American Routes Shortcuts: Max Baca

Sep 11, 2020

Max Baca
Credit American Routes

Max Baca grew up in New Mexico, playing in his dad’s band from age eight. After mastering bass and accordion, he picked up the bajo sexto, a Mexican twelve-string instrument featured in Tejano music. Max Baca Sr. took regular trips to Texas to introduce his sons to the conjunto scene, pioneered by his favorite accordion player, Narciso Martínez. Brothers Max Jr. and Jimmy channeled the San Antonio sound in forming their own band, Los Hermanos Baca. The Bacas were playing cantinas around New Mexico when Max got the call inviting him to tour with the Texas Tornados. He joined the ranks of his musical idol, Flaco Jiménez, and reconnected with the Texas tradition his father instilled. After Doug Sahm’s death in 1999, Max turned full attention to his own group, Los Texmaniacs. The band’s record Borders y Bailes won the Grammy for best Tejano album in 2010.



Max Baca: My father was an accordionist in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he was quite popular back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s. I guess it was in the ‘70s when I remember going to my dad’s shows and stuff and becoming his actual bass player at the age of eight years old. 

Nick Spitzer: That’s pretty early to be in the band, but I guess in a family that’s possible. 

MB: You know I got started really young, man. My dad had me and my brother practicing all the time, and we were just toddlers, you know. I just remember my dad playing at the Calderon Ballroom in Phoenix, Arizona, and he brought me up and introduced me. He sat me on a chair, and I started playing this polka, you know, and then the rest of his band backed me up. People were coming up to the stage and throwing quarters and coins and nickels and stuff into the guitar case, and I was like, “This is great, man, I can buy a bunch of candies with this, you know!” 

NS: We think of the accordion, we think of some of those rhythms as having a German background, and I think it’s interesting, a lot of people don’t realize how many Czechs and Germans and Bohemians there are in Texas that influence the country bands and the Tejano bands and everybody, but it’s interesting that you keep that alive there. 

MB: Yeah definitely, that’s what we picked it up from, you know we heard the Germans playing accordion and then we said, “Oh we like that, we’re gonna try it too.” I think Narciso Martínez was one of the first that was credited with an actual recording in 1932. Narciso Martínez was from the Rio Grande Valley from South Texas, so he was hearing the sounds of the Germans that were in the San Antonio area, New Braunfels area, you know. He managed to get an accordion and added the bajo sexto, which plays a very important role in the Tex-Mex sound. The bajo sexto is a twelve-string guitar with bass strings. Back then, you were doing the bass (demonstrates), and then you’re doing the rhythms, the down chanks (demonstrates), and while you’re creating that down chank, you’re kind of creating a drum too, you know, you’re kind of creating a snare drum (demonstrates). 

NS: When did you encounter the bajo sexto as something that you might want to play instead of just a typical bass?

MB: When I was about seven years old, my dad drove me and my brother to Lubbock, Texas to hear Flaco play because we couldn’t get that style of music in Albuquerque where we were at, so we’d have to drive to Texas to hear it. When I got up to the stage to see Flaco and his bajo player, he had this extremely talented bajo sexto player; his name was Oscar Tellez. When I saw him play the bajo sexto, that’s the moment I said, “That’s what I want to be.” 

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at