Texas guitarist Freddie Cisneros talks about everything about the Lone Star's Blues scene and his experiences

"I’ve seen a lot of young Blues players who play circles around me, but they are mostly Stevie Ray Vaughan clones who play faster than a bum eating a baloney sandwich." 

Freddie Cisneros: Lone Star's Knight

Who is Ft. Worth legend, Freddie Cisneros? "I was born, April 12th 1947 in Austin, TX. My parents moved to Ft. Worth when I was 6 months old, that was our house until the mid-90s. I attended Paschal High School class of 66. I made my living as an artist, electrical draftsman and playing music. I was drafted into the Army in '67, and did a one year tour of duty with the Combat Engineers in Vietnam. Now I’m a Luthier, a service center for the Fender & Martin Guitar Co. Growing up on the South side of Ft. Worth I played in bands with Mike Buck, Jackie Newhouse, Randy Panda, Sumter Bruton, Robert Ealey, Anson Funderberg, Darryl Nulish, Mark Pollack, Mark Hickman, Jimmy Don Smith, Cadillac Johnson, Danny Hukill, Johnny Reno, Brother Red Young, Jack Carter, Jim Jones and the Chaunteys, Lou Ann Barton, Craig Semicheck, Steven Springer, Uncle John Turner, Bubbles Cash, Rev. Filmore James & The Flames, Leon Ellis, Barefoot Miller, U.P. Wilson, Mark & Arvil Stricklin.

I did a few gigs with Delbert Mc Clinton, Mason Ruffner, Fabulous Thunderbirds when Jimmy was sick, Bruce Channel, Ray Sharpe and T-Bone Burnett. I did a few 45 singles with Jim Jones and the Chaunteys on the Keye and Manco label. While in Ft. Worth, I recorded an album with Robert Ealey called “Live at the New Bluebird Nightclub” on the Blue Royal Label. T-Bone Burnet and Stephen Bruton were the producers. I moved to Houston in 1980 to play in a band “The Cold Cuts” with my friend Jimmy Don Smith. I met my soon to be wife Mary Jane. The Cold Cuts recorded an album called “Meat the Cold Cuts” on the Black top Label. We opened for so many Blues acts I can’t remember all of them. Son Seals, Bobby Blue Bland, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Albert King, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Gatemouth Brown, Muddy Waters, Wayne Bennett, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Eric Burdon and the Animals, John Lee Hooker, The Pointer Sisters, Anson Funderburg and the Rockets. Later on in Houston I played in Alan Haynes band with Tony Dukes and Jerry Chambers. We also opened for a lot of Blues acts. I had a band in Houston called the Sheet Rockers, with my good friends Phil Florian, Al Bettis and John Grayum and Tommy Dar Dar. In 1993 I moved to Prescott Arizona. I played in a band called Big Daddy D and the Dynamites. I worked for years in Music stores in Prescott and learned how to repair guitars. I owned a small guitar shop called “Mercy Guitar Hospital” form 2005 to 2012. I’m kind of retired now, doing some guitar repair at home and playing an occasional gig. I head up a band called “The Leisure Kings” with my friend Paul McKee." ...OKAY, Freddie Cisneros aka Little Jr One-Hand aka South-of-the Border Sammy!! Let's talk about the Blues...

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos courtesy by Freddie Cisneros archive / All Rights Reserved

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

My brother, sister and cousin were all older than me. Back in the 1950’s they were bringing home Blues, R&B and Rock & Roll records. I was hooked on all of it by the time I was 8 years old. Back then you couldn’t separate Blues from Rock and Roll and you couldn’t separate and R&B from Blues. To me, it was all one kind of Music. For me, it was like water, sooner or later I had to have a drink, I drank a lot! I tasted other kinds of music, but nothing moved me like Blues, R&B and Rock & Roll of the Fifties. I started playing drums when I was about 11 or 12, now that’s when the Blues became more deeply embedded. I was now a part of the band playing along with the records. I felt like I belonged here, I fit in, I was happier playing along with those records than anything I had ever done before. I started teaching myself to play guitar at 13. I was so focused on guitar; schooling took a back seat to Blues. I had to do the 7th grade twice but I had learned how to play every song on Jimmy Reed’s first record album. The Radio stations in Ft. Worth were not playing the hardcore stuff like John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf. I didn’t know these guys existed until I was hanging out at a Black record shop downtown Ft. Worth . The lady there was very nice to me and suggested I listen to some different artist. I was consumed by Black music, culture, food, humor and fashion. I was starting to wonder why I wasn’t born Black. The biggest thing of all, is this; I had a purpose in life, I had a direction and a dream. I was going to be a musician a Blues musician.

