Ripped Off

Corrine Silguero tells her story with wary optimism, maintaining hope that her musical future will finally become reliable. A local blues diva who finds solace in the music of Big Mama Thornton, Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters, the 47-year-old is about to begin a weekly residency at Tio Joe's on November 5. You might think that a steady gig at a local club would also provide solace, but after hearing Silguero's countless stories of loss and disappointment, it's easy to see why she might be wary--and certainly why she sings the blues.

By day an administrative assistant for the Dallas Independent School District, Corrine Cruz (she uses a one-time married name on stage) takes to local dives such as Hole in the Wall to vent her soul and prove the maxim that one has to feel the blues to sing 'em.

"I've been singing since the age of 4," she says during a break at her DISD job. Before graduating from the High School of Visual and Performing Arts in Houston, Silguero had already toured Europe with the Universal Academy of Music, singing everything from American folk to Brill Building show tunes and even an occasional mass from Mozart. While abroad, in order to raise money for travel expenses, she performed at dinner clubs or anywhere else that would take her.

"My mom took me to every noontime talk show, where I would sing and ask for donations," she says.

Once back in the states, the UAM group performed a prestigious concert at Carnegie Hall, and shortly afterward, her future only got brighter. In 1985, she got married after an extremely short, whirlwind romance with a man she had just met and formed a band in McAllen, the Sound Evolution, that specialized in American and Spanish Top 40--in this band, she had her first taste of blues thanks to covers of mainstream acts like Bonnie Raitt. She even found some investors who helped her build her own club named after the band.

But there's a reason she isn't telling this story at the Sound Evolution.

"I had to learn everything about business from the ground up, and I didn't know the first thing about it," Silguero says. "I got ripped off. The liquor tax was eating up all my revenue. It was just too much."

"Too much" is a common phrase in Silguero's history. Always things came too fast, every opportunity jumped at with little forethought.

"One night I came to pick up my money, and the manager was gone, along with all of the cash," Silguero says, shaking her head.

Depressed, she decided to look for a regular job with benefits. Yet at each position (administrative stints at the Travis State School and the Austin Housing Authority), she found herself restless to sing however she possibly could, including radio commercials for McDonald's and Kroger. "One time, I had to pretend I was a talking head of crisp lettuce," she says.

She moved to Austin and worked for the Texas Education Agency, where her job was more secure and the musical adventures were statelier, including a guest role with the Austin Symphony and a yearly show for the Texas Senate. Trouble, however, was not far away. During a one-off job in 1987 singing harmonies for a local Mariachi group's latest album, the producer, impressed with her vocal chops and seeing dollar signs in the burgeoning Hispanic marketplace, got it in his head that Silguero could be the next Tejano music star.

"I didn't know anything about Tejano music," she says. Nevertheless, the producer quickly assembled a touring band and convinced her to get in the studio to cut an album.

"I gave up my apartment, got a loan, bought a bus and took to the road," Silguero says.

Using only her first name, Silguero toured across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico. But after three years of touring, her Latino turn began to unravel.

"I got robbed a lot," she says. "I'd go to pick up my money at the club, and everyone was long gone." And because the money wasn't coming in like he'd imagined, her manager left in the middle of the tour. Upon assuming his duties, exhaustion set in. "I couldn't remember what city we were in, and I was missing every important event in my family," she says.

Silguero settled back down in Austin with a regular work schedule, but once again, the allure of music was too strong. Her sister called from the Valley to invite her to a casting call from the producers of Star Search. Once entered, Silguero won seven regional competitions before moving on to the finals.

"They sent me to New York City, but I eventually lost," Silguero says, but covers her disappointment with a joke: "I think they paid me $500, and I got a lot of cups and crappy stuff."

Since her half-baked success on Star Search didn't pay any immediate dividends, Silguero went back to work for the Texas Education Agency but was quickly lured away by an offer from DISD.

"They created a position for me because I was a female and Hispanic, and because I had strong technical skills," she says. "Before I knew it, I was sent to the Crockett Building." Located in East Dallas and home to the Multi-Language Enrichment Program, Crockett is where Silguero has happily spent her weekdays for more than a decade, helping organize teacher-training courses and inviting co-workers to hear her sing.

And sing she does. For about three years, with hard-charging blues quartet The Shadowcasters, Silguero became DFW's own Bessie Smith, putting to use a lifetime of disappointments within a genre that specializes in despair. With a booming voice and top-notch accompaniment, Silguero has found success with music in which she's had little exposure.

"All of a sudden I was thrown in this blues atmosphere that just blew me away," she says with barely contained enthusiasm. "I had finally found a niche where I could just let out all my built-up frustrations."

Now fronting a new trio, creating a dedicated local following and recording a demo with local producer Manuel Castaneda to shop to labels (her first attempt at recording in the early '90s was seized by the IRS because the studio owed back taxes), Silguero feels that her life's setbacks are finally behind her.

"It is time for me to take over," she says. "I want a product to give to my fans, and I want to get known."

Such gutsy determination after all that's befallen her is reason enough to take notice, and blues fans looking for an authentic voice shouldn't be scared off if Silguero opens her residency with a smile for once.

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Darryl Smyers
Contact: Darryl Smyers