Tony “Ham” Guerrero Interview

Trumpet player for Little Joe y la Familia and one of the founding members of Tortilla Factory talks with Manuel Peña about “what happened to the orquesta tejana.”

  • Tony "Ham" Guerrero interview 00:00
Interviewee: Tony “Ham” Guerrero
Interviewer: Manuel Peña
Date: nov 14th, 19??
Language: English

This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission.

Tony “Ham” Guerrero (aka Martínez)

Orquesta trumpeter Tony “Ham” Guerrero was born in “El barrio bulto” in San Angelo, Texas, in 1944. Raised by his grandparents, Guerrero displayed musical ability early on, and he started playing trumpet when he was in the fifth grade. He played his first paying job at the age of 17. After that, Guerrero played with various orquestas and a variety of other ensembles, until he moved to Oakland, California, where he formed his own orquesta, in 1965, the Tony Martínez Orchestra. That was where Guerrero was exposed extensively to tejano music, while his group was the “house band” at the Newark Pavilion, a dance hall where tejano music was featured weekly.

The Newark Pavilion was where Guerrero first heard Little Joe and the Latinaires, a group with which he was thoroughly impressed—so impressed that when Little Joe asked him to join, in 1968, he immediately accepted. Guerrero played lead trumpet with the Latinaires (renamed La Familia in 1970) for the next five years, himself a key player in the transformation of the orquesta from the earlier, Beto Villa style, to the pathbreaking, truly bimusical Onda Chicana phase.

In 1973, Guerrero and several other key members of Little Joe’s la Familia “mutinied” and left to form their own orquesta, Tortilla Factory. That group made some important contributions to what ethnomusicologist Manuel Peña has called la Onda Chicana’s signature style—musical code-switching, in which elements from ranchera music are fused and synthesized with elements from American, mainly jazz-styled, music. Guerrero and his colleagues were supreme masters of this uniquely tejano musical code-switching.

Tony Guerrero died on January 29, 2011, at the age of 66.