On a cold Saturday night in January, the parking lot of the VFW Hall near White Rock Lake is overflowing. Ladies in sparkly dresses and sensible heels hurry across Garland Road, escorted by grey-haired men wearing ties and suit jackets. Inside the hall, Richard Franco shakes hands and greets most of them, inquiring about children and grandchildren.
Franco, 73, knows all 300 or so people crowding into the hall for menudo, tacos and cocktails. They are all there because of him, the man behind the Joker Band. This is Franco’s anniversary party, celebrating 50 years of performing in the same band.
Franco, who lives in Lakewood, was born and raised in Little Mexico and attended Crozier Tech High School with Sam “the Sham” Samudio. He started the Joker Band with friends in 1962. Over the years, members have quit and new ones have been added.
“We replace the drummer every once in awhile, but most of these guys have been with me for a long time,” he says.
The band started with seven members. They had nine musicians for over 20 years, and now there are 11, including Franco’s grandson Steven Cordova and son-in-law Lupe Cordova.
Up through the 1980s, the Joker Band played clubs, but that got too dangerous. Now they play events and dances, like this one at the VFW hall.
The Joker Band plays old rock ‘n’ roll tunes, “Mexican music,” R&B and hits from other genres. “The only thing I won’t play is rap,” Franco says.
Once the lights go down, at about 8 p.m., the band starts off with a Tex-Mex tune. This isn’t like a junior high dance, full of insecure kiddos. The youngest Joker Band fans are at least 50. They take to the dance floor immediately.
This is what they came for, after all. Ruth and Marciano Duron were celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary.
“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else tonight,” Marciano says. Gloria Gonzales, 72, lives in Munger Place with her husband, Joe. The Crozier Tech alumna never misses a Joker Band show. She loves to dance, and she gets down to almost every song. Her 80-year-old husband only joins her on the slow songs.
“He won’t dance the jitterbug,” she says. Every show is like a class reunion, Gonzales says. She sees all her old friends and gets to reminisce.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” she says of Franco. “As long as I live, I’ll be here for all his dances.”