The Naranjero Blues

Emilio Martinez could have been Orange County's Woody Guthrie (and he still might be)

"That generation [of activists] were knowledgeable about the music, but Martinez didn't view it as a career," the professor says. "He was close to the people. He sang about the problems, the happy events. In a sense, he was voicing the people. I don't think he took his music as a way of making a living. He was a picker, a part of the community, and he saw himself that way."

Neither Gonzalez nor Martinez kept in touch after the interviews; indeed, Carr and Emilio Jr. didn't even know about their dad's prominent role in Labor and Community. The professor hadn't played his Martinez reel-to-reel tapes for years, until the Weekly contacted him about them.

Those interviews (which include a recording of a Los Hermanos Martinez and Trio Tapatio disc that you can hear at aren't perfect: The sound fades out, is scratchy and gets lost for minutes at a time. But they're priceless: A still-lucid Martinez recites dates, names and anecdotes as if reading from a script. He laughs, snaps at Gonzalez and never tires of questions. Martinez only gets subdued when the topic of his lost corridos comes up. Early in the first interview, Gonzalez asked him in Spanish, "Do you have some of your songs written?"

Elisa Carr, Maria Daniel and Emilio Martinez Jr. have kept the elder Emilio’s memory and music alive
Keith May
Elisa Carr, Maria Daniel and Emilio Martinez Jr. have kept the elder Emilio’s memory and music alive

"No, well, I lost them," Martinez replied.

"Do you remember some of the words?"

At that point, the elderly composer named a couple of corrido titles, then belted out three stanzas from "Corrido de la Huelga" in a strong, joyful, confident voice.

A couple of days later, Gonzalez asked again if Martinez had any more corridos about the Citrus War. "No, I lost them all," he replied. "Look: You move here and there, and they got lost. You have kids, and they rip them up." He also shares that one of his concerts at the Yost was recorded, but that the disc broke just after he finished singing. "We wanted to do another show to record, but everyone always said, 'Mañana, we'll do it again,'" Martinez recalled. They never did.

In one of their last interviews, an excited Martinez told Gonzalez that after looking around, he found some songbooks. "That's a treasure of information," the professor replied with awe.

A bit of silence. "I know," the old man said. And the conversation moved on.


« Previous Page