(Photo: Muddy Waters & Cold Cuts drinkin' backstage in Tipitina, New OrleansLtoR: Screaming Kenny Beaux Beaux, Freddie Cisneros, Jimmy Don Smith, Muddy Waters and Rick Holman)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I met B.B. King for the first time in 1967 after one of his shows. What a gentleman he was. I didn’t see him again until 1983, again after one of his shows. He remembered my name! Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins, Freddy King and most of the other great Bluesmen I got to meet all had a common virtue. They were soft spoken and generous. We opened for Muddy Waters in New Orleans at a place called Tipitina’s. Muddy sent someone to our dressing room with a message, that he wanted to meet us before the show! So we walked into his dressing room and he says, “This bottle of Champagne is for me, this bottle of Champagne is for my band and this bottle is for you”. So we spent about an hour hanging out and getting drunk with Muddy Waters. We had never met before and he didn’t know us either, it was just mutual respect between musicians. I guess the best advice I ever got was this: If they’re not dancing to your music, you’re doing something wrong.

How do you describe Freddie Cisneros sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

There are three record albums that I studied as a kid and I’m still studying them to this day. I still listen to the tone, phrasing and dynamics of these three gentlemen. These records are timeless. In my opinion, anyone who wants to understand Blues Guitar should sink their teeth into these records. “Hideaway and  Dance Away with Freddy King, “T-Bone Blues” by T-Bone Walker, and “Albert King, King of the Blues Guitar”. There other artist I really like too: BB King, Elmore James, Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. They all influenced me and molded my style of playing. I was lucky to grow up in Ft. Worth, TX, there was a man named Ray Sharpe who lived in a near-by neighborhood. His style of playing Blues Guitar was like no other. Because I could see him almost anytime playing around town, his style rubbed off on me also. He had a hit record back in the late '50s called, “Linda Lou”. He takes a short solo at the end of the song that gives you just a taste of his guitar tone, phrasing and style.

I took something from all these people and added my own twist. As far as Music Philosophy goes, I look at it like this; If a person talks too much, too loud and too fast, you’ll just want to walk away even if they’re saying something important and interesting. Now if that same person says the exact same thing but takes their time and pauses after every thought, that’s something you can digest! I try to make each solo I take, a paragraph with sentences that has comas and periods. A friend of mine said he liked my playing because, I knew when NOT TO PLAY.

"Blues doesn’t pay the bills. So people take the Blues and they fracture it, they stretch it, they add fruity chord changes, they add violins and they over-dub 36 tracks. So it goes, the Blues has paved the way for so many contemporary artist and the people who invented it are mostly forgotten."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I was about 13 or 14 when I played my first gig with a band. It was a neighborhood garage band I was the drummer. One of the guys knew a man who owned a bar and booked us in there to play. So we played the gig they brought us pitchers of beer even though we were all under the legal drinking age. At the end of the night the owner couldn’t be found. The bartender said he had left no instructions to pay the band. My first gig and we get ripped off! So the guys dropped me off at my house and I was unloading my drums when a taxi cab pulls up to the house. It’s my Dad’s ride home from a night of drinking. By now it’s 1 in the morning. My dad says, “How did the gig go son?” I made the mistake of telling my drunken Dad we didn’t get paid. He blew up, got a butcher knife from inside the house and said, let’s go!” My mom was screaming NO! NO! NO! It was about 2 in the morning when we got to the bar owners house. My Dad was beating on this guy’s door with the butcher knife, “Where’s my son’s Money!!” Lights were coming on all over the neighborhood and we could see the bar owner peeking out from behind a curtain. The man never opened the door, instead, he started shoving 5, 10 and 20 dollar bills out from under the door like an ATM machine. We got our money.  

