San Antonio record producer Manny Guerra helped define Tejano’s music, but he’d rather talk about something else


Record producer, studio owner and musician Manny Guerra’s role in sparking the glory days of Tejano music is legendary.

His musical talent, ambition, workaholic intensity, creativity and innovation on a shoestring budget helped shape some of the greatest records ever made in San Antonio, starting in the early 1960s and continuing through the 1960s. heyday of Tejano in the 80s and 90s.

Songs include “Talk to Me” by Sunny and the Sunglows, “It’s Okay” by Joe Bravo, “Entre mas, Lejos me Vaya” by David Marez, “Te Aventaron Tus Brazos” by Latin Breed, and “Como La Flor” by Selena Artists he produced included Emilio, Ram Herrera, Shelly Lares, Jimmy Edward, La Tropa F and La Mafia.

“He helped create the Tejano sound,” said music historian Ramon Hernandez. “He was the ‘it’ producer.”

Guerra, 83, has just written a memoir, “Tejano Music Award Producer.” As much as anything, it reveals his current ambivalence about his past accomplishments.

Manny Guerra has produced recordings of the biggest names in Tejano music from his humble Amen Studios on the south side of San Antonio.

Archive photo from the Express-News.

“The only difference between (Beatles producer) George Martin and me is that he knew what he was doing,” Guerra said, showing a flash of pride, something he usually keeps hidden. But drawing inspiration from Motown’s R&B pop, he was Tejano music’s biggest record producer.

Hernandez credits Guerra with improving the fidelity of local records by bringing in session musicians, background singers, and outside songwriters like Luis Silva. It created distinctive echo and reverb effects with a huge metal gas storage tank fitted with a speaker, microphone and baffles. Guerra also rejected the accordion, his first childhood instrument – ​​he sometimes jokes about building a giant bonfire of accordions – for the keyboard synthesizer.

In interviews about his memoir, Guerra downplays all of this. He prefers to talk about his faith and the scriptures rather than his legendary musical past.

“He’s a little evasive,” Hernandez said.

If he’s embittered by his secular musical credits, Guerra said it’s because he “didn’t serve God” and used his talents “for the wrong reasons.”

His musical journey has also been accompanied by difficult times: divorces, bitter group arguments and dramas, financial difficulties, excessive drinking, guilt and depression.

“Tejano Music Award Producer” is Manny Guerra’s new memoir.

Christian Faith Edition

A spiritual awakening changed the course of his life. Finally, he will turn his back on the secular music of his youth.

“Tejano Music Award Producer” is a 114-page quick read. It is dedicated to Guerra’s 102-year-old mother, Lucia R. Guerra. And its title is somewhat misleading.

“It’s a book, not to tell people what to do. It’s more or less showing people what not to do, by the mistakes I’ve made,” he said.

Guerra’s talent was evident from the start.

Early in his musical career, as a young drummer in the famed Isidro Lopez Orchestra, Guerra gained a reputation as “Gene Krupa de Tejano,” Hernandez said. He was also a good singer and songwriter.

As the bandleader of Sunny and the Sunglows in the 1960s, he produced and played drums on such enduring San Antonio hits as “Golly Gee,” which he co-wrote with Sunny Ozuna. and “Peanuts (La Cacahúata)”.

Behind his battery, Guerra was an executioner. He was a few years older than the other musicians.

“He called out every song on stage. He counted every song. And he corrected everyone afterwards,” Ozuna recalled. “We were young teenagers who didn’t know what we were doing. He was the teacher of the little children in the class.

“Talk to Me,” Chicano’s first record to become a national hit, was his biggest production, something even Guerra acknowledged at a book signing on Sunday.

Manny Guerra (second from right) with Sunny and the Sunglows.  Guerra produced the band's big hit

Manny Guerra (second from right) with Sunny and the Sunglows. Guerra produced the band’s big hit “Talk To Me”. Also pictured are Henry Nañez (left to right), Rudy Guerra, Sunny Ozuna and Tommy Luna.


He set up the recording sessions and was the one who insisted on adding real chords to what would be Ozuna’s signature song. Arturo “Sauce” Gonzalez’s Wurlitzer organ is characteristic of what would become the West Side Sound.

The record was released on Guerra’s Sunglow label. When Ozuna left the band just as the song was taking off, Guerra said he felt betrayed and humiliated and wondered if the Sunglows could survive.

“I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me,” he said.

Ozuna, who performed at the book signing, maintains that he was expelled.

Guerra, in any case, would go on to shape the sound of Tejano’s music as a producer.

Her humble Amen Studios facility on the South Side – Tejano singer Shelly Lares still describes it as a magical cabin – was where the Latin race first assembled her horned fusion and where Selena recorded her first albums and his cumbia pop hits.

The studio was the epicenter, a successful Tejano factory. .

“He was the studio guy,” said Abraham Quintanilla, father and manager of the late Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla Perez. They made five albums with Guerra.

Selena’s iconic hits “Como La Flor”, “Amor Prohibido” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” were recorded at Amen Studios.

“He could give you a really good sound. Manny is one of the pioneers of Tejano music,” Quintanilla said, though he added that it was his son, AB Quintanilla, who really produced Selena.

“Tejano Music Award Producer” skims over a lot of those details.

Tejano fans looking for the San Antonio equivalent of how Phil Spector created his wall of sound, how George Martin produced the Beatles, or how Tina Turner survived her marriage to Ike Turner can find the book. de Guerra missing.

But the memoir offers insight into his complicated and often conflicted personality and spiritual awakening, as well as a lucid dissection of his successes, failures, and family conflicts.

A rebirth experience in June 1968 is at the heart of Guerra’s book and how he sees his life – and his life’s work.

Reading the story, some may see parallels in his attitude to those of Little rock ‘n’ roll architects Richard Penniman and Jerry Lee Lewis. Their religious views were often in conflict with the music they popularized. Both called secular rock ‘n’ roll the devil’s music.

Guerra’s opinion of the secular records he produced is not that different.

“None of this came from an inspiration from God,” he said. “It came from me and I lived in a sinful nature.”

Singer-songwriter Rene Ornelas of Rene & Rene fame sees nothing sinful about his innocent early hits.

“Most of my music is romantic, and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Ornelas said,

Ozuna agrees. The two men give concerts of yesteryear and Christian shows.

Guerra, who only records gospel music now, is hard to pin down when it comes to his early music or the records he produced.

“I never liked music,” Guerra said. “It was just a vehicle.”

Even people who know him have a hard time swallowing that.

“I don’t understand the whole ‘I never liked music’ thing,” said Lares, who was signed to label Tejano de Guerra,

“Manny Guerra is music,” said longtime radio personality Henry “Pepsi” Peña. “He would tell you that it’s about creating something that doesn’t exist. It’s the ecstasy of what he was doing. This is what moved and motivated him.

“Is it complicated? Yes. Who understands Picasso? The guy was a genius… but there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“Tejano Music Award Producer” (Christian Faith Publishing, $24.95) is available at and other online retailers.

Hector Saldaña is the curator of the Texas Music Collection at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos


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