That an historic figure in Tex-Mex music would have the Germanic-sounding name Zimmerle might seem strange to some listeners, who might expect a Jimenez, Gonzalez, or Villareal. But bear in mind that the Tex-Mex sound most commonly known as norteño evolved out of a fusion between rhythms and songs from the north of Mexico and the accordion styles of German settlers in Texas, and then it starts to make sense. Fred Zimmerle, as it turns out, is more than just a symbolic name in this musical fusion, as many credit his concepts and the music of his main group, Trio San Antonio, with starting the entire modern norteño style. Zimmerle was not the first to use the push-button bellows instrument in Mexican-flavored music. By the time he began recording, players such as Santiago Jimeniz and Narciso Martinez had been recording dance instrumentals on accordion for a decade. But it was Zimmerle who came up with the idea of bringing in vocals, specifically the traditional Mexican vocal duet and the song repertoire that came along with it. From this idea came the new norteño sound, which Zimmerle performed his entire career as the leader of Trio San Antonio and in a variety of appearances as a sideman with many other performers and groups. With parents that played music as well as talented brothers and sisters, it is no surprise that Fred Zimmerle went into music, although like many Tex-Mex players, it always remained a part-time job. Until his retirement some time in the '80s, Zimmerle kept a day job at the Kelly Air Base in San Antonio. At any rate, the roll call of musicians from the Zimmerle family includes: Willie Zimmerle (father), accordion; Jimmy Zimmerle (uncle), accordion; Felix Zimmerle (uncle), fiddle; Secilio Zimmerle (uncle), guitar; Caroline Zimmerle (sister), singer; Henry Zimmerle Sr. (brother), guitar and singer; and Santiago Zimmerle (brother), bajo sexto bass. And the tradition continued with son Larry Zimmerle, who went on to back up his father on several recordings as well as play with los Pavos Reales, a South Texas conjunto or combo, as well as cousin Henry Jr., a singer and recording artist for Falcon records in the '60s and '70s. Fred Zimmerle led his first band in elementary school, a harmonica combo. At ten he played his premiere paid gig, a wedding job under the leadership of his uncle, Jimmie. In the mid-'40s, Fred Zimmerle played guitar for Felix Borrayo, who later returned the favor by recording with Trio San Antonio for Rio Records. In 1945, Zimmerle took up accordion and organized the first version of Trio San Antonio. This group remained active with varying amounts of concert work up until Zimmerle's death in the late '90s. Although much of Zimmerle's career was spent performing at cantinas, social clubs, and dancehalls on San Antonio's west side, an increase in interest in Tex-Mex music in the '70s led to a recording distribution on Arhoolie Records and appearances at folk festivals nationally and internationally. Zimmerle became respected as an historic figure, and was the subject of interviews, films, and other documentation that is part of the music collection of the Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin. In his later years, Zimmerle became an instructor in Tex-Mex music and norteño accordion styles, and was the beneficiary of several grants to teach traditional accordion styles to young musicians, until this program was discontinued by the National Endowment for the Arts. Younger musicians would often pay a pilgrimage to Zimmerle's door to meet him. German punk rock group FSK paid such a visit, and remarked in a later tour-diary that they were surprised that he didn't know a single word of the Deutsche mother tongue. They must not have realized that although Zimmerle's grandfather was German, he was 100 percent Tex-Mex.
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