Born 1929 in San Antonio, TX, Martin Huron Solis, Jr. and his family came to Michigan in 1942 as migrant farmworkers and soon settled in the Detroit area. The Solis family was part of a wave of migration during the 1940s that brought thousands of Texas-born Mexican-Americans, along with their culture, north.
Though he played guitar from an early age, Solis eventually fell in love with conjunto music, a South Texas style defined by the combination of accordion and bajo sexto, a Mexican twelve-string bass guitar. He taught himself to play the bajo sexto and joined up with accordionist Manuel Rivera, playing for tips in bars around Southwest Detroit, the heart of Detroit’s Mexican-American community. In the late-1950s, he and his cousin Willy Huron, a saxophonist, formed Conjunto Los Primos (“The Cousins”), at the time one of only a handful of conjuntos in the Midwest. Solis became a favorite in Detroit based on a vast repertoire of songs he compiled by following the latest hits coming up from Texas.
Their musical style was more complex than the conjunto label suggests. The inclusion of Solis’s cousin Willy on saxophone blurs the line between working class conjunto music and the more middle class orquesta tejana, which includes more sophisticated string or horn sections.
Likewise, they played a couple of polcas, the primary song form of the conjunto tradition, but also lean more toward styles like boleros and rancheras, song forms with roots in Cuba and Mexico. Solis’s vocal performance, too, showcases a fuller sound more in line with ranchera singers like Vicente Fernandez and Jorge Negrete than the thinner vocal tradition of conjunto style.
Fast forward to modern day — Solis is now part of this seldom seen echelon of artists who released no records in their lifetime and still was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame. The power of his live performances and trailblazing creativity in blending styles with educated nuance gave him significant credit among peers and critics alike. This power, coupled with the intrigue of Tejano music thriving so far north of the Rio Grande, has made his 2018 induction into the Tejano ROOTS Hall of Fame—previous inductees of which include pioneers such as Narciso Martinez, El Conjunto Bernal, Beto Villa and Tejano superstars like Selena— that much more special and rare and puts Mr. Solis soundly in a class of his own.
Mr. Solis sadly passed the year after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, but it was during this time that Solis’s son Frank discovered a grocery bag containing forgotten reel-to-reel tapes of his father’s home-recorded music while helping declutter his attic. Frank took the tapes to his childhood friend (and production manager at Third Man Pressing) Eddie Gillis. Gillis, who was impressed with the recordings and quality of the preserved tapes, shared them with the team at Third Man. It became quickly apparent that this document of music was an historic artifact that needed to be heard. Amazingly, while still with us, Solis was able to finally hear and hold the legacy of his music on vinyl, as his test pressings were delivered for final review.
As a natural fit with Third Man’s broad interest in the preservation of music history (label co-founder Jack White is a board member of the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Foundation), Third Man Records is humbled to release the first ever recordings of Tejano pioneer Martin Solis.
For further information on the life & times of Martin Solis, read local news story/obituary from his passing here.
Third Man Records was launched by Jack White in Detroit, MI in 2001, and in 2009 opened its current Nashville, TN location, which houses a record store, novelties lounge (featuring the Third Man Record Booth), label offices and distribution center, photo studio, and the world’s only live venue with direct-to-acetate recording capabilities. Third Man Records returned to Detroit in November 2015 with its second physical location, Third Man Records Cass Corridor — record store, novelties lounge, in-store performance stage, record booth, and vinyl record pressing plant, which you can witness in action through viewing windows in the store, pressing the very records available for purchase. Third Man is an innovator in the world of vinyl records and a boundary pusher in the world of recorded music, aiming to bring tangibility and spontaneity back into the record business and issue releases that leave no doubt in the minds of listeners that music is indeed sacred.
Other new & recent Third Man releases include:
The Stooges – Live Goose Lake, August 8, 1970 (out August 7)
Albert Ayler – New Grass (reissue out June 26th)
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Brendan Benson – Dear Life
Redd Kross – Phaseshifter & Show World (reissues)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – What That Is! & Because Is In Your Mind (reissues)
Luke Schneider – Altar of Harmony
The Pathetx – 1981
Boris – LØVE & EVØL, Feedbacker & Akuma No Uta (reissues)
France Gall – 1968, Baby Pop & Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son (reissues)
MARTIN SOLIS & LOS PRIMOS is out on on Third Man Records