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Meet Ruben Paul Moreno

 

This is Me

          I don’t want to waste your time telling you about some sappy memory and a messed up childhood from someone else’s point of view. I want to bare it all in the realest way I can, and what better way to do that than by telling you myself. This is my story, no sugarcoating and no lies. It doesn’t end like a fairytale; no one can call this day and age a fairytale ending no how. This is the real, theory seeking, government corruption finding, living life as it is, Ruben Paul Moreno.

The year was 1990 when I was born at LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson) hospital in fifth (5th) ward Houston, Texas on January 15th; the beat of the “I Have a Dream” speech playing on the radio in the background. I guess you can say that this is where I get the drive to be an activist from. Since the beginning, my mom was told that if she were to have a child there was a high probability that both her and her child would die. She had me anyways and look, we’re still alive and kicking.

When I was young my home was always Henry’s lounge, a bar my grandma owned from ’89 to ’96. It was located in Houston’s East End on Milby St. between Canal and Harrisburg. I have memories of falling asleep in my bed while listening to Clifton Chenier blare out of the Jukebox on the other side of the wall: the one I shared with the bar. I gained so much knowledge from the drunken men that stumbled into the bar; it was like living a big adventurous life from the safety and warmth of my home and bed. Some may think that this was a bad way to grow up but I was always safe, and in bed by 8pm.

Sundays were the days I looked forward to every week. On these days, there weren’t any bars or liquor stores open before 2pm, but that never slowed down my grandma’s business. She sold beer at a dollar a pop out of the window in her high-fenced backyard at all hours. She was known around her side of town as ‘mom’ and was loved by everyone; on Sundays all of her closest friends would come over into the backyard. I would wake up to the sound of the music playing loudly, dress up in my Stacey Adams, starched slacks, and pressed shirt and go outside to start the Sunday with my grandma. My grandmother supported me with her love and told me that I could do anything I put my mind to; she inspired me to be whatever I wanted to be. With her thoughtful words I chose to pursue a career in music. My family had a lot of musical connections, my great aunt was best friends with Melinda and Pat Hernandez, the lead singers in the Grammy nominated Latin band called Sister Sister y los Misters. It started off with small, local shows at Houston Miller Outdoor Theater and other places. After being exposed to this form of percussion, I picked up my washboard which soon became my percussion instrument of choice, and along with it came Zydeco music.

Zydeco and Creole culture had always been a part of my life, but I’d never experienced the rush that I did the first time I played with Leroy Thomas at the Continental Club. I was about 10 years old when my aunts kidnapped me, threw me in the back of the van with a washboard just my size and said to me, “you gonna meet yo’ uncle Leroy today.” As I got to the Continental, I saw this big tall man dressed sharp, like he just stepped off the photo shoot for Harlem Nights. He shook my hand, his big one completely engulfing my little one, and blinding me with the diamonds on his fingers. He said “I’m Leo Thomas, Leroy says you gonna join us on stage ‘n play a few numbas. You ready?” I said, “I guess so.” So Leroy and Leo kicked off the song “why you wanna make me cry” and then they announced their special guest: me. I walked out into the club amongst the crowd of drunken men and half naked women. I should have been comfortable in that environment, but it was my first time hearing my name called out and, I don’t know, it just got to me I guess. As soon as I stepped on stage I felt powerful. For once, I felt that, even though I was young, this was the piece missing from the puzzle I had been trying to piece together. This is what I wanted, not only to be a musician but an entertainer: I wanted to please the crowd. The way they reacted to the performance on stage, and the way Leroy swung his accordion in the air; it was just so much. The rush I felt was addictive, this is who I was meant to be.

I continued playing washboard with Leroy and finally got up the courage to actually play the accordion on stage and not just at home. About three years later this lady named Mary Thomas got me my first shows; opening up for her and Roy Carrier on tour all around Houston. I was thirteen then and the crowds were in their 50s and up. I was absolutely terrified, and I worried about everything. How would they judge me? Would I play the songs they liked? Would they judge me on how I dressed, walked, talked, my age? All these thoughts spun around in my head as I took the stage. I had trouble starting, but once I did, everybody was jumpin’. My first night opening was a Friday night at the Silver Slipper. It was my time to shine now, and I did just that; I had the house rockin’, or whatever they say; I brought back the sounds of John Delafose and Boozoo Chavis.

Unfortunately, as I grew older, my mind wasn’t focused on what it should have been. Music was important, but school took a backseat. I was running the streets with my friends and acting out. At fifteen my grandmother was put on dialysis and she wasn’t around. In my mind, this constituted for freedom. I was out like a wild child; no responsibilities, no one to keep me on track and focused. And just to make things more confusing, I fell in love. I was in high school and making enough money to provide for myself, not the glamorous-lifestyle living, but enough to stay afloat. I felt I had more of a life: I could do what I wanted. These were the hardest times in my life; I was doing things I had no business doing and doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. But when I got the call that my grandmother had passed away it was like reality had hit me full force and knocked me back down to earth, slapping me in the face a couple times along the way. I saw my grandmother lying there and it hurt, but I refused to let that stop me; it woke me up and brought me back to life. She had taught me so much and experiencing her death brought all of her teachings to the forefront of my mind.

