If Mexico has a musical style that is innately its own, a style that defines the Mexican soul to itself and to the rest of the world, that music would be ranchera. And today, one man stands alone as the most dominant and beloved voice of ranchera – Vicente Fernandez.
The Early Years:
His early dreams were not unlike that of many young boys; he wanted to be a singer as long as he could remember. The son of a rancher, Fernandez' education ended at the fifth grade. At 14, he entered an amateur singing contest in Guadalajara and won first place. With that victory in hand, he did what many musicians before him did – played at weddings, parties and local restaurants.
A Try at the Big Time: Mexico City:
In 1965, the local party circuit palled for him and Fernandez headed to Mexico City to make his musical fortune. But Mexico City had little use for Fernandez and time after time doors were shut in his face. In a famous story, Fernandez finally got an audition. The record producers listened; they were not impressed. In fact, the response (one that is difficult to believe for anyone having heard Fernandez sing) was that his voice did not register enough to record. “Go sell peanuts or something”.
Disheartened, but not defeated, Fernandez went back to singing at local restaurants and events. The three most famous ranchera singers had to die before Fernandez got his big break.
An Empty Ranchera Throne:
Jorge Negrete (42), Pedro Infante (39) and Javier Solis (35) all died within a few years of each other. (In this day of conspiracy movies, these three untimely deaths would make quite a movie plot.) So, all of a sudden, the ranchera throne was vacant and Fernandez started getting calls from people who had, just recently, had no use for him.
In the summer of 1966, Fernandez signed with CBS Mexico and recorded his first hits "Tu Camino y El Mio" (Your Path and Mine), "Perdoname" (Forgive Me) and "Cantina del Barrio" (The Neighborhood Cantina).
His big break came in 1976 when songwriter Fernando Maldonado wrote a ranchera tune that went against tradition: a macho accepts blame in a relationship and begs the woman to come back to him. "Volver, Volver" became a huge hit and was the song that gave him a hand up to ascend the throne as “El Rey” of the ranchera
Four Decades of Ranchera:
Fernandez has kept that throne for over 4 decades. Tours of Mexico have now become tours of the Americas. With a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, a Billboard Music Award for “Latin Greatest Hits Album of the Year” (Historia de Un Idolo Vol. 1), Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year in 2002, over 80 recorded albums and about 300 songs that have not yet been published, Fernandez still lives a fairly simple life on his ranch “Los Tres Patrillos” outside of Guadalajara