Joe López and Jimmy González were born a half-hour apart in the same
Brownsville hospital on August 28, 1950, according to Ramiro Burr's
"Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music." The two were
childhood friends and neighbors. Jimmy's interest in music came at his
mother's urging. "When I was 16, she bought me an acoustic guitar at a pawn
shop," he said. Joe and Jimmy played in local groups during the late
sixties. "It was like the movie 'La Bamba,'" González says. "My mom would
take me to rehearsal. She used to get mad and say, 'How come you didn't tell
them you could sing?'" But Jimmy enjoyed playing the guitar and arranging.
González credits Sonny Ozuna as a major influence. "I liked the horns and
the way the group was all dressed up, along with Sonny's unique singing," he
Fast-forward to 1976: Joe and Jimmy are playing together again, and are spotted by Luis Silva, the Cara Records executive, songwriter and future Tejano Music Hall of Fame inductee. "I saw them in Fort Brown Resort Hotel in Brownsville," Silva said. "They had a female singer. The group was sensational but the singer didn't convince me. But I had one of the best ribeye steaks I've ever had there, so two weeks later I went back." This time, Joe López was out front singing. "He was the missing link," Silva said.
The group was christened Mazz in 1977. According to Jimmy, the unusual spelling of the group's name was inspired by the two Z's in "González" and the logo of rock group Kiss, which drew the S with sharp angles, like the Z.
The first few years were tough. "We were actually more successful in California," González said. "We did rock, and our sound was more international. People asked us if we were from Mexico." Hard to believe now, but people even said they couldn't dance to Mazz's music. The group realized it would to have to rediscover Tejano. In 1980, Silva wrote the song that would become Mazz's first big hit: "Laura Ya No Vive Aquí." Suddenly, people were paying attention to the boys from Brownsville. Mazz went on to record over 80 of Silva's songs.
It was during this period that Mazz honed its trademark style--a danceable mix of rancheras, cumbias and ballads that made consistent use of synthesizer, an instrument more associated with rock than with Tejano. Up until that point, "Tejano music was brass," Silva said. "Mazz revolutionized that because they came out with the synthesizer. We got the idea from a singer named 'Chato' Chavarria."
Another milestone for Mazz was its 1985 album "No. 16," which contained the legendary ballad of heartbreak and loss, "¿Por Qué Dios Mio?" "When I heard this song, I knew it had to have a beautiful arrangement," González said. "Joe did a terrific job on it. People would react to it and it would make you cry." Jimmy says he regrets that this mother died before he made it big. "My mom never saw that I had success. She used to say someday I'd be on TV playing my songs. I talk to her every day."
As the hits came at a faster pace, more people showed up at Mazz concerts, which spurred them to get first-rate sound and light equipment, which made their shows more exciting, which attracted even more fans. By the mid-80s, Mazz had a reputation as one of the best live acts in the business, just as a new "MTV generation" of young viewers was expecting killer visuals to go along with the music. "We had a rivalry with La Mafia over who had the best show," González remembered. "The people were the winners because they got their money's worth." The band also began winning Tejano Music Awards; it would go on to take home more than two dozen. Mazz was regularly selling out dances in the Southwest, and the stage was set for them to work their magic in Mexico. Tejano was still widely seen as a regional style, and Mazz had to pay its dues all over again. During a 1990 promotional tour in Monterrey, Mazz was treated as a semi-unknown. But the group quickly won audiences over thanks to first-rate material like "No Te Olvidaré," a power ballad written by Joe López. "That song helped us cross over into Mexico," González said. Another key accomplishment for the group was signing with Mexican super promoter Oscar Flores. All of the elements of crossover success were falling into place for the band, which included Brando Mireles on keyboards, Adolfo García on drums, Mario González on bass, Tommy González on sax, and Alfonso González on accordion.
April 1991 and April 1992 marked two unforgettable moments in Mazz concert history, as the group co-headlined all-night outdoor concerts in Monterrey, Mexico; each were packed with over 50,000 screaming fans. And the live double CD "Una Noche Juntos" captured Mazz at a sold-out show in San Antonio, documenting its unsurpassed ability at keeping the rhythm, the crowd, and the party going all night long. "Que Me Lleven Canciones," from the live CD, quickly became a classic and won Song of the Year at the 1992 Tejano Music Awards. Written by Humberto Ramon, the song expressed the protagonist's wish that his funeral be a happy occasion, with lots of singing and music.
The Mexican influence in Mazz's music grew, as the band incorporated onda grupera organ riffs into its cumbias and covered Los Tigres del Norte's "Contrabando y Traición," the infamous corrido about Camelia la Tejana. Tejano groups rarely did corridos, but Mazz's gamble paid off when audiences embraced the song. "We recorded that song, aiming at Mexico," González said. "Everywhere I'd go in Mexico I heard that song. I figured it was a pretty good little story and would make a good song."
But by the early nineties, Mazz was famous for more than just its music. They were dubbed "The Bad Boys of Brownsville," earning a reputation as a hard-partying group that canceled or simply didn't show up for gigs. However, Jimmy says he's OK with the "Bad Boys" moniker. "The bad boy image was really cool," he said. "We were bad in our music. But it got turned into bad, like mean. For example, when bands fight over who goes on stage first. It was known that we were no pushovers."
Mazz continued to showcase its versatility with the 1996 CD "Mariachi y Tradición," and proved it would still go all out to entertain. At the September 1997 Tejano Thunder concert, the group famously entered San Antonio's Rosedale Park in five stretch limousines escorted by three police motorcycles. The irony, as reported by Ramiro Burr, was that Joe, Jimmy, "and half the band were already backstage." The group brought along a full mariachi and spectacular pyrotechnics.
Joe and Jimmy parted ways in summer 1998, leaving us with a rich legacy of musical excellence. Today, Tejano groups regularly perform in Mexico, massive sound and light systems are the norm, and countless bands are inspired by Mazz's easy fluency with a wide variety of Mexican and American musical styles. Looking back, Jimmy says the greatest moments he spent with Mazz were on stage, looking out over crowds of thousands of people where "everyone was singing our songs. I just had to pinch myself and ask if that was really happening...I can't thank them enough for making our careers beautiful."