There was never any doubt Ramon Ayala would spend his life playing music. Call it destiny or carrying on the family legacy, but Ayala’s life was always filled with music. It never occurred to him to pursue anything else.
Born in 1945, in Monterrey, Mexico, he began playing the accordion when he was 5 years old. He and his father would play together in different public places for a few pesos here and there to help their modest family.
As a teenager in the early ’60s, Ayala virtually invented modern norteño music, teaming up with the late bajo sexto guitarist and vocalist Cornelio Reyna to form Los Relampagos del Norte. The duo created a distinctive sound and compiled a catalogue of songs that have since been covered by countless artists in contemporary Latin music.
Their first hit single “Ya No Llores” was recorded in 1963. For the next eight years, Los Relampagos del Norte tore up the music charts by revolutionizing and re-inventing norteño music, a genre that was then considered exclusively cantina music. Ramon and Cornelio livened the music and lyrics in order to reach and appeal to more people.
Ayala and Reyna took it out into broad daylight and let the music breathe.
The talented duo recorded a total of 20 albums leaving behind many classics such as “El Disgusto”, “Devolucion”, “Mi Tesoro”, “Tengo Miedo”, and many others. After Reyna left to pursue his own ranchero career in 1971, Ramon Ayala set out to prove that he could make it on his own and formed the legendary band, Ramon Ayala y sus Bravos del Norte in late 1971.
He became known as the “King of the Accordion,” and his signature songs and definitive instrumental styling have made him a superstar on both sides of the Rio Grande.
There were many who were skeptical about the young musician’s continued success at first, convinced that his short career may very well be over. However, he proved them all wrong. Not only did this parting of the ways work, it worked very well. Along with vocalist, Eliseo Robles, Ayala created music that artistically surpassed all others in conjunto/norteño circles, and to this day, still remains as the ideal sound—the standard.
The Mexican musician, composer and songwriter has recorded more than 113 albums for which he has received 10 Grammy nominations and four Grammy Awards, including one for his hit album En Vivo… El Hombre y Su Musica. Ayala has also been awarded two Latin Grammys for the albums Quemame Los Ojos and El Numero Cien.
Additionally, Ayala has been featured in 13 movies.
His most recent album Como El Topo was released in 2016.
All this success began in the simplest of ways without any pretext of what was to come. He doesn’t measure success with awards, but by longevity and the number of fans who attend his concerts making it possible to sustain a career for 55 years. Those fans will be in full force when he plays one of Laughlin’s biggest indoor concert venues, the Edgewater E Center on Saturday, Sept. 29.
We talked with Ramon Ayala via a phone interview, which was graciously translated by his representative, Manuel Palomino. Here’s what transpired…
When you first came on the scene, why did you think it was necessary to reinvent norteño music? How much experimenting did you do?
He was born with norteño music because his father was a musician and he started playing the accordion at 5 years old. So when he became a professional musician at 18 years old with his first hit album, and first hit single, that style is the only way he knows how to play. I mean, that changed the music, he didn’t plan it that way, he didn’t think about it that way, he just said, “We gotta create our own style of playing music so we differ ourselves from everybody else.” So that just happened and it wasn’t planned to be that way. It’s what made him an artist to be around after 55 years.
How much of an impact did your upbringing have on his music?
He says that when he was 7 and 8 years old, that’s when he started to work with his father. They would go play songs at restaurants and on the streets and they would get paid two pesos for each song they would play. That gave them that edge of making music the way he’s making music today. At 18, he recorded his first album and he made it on the first single. It’s very hard for anyone to do that.
How did that go over with traditionalists vs. younger audiences at that time?
When he came up with the style, it was accepted by all ages. He was very lucky, he was very fortunate that his music sounded completely different to what everybody was accustomed to listening to on the radio. He came up with this new style and a new way of playing and people just loved it and it was all ages. Then that took him to 1971, when he and Cornelio broke up, and he started a new band, which is Ramon Ayala y sus Bravos del Norte. Also in 1971, he started to record, with his new name and the music they created continues to be hit singles. And the new kids, the new generations, they’re still following him because they still want to be part of that style. Younger generations are listening to the music because the parents listened to the music and they don’t forget. He gets those new followers because they were brought up with the music at home. That’s how it continues up to now, 55 years later.
He was a musician first. When did the song writing come into play? What is your songwriting process?
In 1971, when he started his y sus Bravos del Norte music, that’s when he started to write. He’s written over 70 songs, which a lot have become hit singles, and big hits over the years and it’s to continue the favorite songs of the fans. He doesn’t have a way of writing, it’s just stuff that comes into his head and he puts it on paper and hopes it’s something the audience is going to like.
What’s the largest crowd you have ever performed for?
He says that the biggest shows that he’s ever created for the largest crowd was 110,000 people in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, and the other one was 100,000, also in Mexico. One show he remembers was in Mexicali in Baja, California, that one was for a crowd of 55,000. Also he broke an attendance record at the Reliance Stadium in Houston, Texas, with 84,000 people.
Is there an accomplishment of which you are most proud?
He says all of his shows are special to him. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small crowd, or large crowd, they’re all special to him. To him it’s a blessing to continue working after 55 years and still continue being in the hearts of his fans.
Do you ever think about the impact you have had on music?
He says, yes, he’s thought about it, and he’s been very humbled by that because he never thought he could accomplish such a thing without even trying. I mean, he never tried to do anything other than he just tried to put his music out there — and then for him to see all these new generations of musicians and bands that are coming out — every day there’s one born — and for him to see that his music has made them follow the style, his way of making music, it makes him very happy. But yet, he feels that all these people, these new generations they have to continue with all the same style and same rhythm of music and for them not to progressively change it.
He says he’s been very lucky to help out and be in the recording studios of the first albums of big norteño bands. He was the first to give them that push, that lucky kick in the butt, he says. He’s a mentor to a lot of the big names, he’s been there for Intocable, Invasores de Nuevo León, and many others that are out there today and some that have been out there forever.
Talk about the show you are bringing back to Laughlin.
He’s saying he wants to invite all his fans and everybody that’s always been at his shows — all those people who always see him in Laughlin. Everyone is cordially invited to his concert on the 29th of September on Saturday. He hopes that everybody can enjoy themselves and this could be another memory of his shows for his fans.