SCUC bus driver makes Tejano Hall of Fame
There’s a fitting symmetry between Art Guillermo’s day job as bus driver and safety trainer for SCUC and his career as a Tejano musician. In both cases, Guillermo has logged countless miles and hours at his professions, viewing the journey, and not the destination, as the joyous part of an odyssey.
Unbeknownst to his young passengers, Guillermo carved out a career as a Grammy and Latin Grammy-nominated and winning keyboardist and writer, validated when he was inducted into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. (Remembering our own Tejano Stars) Hall of Fame on January 6, 2023 in Alice.
“I was pretty shocked,” Guillermo said. “It was a lifetime opportunity. Some of the honorees are from the 40s and 50s and to be included with them is nice.”
Born in Chicago, Guillermo learned to love music from his father. A family band would develop, and they would play Tejano music in the tri-state area of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Art would find himself playing in bars and honky tonks at the tender age of 12.
Later the family conjunto would open for acts such as Latin Breed, Fabulosos 4, and Sunny Ozuna and the Sunliners. One day members of Latin Breed approached Art for collaboration and the wheels on the bus were set in motion. “I wrote a song on one of their albums,” Guillermo said. “It was kind of a ‘wow’ moment to be able to do this.”
After dabbling in rock music, Art accepted his son’s invitation to move to Texas, the heartbeat of Tejano and conjunto music. “He was like, “Dad, you need to come out here. I know you can do the Tejano thing,’”
An acquaintance who had a radio show asked Guillermo to write and compose a song to introduce his weekly program, and the tune ended up overshadowing the show itself. Little did he know that Vamonos ‘Pa Tejas would turn heads in the Tejano music industry, even as far as Washington State. “They told me the song was in the regular rotation over there, and it had gone around to other states and it became kind of popular,” he said.
Emboldened by his belief in his music, Art approached a member of legendary star David Lee Garza’s band in 1993 and submitted a cassette tape and lyric sheet of a song he composed. By the following summer, Amores Sin Igual was on a regular rotation on most of the Tejano stations in the United States. The song would go on to capture a BMI Award.
Nothing could compare to the moment when he heard that song for the first time on the radio. “I was driving down Toepperwein and all of a sudden my song started playing,” Guillermo recalled. “I was just looking at other people in other cars and going, ‘This is my song! I wrote this song!’”
Since that time, the list of musicians and bands Art has composed music for and jammed with reads like a Who’s Who in Tejano music. In addition to Garza, Art has collaborated with Ram Herrera, Mazz, Shelly Lares, Jay Perez and other music luminaries considered legends in the Tejano music scene.
Just as his bus driver duties have many stations, so does Art Guillermo’s music career. A Hall of Fame induction doesn’t mean he’s reached the pinnacle, only that he continues on his passage. There are more songs to be written and performed. “I’m building a recording studio in my backyard,” he said.
While he continues to train new bus drivers for the district, Art also still fills behind the wheel as the shortage of drivers has affected every public school district since the pandemic. Parents of four, grandparents to 14, and now great grandparents, Art and his wife Eva, still enjoy being around young kids, as he continues to impart his love of music to any passenger who will listen.
Tejano music has experienced its ups and downs in popularity, as second and third generation children of Mexican descent move on to rock and roll and other forms of music. But Art vows to be a keeper of the Tejano flame, even going as far as wearing T-shirts inscribed with “Tejano Ain’t Dead Baby”.
“I was born in Chicago,” he said. “But I have a Corazon Tejano (heart for Tejano).”