I was good friends with Keith Ferguson. Keith played bass for the Fabulous Thunderbirds. We would crash at Keith’s house in Austin when my band would play down there. So it was one of those nights, we were all drunk and having a good time. One of the guys asked Keith if he had anything to eat. Keith dug around in his refrigerator and found a bag of Tamales. If you don’t know, Tamales are a Mexican food specialty, individually wrapped and usually sold by the dozens. There was enough for everybody. Keith’s gas had been turned off for not paying his bill and we had no way to heat up the food. So there should’ve been somebody there with a camera, because we were heating up those Tamales with Zippo lighters, matches and candles one bite at a time. We had played some gigs in Austin and were headed back to Ft, Worth. This was during the mid-70 and you could only buy gasoline if you had an even or odd numbered license plate on even or odd days. It was a way of rationing gas. Well we ran out of gas 50 miles from home. We were at a gas station but we had the wrong numbered plate. The old bastard in the filling station wouldn’t make an exception. We sat around for an hour or so trying to figure something out.  We had a really beautiful sexy girl who sang in our band at that time and she was getting pissed. She said, “I’ll take care of this!” She was gone for about 10 minutes. She came back out and said, “Fill her up!” We never asked what happened in there and she never told us.

"The biggest thing of all, is this; I had a purpose in life, I had a direction and a dream. I was going to be a musician a Blues musician." (Photo: Freddie Cisneros, Alan Haynes, and Tony Dukes)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Back in the Fifties and early sixties amps were much smaller than today. I remember playing gigs with two guitars and a mic plugged into one amp. Back then we would sing through a guitar amp. I never saw a P.A. system until the late Sixties. Here’s something you should try; find an old Hi-Z mic and plug it into a small tube guitar amp. That’s how they did it back then and nothing can duplicate that vocal sound. Listen to some old Howlin’ Wolf records and you’ll see what I mean. I miss the simplicity of Blues. Everyone wants to put their own spin on it but somehow the feel gets lost in translation. Commercial Radio has always put Blues on the back burner. Here’s an example. The only music Blues out sells is Classical Music! Blues don’t pay the bills. So people take the Blues and they fracture it, they stretch it, they add fruity chord changes, they add violins and they over-dub 36 tracks. So it goes, the Blues has paved the way for so many contemporary artist and the people who invented it are mostly forgotten. Something else I miss is the great rhythm sections I used to play with. Good Blues Drummers and Bass players are always booked solid. The drummers in bars today don’t hit their snare drum they just play it politely. Man, the snare drum is what wakes everyone up, it gets them dancing, it’s the heart and soul of Blues. Bass players today think they are a lead instrument, they sound more like a drum than a drum. When it comes to playing Blues “Old School”, the rhythm section should be in support of the band not the other way around. There are a few die hard musicians out there who still play it the way I remember, hats off to Kim Wilson, Hash Brown, Alan Haynes, Johnny Nicholas and a hand full of others. 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Music for the masses is crammed down our throats 24-7-365. Popular music distribution and content is dictated by a few powerful people in the industry. They control what’s getting aired on the radio. I’m guessing most of the listeners out there buy it. It’s canned music. The industry has a formula for Pop music and they crank it out like sausage. The average Joe eats it up because it’s what’s available. It’s the way it’s been for as long as music has been recorded. It’s funny that if you try to sell used music to a record/CD Music Store they won’t give you much of anything for popular CDs or records but they will always give you more for any kind of roots music. They also price roots music higher than Pop music. I would like to see roots music aired and shared on a regular rotation like Pop music, so the general public could get taste of it and judge for themselves.

(Photo: Robert Ealey & his Five Careless Lovers at Mabel’s Eat Shop, Texas 1972. LtoR: Good Rocking Ralph, Sumter Bruton, Mike Buck, Freddie Cisneros, Robert Ealey and Jackie Newhouse)

What were the reasons that made Texas in 70s-80s to be the center of Blues/Rock searches and experiments?

