The Caliente Column

Pete Astudillo: Up Close & Personal
By Doug Shannon (

A lot of water has flowed down the Rio Grande since Pete Astudillo's
album "Como Nadie" was released Sept. 1993.

The nonstop schedule of Pete and his songwriting partner and producer
A.B. Quintanilla III delayed Pete's new CD, "Como Te Extran~o," longer
than expected.

But critics and fans are too busy raving about the new album's five
cumbias, four rancheras, and one bolero to complain about the wait.
The album reached #2 on Billboard's Regional Mexican Albums chart, and
the title track spent most of Dec. and Jan. as the #1 Regional Mexican

Pete's also on the ballot for 1996 Male Rising Star at the Tejano
Music Awards, according to one of his colleagues.

Here's what Pete had to say.

Q: How do you decide which of your songs are good enough for you or
   other artists to record?

A: It's a team decision. A.B. Quintanilla III is my producer, and the
main decision comes from he and I. We both evaluate the song and rewrite
it. We're pretty critical of ourselves. Abraham Quintanilla, my manager
Lee Garza, and my band also listen to it. If something's grooving, you
can feel it right away. Usually if I like something, A.B. likes it and
everybody else likes it too.

Q: Is it true that you keep your best songs for your own albums and give
   your next-best songs to other artists?

A: Of course not. We don't have a pile of songs that A.B. and I go
through and say, "This one's mine, this one's mine, and this one's mine."
We work on one project at a time. When CHIKKO put out their album, some
of the songs that are on my album didn't even exist, and when IMAGEN
LATINA put out their album, some of the songs on Chikko's album didn't
exist. So it's not like "Como Te Extran~o" existed when we were working
on Chikko's album and we didn't want to give it to them. Or to take you
a step further back, when SELENA would put out her music and I would put
out my music, it's not like we said, "We're not going to give this song
to Pete; we're going to save it for Selena." Whoever the songs are for,
they have A.B.'s name and my name on there as a writer, so we want to
put out the best that we can.

Q: Do you still come up with ideas for songs that make you think,
   "Selena would do a great job with that one"?

A: Of course. I think anything would sound good if she sang it.
A.B. has this saying when we write songs--"Would Selena do that?"
And when I write something, I like to think in that sense too. A song
has to go through a lot of refining to make it onto a Selena album.
So if we think Selena would have done it, we think it's a good song.

Q: If you listened to a Tejano cumbia and a Monterrey cumbia, how could
   you tell which was which without knowing who the artists were?

A: The beats are different. Tejanos, in general, tend to have a more
mechanical feel with their cumbias. Of course, some of the Tejanos like
Selena and MAZZ have changed that a lot. They're not as mechanical. If
you listen to a five-year-old cumbia and a cumbia from today, the ones
now are leaning more toward the Mexican style--they're more tropical.
But when you talk about cumbieros from Monterrey, that's what they grew
up with; that's their bread and butter, and they've refined it to a T.
And we learned it from them. So it's not as refined yet. Selena and A.B.
have done some tremendous work on cumbias, using different bass lines
and beats, but there's a definite distinction when you hear a song from
Mazz and you hear a song from LIBERACION or BRONCO. And some of the
Tejanos are still a little backwards and haven't caught up with what
a cumbia is supposed to sound like. There's a Tejano-style cumbia and
there's a Mexican-style tropical cumbia, and if you play me two songs
I'll tell you who's who.

Q: Having said that, how did the Monterrey crowd respond to your music
   when you appeared there in September?

A: It's always a little scary to go into a new territory where people
don't know you yet. Even though I was there with Selena before, and she
got the respect of the people from Monterrey, the people there are
really tough. So I was scared, even though I'd been part of the Dinos,
because I knew this time they were going to judge me as me. But the
people responded very, very, well and I was happy with everything.
I was astonished to find out how many people did remember me from the
Dinos. A lot of times, people really focus on the band's singer, and
if you ask 80% of the fans who's in the band, they don't know. So I
was surprised that they knew me and my material, even my material from
the prior albums that hadn't been released in Mexico.

Q: Does it seem like it's been over two years since "Como Nadie" was

A: It really hasn't. I was surprised at how well that album did.
We never thought that it would hold out for the two years and we didn't
plan it that way. It's just that A.B. was so busy with Selena and
everything that we never got around to my album. I'm glad that EMI
kept pushing it and putting out singles on it and that radio stations
kept on playing them and listeners kept requesting them. It did survive
for two years, which I think is somewhat of an accomplishment. But I
don't consider myself one of the big bands--I'm somewhere in between,
so for an album to have that kind of longevity was really good. And it
just proves that there was a lot of good material on there.

Q: One of the big hits off "Como Nadie" was "Piquito De Oro."
   Sometimes you've had to say what "Piquito De Oro" meant in English
   ("Single Girl") in order for the crowds to know what you're talking
   about. Do you wish that more of your fans knew more Spanish?

