Little Joe Hernandez is the leader of Little Joe y La Familia, one of the most popular Tex-Mex bands in the music industry. Described as the “King of the Brown Sound,” Little Joe helped to pioneer Tejano music, a mix of traditional norteño music and country, blues, and rock styles.
Jose “Little Joe” Maria De Leon Hernandez was born to Salvador “La Cotorra” Hernandez and Amelia De Leon Hernandez in a one-room dirt floor shack in Temple, Texas on October 17, 1940. He was the seventh child of thirteen. In 1953, while working as a young migrant worker in the cotton fields of Texas, Joeʼs cousin, David Coronado, the front man for the band “David Coronado & The Latinaires,” recruited Joe on guitar, Cino Moreno on drums and Tony Matamoros on saxophone. It wouldnʼt be until 1955 that Joe would finally play his first “paying” performance in Cameron, Texas for $5.00 at a high school sock hop. He realized that picking guitar beat picking cotton and he could actually get paid for it.
Joeʼs recording debut as a guitarist for Terrero Records in Corpus Christi came in 1958 on an instrumental, “Safari Part I & II” which was composed by all members of the Latinaires. David Coronado left the band in 1959, which gave Joe the opportunity to take over the band, renaming it “Little Joe & The Latinaires.” At the same time, Joeʼs younger brother Jesse Hernandez, who was a bassist, singer and songwriter, joined the band. Sadly in 1964 Jesse was killed in an automobile accident. Joe made a vow at Jesseʼs graveside to carry their music to the top, not realizing how high his music would take him, how it would open many doors for other artists, and how it would set many new musical trends.
In the later years of the 60ʼs Joe continued to move forward in his musical quest. He signed with Texas based independent record companies. His first record deal was with Corona Records in San Antonio, followed by Valmon Records in Austin and later Zarape Records in Dallas. Joe decided to venture into his own independent company in 1968, “Buena Suerte Records” for his Spanish recordings and “Good Luck Records” for his English recordings. Also owned by Joe, Leona Records, a record label with distribution by Freddie Records in Corpus Christi, allowed Joe to stay independent throughout the 70ʼs and early 80ʼs.
In 1970, after playing and spending much of his time in San Francisco and the Bay Area, Joe discovered “Latinismo,” a strong Latin musical world which was not found in Texas at that time. It had a profound change in his music and cultural values, prompting him to change the name of the band from The Latinaires to La Familia, emphasizing Joeʼs passion for his heritage and roots.
Little Joe has been nominated for eleven GRAMMY Awards and has received five GRAMMY Awards. His first GRAMMY came in 1991 for Best Mexican-American album, “Diez y Seis de Septiembre.” He received the GRAMMY Award for Best Tejano Album in 2005 for “Chicanisimo,” in 2007 for “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” and in 2010 for “Recuerdos.” “Recuerdos” received a Latin GRAMMY Award for best Tejano Album in 2011.
Little Joe y La Familia received additional GRAMMY Award nominations in 1988 for “Timeless,” in 1993 for “Que Paso,” in 1999 for “Little Joe & La Familia 2000,” and in 2003 for “Celebration of Life, Volume I.” They were nominated for Latin GRAMMY Awards in 2004 for “Celebration of Life, Volume II,” and in 2005 for “Chicanisimo.” In 1996, Joe appeared on the 1997 GRAMMY-nominated album, “Frank Yanchovich & Friends, Songs of the Polka King, Vol. 1” in which he performed a duet with Frank Yanchovich on the song “Just Because/Si Porque.”
Over sixty years and many albums after his start as a musician, Joe continues touring the world, trailblazing, looking forward to new challenges, breaking down cultural and musical barriers, and innovating his musical style. As always, Joe strives to bring people together to make a more peaceful and harmonious world.