Bejarano played the bajo sexto (12-string guitar) alongside his father Jimmy, Sr. for more than 35 years, mostly in their Tejano/conjunto band Los Cuatro Vientos (The Four Winds), until the elder Bejarano retired from the professional music scene nearly three years ago. His brother Rubén also played drums with the band, marking a quarter-century with them in 2011.
Yvonne Ramos-Ybarra, lead singer of popular Midwest Tejano band Grupo Fuego, recalled seeing Bejarano perform as recently as the 2013 Tejano Explosion at the Centennial Terrace in Sylvania.
“When you see Jimmy play, he looked like he was born to be on that stage,” she said. “He is forever respected, not because he was one of the best musicians around, not because he came from a band who built a great name based on talents alone, but because he was such a great, humble person who respected others and who happened to be one of the best musicians around that played with a band who built a great name on talents alone. We’ve lost a gem that can never be replaced.”
Bejarano also was a DJ, doing weekly radio out of Adrian, Michigan on Sundays.
In addition to his music, the 1980 graduate of Fremont Ross High School and graduate of Lincoln College of Technology in Indianapolis, IN as a diesel mechanic worked in that same capacity for UPS for the past 28 years. At one point following his father’s retirement from music, Bejarano had planned to retire early from UPS and move to Texas so he could further pursue his professional music career.
“I’ve worked with some other pioneer musicians and I’ve had opportunities to leave,” Jimmy Jr. told La Prensa in 2011. “I made a promise that as long as my dad wanted to work with me, I would work with him.”
Despite its status as a pioneering conjunto band, Los Cuatro Vientos only began recording its music in 1994, piling up eleven CD’s—turning out one each year. Their aim was to make their recordings sound just like the group does live in concert.
Ms. Ramos-Ybarra can recall admiring the band’s outstanding musicianship in the early days of her career as a singer. But she always appreciated how Jimmy Jr. encouraged other acts.
“I remember being at a benefit dance of some sort and hearing that Los Cuatro Vientos was there as we were taking the stage. I was very nervous! I remember seeing the guys with their instruments sitting to the side of the stage. They were up next, but they sat down and watched us play,” she said. “As I exited backstage, Jimmy Bejarano came up to me and shook my hand, introduced himself, said that he thought that I sang very well and to keep up the good work. I was floored! Before that day, Los Cuatro Vientos were something bigger than a name. They were already creating a legacy.”
Conjunto music runs deep in the Bejarano family roots. Jimmy Jr. explained in a 2011 La Prensa interview that his father and grandfather first started playing conjunto music while the family worked the fields as migrant farmworkers. The family traveled as far as Nebraska and Montana before settling in the Fremont area near a Heinz factory, where tomato and pickle fields were plentiful. Evenings were frequently spent in Jimmy Sr.’s youth playing music as families gathered to cook dinner together. Conjunto bands would travel the migrant camp circuit on weekends, playing at dances across the region.
“After a long day of work, that’s how they would relax,” explained Jimmy Jr. “It would relieve a lot of stress.”
Part of the reason the Bejarano brothers played with their father for so long was to keep conjunto music alive and well—in parts of the country other than Texas, where most of the bands are based.
“As the years went on, whenever I saw Jimmy, he always said hello-- almost as if we were old friends,” recalled Ms. Ramos-Ybarra. “I guess in a way, when you share the stage, we become brothers and sisters of music. He gave encouraging words every time and I still had the same feeling that I had when I was a young girl: floored.”
A Mass of Christian Burial was held Tuesday, Jan. 14 at St. Ann Catholic Church in Fremont where Bejarano attended church. A burial service followed at Greenlawn Memory Gardens in Clyde.
Santiago E. “Jimmy” Bejarano, Jr. is survived by his parents, Santiago L. (Jimmy Sr.) and Horalia Bejarano of Fremont; sister Sonya (Johnny) Vicencio of Holland, MI, brother Rubén (Becky) Bejarano of Genoa; and companion, Lucy Macias of Green Springs.
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