Geographically speaking, Texas is situated in the middle of the Southern U.S. It’s a great place to book gigs while going to the West Coast from the East Coast or East to the West. People in the Seventies came from all over the world to see where this great Music was coming from, people came to learn it and people came to hear it in person. I may be repeating myself but Texas is like a separate Country from the U.S., food, fashion, dance, music and a rich diversity of cultures. Because of the diversity there was lots crossover music, a blending of sounds and rhythms. I guess you could say that back in the 70’s the Vaughan Brothers had a lot to do with the resurgence of Blues in Texas, others would include Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbons, Delbert McClinton, Robert Ealey and his Five Careless Lovers, Freddy King, Albert Collins, Roy Head, Lou Ann Barton, Janis Joplin and Doyle Bramhall to name a few. Blues clubs sprung up everywhere that had an impact on the music scene too. Antone’s in Austin, Mother Blues in Dallas, The New Bluebird Night Club in Ft. Worth and The Market Square area in downtown Houston. I have to mention one more important venue, The Cellar, it was a Jazz and Blues Beatnik coffee house that started in Ft. Worth back in the Fifties. Almost everyone I know at one time or another played at one of the Cellar clubs in Ft. Worth, Dallas or Houston during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The Cellar was insane, it’s a story all by itself. Blues was popular again in the 70’s and 80’s but Blues wasn’t a secret anymore, it was Nationwide and Texas was right in the middle.

What is the relationship between the Blues culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

I only know what I experienced firsthand. It was people of all races going into a bar to hear music. They loved getting drunk together, dancing, sharing joints in the parking lot and just being friends. It was a model for race relations for the whole Nation. Every now and then, Love or should I say Jealousy would stir up trouble. I saw fights, shootings and stabbings but it was always Black on Black or White on White never a race issue. One of the first Black Juke Joints I played in on a regular basis was Mabel’s Eat Shop. It was the home of the best fried chicken on Earth. One night at Mabel’s a Black guy was giving everybody a hard time, messing with all the girls, Black, White, Mexican, he wasn’t particular. It got so bad that one of the Black customers pulled out a .44 caliber handgun and shot the guy pointblank right on the dance floor while we were playing. To add perspective, we were about 5 feet away, my ears are still ringing. The guy who got shot hit the floor ran outside and collapsed. Later when they tried to put him in the ambulance he jumped up and ran away. I guess what I’m trying to say here is, the man with the gun was trying to protect all of us in the bar regardless of color. For the 10 or 12 years I played in those joints Music was always a common denominator that brought people of different color together, better than any Law the Government could dream up. 

"Geographically speaking, Texas is situated in the middle of the Southern U.S. It’s a great place to book gigs while going to the West Coast from the East Coast or East to the West. People in the Seventies came from all over the world to see where this great Music was coming from, people came to learn it and people came to hear it in person." (Photo: Freddie Cisneros & Cadillac Johnson)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

There’s a young man in Ft. Worth named Dylan Bishop, who puts a smile on my face every time I hear him. If I lived in Ft. Worth I’d play rhythm guitar in his band for free. I’ve seen a lot of young Blues players who play circles around me, but they are mostly Stevie Ray Vaughan clones who play faster than a bum eating a baloney sandwich. Dylan is still in his teens but he sounds like a well-seasoned Blues player from the past, who doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody. In other words his playing is mature, he only plays what is necessary and gets his point across without any show off licks, gold teeth, monkey suits or ear splitting volume. He’s the “new old school” Blues player I’ve been waiting for and I wish I could be here to hear him play when he’s my age. This is the kind of Blues player that comes around once in a lifetime, the kid is that good. My friend Cadillac Johnson is playing Bass for him now. Cadillac, with his special sense of humor, Blues savvy, street smarts and cool fashion, is helping to keep Dylan between the ditches. Dylan couldn’t ask for a better mentor, and Bass player.  

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

If you’re talking about Blues, I would want to spend a day at one of the great recording studios of days gone by. Most of those recordings where live, no over dubbing. Man just to be in the same room watching Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, Freddy King, Amos Milburn, Willie Mabon, Big Walter Price, Frankie Lee Simms, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, BB King, all of them. Spending a day in the studio listening, watching and learning on just one of those session would be my fantasy.

(Photo: The Sheet Rockers, Houston, Texas c. 1991)

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