A: Yeah, you always wish for that. We live here in the United States
and I think it's very unfortunate when parents don't take the time to
teach their kids Spanish.  It's a great advantage being bilingual and
a lot of people don't realize that until it's too late. Growing up,
you think it's cool to speak English and you don't want to learn
Spanish, it's tacky. But when you get out into the working world and
out into college, that's when you realize you should have learned
Spanish, and learned it well. So I think it's a real shame when you're
a Mexican and you can't even speak your own language.

Q: On your new album, Jesse Garza of LOS AGUES plays the requinto.
   What's that?

A: A requinto is a type of guitar they use for trio music. Trio music
is three guitars--the bajo and requinto and the regular guitar and it's
a very traditional music in Mexico. One of the groups that's just
synonymous with it is LOS PANCHOS. And Los Agues are trying to
introduce trio music to the Tejano scene by combining trio and Tejano
together, which is a good idea. The requinto is the guitar that does
the melody and the licks as opposed to the rhythm section.

Q: What did you think you'd be doing for a living before you were
   successful in the music business?

A: I had a very normal life. I've been in the music business for about
eight years. I went to college. My whole family's in the restaurant
business, and I thought after I graduated from college I'd open up
a restaurant and be in the restaurant business like my family. And I
do love the restaurant business and I probably will get my own
restaurant one day, as an investment for the future. I started when I
was 13 years old, as a dishwasher. Then I was prep cook, cook, waiter,
manager, you name it, I did it. When your family is in the business, you
do everything and when you're old enough to work, they'll put you to
washing dishes.

Q: What college did you attend?

A: I went to Laredo Junior College and Laredo State University.
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of entering the music business
was that I didn't get to graduate. I had one more year and I would
have gotten my bachelor's. To be honest with you, if there's something
I regret, it's that. Not because I'm doing bad--I thought it was the
right decision at the time and fortunately this business has been good
to me. I regret it in the sense that I'm a firm believer in education
and that was one of my goals and I didn't get to achieve it. When I
tell my kids to go to college, I'd like to say, "Check it out, I did
it, and you can do it too." A degree is just a piece of paper I guess,
but there's a lot more involved than that.

Q: Do you have any kids?

A: No, I'm not even married. Not that you need to be married to have kids.

Q: What were you majoring in?

A: Business. Doesn't everybody in the world? I've been contemplating
going back because I need about 30 credit hours. I need to talk to
some of the instructors, because in our business we work mostly
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, sometimes more. So I thought maybe I
could tell my instructors the situation I'm in, that I'd really like
to finish college. I think that would be a really big achievement on
my side.

Q: Is your birthdate really 12/01/63?

A: (Laughing) Yeah, but don't print it. I'm 32 years old, and I started
doing this when I was about 24. Up to when I was 24 I had a very normal
life. I went to college for one year, and I got out of it to work, and
my brother Javier and I opened up a restaurant in Loveland, Colorado,
and that's when I decided I want to sing. Then I came back to Texas,
and I went to college for two more years, and that's when I got my
chance to join the Dinos, in 1988. I think I feel better now than when
I was 21 years old, partying. I think I'm in better shape and I don't
think I even look 32.

Q: Why were the liner notes to "Como Te Extran~o" so basic--nothing more
   than the credits?

A: In all honesty, it was a time thing. They were really rushing to put
it out, and I was very displeased with (the credits) inside. It's just
one page. EMI did it for a practical purpose, because they wanted it
to come out, and it was way behind schedule. They didn't even put my
thank-yous in there, and it wasn't because I didn't want to, it just
happened that by the time I sent everything out, they'd already done
all the artwork and printed everything up.

Q: What musical trends do you see happening in La Onda in the next
   couple of years?

A: I don't think it's going to get too techno, because then we'll be
pop and we'll lose our roots. When you do stuff like "Techno Cumbia"
it still hasn't crossed that line. It's still a cumbia. Several bands
like XELENCIA are doing the reggae thing, which is cool. I think songs
like "Techno Cumbia" and "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" are good, but if they go
too far, it'll kill it. I think we're going to see more live instruments.
On our new album we did some acoustic stuff on cumbias like "Si No Fui Yo."
If we take that route, I don't think we can go wrong.

Q: Do you ever listen to your CDs after they come out?

A: I listen to them a lot before they come out and I'm very critical of
myself. I'm like, "I hate the way I sound here; I hate the way I sound
there." Right when the CD comes out I listen to it a couple of times
and then I put it away. So I'm not too big on listening to myself.

Q: Jennifer Pen~a provided some background vocals on your new CD.
   Do you think, at age 12, she's really ready to be a star?

