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Before he landed a major-label recording contract, before he filled his first dance hall, Rick Trevino flat-out knew he'd be playing in front of big crowds. He just wasn't certain whether he'd be wearing a cowboy hat or a baseball uniform. While the 22-year-old Austinite eventually found the lot of country hero Garth Brooks more accessible than that of diamond idol Nolan Ryan, Trevino--whose first single, "Just Enough Rope," entered the C&W charts with a bullet a few weeks ago--initially opted for the path of greater resistance.
"When I got out of high school, I had to make a serious choice--music or baseball," says Trevino during a phone conversation from his Austin home. "I decided on the tougher challenge: baseball. Music had always come naturally for me, but I had to really hustle playing ball. I loved the game. I had to find out how good I was."
Although Trevino possessed the pedigree to be a stellar professional music maker--his family was musical, and his father was lead guitarist for national Tejano act Neto Perez and the Originals--he didn't merely wake up one day with a rattle in one hand and a Martin guitar in the other. From age 5, he was obliged to spend considerable postschool time at the piano before shagging flies with the neighborhood fellas. He performed the theme to Star Wars in formal recital at age 6, and by 11, he was an accomplished classical pianist.
"At first, I resisted all the practicing," the gentle-voiced tenor says. "But I later saw, hey--this is something the other guys can't do." A few moments pass, then comes the shy admission: "And I kind of liked the applause." Through junior high and high school, he balanced his love for baseball with an expanding interest--and talent--in music.
That interest led Trevino first to rock n' roll in a group that played "church socials and school dances," then to form a country band. Named Bandera, the Garth Brooks/George Strait-influenced ensemble never got beyond practicing in the garage. "We never knew about soliciting work," Trevino says.
With his high school days winding to a close, Trevino faced the baseball-versus-music decision, and opted to try his hand afield. Memphis State University offered him a partial scholarship, but--eager to discover the full extent of his talent in the national pastime--Trevino attempted to walk on to the powerful Texas A&M squad.
"I did what I feared most--it's my way of learning," says Trevino. "I was quick, a good singles hitter. But the program was filled with great--really great--players recruited from all over the country. I didn't make the team, but I was satisfied that I'd done my best." While the lesson proved a painful one, he'd found a reserve of previously untapped patience that would benefit him in short order.
He returned to Austin, and began playing for tips around town--storied watering holes along Austin's famous "drag" and beyond, like the Lumberyard and the Broken Spoke. "It was pretty good money, believe it or not," Trevino says with a soft laugh.
Trevino found support from George Strait's top-of-the-line Ace in the Hole Band, most of whose members live in Austin. They backed him in gigs around town, and provided valuable insights to the nuances of the business and how one makes it in deepest, darkest Music City.
And anyone who does make it in the Business knows it's better to be lucky than good. While Trevino's hard work helped garner him garlands, fortune found its way into the equation--in a big way.
Boston-based Columbia Records A&R rep Paul Jarosik was headed to Austin from nearby Lake Travis when flooded roads prevented his egress. He ended up taking dinner at a lakeside joint named the Thirsty Turtle, where a couple of walls were filled with clippings about homeboy Trevino, who played the Turtle on weekends. Jarosik asked about the singer, and was answered with effusive praise for "the kid who can sing anything."
"Suddenly, I get this call from Paul," remembers Trevino. "He tells me about the Turtle and asks me for a demo. Coincidentally, I was in the process of making one." Trevino sent a tape filled with soft, sultry ballads and traditional country shuffles to Jarosik, who passed it on to Columbia-Nashville producer Steve Buckingham. Buckingham and label suits were especially smitten by a Trevino-penned ode titled "Here's My San Antonio Rose to You," written for his late grandfather. It wasn't long before Buckingham called Trevino with a contract offer; the singer was 20 at the time. But the folks at Columbia saw more than just talent in Trevino; they saw a gimmick: a good-looking, Mexican-American artist singing in English and in Spanish. Make a killing in two markets--why not? Just one problem, though. Trevino could speak only un poco de espa¤ol.
"I'd always sung in English, and my folks spoke English around the house," he says. In English. "When the label wanted to emphasize my Hispanic heritage, I was a little intimidated at first. Frankly, I wasn't fluent at all in the language, despite my dad's music, which was mostly sung in Spanish." Trevino spent more than a month in Mexico in an informal "language immersion" course--living with Spanish-speaking families.
The attempt to Latinize Trevino worked: dude into hombre. Spanish-language stations in and around Texas playing the Spanish version of "Just Enough Rope"--Bastante Cordon"--reported a large and effusive listener response. Ironically, the album-length, self-titled, English-language CD was sent back to the studio for reworks on several cuts (the new shipping date is February). Dos Mundos, the singer's ballad-filled, Spanish-language offering, was released last September, and continues to do well.
In his live show, Trevino delivers a bilingual mix--roughly 75 percent English and 25 percent Spanish. "Most surprising," he reports, "is the Anglo response to the Spanish-language tunes. They seem to love it." Yet Trevino shies away from such tags as "the Hispanic Garth Brooks" or the "Tex-Mex Ricky Van Shelton."
"I come out onstage like a normal 'hat' act, singing country songs and playing a guitar," he notes. "I want to put on the best show I can; I want people to come away like I did the first time I saw Garth Brooks or George Strait. To get there, I'll practice, practice, practice. I'll do every interview, I'll write all the time, I'll get out and connect," gushes Trevino.
And despite the almost-too-wholesome, aw-shucksness of this guy, you get the feeling he really does mean what he says, that he really is just a nice Texas boy. Heck, you almost expect him to use baseball as a metaphor. "Most of all, I'll take everything one day at a time," he says quietly. "Or--like baseball--one pitch at a time. And I'll always hope the ball is hit to me."
Rick Trevino will perform on Tuesday, January 25, at Toolies Country. Showtime is 8 p.m. @pq:"When I got out of high school, I had to make a serious choice--music or baseball."
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