When Robert Johnson recorded “Crossroads” at Gunter Hotel in November 1936, he had no idea how essentially and deeply both the session and the phrase would resound in music history. Not only did the song become a blues rock staple recorded repeatedly, but the literal crossroads that spoked out of San Antonio – Highway 81, Highway 281, Highways 87, 66, 181, and the mighty Highway 90 – supported thriving music scenes that coexisted on numerous cultural levels.
Not that San Antonio needed such a dynamic. It gave a home to one of the greatest cultural musical fusions when Mexican musicians adopted the German accordion during the 1800s immigration to Texas. By the time Don Santiago Jimenez’s clan became famous, players like Narcisco Martinez and Valerio Longoria redefined the sound, as did Steve Jordan later on.
Jazz and big band music thrived in San Antonio in the 30s and 40s amid the various styles of below-the-border Mexican and country music on the radio and in live settings like hotels, ballrooms, dancehalls and via radio broadcasts. The pre-Interstate highways gave players passage from the South through the Gulf Coast and into Texas by the car and busload, headlining at the Shadowlands, the Roaring 20s, and the Keyhole.
This allowed for neighborhoods and parts of town to eventually develop unique sounds, like the Mexican Westside and black and poor white Southside in the 40s and 50s. This is when the chitlin circuit grew and thrived in San Antonio, right through the late 60s at the Keyhole and Eastwood Country Club. One highway brought Elvis Presley to San Antonio while he was woodshedding Saturday nights in Shreveport on Louisiana Hayride, imprinting a generation of musicians including a young recording star named Doug Sahm. Run by a mixed-race bandleader named Don Albert, the Keyhole plays a crucial part in chitlin circuit legacy.
San Antonio was a fluid city with a transient military population that brought immense talent in and out of town quickly, often with little recognition. But the town’s popularity as a touring stop provided aspiring players of all races with a closeup look at the acts of the moment and sometimes the chance to sit in. This created two distinct musical communities, one a powerful teen scene of young white bands especially from the Northeast and Northside of San Antonio that helped define Texas garage rock and a corresponding teen scene known as Chicano Soul, where doo-wop, swamp pop, and trios romanticos met rock & roll in youthful heartache and heartbreak.
No surprise then, that the next genre to tattoo San Antonio was heavy metal, where a preponderance of young men in the military, young rock-oriented Latino men, plus a large teen population made metal the predominant sound of the 70s and into the 80s. At the start of the 70s, Joe Miller’s JAM Concerts brought most of the young touring acts to town, joined at the end of the decade by Jack Orbin’s Stone City Attractions, who ruled hard rock in South Texas in the 80s. And in the tradition of rock & roll rebellion, that scene was served a fatal blow by a landmark San Antonio concert with the Sex Pistols at Randy’s Rodeo in January 1978. It was the eventual death knell of metal, but the bellwether of punk.
Tex Pop finds this history endlessly fascinating and seeks to share it with all who care to listen.