By Jef With One F
By Rocks Off
By Chris Lane
By Angelica Leicht
By Corey Deiterman
By Angelica Leicht
By Corey Deiterman
Tall, slim and as good-looking as a blues musician can be without losing credibility, Vega sits listening to his latest CD, Then & Now, an 11-song collection that was released in April in Europe and has just become available in the United States. "When we wanted to take a new CD with us to Europe on this last tour, my wife suggested that we make a compilation. I didn't really like the idea. I'm still a new artist -- I've only been around for nine years -- and so for me to do a compilation was kind of cheesy, I thought. But then we decided to add three new studio tracks and I thought, 'Okay, maybe.' Plus, our first two records aren't available anymore. This is the perfect way for those people who don't have the first two CDs to get some of those recordings.
"Then when I was putting it together, I was thinking, 'Wow, this is my favorite record!' If people don't know me, this is a good snapshot of the last nine years. I'm really pleased with how it came out. It really is a time capsule of my music."
The music continues in the background while Vega talks. He doesn't listen to himself very often, he admits. "It's kinda like looking at yourself in the mirror and you see all the imperfections, the things that no one else sees. Like all you see is how big your nose is...instead of focusing on what other people might think is attractive. It's like that for me when I hear myself play."
The judges at the recent Memphis Blues Society Battle of the Blues didn't seem to notice any imperfections; they awarded the Tony Vega Band first place. "That was wild, a band from Texas winning a blues competition in Memphis! When we were over there, everyone said how we have that greasy, Texas sound. And to us, it's just normal. Heck, sometimes we think we don't sound greasy enough! But that's from growing up watching all those great musicians here.
"I look at our history here in Houston, and I'm just in awe of these guys. Joe 'Guitar' Hughes, Albert Collins, Little Joe Washington, Lightnin' Hopkins. It's amazing being from around here and having that kind of legacy, being surrounded by that kind of talent and genius. I'm always humbled by that.
"And if that's not enough, playing the kind of music that we play, sometimes we're just background music. Sometimes you can't even hear us. We're a jukebox, that's really humbling. And then, in Texas, man, you can't even count on being the most talented guitar player in the room."
Vega can usually be sure he's the only Latino in the room, though. "I'm a Texan and I do Texas music," he says. "I grew up listening to Los Tigres del Norte with my dad. It's so part of who I am, but then again, it's so a part of Texas, too. Corridos, and mariachis, all of that is part of what we have here.
"I think of Alejandro Escovedo. When I see his name, I don't think, 'Hey, great, a beaner!' I just think, 'Wow, it's Alejandro Escovedo.' I also think of David Gonzalez, who is another singer-songwriter from here. And both of them are doing music that you wouldn't call Latino, but I don't think either of them tries to say, 'Hey, I'm not Latino.' It's just that's not all they are. And neither am I. Being a Latino isn't just this one thing and nothing else, just like being a Texan isn't about being this one thing and nothing else. I'm a lot of things; my music is a lot of things, too."
Still, Vega is only half kidding when he says he wouldn't mind riding Ricky Martin's coattails to a record contract. "It's supposed to be cool to be Latino now, right? Can you tell the labels? I mean, we joke about it all the time: 'How can we tour in Mexico? Is there a blues circuit in Mexico?' I don't think there's one, but hey, if there is, I'll go play it."
Vega laughs when he's told that his upbeat attitude doesn't gel with the image of blues musicians as sad and broken men, singing about loss and pain. "There's a lot to struggle with, sure. Both personally and musically. And yeah, losing my parents at an early age, having to take care of my father, bathing him and changing his diaper, all of that affects you. But I'm not the kind of person who goes around saying, 'Oh, I've had such a hard life. Poor me.' Have I had problems? Of course. But getting to take care of your father is not a problem. Not getting to take care of him would have been much worse for me.