Rick Trevino - Between Two Worlds

First Published Country Music International, March 1997

Hailed as the biggest Hispanic country star since Johnny Rodriguez, baby-faced Rick Trevino walked the cultish landscapes of Latino music and teen country before settling down as a husband, father and down-the-line honky-tonker. “I believe there’s tremendous integrity in this music,” he tells fatherly Alan Cackett.

“I was just thinking about when you're out on the road and you have a Top Ten record playing on the radio, how great that is, because the fans really react to the music, they really respond to what’s going on.” Rick Trevino is out on the road again: he has just played a club in Arizona and is now preparing to hit the tarmac for a gig across state in Reno. His current single, Running Out Of Reasons To Run, had just entered the country Top Ten and he was naturally buoyed by his latest success.

The 25-year-old singer enjoys a career that is bubbling over and a personal life that just couldn’t be better. Last May he married his college sweetheart, Karla, and the couple are expecting their first baby in August.

Rick’s family has always played an integral part in his career. He started his professional career being managed by his mother. Since making the transition from being a local Texas attraction to touring all across the States, the family have maintained their involvement. His mother now runs his thriving fan club, and his father, a professional musician with a Tejano group called Neto Perez & The Originals, now acts as a guitar technician for his son.

“My dad always told me that he wanted to be like Ritchie Valens,” Rick says fondly. “He didn’t quite make it nationally, but he recorded an album down in Houston which they sold on the road. We’ve still got some copies at home.”

Urged on by musically aware parents, Rick took classical piano lessons as a youngster and recalls listening to all kinds of music as he was growing up.

“I started taking lessons at the age of six and gained an insight into the ethics of practicing. Dad never forced any musical style on me. He would say, ‘Do your lessons, and if you hear anything on the radio that you like, let me know and I’ll buy the record for you.’ That’s how I excelled in my classical music.”

Rick attended Texas A&M University and originally sought a career in baseball but after winning a talent contest he turned down a baseball scholarship to Memphis State University in favour of a career in music.

“I always knew from the time I was five or six that I wanted to play music. I started playing in a rock’n’roll band in high school. I was also playing baseball, but I always came back to music.”

Rick never admitted to his teenage friends that he enjoyed country music: it wasn’t the cool thing to do. “I grew up in the eighties and would listen to everything from ZZ Top and Van Halen to Kenny Rogers,” he explains. “But the older I got, the more I started listening to country. By the time I went to high school I was checking out people like George Strait and Steve Wariner.”

Rick served his musical apprenticeship on the Texas club scene and now comes across as a seasoned entertainer. He may look like an immature teen idol manipulated to fit a certain image, but nothing could be further from the truth. Trevino is a traditionalist who will continue to grow and mature as an entertainer, though he acknowledges that the teen idol image was a useful tool at the beginning of his recording career.

“When I was signed to the company, I was just turning twenty,” he explains. “I had a youthful look and sound because that was who I was at the time. It wasn’t forced, that was the real me. I have to admit that I would rather have been a teen idol at the time than nothing at all.”

Trevino’s so sincere and morally uptight that you almost want to slap him, but it is impossible to disagree with his reasoning. Besides, that image has enabled the young Mexican American singer to become country music’s biggest Hispanic star since Johnny Rodriguez and Freddy Fender. His first album, DOS MUNDOS (Spanish for TWO WORLDS) was issued in both English and Spanish versions, and he cracked the country charts with Just Another Rope in 1993, turning gold in Mexico, while the English version is rapidly approaching platinum. The album cuts across cultural borders, making it clear that country music shuffles and honky-tonks work equally as well in Spanish.

“I was very sceptical, because I'd never done anything like that before,” he admits. “I wasn’t afraid of singing country to Hispanic people, but I was scared of singing in Spanish, because I’d never done it. I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish.”

Though coming from a Mexican family, Rick was raised in an Anglo environment, and though he used some Spanish words and phrases he couldn’t speak the language fluently. When it was decided to record in Spanish, he stayed with a Mexican family for six weeks, learning the language and absorbing the culture.

“It was pretty scary trying to market yourself in that way, because there is every chance of alienating both audiences. But it was the Hispanic people who really got my career rolling and I feel a real sense of gratitude for that, as well as a kinship because of our shared heritage. But the music has never been hybrid—it’s always been straight-ahead country in English or in Spanish.”

Since then he has made country music history by releasing his next two albums, LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT and LEARNING AS YOU GO, almost simultaneously in both English and Spanish: they have both gone gold. He also scored one of 1994’s biggest country hits with the chart-topping She Can’t Say I Didn’t Cry, the third single from the self-titled English version of his debut album. His version of Mary Stuart’s Honky Tonk Crowd was featured in the film Speechless and was also included on the movie’s soundtrack: more recently Rick was featured on Entertainment Tonight showcasing his piano prowess with legendary pianist Van Cliburn.

Listening to his music and hearing him talk so positively about the future, it becomes obvious that Rick has a lot more going for him than many of Nashville’s young ‘hats’. His music is ready-made for the honky-tonk jukebox and he cuts through with genuine authority on songs like Hag’s Poor, Broke, Mixed-Up Mess Of A Heart.

I feel I am growing,” he says convincingly. “If you listen, you can hear the difference. Vocally I have a little more experience under my belt. Some people feel there’s more inspiration in suffering than happiness but, especially at this point in my life, I’m going to sing about the more positive side of life.”

Though he’s been songwriting since his high school days, Rick has only cut a few of his own songs. The one that means the most to him is My San Antonio Rose To You, a song that he wrote back in 1991 shortly after his grandfather died. It is one of those sweetly nostalgic tunes about a grandfather’s influence and Rick brings it to life with real warmth and charm.

“That was the first song that I ever wrote,” he explains. “It’s a very pure, innocent composition. I remember my grandfather would always say to me: ‘Rick, you need to learn that Bob Wills’ song San Antonio Rose,’ After he passed away in 1991 I realised that I’d never learned that song for him.”

Rick’s most recent album, LEARNING AS YOU GO, found him more heavily involved than ever before in the recording side, contributing a lot of input in song choice, musical arrangements and even in final mixing. He started his song-searching by participating in a series of ‘guitar pulls’, informal sessions in Nashville clubs where songwriters sit in a circle, guitars in hand, and trade original songs. One of the fruits of those get togethers was his heart-rending collaboration with Gary Harrison on I’m Here For You.

I believe there’s tremendous integrity in his music,” he says passionately. “There’s a lot to be said for experience and there was also great chemistry in the studio with the players. Everything I’ve done throughout my life has been a learning process for me. I've learned so many lessons from being out on the road, travelling all over the country and meeting people.”

Rick still lives in Austin and travels to Nashville to take care of business. He owns his own house and he and Karla are building a suburban lifestyle far away from the pressures of the music business. “Karla is a great companion and a great friend,” he says. “We have our own home and we’re starting our own family. That's really exciting for me because I have clear ideas of what I want out of life—and Karla feels exactly the same way. My family is what keeps me rooted in reality. That’s my life and my music mirrors that.”