Gilberto Perez, one of Conjunto’s most popular and beloved musicians, died Wednesday, February 3, after several years of declining health due to multiple long-term illnesses. He was 85.
A fan favorite at every festival or dance, watching Perez meet and talk with fans was a master class in humility and connection for any musician. He was an old school, polite gentleman who greeted them, thanked them, happily posed for photos with them, was humbled by their kind words, and would talk with them like they had known each other forever. And the fans already felt that that connection, of course, having known that unique voice that they had heard for so many decades so well; that voice that carried with it a sort of humble elegance that perfectly fit the tall, handsome, funny, and gracious man to which it belonged.
Born August 3, 1935, in the small town of Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley between McAllen and Harlingen, Perez was the youngest of twelve children. He was drawn to the accordion as a child, but the first instrument he learned to play was the guitar. He first began playing with other bands in the area in the mid-1950s, including a brief foray into Rock n Roll and a short stint in a group with lifelong friends and fellow Conjunto legends Ruben Vela and Ramon Medina. The latter recorded a 45 on Falcon Records.
In 1959, Perez founded his own band, Gilberto Perez y Sus Compadres, which would go on to become one of the heavyweights in the Conjunto genre. For the next 60 years, he and his band would travel throughout the United States and Mexico, performing to packed dance halls and dance floors at festivals, bailes, and all events imaginable.
His first hit, “El Dia de Tu Boda,” came in the early 1960s, on Falcon Records. Gilberto would go on to record several more albums and 45’s on Falcon, along with Ideal, Chico, and other small regional labels before founding his own label, Nuevo Records. Later in his career, he recorded on Freddie, Hacienda, JB Records, and other labels.
Perez wrote many of his own songs and polkas, along with brother and bandmate Alejandro Perez, as well as Ramon Medina and longtime friend Julian Garcia. The classic “El Burro Pardo” and the slow country two-step “Mi Casa Nueva,” both written by Garcia, were big hits for the band and were played at every show all the way up until his last. Other notable songs were “De Aqui Pa’ Real,” “Arrancame El Corazon” (which became a hit for Ramon Ayala), “Dulces Besos,” and so many more. While his sound was about as hardcore Conjunto as it gets, Gilberto had fun every once in a while with country novelty songs like his covers of “Long Tall Texan,” “Dame La Llave,” and “El Chicano from Mercedes,” his playful response to the Merle Haggard classic “Okie from Muskogee.”
As popular with musicians as he was with fans, Gilberto collaborated with many artists over the years, especially with longtime friend, Conjunto legend and owner of Edinburg’s Conjunto mecca, La Lomita Park, Pepe Maldonado. Perez also recorded with fellow Mercedes native Elida Reyna multiple times and was also featured on Little Joe’s Accordion Maestros album.
In later years, he would frequently join his son’s group, Gilberto Perez Jr. y Su Conjunto. He was celebrated with special honors, inductions into several halls of fame, and shared the stage with almost everyone in Tejano and Conjunto music at some point or another. He celebrated his 60th anniversary in music in 2019 at the Rancho Alegre Conjunto Festival in Austin and other celebrations in San Antonio and elsewhere.
According to his official obituary, he is survived by his wife of nearly 65 years, Amelia, sons Gilberto Jr and Javier, daughters Delia and Gloria, along with their spouses and many grandchildren and great grandchildren, and of course, countless friends, fans and fellow musicians around the globe.
His public viewing will be held today, Friday, February 5, 2021, from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus located at 150 N Ohio Ave in Mercedes, Texas. Visitors coming to pay their respects are asked to please follow social distancing guidelines & wear masks at all times. The family says, “as much as the family would love to receive your hugs, it’s important to provide safety for all.”
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