Equipped with good looks, a big, effortlessly acrobatic voice and an uncanny gift for nailing the soulful heart of any and all tunes that came his way, the charismatic Rick Trevino bypassed the music biz’ usual ‘School of Hard Knocks’ curriculum right from the start. Scooped up by Sony even before he could even begin shopping his demos, Trevino hit the ground running in the early’90s with snazzy tour buses, high-profile arena shows and bilingual chart success--and all before his 23rd birthday.
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Trevino was the first Hispanic to seriously impact the country music scene since the great Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez nearly two decades earlier, yet despite his heritage (and the strategic, cross-language marketing), he was essentially positioned as yet another of that era’s ‘hat acts.’ The arrangements favored the sub-genre’s hybrid of Nashville’s glossy ’70s ‘Countrypolitan’ crossover style with arena rock--allowing little ‘wiggle room’ for artistic experimentation, innovation or growth.
In hindsight, then, it’s not surprising that artist and label parted ways in 1998. ‘Hat acts’ had become passé and the industry’s appetite for eating its young will never be sated. But it was a shock to Rick, who was faced with the obligations of a newly-built home for his young family (even as Sony saw fit to release Rick Trevino’s “Super Hits” in 1999).
His early successes notwithstanding, Trevino knew full well that his range and talents had been barely tapped up to that point, so he took stock and shifted gears, realizing that the change in direction was, in fact, an opportunity to spread his wings and dig a little deeper.
“I had the vocal ability to sing,” he said, while admitting, “but I didn’t have the years of experience that I believe you need to have musical integrity.”
He began incorporating more Tex-Mex elements into his music (his father had been a Tejano musician) even as he began a self-imposed crash course in music education. He immersed himself in recordings by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, Shawn Colvin and Elvis Costello.
In 1998, Trevino was invited to join the debut project of Los Super Seven, a startlingly eclectic aggregation of Mexican-American artists that also included Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, Ruben Ramos, Joe Ely and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas. The very company he kept bought Rick a new level of respect from critics and peers, and the disc went on to garner a 1999 Grammy© award for Best Mexican-American Album.
In a gesture symbolic of the break with his past, Trevino even left his cowboy hat in the van for nearly four years; it’s since returned to his head, but these days, it carries no artistic implications. Sometimes (to paraphrase Freud), a hat is just a hat...
Rick and his band (which still includes bassist Greg Modasette and pianist Milton Waters from his days at Texas A&M in the late ’80s) continued to tour, and if the vehicle and the venues were smaller than in the Sony days, the shows got tighter, more substantial, more stylistically diverse.
In 2001, Trevino returned for the second Los Super Seven recording, CANTO. Joined again by Hidalgo, Rosas and Ramos along with The Mavericks’ Raul Malo, Brazil’s Caetano Veloso and Peru’s Susana Baca, Rick was blessed three-fold by the session: The disc earned the group yet another Grammy nomination, it hooked him up with a group to back his first solo outing since Sony AND he forged a connection with a powerful friend and collaborator in Malo.
That same year, Trevino recorded MI SON, a brilliant collection of bilingual original material supported by the CANTO combo plus the rest of Los Lobos. Released on Vanguard Records, MI SON reintroduced Rick Trevino as a rapidly developing artist of note, along the way being tabbed by both the Chicago Sun Times and The Tucson Citizen as one of the Top 10 Latin albums of the year.
An industry showcase in Nashville caught the attention of notable Warner Bros. producer Paul Worley. Trevino was signed to the label, and Malo, Jaime Hanna and Alan Miller collaborated with Rick to pen nine of the ten tunes which would make up his 2003 WBR debut, IN MY DREAMS.
Dialing up knowing references to The Mavericks/Roy Orbison (the title track and “Are We Almost There”), Merle Haggard (“She’ll Never Know”), Rodney Crowell (the rollicking, self-deprecating “Overnight Success”), Buddy Holly (“Beautiful Day”), and Buck Owens (“Olivia” and “Heartaches”), the disc displayed a mature artist whose material was truly worthy of his awesome vocal instrument.
Produced by Malo and backed by some of Music City’s earthiest studio hands (Kenny Vaughn, Glen Worf, Dan Dugmore, Tim Lauer, Chad Cromwell, etc.), IN MY DREAMS remains a pillar-to-post artistic triumph, even if radio was to have a bit of trouble finding the ‘Rick Trevino’ they thought they knew amid this stylistic tour-de-force that he presented.
“When IN MY DREAMS came out, I wasn’t identified with the song because it was such a big departure from what I’d been doing,” Rick admits. “But the change was purposeful; I felt like I got a lot more respect from the industry because of where I came from and the perception they had of me. I’ve got a lot of music to share; we just need another shot.”
In the spring of 2005, Trevino reunited with Los Super Seven for HEARD IT ON THE X, providing the lead vocal on “Ojitos Traidores” and sparring with the great Freddy Fender on the sizzling “Cupido.”
“It’s been kind of inside-out,” Rick said, reflecting on his unusual career path. “I look at it like I’m paying my dues now, and I still feel like I’m really blessed to be playing music for a living, period.”
Rick Trevino is currently writing and demo-ing songs for his second WBR disc, ostensibly due in 2006. Raul Malo will again co-write, and Malo and Worley are set to co-produce.
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