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'Flaco And Max' Keep A South Texas Musical Tradition Thriving


Conjunto music can be as American as cherry pie - with Mexican and German flavoring:


FLACO AND MAX: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca are just about the biggest names in conjunto, the distinctive music that began in South Texas and has spread. Flaco Jiminez, of course, is one of the world's great accordion players. He's been performing since the 1960s and has won five Grammy Awards. Max Baca is a member of Los Texmaniacs. And they've joined musical forces for their new album, "Flaco & Max: Legends & Legacies." It's a Smithsonian Folkways album. And Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca join us now from the studios of Texas Public Radio in, of course, San Antonio. Gentlemen, thank you both very much for being with us.

FLACO JIMINEZ: Oh, thank you. It's our pleasure to be here.

SIMON: So, Max Baca, I was under the impression that you met him when you were 7 years old.

MAX BACA: Oh, yes, sir, yeah. My dad was an accordion player and he was a big fan of Flaco. And I remember standing up in front of the stage and watching the Flaco and the guys getting ready to play. And it was just, I'd get all these goose bumps, you know. And I couldn't wait till they start the music. And, yeah, finally, they would play, man, and I was just mesmerized, you know, just standing there listening. And by the way he had, I mean, he had that place packed. You know, we were like VIPs at the time.


SIMON: So, in a sense, even before this album, you've been collaborating, one way or another for a long, your families have.

BACA: Sure, yeah. My father was an accordion player back in the late '50s and '60s. You know, I remember, it was actually my dad's bass player at that age, about 9 years old.

SIMON: At the age of 9 you were your father's bass player?

BACA: Yeah, I was actually his bass player at 9, yeah, you know. And so my mom hated it because she wanted me to go to school. And I went to school, you know, but I'd play on the weekends with my dad, you know. But come Monday morning, man, she couldn't get me up to go to school, you know.

SIMON: So, you had a big weekend, yeah.

BACA: From playing the weekend, yeah.

SIMON: Let me ask you both about another cut here, which is an unusual - I don't know if we'd call it a love song. You tell me. The song that in English would be "The Little Old Lady," "La Viejita."


MAX: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: I learned how to do that in San Antonio years ago. This is the story of a gigolo.

BACA: Yeah.

JIMINEZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BACA: Pretty much so.

SIMON: She looks at me lovingly but I'm sacrificing the best of my existence.

JIMINEZ: And all he has to do is just give her a little kiss on the cheek and...

BACA: She'll loosen up that checkbook.

JIMINEZ: Yeah. That's good.

SIMON: Let's talk about the musicianship for a moment, all right, as opposed to the powerful theme. Flaco Jiminez, you've had to answer this I don't know how many hundreds and thousands of times over the years. How do you play the accordion like that?

JIMINEZ: Well, it's just comes out natural, you know. I was self-taught. You know, I used to watch my dad play at home and feeling the instrument - not just playing it, but feeling it, you know.

SIMON: Feeling the instrument.

JIMINEZ: I thought, well, I want to grab the accordion because dad is still at work.

BACA: He came home early.

JIMINEZ: Yeah, he came early, you know. All of the sudden, he just opens the door. I said, oh man, I'm going to get it.

SIMON: Well, he must have been proud to hear you play that well.

JIMINEZ: Yeah. The first thing he did, he went straight to me and gave me a big, big hug and then started crying. See, he was so proud of me self-taught, you know, playing.


SIMON: Well, what, Max Baca, explain to me. Because, for example, I could spend 30 years watching you or Flaco play a musical instrument and I still wouldn't be able to play like you. So, I mean, just to say, oh, self-taught, I, you know, I watched my dad, that sort of diminishes your own talent that you have to bring into this enterprise.

BACA: Sure, yeah. And I guess it's just the bottom line is it's very simple. It's you either have it or you don't, you know. You can learn the read the music out of a chart, you know, but when it's in your blood and you're born with it and, you know, and it's a gift, it just comes naturally to you. And...

JIMINEZ: I would say that every instrument that somebody plays and feels, they got that passion to that certain instrument. I mean, they put all their heart to it, you know, that - because it's a gift.

BACA: Yeah. With Flaco and myself, it's more about the feeling. You know, you're feeling your instrument and you're feeling the moment. And so, yeah, you know, we got in the studio and we had a couple of beers, you know, and just kind of grooved a little bit and rolled the tape and let's go, you know.

JIMINEZ: And then we had another beer.


SIMON: Well.

BACA: After it was all said and done, we had a few beers.



SIMON: Well, gentlemen, very good talk to both of you. Flaco Jiminez and Max Baca. Their new album, "Flaco & Max: Legends and Legacies." It's on Smithsonian Folkways and it's out now. Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us.

BACA: Thank you, sir.

JIMINEZ: Thank you.


MAX: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: By the way, BJ Leiderman didn't write this but he did write our theme music. And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.