Aside from Marty Robbins and a handful of other exceptions, mainstream country music stars haven’t done a great job of celebrating Latin American influences on the genre. American country music’s ties to and obsession with Texas alone should make for more than songs about Mexico. Or at least those songs about our South of the Border neighbors could paint the place as more than a getaway for drunks and criminals on the run–a perception that even George Strait furthers in song.
That’s not to limit this discussion to Mexico or even Spanish-speaking countries. Roots music in the United States and its core instruments–the African banjo and the Hawaiian steel guitar’s ties to Spanish guitars, for example–make music associated with English-speaking artists a pastiche of international influences. Perhaps that’s why these five country singers from various countries of origin found the genre to be an ideal means of expression.
A Mexican-American Tejano musician turned country star, Fender took a mix of smooth-voiced crooning and swampy blues musicianship to crossover fame in the mid-’70s. On his best-known hit “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” he sounds like a classic Nashville Sound vocalist with a Tex-Mex twist.
Jesse Lee Jones
Although he’s less of a name than others on this list away from Lower Broadway, the current proprietor of Robert’s Western World adds a personal touch to traditional country songs and old-time dance music. He shares these influences through his band Brazilbilly, named in honor of his Brazilian heritage.
Ortega’s family tree is like popular music itself. Branches from all over the place make for beautiful music via a Canadian citizen with parents of Mexican and Irish descent. While the singer-songwriter from the same creative world as punk-turned- Americana legend Alejandro Escovedo isn’t beholden to Spanish music, there is an air of tribute to Mexico on the more Western-leaning songs from 2018 album Liberty.
A lot can be said about Rodriguez, an amazing vocal talent who never really stopped touring his home state of Texas. For the sake of building on the intro, let’s focus on 1973’s “Ridin’ My Thumb to Mexico.” It’s a gorgeous song that paints Mexico as more than the site of past debauchery.
A Spanish-language voice impacted modern country music when the bi-lingual Trevino topped the charts with 1994’s “Running Out of Reasons to Run.” This and other singles had both an English and Spanish-language version, a rarity in country music. Usually, it was pop stars like Selena and Enrique Iglesias recording different-language versions of hits. Since then, his albums, singles and music videos have consistently paid musical tribute to the Spanish-speaking world.