”

“He just loved what he did,” said Marvéll of Fender.

There’s something about performing a Freddy Fender song in the Valley, according to Marvéll, that truly gets the crowd excited. Sharing a story about a more recent time he played in the RGV, when it came time to perform a Fender’s Before the Next Teardrop Falls, the crowd went wild. “He is to the Valley what Elvis is to Memphis.”

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