Trio San Antonio

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The Trio San Antonio is more of a dynasty than a trio, with branches spreading out through more than several generations of musically talented family members. More important, the group represents a kind…
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The Trio San Antonio is more of a dynasty than a trio, with branches spreading out through more than several generations of musically talented family members. More important, the group represents a kind of historical source for what has come to be known as the norteño sound. This genre is a blend of Mexican songs from the northern regions of the country, such as Tamauillipas and Nuevo Leon, and the accordion styles of the German immigrants who settled in Texas. In the first decades of this music's development, the accordion became the lead instrument, replacing the clarinet, flute, violin, and harp. The great Tex-Mex accordion player Santiago Jimeniz was the first to begin recording these styles in the '30s, beginning with a series of dance instrumentals. About ten years later, an accordion player named Fred Zimmerle began developing his own style, blending together the sounds of Jimeniz with several other popular accordion players. When he came up with the idea of adding the traditional vocal duet singing style to the accordion-driven instrumentals, it was considered the beginning of the norteño sound. Through a lifespan lasting nearly half a century, Zimmerle's Trio San Antonio became a leading exponent of this style, doing much to keep the traditions and songs alive through countless performances at cantinas, dancehalls, and later, social clubs and international folk festivals. As is entirely appropriate for the history of this music, Zimmerle came from a family of German immigrants. (The German rock band FSK would write in their '90s tour diary that they thought it was amusing that Zimmerle apparently didn't know a single word of German.) His father, Willie Zimmerle, played accordion, with his wife providing guitar backup. Father and son were not the only musically talented family members -- practically everyone in the extended family either sangs, played an instrument, or both. His sister, Caroline, was a singer; Henry Sr. wound up recording as a singer and guitarist with El Ciego Melquiades as well as the Trio San Antonio; and Santiago, on bajo sexto and bass, was also on some of the Trio's records. The very first edition of the Trio San Antonio was organized in 1945, recording first for RCA Victor. Although neither Fred Zimmerle nor most of his bandmembers supported themselves full-time as musicians, the group kept up a regular series of concerts and recordings. Various family members and members of other conjuntos (or groups) came in and out of the Trio; these musicians continued performing with other groups and, although the Trio San Antonio name may have been used with less frequency, the repertoire the musicians performed remained the same: basically music and songs from the old days on San Antonio's west side. Much of this material has now passed into the public domain, as original sheet music and even often composer's credits have long since disappeared. Fred Zimmerle died in 1998. Other members of the group have included Fred's brother, Henry Zimmerle, as a singer, as well as Steve Jaramillo, Andres Berlanga, Martin Chavarria, Juan Viesca, and others. These musicians are all also recording artists in their own right. For example, Chavarria began performing in the early '20s, and, with Los Hermanos Chavarria, recorded a number of sides in the '30s for labels such as Decca and Bluebird. Viesca is known as El Rayo Del Contrabajo, or The King of the String Bass. Besides the Trio San Antonio, he performed with Santiago Jimeniz, Narcisco Martinez, and Pedro Ayala. Berlanga also began performing and recording in the '30s, and specialized in performing for tourists in San Antonio during the Depression. With the increase in interest in Tex-Mex music in the '70s, the music of the Trio San Antonio was released on Arhoolie records and distributed to a much larger audience. Artists such as the Trio and Jimeniz began to have opportunities to perform at folk festivals, often internationally. Much historical documentation was created focusing around Zimmerle, including a collection of taped interviews and other documents in the Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin.