In-depth Biography A family tragedy spurred the founder of Little Joe Y La Familia to take his brand of Tejano music as high as he could. In 1964, that was a tall order for Little Joe, who was born Jose Maria DeLeon Hernandez in 1940, one of 13 offspring of a Mexican American couple who picked cotton for a living in Texas. His father brought in extra money by selling marijuana and running whiskey into a nearby dry county.
When his father went to jail, 15-year-old Little Joe took his first steps into the local music scene. With a 15 dollar gift from his mother, he bought his first guitar. In 1953, with saxophone player Tony Matamoros and drummer Cino Moreno, he joined David Coronado & the Latinaires, his cousin's band. In 1955 he made his first money as a musician: five dollars for playing a school dance. Three years later the group recorded the single "Safari, Pt. I & II" for Torrero Records.
Little Joe's little brother, Jesse, came aboard in 1959 when Coronado bailed out. Jesse played bass and wrote songs, while Joe made the band his own and changed its name to Little Joe & the Latinaires. Five years later, Jesse was dead, the victim of a car accident, and Joe swore at his grave to make it big somehow. He started by making record deals with a series of independent companies, including San Antonio's Corona Records, Austin's Valmon Records, and Dallas' Zarape Records. In 1968, he had his own independent company and began releasing records in both English and Spanish.
In 1970, Little Joe rechristened his band La Familia after he encountered Latinismo in San Francisco. The Latin music was vastly different from anything he knew back home in Texas and sparked a desire to become closer to his heritage. By 1983, WEA International signed the guitarist and his band, but he later left to form another independent company, Redneck Records. In 1985, his 25th Silver Anniversary album was released through CBS, which evolved into Sony Discos International.
By 1991, Little Joe was well on his way to keeping the promise he made at his brother's grave. That year, his Diez Y Seis De Septiembre won a Grammy Award. He later was nominated for a Grammy for Que Paso, which he released through Tejano Discos International, his own label. He has released more than 50 albums, among them the popular and enduring Timeless, which spent more than 52 weeks on the charts. The group dubbed its music La Onda Chicana, which translates as the Chicano Wave. The lyrics provide a glimpse of Hispanic life, while the music mixes ballads, western swing, country and western, blues, and rock & roll. ~ Linda Seida, Rovi