“They’re like the Mexican Beatles,” says Edgar Ramírez, waving a tri-color bandana and sporting a heavy, black felt cowboy hat covered with the signatures of Los Tigres del Norte in calligraphic, silver Sharpie ink. Outside of Disco Rodeo, fans endure freezing temperatures to pay $60 to see these Godfathers of Norteño, but Ramirez won free VIP access on La Ley 96.9 FM’s call-in contest.
Meanwhile, Merch sellers patrol the floor with signable stuff—cowboy hats, photos, T-shirts, stuffed toy baby tigers. “Tigritos,” a border guard once dubbed the four juvenile Hernández brothers when they first came to the U.S. in 1968. Now, 40 years and over 55 albums later, Los Tigres del Norte are acknowledged as the definitive chroniclers of the “American dreams” for Mexican migrants.
The band’s most recent CD, Raices (“roots”), is full of ranchera standards, but in the gritty, electrified norteña style Los Tigres pioneered. No wonder, then, that tunes from the album like “Sangre Caliente” sound as classic as your granddaddy’s jeans must have felt from the stage. Jorge Hernández, the eldest of the brothers and lead vocalist, is a storyteller from the old school, bringing his moral might and dramatic toolbox to corridos that were hits—“La Banda del Carro Rojo” and “Contrabando y Traícion,” for instance—as far back as the ’70s. With an accordion hanging off one shoulder, Don Jorge gesticulates as he sings, scooping his white hat into the air with a timed flourish, or standing on a bended leg before jolting upright and stabbing a raised index finger into the sky.
Except for drummer Oscar Lara, Los Tigres—Hernán, Eduardo, Luis, Jorge—paced the stage with patient restlessness, glittering in bolero suits designed for them by Manuel of Nashville (the Mexican designer who tailored for Elvis, Johnny Cash and all three Hank Williamses). When a female fan climbed onstage, no security guards whisked her away. She kissed each of the Tigers in turn, and they smiled and posed for pictures. Then, without ado, she slipped back offstage. Naturally, once set, the precedent continued like controlled clockwork, until security decided to stem the parade.
Still, it was remarkable to see border-jumping fans received with such civility and indulgence by artists so huge. No wonder they’re affectionately known as “Los Jefes de Jefes”: The Bosses of Bosses.
“Why do you give so much to your fans?” I wanted to know, grabbing a minute with Don Jorge backstage as they prepared for more photo ops.
“We’d feel guilty if we didn’t,” he said. “Our fans have supported us for so many years. They deserve everything.”
With the same welcoming graciousness, he kissed me on the cheek, and thanked me for the interview.