Wearing a white cattleman cowboy hat, a black T-shirt, blue jeans and brown embroidered boots, standing 5 feet and 11 inches tall, Ricky Valido, stepped up to the microphone on the main stage at Uncle Tom’s BBQ in Homestead recently to play his latest song “I Love Livin’.”
“Guitars and muscle cars/whiskey and women/I like drinking/I like women.” Valido, 22, sang in a country drawl while strumming his acoustic guitar.
In front of an audience of more than 60 people, Valido performed on the wooden platform with his band, the Hialeah Hillbillies. Following the rhythm of his songs, he occasionally leaned back and forth into the microphone while smiling at the crowd.
The Cuban-American from Hialeah is an MDC student studying environmental sciences at North Campus.
Vintage records open a new world
Valido’s first encounter with country music was during his middle school years — while leafing through his grandfather’s records collection. There he found the family’s affinity to the country lifestyle.
“I just kind of stumbled upon some of his old records and I was amazed by the cool vibe that old country music has,” Valido said. “That’s when I said ‘Wow, this is music that I am really attracted to.’”
Now, he epitomizes the country lifestyle. Practicing several times a week in his personal studio replete with sound control systems, a collection of guitars and a PA sound setup. His weekends are filled with performances around South Florida’s country bars and social venues.
In Cuba, Orlando Valido, his grandfather, was a guajiro, a rural man from the countryside, before emigrating to the United States in the late 1960’s. The family settled in South Florida — where Valido was born and raised.
The first instrument Valido picked up was a six string, nylon brown, guitar when he was eight. His mother and grandmother saved to buy him the guitar.
Valido’s career as a musician began during his time at Hialeah Senior High School when he started writing and composing melodies for his own songs.
“Getting into high school, I was exposed to country music [because] I would listen to it on the radio,” Valido said. “That’s when it truly started happening, this journey of [singing] country music.”
Though Valido did not always grow up listening to country music. His parents both enjoyed classic rock and that is the music Valido ventured toward before dedicating himself to country music.
Those early encounters with his parents’ musical taste molded his writing style.
Valido considers himself a young man with an old soul. His music instills the old country melody, a more melodramatic sound, that complements his bass voice.
Throughout the years, Valido’s biggest supporters have been his parents. His father, Enrique Valido, is his righthand man, the point of contact for venues and his general manager. Valido’s mother takes the role of clerk. She ensures that all paperwork is in order as per government regulations.
Blending genres and identity
A Cuban-American involved in country music is not unique.
Valido adds himself to the growing list of Cuban-American artists that have made their contribution to this music genre. Sammy Arriaga, also a Miami native, now living in Nashville, TN., is at the epicenter of the genre, having found success in the industry.
Contemporary country music has evolved in the last five years with artists experimenting with new genres said Tim Conlon, director of music at Kiss Country 99.9 FM. Conlon said it is becoming harder to recognize a country song because of its expansion and addition of non-traditional country sounds.
“It’s not your ‘mom and pop’ country music anymore,” Conlon said. “The artists are making country off of stuff that they hear. You might not know it is a country song cus’ it doesn’t have the twinge and stuff like old country used to have.”
In his “69 Camaro” video from Valido’s album, South of the South, there are keys to the South Florida location. In it, heavyset men smoking fat cigars play dominoes surrounded by palm trees. But the rest has all the hallmarks of a typical country video — a barn setting, horses, guns, pickup trucks, moonshine, cowboy hats and even a Confederate flag.
Conlon said, as a Hispanic, Valido posses a special advantage on other rising artists in the industry. His music can break norms and stereotypes. Conlon thinks Valido could hold a unique key to the Latino community and the expansion of country music into new horizons.
The Cuban-American country singer is proud of his ancestry.
But what he truly wants is for his fans to see his music beyond his Latino background. He wants the masses to truly embody his music for what it is.
“I want my audience to understand the type of approach that I am giving to country music,” Valido said. “I am not the stereotypical country music singer.”
In South Florida, a growing number of diverse fans are filling amphitheaters from Palm Beach to Homestead according to Conlon. He has seen an increased interest in contemporary country music among the Latino community.
Valido’s first independently produced debut album (not yet titled) will be release later this year. It will include 12 original songs. The young singer hopes to take his music to the next level by traveling outside of the state, pursuing his dream and reaching audiences around the country and world while staying independent.
“I really don’t want any tie-ins with any label right now,” Valido said. “I want to have a chance to develop and explore different things before I get to where I want to get to.”
Valido will be performing at the Science Complex at North Campus, 11380 N.W. 27 Ave., on Nov. 4 at a yet to be determined time.