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Ernie Durawa

DURAWA, Texas Tornados | United States

In an eerie, surrealistic dream about this drummer, he is laid out on an autopsy slab and sliced open by a medical examiner. Music pours out of his insides instead of gruesome guts. All kinds of music, too: jazz, blues, country, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and of course Tex-Mex. "This guy must be from Austin," the medical examiner mutters, revealing his astute knowledge of the American music scene which is hopefully matched by his cutting skills.

Actually, Ernie Durawa was born in San Antonio, but he has been a major player on the Austin music scene for decades. His ability to totally transcend stylistic barriers has made him an important part of various bands that do the same thing, most notably the all-star Texas Tornados featuring his life-long friend Doug Sahm as well as country and western legend Freddy Fender and Tex Mex maestro Flaco Jimenez. Durawa was also the drummer for the unique singer and bandleader Delbert McClinton for a long bluesy stretch which ended in 1981.

Durawa's influences coming up in San Antonio were an incredibly lively mix of all the previously mentioned styles. As a drummer he was taking in the art of various rhythm and blues backbeats as well as the profound rhythmic inventions of bebop masters such as Max Roach. The drummer has seemingly pushed jazz further and further to the front in his list of priorities as the years go on, a welcome development on a music scene that seems to welcome jazz elements but garners much more notoriety from the more commercially-friendly, butt-shaking sounds of rock and roll and rhythm and blues.

As a so-called professional, the drummer's introduction to the Texas music scene came in the mid '70s when he returned to the area after living in Chicago. Durawa recalls his first pay from a gig with T-Pee Tom and the Southside Band, a grand total of three bucks. Durawa had developed an intense love of playing drums as a child, however, growing into this interest with a fervor that certainly helped in setting aside the pay issue as a minor problem. He was born Ernesto Saldaña on the west side of San Antonio, his mother dying when he was only a year old. At 10 he was adopted by his aunt, the source of the surname Durawa. His adopted parents were the managers of a small bar which booked Mexican conjunto; one of these bandleaders handed the lad a set of a maracas one night. Seventy five dollars later, Durawa had his own set of tubs.

Durawa missed the period of Doug Sahm's career where the the latter bandleader took his Sir Douglas Quintet up to Haight-Ashbury, but the two players had known each other since they were teenagers in San Antonio. The drummer gigged in groups such as Charlie and the Jives and the Dell-Kings. After passing up Sahm's California trip in favor of continuing a local jazz gig, Durawa went to Chicago and spent years studying fundamentals with the great Roy C. Knapp, in his '80s at the time.

Johnny Perez, one of Durawa's drumming pals from San Antonio, initially took the Sir Douglas Quintet gig. Durawa's grand collaboration with Sahm, the Texas Tornados, came about in 1989. The group enjoyed several hit country singles including "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone?" and won a Grammy. Sahm's death in 1999 concluded this wonderful chapter in Tex Mex music. Durawa's jazz activities in Austin seemed to expand at this point, creative waters rushing in to fill the gap left by such an irreplaceable musical force. The combo Los Jazz Vatos was formed circa 2000 with players such as trumpeter Jimmy Shortell and bassist Brad Taylor and eventually began releasing recordings. Durawa is also involved with the Austin Jazz Workshop, Johnny Nicholas' Texas All-Stars, the South Austin Marimba Band and the National Guitar Workshop summer music camps.