Since the '80s, Los Rieleros del Norte have been one of the top bands in traditional Mexican music. Their specialty is norteño, an exuberant, often sentimental style that is also known as conjunto or Tex-Mex. Norteño is the Spanish word for "northern" and Mexicans refer to norteño/conjunto as "musica del norte" (music of the north) because it was created north of the Mexican border -- Texas, to be exact. Those who aren't into Mexican music may not be familiar with terms like norteño, conjunto, or ranchero, but anyone who has spent time in Texas, California, Arizona, or any other place that has a large Mexican population has no doubt heard the distinctive, instantly recognizable Tex-Mex sound (which is known for its polka beat and use of the accordion). All over Mexico and the southwestern United States, norteño, conjunto, and ranchero music is extremely popular, and those places are where Los Rieleros del Norte have their largest fan base.
While mariachi was created south of the Mexican border, norteño is very much a product of the Mexican-American experience. When German immigrants moved to southern Texas in the 20th century, they brought their polka beat with them -- and when Mexican-Americans combined that beat with Mexican influences (especially the ranchero music of Northern Mexico), the hybrid Tex-Mex sound was born. It was a sound that owed something to the dance music of Berlin and Munich, as well as traditional Mexican ranchero standards like "Alla en el Rancho Grande." In the '40s and '50s, norteño's popularity spread all over the southwestern U.S. and Mexico; the Tex-Mex beat became as popular in Acapulco, Guadalajara, Tijuana, and Mexico City as it became in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.
By the time bassist Manolo Morales founded Los Rieleros del Norte in Pecos, Texas, in 1979, norteño had long since come to be considered traditional rather than cutting-edge. But even though Los Rieleros were never innovative or groundbreaking, they came to be regarded as major experts in their field. When Tex-Mex fans want to hear norteño/conjunto music that is expertly done, they know that Los Rieleros del Norte are reliable, dependable, and impressively consistent. In fact, the band has come to be touted as "la Máquina Musical Norteña Número Uno," which means "the Number One Northern Musical Machine."
Like many norteño acts, Los Rieleros have favored the traditional vacaro (Mexican cowboy) look; it has been said that a true Tex-Mex musician never leaves home without his cowboy hat and a pair of shiny, well-polished cowboy boots. It is important to know that even though the type of norteño music that Los Rieleros embrace is often called conjunto, not every Latin group that uses the word conjunto (which means "band" in Spanish) in its name has a Tex-Mex sound. There are plenty of salsa, tropical, and Afro-Cuban bands that include the word conjunto in their name; for example, El Conjunto Clasico is a well-known Puerto Rican salsa band that doesn't sound anything like the norteño/Tex-Mex music of Los Rieleros and similar combos such as Los Bravos del Norte, Los Tigres del Norte, El Conjunto Bernal, and Los Huracanes del Norte.
Los Rieleros recorded their first album in 1980 and went on to build a sizable catalog in the '80s and '90s; after extensively recording for Joey International, they went to Fonovisa. Along the way, they have had countless hits; "Amor Prohibido," "No le Digas a Nadie," "En la Puerta de Esa Casa," "Una Aventura," "Me Lo Contaron Ayer," and "Copa Sin Vino" are among the many Rieleros singles that were played extensively on Mexican radio. One of their biggest hits was 1999's "Te Quiero Mucho," which reached number one on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart. In addition to founder/bassist Morales, members of the band have included Daniel Esquivel (accordion, vocals), Alfredo Esquivel (drums), Javier Rivera, and Pemo Gonzales. Between 2003 and 2015, they placed no less than five albums in the Top 200, and ten more on Top Latin and Mexican Regional charts including Abriendo Caminos, Y Que el Mundo Ruede, En Vivo Para Ti, and 2015's Corridos y Canciones de Mi Tierra. Dozens of singles have also placed on airplay, streaming, and sales charts. They were nominated for Latin Grammy Awards three times. In 2017, Los Rieleros del Norte released Trayectoria Nortena. ~ Alex Henderson