Rick Trevino strives for overnight success

Jeffrey B. Remz, November 2003

Don't accuse of Rick Trevino of being an "Overnight Success," the leadoff song on his new album, "In My Dreams," his first major label album in six years.

The song details life on the road about the long drives "to Oklahoma and Arizona/what's a thousand miles or two/for a big star/in an old car."

But the song title is actually deceiving because Trevino also sings "it's been living on easy street/it's all worked out so perfectly/it's just part of the life I guess/of an overnight success."

If only life were so easy for the Texan, who rose to prominence as the first Latino to hit the country charts in about 15 years when he struck it rich in the mid-'90s with half a dozen hit songs.

When Trevino first hit the charts, he was a young lad of only 22 and on the start of a pretty good roll.

But the "easy street" didn't last forever. Trevino changed gears, went back to his Mexican roots with a super group and later his own album before resurfacing with "In My Dreams" with Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo producing the disc, which sounds very much like something The Mavericks would record themselves. In other words, country with Latin inflections.

"I just felt like it was so appropriate for where I am right now," says Trevino in a telephone interview from his Austin area home about "Overnight Success."

"We're still taking a dag gum band around the country. I took a van from Austin to Ship Rock, N.M. We drove 30 hours. We get back, and you realize you've driven 30 hours, but only performed 75 minutes of music. To me, that's overnight success. To me, it's about the not so glamorous side of this whole thing...I'm doing a lot of free shows right now, a lot of shows for radio, a lot of shows for promoters."

Later during the week of the interview, Trevino says he will drive to Kansas City for a gig and straight back home with no dates in between. "I do it for music you know," he says.

In his former life, Trevino's music was filled with honky tonkers and ballads and wearing a big old cowboy hat, meaning that the very handsome Trevino was linked to the eventually heavily discounted hat acts of the '90s.

And while most of the hat acts have faded into musical oblivion, Trevino never packed it in.

He grew up on his father's Tejano music. His dad, Ricardo Sr., played in regional bands in Houston.

But his son was not enthralled with the music.

"My best friend was Thad Tucker," says Trevino, who moved to an Anglo part of Austin when he was about five. "My dad was playing Little Joe music (a Tex-Mex music star) in the living room. I was disgusted. I was five, six years old. (I was) my whole time until I got out of high school. It wore me out. My mom didn't like it. My brother didn't like it. My father loved it. It just drove us nuts."

Trevino cites another reason for his dislike of the music.

"My dad drank a lot too. He and mom have been married, gosh, about 35 years. There were times - many times - when he'd start listening to his Tejano music, start drinking, and they'd have a knock down, drag out argument. I hated it. Even to this day, I don't like Mexican music that much."

Trevino took piano lessons as a youth, which he balanced with his love of baseball. He eventually became quite good at piano and not too shabby at baseball, though he was unable to make the team at Texas A&M University, which he attended for several years.

He gave up both baseball and college for music.

Trevino played bars and clubs. In a twist of fate, a Sony label rep from the Boston area was stuck outside of Austin due to flooding conditions. He ended up at a little club where Trevino played. He wasn't playing that particular night, but the record label employee read a number of articles on the walls and heard good things about Trevino from employees.

He managed to get a tape of Trevino, which he passed onto Steve Buckingham, a producer at Sony. Buckingham liked what he heard, saw Trevino perform in Texas and signed him up.

In a decision that still irks Trevino, his first album was "Dos Mundos," an almost entirely Spanish country album, even though Spanish was not his main language. In fact, Trevino needed Spanish lessons.

"I didn't like that a bit because I didn't want people to think I was a Tejano artist," says Trevino of "Dos Mundos" ("two worlds"). "I still think it was stupid. I was 20 years old. Everybody thinks I'm a Tejano singer crossing over to the country format."

The label released his self-titled English album about seven months later in 1994.

Pretty quickly, Trevino found himself with big hits like "She Can't Say I Didn't Cry" and "Doctor Time."

On his 1995 album "Looking For the Light," Trevino also scored with "Bobbie Ann Mason" and on 1997's "Learning As You Go," the title track, a number one with "Running Out of Reasons to Run" and "I Only Get This Way With You."

At about this time, Trevino was undergoing a personal transformation, which would affect his musical career.

It started with the birth of his son, Luke, in 1997.

"Up until that point, I had pretty much been at arm's lengths from my Mexican roots," says Trevino. "It's been fascinating for me to look at it. It's been a huge growth experience for me. I was always kind of assimilating instead of being Mexican. I was always ashamed of that music."

"When my son was born, the first thing I thought to myself is I want him to have more of an appreciation and love for his culture than I do."

