West Side drumming institution Rocky Hernandez is down with OBG

When Deion Sanders was at his multi-tasking sports peak, the true measure of his magnitude was not that he became the first athlete ever to play in both a World Series and Super Bowl. No, all you had to know about Deion was that it took two nicknames - "Prime Time" and "Neon Deion" - to fully capture his luster.

Rodolfo Hernandez probably doesn't have much in common with Sanders, but the 57-year-old drummer - like Sanders - won't be

Mr. Oldies But Goodies himself, Rocky Hernandez Photo by Mark Greenberg
confined to one moniker. He is alternately known as "Shuffle," "Mr. OBG," and most commonly, "Rocky." When you've spent 43 years gigging in West Side clubs, as Hernandez has, keeping the swinging pulse for countless local Tejano, country, rock 'n' roll, and R&B bands, one nickname just doesn't cut it.

Sitting in the P&M Lounge, the West Side insitution that has been the home base for Hernandez's OBG Band for nearly eight years, the raspy-voiced Hernandez retraces the musical steps that led him to launch the band 20 years ago this week. Consistent with his love for vintage sounds, Hernandez shows a fondness for old-school fashion accessories. He sports five rings on his fingers, a bracelet on his right wrist, and two crucifix necklaces. As always, he covers his gray hair with a black fedora hat.

To understand the man, you have got to trace the history behind his nicknames. Known as Rocky for most of his adult life (presumably for Marciano, not Balboa) because of his devotion to working out, he took on the OBG (Oldies But Goodies) moniker because of his love for the '50s and early '60s rock 'n' roll hits of his youth. The "Shuffle" nickname is more recent, but you get the feeling it's the one Hernandez treasures the most, because local keyboard titan Augie Meyers played a hand in it.

"Augie named me that about eight years ago at the Guadalupe Theater," Hernandez recalls. "He saw me playing and said, 'Rocky, where'd you get the shuffle beat from?' I said, 'Hey, brother, I was born with it.' I've practiced it since I was a kid. Augie told me, 'You're the only man I've known so far who plays shuffles real good.'"

Hernandez shrugs when drummers ask about his natural sense of groove, tending to feel that it's incredibly simple, all

8pm, Saturday, April 12
American Legion Alamo Post 2
3518 Fredericksburg Road
about relaxing your wrists. He honed that skill as a kid, not with drum sticks, but with butter knives.

"When I was a kid, I used to lay down in the front room," Hernandez says. "I had a radio, I had two butter knives, and I'd follow the music - early rock 'n' roll - with my two butter knives, one in each hand, and get the beat. I'd sleep with the radio through the morning, and my mother used to come and turn off the radio and take away the butter knives."

Like many local Chicanos who hit adolescence in the '50s, Hernandez was captivated by early rock 'n' roll, but also felt a natural affinity for conjunto and Tejano. It's fitting that his first major gig was with Sunny Ozuna's band, the Sunglows, who epitomized brown-eyed soul in the late '50s and early '60s.

Hernandez also went on to play with a number of conjuntos, but after veering across the musical map for years, in 1983 he decided to start his own band, devoted to early rock and soul classics. In recent years, the OBG Band's Sunday night showcases at the P&M Lounge have turned into impromptu jam nights, with notables like Meyers, Ozuna, Little Joe, Ruben Ramos, and the Blazers dropping by, and inevitably playing a few tunes.

"If I'm available, I'll play any kind of music," Hernandez says. "I've been around and I have the experience doing any kind of music. It's like when a person speaks Spanish and English, you feel great because you know both languages. And I feel great because I can follow anybody, whether it's Tejano, conjunto, rock 'n' roll, R&B. or country." •

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