A: I don't know if anybody is every ready to be a star, regardless of
age, because it's something you can't prepare yourself for. If you're
mature enough, you can handle it. If you're not, that's when you get
a lot of people turning into drug addicts and alcoholics and fly-by-
night stars. I couldn't tell you if she's ready or not. I don't even
know if she's going to be a star or not. She's a little girl. Abraham
Quintanilla (her manager) thought she had talent; a lot of people say
she's the next Selena. I think that's erroneouse because Abraham doesn't
see her that way at all. It's not like he's pushing her as the next
Selena. I think she's got to pay the dues like anybody else. If she's
going to be a star, it's not going to happen overnight. I have yet to
see that. It didn't happen with Selena for a long time and Selena had
a lot of talent as a little girl. The faster you climb, the faster you
fall. You have to work at it and put in the years and the effort.
That's what you want--longevity, not to be a one-hit wonder. I think
that if you want anything worthwile, you have to work at it for a

Q: A lot of fans believe that Mr. Quintanilla shouldn't push
   Jennifer's career until she's a little older.

A: They're seeing it in the sense that he's doing it to replace Selena,
and I think that's wrong, because he's not. I think even if he'd met
this little girl before Selena passed away, he would have still seen
the same talent. It's just like Chikko or any other band he has--he's
promoting them.

Q: Do you think Q Productions is evolving into a label?

A: I think so. It's somewhat of a label. A lot of the artists like
myself are with EMI but we're part of Q Productions. We're not direct
with EMI. I guess we're a label in our own way already.

Q: So hypothetically, if Q Productions' contract with EMI was up, could
   they call another label and say "we want you to distribute our artists'

A: Of course. Any time.

Q: What are your current projects?

A: I've gotten calls from a lot of people who want me to write for them.
Recording artists like Liberacion, LOS FUGITIVOS, and JOSE JOSE, who I
met in Miami a while back. And in the Tejano scene they've been calling
me for music tambien, so I've been staying busy, working with Ricky Vela
and A.B. It's such a rewarding experience to hear somebody play my songs.
There aren't that many songs that have been recorded outside Selena
and myself. I guess the one that stands out the most is "Estupido
Romantico." One of the biggest problems I've had, and it's really funny,
is when people ask me, "Why did you give it to Mazz?" Well, I'm a writer;
I give music to other people to sing. I guess they can't understand the
concept, because they're like, "Well, why don't you do it?" And it's like
asking, "Why did Selena do 'Amor Prohibido' or 'Que Creias'?" I guess it's
because they see Selena and me as part of the same band and when they
see me write a song for someone outside that little circle, it freaks
them out. With the success "Estupido Romantico" has had, I guess they
think I was cheated out of it. But it's nothing like that at all.
I own the song; I'm the publisher of the song.

Q: Maybe it's because you and your band don't seem to be hyped as much
   as some of the other groups.

A: We really are a low-key band and I don't know what it's due to. If you
come down to working days and sales, we're up there with everybody else.
But at the same time, we're not doing all the hype. We don't have all
these fancy sponsors behind us, like beer companies. We know who's
working and who's not, and who's charging what. And as far as that's
concerned, we're one of the hardest working bands out there, on the
road 50 weeks a year.

Q: In addition to being about Selena, is "Como Te Extran~o" also about
your mother, Paz?

A: I wrote that song for my mother, and of course for Selena who was like
a sister to me. My mother passed away a year and a half ago. It's kind
of ironic that she passed away almost one year before Selena. My mother
passed away April 12; Selena passed away March 31. So when Selena passed
away, it just brought all those feelings back, not that they had gone,
because one year is nothing. But it just took me back to that moment
again. It was a very emotional part of my life when Selena passed away
because she was very dear to me. What was so great about it was that
A.B. was thinking along the same lines I was--we didn't want to mention
Selena's name, or my mother's name. And we didn't want to talk about
death, either. That's how well A.B. and I are connected with each other,
that we were thinking along the same lines without even talking to each
other. So in the song, we're just talking about missing somebody so
much it's incredible. Another thing that's really important is that
people have taken this song and applied it to their own personal lives.
I've had tons of people tell me that they lost their husband, or their
wife, or their children.  Or people call me up and say "I had a bitter
divorce but I still love him and that song makes me think of him."

Q: How does it feel when such a personal song ends up reaching so many

A: When we wrote the song, we wrote it for personal reasons. After we
recorded it, we thought, this is a good song. Our family and Selena's
family felt the same way too. We related to the song. I don't want to
say we didn't do it for the public, but we did it for ourselves. It
was something we really needed to do. We never said, "Let's do this
song because we think it'll be #1." Of course, the accomplishment is
tremendous and it feels good. And it feels good in the sense that a
lot of people are in the same situation we are and that song has
brought them some kind of relief and helped them out.

Q: How do you commute from Laredo to CC?

A: I drive. I have my bus here in Laredo and several of my roadies
and my brother live here and we'll meet up in Corpus or in San Antonio
because my band members live in different areas. When you're used to
being on the road as many hours as we are, a two-hour drive is nothing.

Pete's band "FUTURO" is:
Johnny Saenz--keyboards/accordion
Danny Fernandez--keyboards
Ricky Landeros--drums
Jesse Ybarra--guitar
Fernando Orozco--bass