She's A New Kind Of Tex-Mex

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Go see Tish Hinojosa at Henfling’s in Ben Lomond this coming Wednesday and you may well leave the show with some new ideas on what Tex-Mex music is all about.  She may open her set with a Patsy Cline number, and then segue into a traditional Mexican waltz before veering off into rock and pop territory with some of her own compositions.  What’s more, each style of music will sound just as natural as the last.

Hinojosa’s broad palette of styles can perhaps be attributed to her upbringing.  Born in San Antonio , Texas to Mexican immigrant parents, she was the youngest of 13 daughters.  One of her earliest memories is of sitting in the kitchen with her mother while romantic Mexican ballads played on the radio.  “I was fascinated by that as a child,” she said, “although I sure didn’t know it would lead me to where I am now!”  Her father, too, loved music, especially Conjunto accordion tunes, and Hinojosa would eventually discover a whole other world of music for herself in the shape of the Beatles and other bands of the 60s pop music boom.

At high school, Hinojosa enjoyed the music at the Folk Mass services and joined the choir.  She learned to play the guitar and eventually began playing concerts, singing Bob Dylan and Byrds covers as well as traditional Mexican songs.  In 1979, she moved to Taos , New Mexico , where she tried to find work as a singer.  Her first gigs were on her own, singing and playing guitar.  However, she said, “Pretty soon I saw I was going to have to do more than that to support myself.”  She formed a country band with some other musicians from the area, singing songs by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris among others.  It was around this time that Hinojosa realized that she had a whole slew of experiences and ideas to be expressed in her own music.  She began writing songs and slipping them into the sets among the cover tunes.  Soon, however, she felt the need to focus more fully on playing her own music, and so she and her husband Craig Barker began playing on the college circuit, where there was an audience for original music.

A move to Nashville came next, in an attempt to break into the country music scene.  Hinojosa found work singing demos for publishing companies, but found it hard to interest them in her own songs. “I’d play my stuff for them and they’d look at me like I was from Mars!”  Eventually, she recorded and released her first album herself, just to have something to sell at gigs. A showcase in Nashville finally attracted interest from labels, and after releasing two albums with independent Rounder Records, Hinojosa signed to Warner Brothers, with whom she released two more.  Hinojosa currently has 15 releases to her name, several of which have won awards.  She has also appeared on many compilations and her song “Roses Around My Feet” was featured in a recent episode of “ Dawson ’s Creek.”  She has performed at the White House and sung duets with many famous singers. Of her success, Hinojosa, who currently lives in Austin , TX , said “If I could see myself now 20 years ago, I’d be kind of flabbergasted, I guess.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, October 16, 2003

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