The hitmaker

MODESTO -- There is no doubt that José Luis Rodríguez 'El Tapatío' has music running through his veins.

His humble attitude is noticeable in the moment you establish a conversation with him. His home is full of memorabilia, autographed posters, personal photos with celebrities and a number of awards that Rodríguez has received during his long career as a music composer.

His love for music came about when he was a boy in his native Guadalajara, Jalisco, México; he says that it was more than 50 years ago.

"Since I was a boy I liked singing, but people would make fun of me for playing the harmonica on the buses," remembered Rodríguez, while sitting in his dinning room.

Rodríguez, 62, did a little bit of everything to have food on the table, "life teaches us many things so I started selling gum, newspapers, shining shoes, washing cars."

But life already had something in store for Rodríguez. One day he made it to a gym and learned boxing and wrestling. It was there where he met his friends, wrestlers El Perro Aguayo and El Santo. Thanks to that sport he arrived in the United States, met the woman who would become his wife María del Consuelo - she passed away a couple of years ago -- who he had two children with: Marta Patricia and José Luis Guadalupe.

Although the years had gone by and Rodríguez's lifestyle was different, he still had not forgotten about music.

"With the itch for continuing in the music business, I remembered my roots and I looked for new musical tones with my harmonica," said Rodríguez, who has lived in Modesto for more than 40 years. "I kept my poetry and music going and I followed the path that was already marked for me."

And it appears as though that is the path that has made Rodríguez happy since many local and international musicians such as Los Humildes, Los Ilustres, La Migra, Mike Torres Band, Los Amos de Nuevo León and Patrulla 81, among many others, have recorded several of his songs.

But is has been the duranguense band Patrulla 81 who has given Rodríguez great satisfactions with his song 'Payaso Loco' (Crazy Clown), which is heard in Japan, Russia, México, and Italy.

Recently, Rodríguez traveled to Los Ángeles for the BMI Latin Awards where he received a gold medal because that song was one of the most heard in 2007.

"I never imagined I would receive a gold medal for a song and that the recording companies are calling me directly to ask for my songs," he said.

That night, Rodríguez was among well-known singers such as Jenni Rivera, Montez de Durango, Tony Melendez from Conjunto Primavera and a few others.

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) is a company who fights for the rights of music composer and each year recognizes the outstanding Latino songwriters in the United States. Los Tigres del Norte, Juan Luis Guerra, Carlos Santana, Marco Antonio Solís, Gustavo Santaolalla and others have received recognitions from BMI.

Rodríguez said that although 'Payaso Loco' has been one of his greatest hits, it was also caused a few problems because the recording company Mar International, who has the rights to the song and gave Patrulla 81 permission to record it, hasn't sent Rodríguez a dime for it.

"It is not only one dollar. They have earned thousands of dollars with that song. More than one million copies of that album were sold, that is more than $100,000 in profits; that is a lot of money," said Rodríguez, adding that he is currently taking legal action against the company.

That is why he has a very important piece of advice to all songwriters, "especially those who are just starting. Register your songs before giving them to any band because at least five of my songs have been stolen."

The Jalisco native, who has been working as a janitor at Wal-Mart for four years, is fully enjoying his moment of "fame" but without any arrogance.

"For now I want to keep my feet on the ground, I want to feel humble," said Rodríguez, who other than having recorded five albums, has also participated in five films.

Even then, people ask him why he doesn't quit his current job.

"But doing my job with the same people that tell me 'sign this, sign that,' gives me great satisfaction because I don't want to take my feet off the ground. I want to feel as the most humble of all. I want people to know that we can all reach anything we set our mind to," he said.

For now, Rodríguez still loves what he does musically speaking and hopes that by September he will dedicate 100 percent of his time to it.

And although his greatest desire is to share with the audience, the only thing he wants is "that one day my songs are remembered when I'm gone. I don't want to be buried in a fancy coffin; I want it to be made of cheap wood. I don't want them to cry. I want them to throw me a flower."