Singer, songwriter, guitarist, actress, human rights advocate, the “Renaissance Woman of Austin,” Patricia Vonne gives Guitar Girl Magazine her perspective on how her heritage filters through her music, how she absorbs the spirit of those who have come before and those around her, and how she draws on her instincts, experiences, and instruments for her new album Top of the Mountain. She has played tribute to players who have influenced her, and they have reciprocated by bringing her on tour (how cool is that?).
Find out more about her past, inspiration, and what lies ahead. Her struggle has made her stronger, but the view from the top is like none other.
Who were the musical influences that inspired you to be the musician you are today?
My newest album is Top of the Mountain. The title track was inspired by my dear friend Vincent Lopez who fought a long valiant battle with muscular dystrophy. He was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, but he stood taller than most people. He reminds me to be grateful for everything in my life. Ironically, it mirrored a very hard time in my life. It made me truly realize the defiant human spirit in the midst of adversity and believing in the Higher Power to light our path. Embracing faith over fear. It’s incredible how music can be the soundtrack of our lives.
My first musical connection to my heritage was listening to the music of the Mariachis. My parents always encouraged music in our house, so they would invite them over for family celebrations. My mother loved to play Spanish guitar and would teach us to harmonize with her on these Mexican folk songs. My father was a drummer in college and a hard-working traveling (door to door) salesman.
Another one of my fondest childhood memories was my mother taking us children to an old revival theater in San Antonio to see the Golden Age of Hollywood films. My favorites were The Red Shoes, MGM musicals, and of course, Hitchcock. That was family bonding time with our hotdogs, hamburgers, and soda pop that we’d stash inside the diaper bags for the whole brood. Watching these classics filled our hearts with pure joy. Can you imagine the impact of the soundtracks of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein, Gershwin, and Cole Porter?
My vision for my music was a hybrid cultural menudo of sounds and flavors—Texas-influenced roots rock with a South of the Border flavor. Since I am ninth-generation Tejana and my ancestors are from Spain & Mexico, I wanted to incorporate Spanish castanets (that my mother taught me), flamenco-inspired dance, and mariachi influences. The songs I write are dramatic in flair and about Southwestern mythology, gypsy cowboys, rebel brides, Mexico, Spain, songs about my childhood in San Antonio, and being one of ten children.
Another early influence was Johnny Reno, and His Sax Maniacs from Fort Worth, Texas. When Reno took the stage, he owned it two hundred percent. He played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chris Isaak for many years.
Another big influence were the Cruzados from East LA (now known as “Tito and Tarantula”). They scored my brothers’ films, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Machete. I wrote a song called “El Cruzado” as a tribute to them on my debut album, and I got to join them for an eight-week tour of Europe as a member of their band! What a memory, forever a Tarantula!
Maria McKee from Lone Justice was a female rocker influence as well as Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar. I love their songwriting, bravery, and grit.
Tell us about your songwriting process; do you start with lyrics or the chord progression or both?
My mom always told me, “the power lies in the songwriter,” which is why all my albums are original and bilingual. It’s a way to celebrate my Mexican-American heritage and to share it with the world.
I love simplicity, so I start with a song title, and it seems to write itself. For instance, “Severina” I wrote for my grandmother, who was from Rio Grande City, TX and had eleven children. “Joe’s Gone Ridin’” is my tribute to Joe Ely. “Sax Maniac” is my homage to Johnny Reno. “Guitars and Castanets” is my tribute to Alejandro Escovedo. “Rebel Bride” is a righteous wedding song.
Songwriting for me is also very exciting when I get the opportunity to cowrite with musical heroes like Alejandro Escovedo, Doyle Bramhall, Alex Ruiz, Johnny Reno, Rosie Flores, Joe King Carrasco, Willie Nile, Peter Kingsbery, and Steven Medina Hufsteter of the Cruzados.
Please share with us your gear selection and how you use each instrument to create your sound.
I play a Gibson acoustic with heavy custom-made strings by Pyramid. It gives it a full round sound. I have a collection of castanets—different colors too.
Young women in music today are always looking for inspiration and advice. What would be your advice to aspiring young musicians today?
Life is an adventure, so really embrace it and take chances. Be true to yourself and make it a colorful road and unique. Be kind to yourself and do the best you can. I love Audrey Hepburn’s quote, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible.’”
And lastly, here is an open-ended question: music to me means .
Music is the motivation for dance, joy, and inspiration. Music feeds the soul.