J. Michael Combs & friends
perhaps i might say the rio grande song, a love song to the river that has become my home, could be my favorite, maybe even my masterpiece. but buffalo hunter is also a strong statement of my sympathies. revolution in our time, of course, while not necessarily a great piece of music nor complex lyrically, is a sharing of my vision. but, hey, celebrating the burning lust of sweet thang!, who’s to say wisdom is superior to lust! each song is like a piece of poetry gifted to me intended to be passed on.
i don’t believe we choose our dreams, only whether we will answer them.
for many years mexican music was such a huge part of my expression that most of my musical buddies changed my name to spanish, miguel, and still know me that way. but everything changes. i’ve had phases of quebecois and cajun music being my passion, country, and regional southwestern traditional dance music. but all of those instrumental genres require a small ensemble, a minimum of two, to present, and now that i mostly work alone, i’ve gravitated to songs.
union songs, songs that contain the history of human struggle. there’s a dearth of heroes today — survivor, who wants to be a millionaire, dancing with stars… monuments to soldiers outside every town, bridges and highways named for men who put on a uniform, took up a gun, and let the authorities tell them who to pint it at. the military is quarrying our youth, new mexico is a military colony.
gospel, the tradition of deep songs, my own troubled youth and alcoholic early life, song can help us find strength, guidance, hope, faith, can heal a broken heart. sometimes the breakdown and the breakthrough are next door neighbors.
i think there’s a glut of songwriters. what’s so great about my songs? joe hill, woody guthrie, bob dylan, johnny cash, the list is endless. i want to sing the best strongest songs i know. mostly they will be written by others.
singing on the streets has ruined me for honest work, and i’m too cowardly to steal. so i sing, share, push those old songs out, keep some life in em. i’m like a fisherman who throws his nets, picking a place, the farmers markets or the streets, a retirement home, trusting the creator to provide for me.
now that i have some CD’s to sell, i think my income is gonna be really helped. so many people have donated the fotos, the beautiful oil painting, the studio time, the musicians who helped me…at time i felt like a salmon, swimming upstream. it was a challenge to stick with what i wanted, all the way down the line, each detail. thresholds of frustration i never imagined.
my next CD is already 1/2 recorded & mastered, and will be mexican music, both songs and instrumentals.
i don’t like to call it spanish music. imagine if we took country, reggae, blues, jazz and swing and called it all english music! when we speak of languages, we can lump scores of cultures, countries and societies together…. when we speak of their art or music, we have to separate: haitian, quebecois, cajun, west african.. these are all french language musics, but very very different.
likewise, puerto rican, cuban, columbian, mexican and argentinian music should be named according to its culture or country,not lumped all together and called spanish.
i am at pains to expound on this because 90% of the new mexican music is mexican, but it is called spanish. spanish music is flamenco, gypsy, or classical. galician is also its own thing, and those are all spanish musics.
the spanish had dozens of categories of human beings: coyotes, genizaros, creoles, mestizos, almost like the hindu caste system of the octoroons and mulattos of the american south. each had it’s own prestige, its cross as well. always people schemed to borrow or steal a little advancement, by marrying their kids up a few notches, or trying to pass for a higher level than you were born into.
so spanish is supposed to be better than mexican; when in fact this is all music composed
by mexican composers
within the mexican music stylistic parameters.
i am speaking of volver, valentin de la sierra, flor de las flores, el asesino, el lirio. let’s give credit to the ones we’re taking all this music from, the mexican people.
i better quit grinding this axe!
i sing with my daughter, who lives in santa fe and was born there. i have four children and three step-children, all born along the rio grande. i came to new mexico in 1972 as a teenager following on the coat-tails of the back to the land movement. my first fiddle had a home–made bow from the tail of a horse–i improvised.
i love to play to the elders and to the children. a lot of the music i grew up with, these were our prophets, telling us “we are leaving, you don’t need us” & “america where are you now, don’t you care about your sons and daughters?” “blow up your TV, move to the country, have a lot of children, eat a lot of peaches.”
the culture being offered us seemed irredeemably enmeshed with materialism and militarism. a lot of us young people moved into rural new mexican small towns, which had been losing population for decades, esp.their youth. we learned to milk goats, plow with a horse, have babies born at home, use local plants.
yes, we made many mistakes. we didn’t always have the teachings of the elders, we were youth parenting ourselves. but we did something important. some of our children, adults now, may resent us for not leaving them houses, paying their way through college, or giving them unusual names. and self-care, personal responsibility, right livelihood…some of the baby did get thrown out with the bath water.
but northern new mexico – san miguel, rio arriba, santa fe and taos counties – have become my home, and i have become a local. if we’re not local to some place, our humanity is diminished. i hope my music & my songs do honor to this place, these people.
i was born in san diego, came here from texas at age 17, raised by missourians. i’ve worked as a woodcutter, log cutter, substitute teacher, sawmill hand, handyman, farm worker, cab driver, tutor, mechanic’s helper, construction, quarried stone, helped during lambing, made & sold axe handles.
my greatest joy is my children and grandchildren.