The duo Tejano René and René enjoyed a brief and dazzling celebrity

I remembered some of my first clients last week after graduating from Baylor Law School in 1968 and remembered a client named Abe Epstein. He has represented several artists in the music industry. His most famous clients at the time were a duo called Rene and Rene. Mr. Epstein hired me to sue the two Renés for breach of contract. They had a lucrative record and he claimed he wasn’t getting his agent’s commission.

The Renés were represented by a very good gentleman-lawyer, Albert McNeel. Along the way, there was an argument with one of the Renes over whether he should take off his sunglasses during his oral deposition. You and your readers may not remember this group of singers, but back in the day they were pretty iconic in South Texas. Your readers might like to learn more about Abe and his clients.

—Robert Allen

Bilingual artists René Ornelas and René Herrera were known as “René et René” or “René y René”, depending on the audience they expected. The duo had hits that reached the Billboard Hot 100. They appeared on national television and shared bills with superstars such as the Beach Boys and José Feliciano.

The likeable, clean-lined young men — check out their “American Bandstand” spot on YouTube — didn’t create an overnight sensation. They worked over a decade as professional artists before composing their first hit, “Angelito”/”Little Angel”, in 1964. The original Renés were René Herrera (1935-2005) and René Ornelas (1936 to today), both from Laredo.

Ornelas was the son of Miguel “Mike” Ornelas (1912-1983), a bandleader who toured the West Coast, Southwest, and Midwest and recorded on McAllen’s Falcon label. At 14, the young Ornelas was playing the trumpet and singing with his father’s “Orquestra”, but he soon went out on his own.

Ornelas and Herrera joined Juan Garza Gongora, Juan Orfila and José Luis Quesada to form the Casa Blanca Quintet in 1952. A year later, minus Quesada, they were the Quarter Notes, says Ramon Hernandez, author of a forthcoming book, “René and René: The creators of bilingual pop songs. The Renés “grew up with vocal groups like the Ink Spots,” said the biographer. After the Quarter Notes split in 1962, Ornelas and Herrera decided to continue as as René and René, with Ornelas on vocals and Herrera on harmony.

Asked to describe their style, Hernandez called it “international pop”. Rene & Rene were contemporaries of Little Joe and Sunny (Ozuna) and the Sunliners, but they were different from most Tejano acts of their day. They “didn’t play rancheras or cumbias,” Hernandez said, referring to the folk songs and rhythms characteristic of traditional Tejano music.

Both Renés were talented songwriters, and that helped the couple take off. Although they had hits with some covers, such as their 1965 cover of the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” the songs that propelled Rene & Rene to national fame were originals. Herrera counts three of their crossover songs in two languages ​​- “Angelito”/”Little Angel”, “Lo Mucho Que te Quiero”/”The More I Love You” and “Baby Doll” – as their greatest hits, with ” Hoy Amaneci Pensando En Ti”/”Let’s turn off the lights” and a few others. These are slow dance tunes, “our song”, with soft lyrics that smoothly transition from Spanish to English…and man local businessman Abe Epstein has something to do with it.

Real estate agent and music producer, “Abie” Epstein” helped create and publicize San Antonio’s legendary West Side Sound, a mix of doo-wop, R&B, soul music and rock ‘n’ roll characterized by heavy vocals and reverb harmonies, triplets and combo organ,” according to his Express-News obituary, written by Hector Saldaña and published April 13, 2012.

When the Renes brought their song, “Angelito,” to Epstein’s studio at 735 N. General McMullen Drive, he suggested they add English lyrics. Epstein later recalled that Herrera wanted to sell the song for $100. Epstein told an interviewer he talked Herrera out of it and the record sold 30,000 copies in less than a month.

According to the discography compiled by Hernandez for his book, the recording of “Angelito” released on Epstein’s JOX label was the first of several releases with different B-sides, country of origin (hello, Belgium!) and labels. The one released by Columbia Records is probably the most significant. It is dated April 24, 1964; on August 8 of that year, the stylish Renés sang his bilingual hit on “Bandstand” and was interviewed by host Dick Clark.

As for the lawsuit between Epstein and the Renes, a San Antonio Light story from January 16, 1969, says Epstein brought it against the singers and their manager, Mel Lance, a former employee of Epstein Enterprises, seeking $75,000. damages. “Plaintiff contends that the recording artists signed a contract with him on January 18, 1964, which included a provision that they would not record songs with other companies for a period of five years. René & René recorded ‘Angelito’ for Epstein but later (in 1968) recorded it… for Falcon Records”, an alleged breach of contract.

The Express story on the lawsuit reports that Epstein demanded accountability and sought punitive damages of $25,000 from Lance, $50,000 from Falcon Records and a percentage of revenue earned by Herrera and Ornelas. There is no longer any coverage of the case in the two San Antonio dailies. Biographer Hernandez, who interviewed Ornelas at length, did not know the outcome of the lawsuit. He asked the surviving Rene for his recollection that it had been settled out of court without damages.

Hernandez asked Ornelas if he or Herrera had been asked to remove their sunglasses during their depositions. I heard the recorded response: “I don’t remember.” (Shades weren’t a big part of their look — Hernandez remembers only one album cover on which a Rene is wearing sunglasses.)

René & René had another major national hit, “Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero”, which hit charts nationwide in 1968, clashing with songs by the Beatles, Petula Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., the Doors, Aretha Franklin, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, the Who and Stevie Wonder. At that time they were recording for White Whale, “the same label as the Turtles”, Hernandez said, and they toured as much as they wanted, including Asia, Australia and Europe.

It was too much for Rene Herrera, who quit in 1972. “He wanted to get a college degree and become a banker,” Hernandez said. He fulfilled those goals, and then some, according to his obituary: “A graduate of Texas A&I University in Laredo, Herrera worked with the City of Laredo, Union National Bank, and the Laredo Independent School District.”

Ornelas “had to look for another Rene,” Hernandez said. He recruited talented musicians who technically weren’t Renés but had the right age and skills. They included Tejano musicians Jorge Ramirez, Marvin Palacios and several others who balanced their time as Renés with other projects and moved on when new opportunities presented themselves.

“There were a whole bunch of Renes,” Hernandez said. Then, in the mid-1980s, Ornelas changed the name of the act to René René, “like Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam”. Just as Lisa Velez was a Lisa with other bandmates, René Ornelas became a single René with collaborators, including, for a time, legendary conjunto accordionist Esteban “Steve” Jordan.

Over the years, the Renés’ songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Vikki Carr, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, trumpeter Al Hirt, Trini Lopez and the Royal Jesters.

Ornelas continued to perform as René René in the 1990s and later joined a Christian music ensemble, Tejanos for Christ, with Ozuna, Patsy Torres and Rudy Gonzalez of Rudy & the Reno Bops. Ornelas still appears on the Tejano oldies circuit. “People say, ‘Oh, pobrecito, he’s 86, still working,” Hernandez, 81, said. “They took him to California, put him up in a nice hotel. He does three songs. They have an orchestra there to support them. He does two shows on the weekend and they pay him $3,000.

Hernandez’s self-published book on René y René/René René will be published in about three months. Look at this column for ordering information. | Twitter: @sahistorycolumn| Facebook: San Antonio History Column

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