Growing up in San Antonio in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Hector Saldana, Jr. and younger brother David say they enjoyed especially close familial ties with their parents and three sisters. Holidays were always special, but none more so than Christmas. And while they freely admit that it was their mother who “drove” the holiday, father Hector Sr. also made his mark. Even if he at least once had to resort to a bit of subterfuge in order to make the season bright.
“I was about 7 or 8 when Schwinn bicycles were the hot thing. And we wanted them for Christmas, badly, because we had these rusty old ones,” Hector, Jr. remembers. “Dad took those bikes and had them repainted and rechromed, so they looked brand new on Christmas. And we thought they were! We didn’t find out the truth until a few years later!”
Then in 1975 while still in their teens, Hector, Jr. and David formed the Tex-Mex garage rock band the Krayolas, and are still active today as detailed in a Houston Press interview earlier this year. Hector, Sr. passed away in 2017 at the age of 91. In tribute, the Krayolas have released the 45 single “Christmas With My Dad,” written by Hector, Jr.
A businessman during the week by profession, Hector Sr. would spend weekends cowboying with his own brother at the family’s 3,000 acre El Peyote cattle ranch, located near Zapata and Hebbronville, Texas. The family would often accompany him on the trip, after which the brothers would find themselves helping to round up cattle or brand them. Listening to and singing music to pass the time on those car rides and at night became the norm.
“He just loved music, listening to Mexican guitarists and groups like the Tijuana Brass!” David offers, while both brothers recalled their father singing at the top of his lungs and his sense of humor, traits which made their way into the song’s lyrics, along with Hector, Sr.’s love for making chicken and rice.
“He would call it arroz con pollo, of course. But I couldn’t make that work in the lyric!” his son laughs. “But I broke down when I was writing it. Those lines are very true. He’d sing that ranchera music when we were driving, and he had a great voice.”
As they began their music career, the Saldana brothers say their father would call it “crazy,” but nevertheless supported their ambitions and even acted as their first producer. But as a man of his times – and a U.S. Navy veteran who saw action in both World War II and Korea – he could also be stoic.
“He was a dad and would tell you what to do. He wasn’t’ trying to be our friend, but we were close. It wasn’t until he was on his death bed that we had these [deeper] conversations about how much we loved him.” Hector, Jr. remembers.
“It’s very emotional to think about the holiday without our dad,” he continues. “It’s impossible to have a Christmas where there’s not that sort of longing for things that have changed forever. You try to find the joy, but you also have a perspective on [the past].”
It wasn’t until the spring of 2019 that Hector, Jr. thought about writing “Christmas With My Dad.” But he and David aren’t the only Saldanas on the finished tune – Hector’s adult sons Nicky and Jason play electric guitar, and all four men sing parts of it. Luvine Elias (organ) and founding member of the Sir Douglas Quintet Jack Barber (bass) fill out the lineup.
“That would have made my dad really happy to have Nicky and Jason as part of the record,” David says. “I know my mom is.”
On the flip side of “Christmas With My Dad,” the Krayolas include two additional holiday-themed songs: their 1980 release “Christmas Time” and a recently-discovered first-take on that song with a different sound, now dubbed “Christmastime 1979.”
The songs were originally recorded in Houston by producer Charles Bickley and recently restored/produced by Jon Harter, and they view the holiday through a lens of both joy and loss.
Longtime Houston music fixture Ezra Charles played piano on both tunes, with Barry Smith playing organ on the first-take and Charles Lowe adding synthesized strings on the latter release.
The family’s Houston-connection runs even deeper since both (along with one of their sisters) were born in the city before the family moved to San Antonio. Hector says Houston gave the Krayolas “some of their biggest breaks” as a live unit early in their career.
So as the Saldanas face their third Christmas without the family patriarch, it’s with a similar mixture of joy on loss reflected on their songs. “Christmas was such a big deal to our father, with the trees and the anticipation,” Hector offers. “And I am very embarrassed to say how long we believed in Santa Claus!”
“Christmas With My Dad” is available locally at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth, as well as several independent record stores statewide. It is also on many streaming services and SoundCloud. For information, visit TheKrayolas.com.