The Caliente Column

Joel Nava: On The Tejano/Country Border
By Doug Shannon (

"The country is just as strong as any that's out there, and the Tejano
is right up there with any artist from Emilio to Jay Perez or anybody

Joel Nava doesn't mince words about his self-titled debut CD, which he
showcased Sept. 22 at Floore's Country Store in Helotes.

His insistence on recording in Spanish and English made it hard for him
to find a good record deal, but he finally got his break when Arista
Texas signed him in 1993.

"I've done English and Spanish all my life, and I knew I didn't want
to pursue just the Tejano avenue. This album gave me the opportunity
to do both."

The album has five country tracks in English, two rancheras, two Spanish
ballads, and one Spanish country tune, "Tu Amor Es Para Mi," a cover of
John Berry's "Your Love Amazes Me."

It's a project that has "marketing nightmare" written all over it, but
Nava believes that the music will keep the album from falling through
the cracks.

"In Texas, the CD will be in the Tejano section. Up north it's going to
be in the country section. Emilio's success is only going to help me.
Marketing is going to be difficult, but we're hitting every avenue out
there," he said.

At last the last minute, Billboard relaxed its "minimum seven Spanish
tracks" policy for this album and allowed it to chart on the Billboard
Latin 50. And TTMA radio coordinator Gilbert Salazar said its English
content shouldn't keep it off the ballot for the Tejano Music Awards.

"I hope the country goes up on the charts to where it doesn't disappear
immediately. I hope the Tejano can reach the level of success that Emilio,
Jay, and Ram have had," he said.

That may sound like an ill-advised challenge coming from a singer with
just one CD under his belt, but Nava, 34, has been playing the Texas
dancehall circuit since he was 15.

He started out as a drummer for Bobby Lee and the Night Riders. The day
he finally picked up a microphone and started singing was the day the
band found its new vocalist. The Nava-led Night Riders made it to the
national finals of the 1987 True Value Hardware Country Showdown.

His current band is known as The Border.

"Most of the places we play have a mixture of Tejano and country
artists on the bill," he said. "We're the one act that does both."

"That's the reason we decided to do this album, because of the success
we've had live."

Nava and the Border have appeared with Neal McCoy, Shenendoah, Steve
Wariner, Emilio, Ram, and many others.

Nava grew up in Port Lavaca, TX, enjoying the music of Bob Wills and
Flaco Jimenez. Today Jay Perez and Vince Gill are his favorite vocalists
and Nava's plaintive tenor on the country waltz "Eternal Flame" has
been compared to Gill's.

But what about Jay's well-known disdain for singing country in

"I'm in the same idea as Jay in that I wouldn't do country songs in
Spanish on a regular basis," Nava said.

"We did 'Your Love Amazes Me' in Spanish simply because it was such a
beautiful song and would give the Anglo country market something to
identify with."

"Your Love Amazes Me" was adapted for Spanish by La Diferenzia keyboardist
Miguel Spindola, who co-wrote three of the Spanish tracks. Spindola would
work with Nava at San Antonio's Studio M for a few days at a time and then
fly out to his gigs with La Diferenzia.

The album took five weeks to record and mix. Its first Tejano single
is "Para Que?" and its first country single is "Four-Letter Word," both
of which are instantly memorable, uptempo tunes.

"I didn't want to pursue the honky-tonk, cry-in-your-beer stuff," he said.

Nava lives with his wife, Tracy, and his two stepdaughters. His family
also includes his parents and a sister.

The Border is: Francisco Cortinez, keyboards; Fred Trevino, acoustic
guitar; Hector Mendieta, bass; Bobby Jarzombek, drums; Joe Bob Burris,
lead guitar and backup vocals; and Mark Adkins, pedal steel guitar.

As of Nov. 6, Nava was still auditioning accordionists, according to
co-manager Ron Cotton.