Call him Matthew (Castillo), Mateo, whichever you choose. Professionally, it’s “Matt,” Matt is handsome, poised and young (29), as are his Country/Western band buddies.
They are doing quite well, representing the Rio Grande Valley. Matt is lead singer, composer and rhythm guitar.
The Herdsmen, his friends and musical companions, include Ruben Cantu (drums), Everto Cavazos (lead guitar/harmony vocals) and Danny Salinas (bass guitar/harmony vocals). You can hear them 7:00 P.M. Saturday night at “Chef’s Bar-B-Q and Showdown” and Car Show, Mission, Texas,, Market Park, 202 West Tom Landry Street, 3:00-8:00 p.m. The improbable phenomenon of four Mexican Americans, singing exclusively “Gringo” Country music blows the mind.
Yet, there it is: four college graduates (UTPA and A&I), playing honky-tonk music. How did they form? Matt: “Our parents raised us around country music. Then the genre seemed to fit a rebellious stage for us—a contrast. But we also liked the love messages in C/W music.” They do not reject “Tejano or Norteno” music, or their Mexican American heritage. They do not (yet) sing in Spanish. They explain as nicely as possible to impatient Chicano fans wanting Spanish: “We don’t yet. We are trying to find our sound; we are not quite there. But we will mix it up, quite soon.”
Matt shared a funny story (there must be more that can’t be told): In Bay City (“12 Strings Bar”), what he politely called “an elderly Caucasian lady, with Biker Chaps, black leather jacket and bandana,” approached. “We had just finished one of our original tunes.” The lady walked up with a $5 dollar bill in her hand (she had been at the bar quite a while). “Can you sing ‘Wagon Wheel’ and then some Mexican song?” Matt explained “sorry, we don’t know Wagon Wheel. “ And “the only one right now who knows a Mexican song would be [pointing to Danny] that gentleman there. “Well, F###,” she replied. She took back her $5 and tottered to the bar. They now laugh about it and Matt looks forward to more gigs there; “Lord, oh Lord, we love you, Bay City.”
I asked if their ethnicity might put off other Anglo audiences: “No, no problems there. Once we begin the audiences ‘get into it,’ warm up and accept us.” I was, at first, incredulous. I then decided it was I who was stereotyping. Perhaps up-state and out-of-state predominately Anglo audiences have changed, transformed into a more culturally accepting bunch? “Ojala!” (Spanish/Arabic for “God Willing”). For these boys, there is no question. Seeing (and singing) is believing.
The Herdsmen perform in the Valley (they started with “smoky bars” and weddings) but have many “gigs” in Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Corpus. The business, run by Matt, is very well organized. Connections, actual and potential, are intriguing: “I was about to cut ‘Ft. Worth Was a Fabulous Waste of Time,’ by Guy Clark and Randy Rogers. However, sadly, Guy passed away; things are in limbo.”
Meanwhile, Matt and, from time to time, others compose their own ballads. They don’t want to rush a song. Sometimes it might take a year to create fully. All help with both lyrics and music. So far, nothing like “I Got Tears in My Ears” or “Drop-kick Me Jesus,” but the twang is there. Their songs (in C/W, even Tex-Mex tradition) are about relationships. The last album, “Small Town Stories” tells of break-ups and hard times (“making it” on the Texas “Red Dirt Scene,” Matt said). But they survive and sing of nurturing families, finding girlfriends and love.
“We keep the harmony positive in our songs and in our relationships.” The group dreams of “making history, making our Valley hometowns proud. There are not many Hispanics in the ‘biz’, so that is part of the motivation.” They have one CD out and the second in the making, recorded in Wimberley’s “Yellow Dog” Studios. They hope to reach a larger market. “We have high hopes for “Small Town Stories.” Meanwhile, two of three singles (“Dance All Night,” “All Gone,” and “Too Drunk Anyway”) passed into the top 50. “Not bad,” says Mateo, for a two-year old band and a debut album. No, not bad at all.
Success can breed some problems and stress. But, Matt opines “music heals . . . we make a living doing what we enjoy.” They have skills and drive. “If you create something special and the audience responds positively, that’s all we need.” The Herdsmen have also been nominated for “New Single of the Year” and “New Band of the Year” for the 2016 Texas Regional Radio Music Awards.
In Spanish, I would say, “algo es algo” (something is something—and someone is surely listening). So, local boys, our Valley boys make good–as musicians and as just very nice guys. Perhaps that is their unique quality besides their ethnicity. Not a rowdy bunch, except for the drinking song, but what would C/W music be without those liquid laments? (Whoops, there I go, stereotyping again; sorry). Matt and the Herdsmen represent the Valley very well. Round ‘em up, head ‘em out, support them; they support us. Check out their site: [email protected]