Trevino also started working with a conglomeration of Mexican and roots artists as Los Super Seven (folks like Joe Ely, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Tex-Mex star Freddy Fender, norteņo accordionist Flaco Jimenez and Tejano bandleader Ruben Ramos) that put out two albums. Malo was involved in the second.

"I jumped into that hesitatingly too," Trevino says. "Because I didn't say I'd love to do it. A lot of the songs pitched to me were songs my dad sang - the song that got me my first Grammy," he says bursting out laughing about his reluctance.

As for his son, "I just wanted him to love his culture more than I did. I've come to terms with it - the culture and the music. I've always been able to separate the Mexican food - the things I love about my culture - the food and family. The drinking and music I associate closely together. I have a lot of Mexican Americans come up to me and say they've experienced the same thing, mainly people from Texas and the Southwest."

On the mainstream music front, Trevino wanted out of Sony, but the label refused to let him go.

Six months later, they gave him his pink slip.

"I wanted a fresh start. I was moving in a different direction. I didn't feel that Sony was supporting it, and I was right."

"It was strange - they were angry that I'd asked off the label and all that stuff. They said, 'absolutely not.' Then they divorce you, six months later. It shocked me. I felt like I was growing as a musician and as a singer and a songwriter. I was going into my fourth album on Sony. I had actually cut the album and released one single that didn't do very well ("Only Lonely Me")."

"I was incorporating the Mexican sound. It sounded a little bit more Texas Tornados sounding, but a little more country than that."

"I was surprised (when Sony cut me)," he says. "It always catches you off guard. It's like you lost your job. It's like someone telling you they don't believe in you any more. It's an ego letdown there. Looking back, I think a lot of it was stressful because I had a brand new house, a brand new baby. On the one hand, it was very stressful. On the other hand, it was very liberating."

"I was in a funk for a couple of weeks, but it was time to move on and refocus and start writing songs and listening to music and keep our live show up and just keep creating music. There's no reason to stop just because you don't have a record deal."

In the meantime, Trevino released "Mi Son," a Mexican album on Vanguard filled with ballads and nothing to do with country, though he remained committed.

"My whole touring schedule and what I do for a living, my whole bread and butter, is country music. It's what I loved first and foremost. Los Super Seven and 'Mi Son' to me were more of a side project. It was easy for me to separate."

"Was I little bit concerned? I had a few concerns. I didn't want country radio to think I was doing something else. What I found out was country radio didn't really pay attention anyway. They don't really pay attention to what you do on the side."

"It was a crazy time. I had guys on the road with me from the days we were out talking with Toby Keith and Tracy Lawrence. You're making a lot of money, good old deli tray gig. Catering and all of that stuff. You get used to a certain lifestyle on the road. Eventually things for me slowed down quite a bit. Tour dates for me slowed down. We were not in a bus. We were in a van. It was discouraging for me. It was discouraging for everybody."

Most of Trevino's band quit.

Trevino later played a few showcase gigs in Austin and Nashville in 2000, though nothing materialized until producer Paul Worley got a job with Warner and signed Trevino.

"We ended up getting another record deal, but it was two years later. But it was well worth it. If I would have gotten a record deal immediately, I probably would not have been ready because Raul and I had not written that much. I had been flying in from Texas to Nashville. We'd write for two or three days."

"The main thing we wanted to do a country record that had a Latin flavor to it," says Trevino. "You go back. There's Marty Robbins who's always kind of infused Latin flavors in a lot of his songs and Buck Owens and even Johnny Cash (the horns on "Ring of Fire"). That's kind of what Raul and I said - 'let's make an album that has a Mexican flavor.'"

Unlike his previous albums, Trevino had a hand in writing everything (all with Malo and others) except the closing, "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" a pretty, acoustic version of the Bryan Adams song.

"We didn't listen to anything else," says Trevino of outside songs. "It was very clear from the beginning."

The album came out in September with the title track being the first single. If it sounds like something you may have heard real recently, it's entirely possible - if you have The Mavericks new disc. Both recorded the song. Trevino's version was on the charts for 20 weeks, hitting as high as 34.

"I'm also disappointed because I wanted to have a number one record, but it also did a lot because it opened a lot of doors for me. It made people take me a little more seriously than 'Bobbie Ann Mason'."

Trevino hopes "Overnight Success," the next single will do even better.

"That's kind of a little bit autobiographical," he says. "The title, of course, is a little tongue in cheek. I had a lot of people early on say 'you're an overnight success.' Here I am 10 years later, plugging away in a van down by the river."

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • countrystandardtime@gmail.com