I just got done reading the autobiography of Chicano music legend (and friend) Johnny Hernandez. Titled The Cottonpicker–An Odyssey, Hernandez takes us through various phases of his life: The kid who worked the cotton fields and went through a racist school system that left him in need of a formal education; the young teen dropout (I prefer pushout) who struggled job to job with a young family; the vocalist of an up-and-coming Chicano music band that made it big nationally and internationally; the successes of his songwriting and La Familia with him at the mic; the trials and tribulations that brought an end to the “Little Joe, Johnny y La Familia” era of the band; and his struggles as a solo act and a person.
All of this, along with familiar stories of family love, personal struggles with drugs, alcohol, women, and business, and much more make for a book that was hard to put down. Add some personal successes in overcoming these struggles, and finding success in the radio business, and one can’t help but to feel good that Johnny is still around and thriving.
What was the toughest read was Johnny’s depictions of his struggles with his brother. Frankly, I would think this is the part that people wanted to read most because for the longest time, people were too willing to blame Johnny for the “Little Joe/Johnny” break up. Like most band stories, there is much more to the story, and perhaps some bitter pills that we as fans must swallow. It is definitely an entry into musician life that we never experience.
Of course, disturbing to me were the challenges Johnny faced as he attempted a solo career after La Familia. Being met with unhelpful promoters, producing and marketing his own albums, and trying to keep a band together aren’t necessarily new stories in music. They are part the overall story of what became of the Tejano market, where (in my opinion) big corporations exploited Tejano music, picked favorites, and left the industry in disarray once the cash wasn’t as lucrative. For Johnny, adding the 800 lb. gorilla that he was no longer a part of the premier TexMex band (La Familia), and one can only imagine Johnny’s struggles.
As a fan of Johnny’s for a long time, I followed his solo career. I also noticed his long absence after his “big break” when Capitol EMI signed him, and his next return with various self-produced albums. This book fills in a lot of those gaps that many fans will appreciate.
I’ll also say that Johnny putting his story in print isn’t only good for the fans, but it’s good for Chicano history. Seldom has the story of our culture and music been put in print, especially by the people that make the music. I hope this is the first of many more projects put out by some of our graying, yet continuing, Tejano titans. Great job, Johnny!
Buy Johnny’s book at CreateSpace today.