Tex-Mex star Esteban Steve Jordan earned a reputation as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion, despite always being considered something of a mystery man, one of those characters about whom there are legends simply involving how one might manage to get in touch with him. "You have to call a certain pool hall in such and such a border town..." would be one such myth, while another soothsayer might insist only the captain of a certain charter fishing boat on the Gulf Coast would know how to reach El Parche (nicknamed for the patch he wore over one eye).
These are some of the details that are known about Jordan. He was born in Elsa, Texas, in 1939, to migrant farmworkers, and began playing professionally at the age of seven. His first official recording sessions were in 1963, featuring a group fronted by him and his wife, singer Virginia Martinez. He had actually been featured on a 78 rpm recording made in San Jose, CA, in the late '50s, part of a prize for best young conjunto performer. In the '60s, Jordan made many recordings on small Texas labels, some of which were regional hits.
Eventually he began evolving the unique style that led to the comparison with Hendrix. Unlike many artists in his genre he kept pace with technological developments, using devices such as phase shifters, fuzz boxes, and synthesizers. (He was one of the few conjunto musicians to weave bits of styles such as fusion jazz and rock into his music, and also recorded country & western numbers.)
Throughout these diverse recordings he always performed brilliantly on his instruments, the comparison with Hendrix being an apt one not just because he is "freaky," but because his sound is strong and vivid -- literally jumping out of the grooves. Some of the titles he recorded present a revealing portrait of his musical directions. There is "Polka Psicodelica," a cover of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" that certainly outdoes Vanilla Fudge, and "La Polka Loca."
Throughout the '70s, Jordan recorded such material for a variety of Texas labels including Falcon, Fama, and Freddie. Members of his family frequently were heard backing him up, including his son Steve Jr. and daughter Bonnie. He recorded one album for his own El Parche label, entitled Canto El Pueblo, in which he played all the instruments himself. During the '80s a small-scale accordion craze broke out in North America on the heels of "My Toot Toot." New wave bands such as Brave Combo talked up the music of Jordan and the popularity of a few artists such as Joe "King" Carrasco helped focus attention on Tex-Mex music. This led to some recording opportunities with the nationally distributed Arhoolie label, which also licensed and re-released many of the Jordan recordings that had been done for smaller labels.
In 1986, Jordan was able to cut an album for RCA entitled Turn Me Loose, which was nominated for a Grammy. (He lost out, however, to his old friend Flaco Jimenez in this category.) His bid for mainstream presence continued in 1986 when he was asked to do the soundtrack for the Cheech Marin film Born in East L.A. Nonetheless, as the new millennium began, he was still viewed as little more than a regional presence. He died of liver complications in August 2010. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi