Here at Rancho Alegre, we talk. A lot. Frequently we’ll have more than one topic going at once. During Saturday’s marathon discussion, Frank mentioned that Ruben Naranjo did a cover of She’s About a Mover. So when we got home, I listened to it. And I listened again. And again. It was mind-blowing.
About the Original
She’s About a Mover was a hit for the Sir Douglas Quintet in the mid-60′s, landing them on a variety of 60′s music shows like Shindig! and Hullabaloo. As we all know, the Sir Douglas Quintet was a Texas band founded by Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers (who happen to also be Conjunto fans). The original is a moddy, rocking 12-bar blues composition, with some era-appropriate organ licks supplied by Meyers. Check it…
One of the (many) great things about Sahm and Meyers is that their love for Conjunto transcended genre and they found a way to create a sound that was truly representative of South Central Texas, from their early days with the SDQ to recording with Bob Dylan and Dr. John, to forging lifelong relationships with Flaco Jimenez and Freddy Fender and forming the Texas Tornados.
We’re not sure exactly when this was recorded, but it appears on a couple albums of his, including Herencia y Tradicion: Gracias Amigo Ruben and La Mejor Musica Regional.
This recording is special in several ways. Ruben, of course, is one of the finest accordion players of all time. Also gifted in singing, songwriting and personal charisma. The man had “it.”
What strikes me immediately is that, despite being recorded by an accordion master, there is no accordion. That’s right. That’s what I was listening for on rounds 2 and 3. Now, he may be playing some chords, but it’s not evident here. There is no solo, there are no fills. Nothing you would expect from a man with his skill.
Next thing. Obviously, it’s in English. But listen to his singing style. It is true to the soulful Sahm original. Now, Ruben was a great singer, and this just underscores that point. Some people are great singers, but no matter what song they are singing, they still sound representative of their genre. Case in point: Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn will always sound like country artists, regardless of whether they are playing with the Heartbreakers or Jack White of the White Stripes. But Ruben? He blends in like a chameleon here.
[Update from Piper, 11/20/11: During a recent interview with longtime Gambler Ruben Rivera, I asked him about this recording. He told me that it wasn't Ruben singing after all and that Ruben never sang in English. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic Conjunto cover of a pop music classic. AND it also underscores the importance of liner notes for posterity.]
Also striking (albeit to a lesser degree) was the arrangement. The SDQ used an organ, bass, electric guitar, drums and, um, a tambourine. But to hear Ruben’s version, it fits naturally with a Conjunto: bajo, bass and drums. He’s only missing the accordion.
The result is Conjunto Rock N Roll.
This song has become pretty popular with Conjunto artists over the years. The Hometown Boys rearranged it into a cumbia. Ruben’s son Ricky Naranjo recorded it with Los Gamblers, this time adding accordion. And the Texmaniacs (iconoclasts in their own right) have a sharp, rockin’ version of it that combines rock and Conjunto in a way that would make Sahm extra proud.
This just goes to show true Texas music is just as diverse as Texans themselves.