My grandma’s friends didn’t last long after she passed either; within years, they followed her. From the man who showed me the accordion to her closest friends: all gone. After that I spent more time with my girlfriend and my instrument, everywhere I went, so did my instrument. About a year and a half later my girlfriend was pregnant, and then nine months passed and my son was born in December of 2006. Still disrespecting my right to education, I tried juggling music and school, always putting music ahead of my education; somehow I never cared too much about school. Even though I had all this work I had to deal with, nothing got better when I experienced heartbreak for the first time in 2007. I was alone after that I guess. I dropped out of school and decided to focus on what I knew would always be there for me: my music.

At the end of 2007 I got a call from CJ Chenier and I started my career. I went to almost every state in America and it was like something inside of me woke up and was itching to get out; like CJ gave birth to the dreams and goals I once had and they weren’t going to be quiet until they were fulfilled. My name and face was recognized amongst Zydeco fans across the country, all thanks to CJ Chenier. After that experience I went on the road with Leroy Thomas and gained knowledge about what it takes to make a business in the music industry work; because of this I grew more courageous about making a name for myself. I thank these musicians for their time, teachings, patience and their presence, because without it I would not have realized my goals.

After traveling with CJ and Leroy I made a name for myself and soon, I received a call from Andre Thierry in the summer of 2009, but at the time I didn’t know who he was. He needed a washboard player for the East Coast tour and I needed a new experience, so I accepted. The experience of playing with Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic for three weeks was all I needed to decide that this was something I wanted to be a part of long-term. So I went home, packed my bags and I headed for the West Coast with the dreams of being “Hollywood” famous; if there was anywhere to make it, it’d be on the West Coast. The world was different in California: people were more open minded, different things were more accepted, and the Zydeco nation welcomed me with open arms.

I’ve never been as busy in my life as I was when I played with Andre: three to four, to sometimes five days a week we’d play, and I loved every bit of it. I had heard a lot about Andre sure, who hadn’t, but I never met the man until that year. And let me tell you, I did not know what I was getting myself into when I accepted, but I’ve never regretted my decision. So many different comments were made about his playing, but every day I was more impressed with his style of playing, he has no boundaries on the accordion, there’s no limit, and it’s something he knows. He inspired me to go ahead and do my own thing. He put me in the spotlight, and pushed me out there, whether I was scared or not: he knew this was something I should be doing. Not long after I began playing with Andre he asked me if I had written any music, and lucky for me I had written hundreds of songs. So the projects started and I began recording in his home studio. I completed eleven songs: nine of my own and two very unique cover songs. The pursuing of my career had taken over and my goals were finally being reached. This is how my career started; my dreams were becoming reality and I was finally doing my own thing.

With so much on my mind and the excitement I felt, I started moving fast. I went home, formed a band and I released my CD in August of 2011. Since then I’ve won numerous awards and am now nominated for the 2012 Zydeco Music Awards. This is just the beginning of my life and it’s turning out great. There are so many goals of mine that have been reached but I am still reaching for more. I plan to make differences, not only in people’s lives, but also in society. I’d like to be an activist for human rights, speak against the issues that I know are wrong and the issues that try to keep us in the dark. I want a business and an empire not a local garage band. I want to create so much through my music and make others powerful and not afraid to speak up against inequality because life is exactly what you make it and you should never limit yourself.

I know my beliefs and ideas are quite different from other Zydeco artists but change is something you can’t get away from. It’s only a matter of time before Zydeco music and Creole culture will be used to reach other people, to bring up issues that we face nowadays in this country and in this world. That’s what I want to do; I want to use this music. I idolize Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix because they were activists of peace, who used the tools they were good at, whether it was the church, poetry, or music, to speak positive words. I know I can use my own tools, too: I can use my accordion, my band, my music, my words, and my form of art to do what they did, advocate for a world of positive change. I’m not going to ignore the issues we are facing now in America, nor the issues we are facing in the world, but I’m not the type to riot, I am the type to protest peacefully.

This is the birth of Zydeco Re-Evolution, the evolution of a culture and music and the revolution of battles that we’re facing as a nation. These are my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams, and my career. I’ve come a long way and there’s no turning back now. I’m going to keep going and keep pushing myself to be the best I can be because I know life is going to get better. Change is inevitable and all we can do is change right along with it. Don’t doubt yourself that you can be the best because it is all up to you, your life is how you wish it to be, don’t let yourself down.

Peace, Love, and Honky Tonk!

Ruben