News Column

Austin women write in with memories of Little Joe y La Familia concert

August 16, 2014

By Nancy Flores, Austin American-Statesman

Aug. 16--

When about 80 local women headed to the City Coliseum to catch a Little Joe y La Familia show in 1972, they helped make Tejano music history. A group photo taken during the April 1 dance was featured on the cover of the classic album "Las Viejas de Little Joe and the Latinaires by La Familia."

When we reported the behind-the-scenes story of how this photo shoot happened, it struck a chord with many readers. We heard from several of the lucky ladies featured on the famous album cover, many of whom still live in the Austin area. We also heard from folks who were present that night and never missed a dance at the downtown City Coliseum, which courted some of the best Tejano bands in Texas.

We found out that many of the young women pictured were sisters (some twins, too), most had graduated from what was then known as Johnston High School in East Austin and that many of the men at that dance had recently returned from Vietnam.

Here are some more memories of that night, which will forever live on in the hearts and minds of Tejano music fans.

All about the hair

As high school students, sisters Helen and Connie Sanchez attended the City Coliseum Tejano dances together. It's where they both met their husbands. But on the night of the Little Joe dance, Helen (now Cruz) decided to stay home. Shortly before the event, though, she heard that Little Joe was rounding up women for a photo shoot and she knew she had to be there. But what about her hair?

Helen, like many women who attended those dances, typically spent hours doing her hair before the big night out; she began to get second thoughts.

"I didn't want to go because my hair wasn't how I wanted it to look," Cruz, now 67, says. But she pulled her hair up and went anyway. Connie, on the other hand, did rock an elaborate hairstyle for the photo shoot. Cruz says that's typical for her sister, who, even at 69, still sports great hair, as if she were off to a big dance.

Daddy's little Tejana girl

Austinite Lupe Yanes remembers "jetting to the bleachers" when an announcement was made during the Little Joe dance asking girls to gather for a group photo.

Yanes, now 60, says she often hung out by the City Coliseum bleachers, where many girls waited for guys to ask them to dance. "Sometimes I'd get anxious when it was a really good song," she says with a laugh.

Dancing still means a lot to Yanes. Growing up, her family of 12 didn't always have the means to go out as a family, so they'd turn up the radio and dance at their house. "My dad would come home with his transistor radio and dance with all his daughters," she says. "That's how we bonded with Dad."

Yanes rarely received Christmas presents, but she'll never forget the one holiday when her family saved up to buy her a record player. "My first record was a Little Joe album, and I played it over and over."

Yanes remembers that after the photo shoot, all of the women received a copy of the "Las Viejas" album in the mail. "I was so excited, but later my brother lent the album to one of his best friends and I never got it back." Decades later, her son saw the famous "Las Viejas" album cover at a garage sale and bought it for Yanes. It didn't have the actual record, but she still cherishes the cover.

Smooth moves

Lawrence Hernandez had it all -- youthful good looks and killer dance moves. "There were times that from start to finish I'd dance the whole time and never get turned down by a girl," Hernandez, now 72, says. "I saved dancing the slow boleros with the pretty girls."

Hernandez had a move that all the girls appreciated. "I always carried extra handkerchiefs for them because the City Coliseum would get so hot," says the former manager of El Chaparral Tejano night club.

Hernandez remembers dancing to everything from bebop to cha-cha-cha at the City Coliseum. "I still have a few moves left," he says.

Time of her life

Debbie Esparza, who now lives in Kyle, was 16 when Little Joe played at the City Coliseum. She and her cousin, Rose Esparza, heard Little Joe was coming and begged their parents to take them.

"When we arrived we saw all the excitement and were so happy to be there," Esparza, now 58, says. "Then they called all the ladies, and ... there was shoving and pushing. Every lady wanted to be in front, so I ran to the top and sat with Dwayne, one of the musicians."

Esparza says the photo brought back her good memories of growing up in East Austin and listening to Little Joe's music in the 1970s. "The City Coliseum was the best place for dancing, and Little Joe is still the best ever," she says.

Dancing soothes the soul

At 81, Janie Ochoa of Georgetown hasn't stopped dancing. She often moves to the oompah polka sounds at a Round Rock senior center, where the music takes her back to her youth when she and her husband danced the night away at the City Coliseum Tejano showcases.

On the night that Little Joe played, Ochoa and her husband had congregated at the coliseum's long communal tables with other married couples when they heard the group photo announcement.

"Oh, I want to be in there," Ochoa told her husband. So he walked her over to the bleachers where the women were posing and helped her climb up the steps to the third row. "They put me there because I was too short," she says with a laugh.

Ochoa's husband of 48 years passed away 12 years ago, but she'll never forget the joy she felt dancing with him. "I guess we were meant to be."


ĦAhora SÍ!

As the Austin area rapidly changes, the American-Statesman is providing in-depth coverage of the culture and life of a fast-growing Hispanic population. Get more community coverage in our free weekly Spanish language newspaper, ĦAhora SÍ!, and online at

Get the inside story on the "Las Viejas" album art with our interactive album cover at


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