Jose Antonio Ponce

(Story by Frances Madeson / Photos by Joy Godfrey)
Jose Antonio Ponce in partnership with his wife Kathleen has been producing the New Mexico Music Awards, now in their 30th year, since 2005. The awards are a way of recognizing excellence for recorded music, building community across musical genres and cooperation among recording studios. Jose Antonio, who plays the six-string and 12-string guitar as well as the acoustic bass, and who still aspires to compose that one hit song upon which to triumphantly retire and spread a little largesse to his family, met me at the New Mexico Jazz Workshop in Albuquerque for a delightful afternoon of conversation and an impromptu (at my urging) one-man hootenanny.

Frances Madeson: It is a mystery how a musician comes to play this instrument or that, how lyrics arrive in the form that they do with their specific messages and rhyming thoughts. How did you begin your love affair with the guitar and also, how did you find and come to trust the muse within?

Jose Antonio Ponce: Every musician I know became a musician to meet girls. A girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day on Monday but saw me in a club on a Friday, well suddenly she’d want to hang out with me. I started playing and writing when I was 13. I look back and cringe at my first attempts at poetry, so full of teenage angst.

Remember man that you are dust, Ive given to you all my trust[laughs].

My older brother taught me some chords—E, A, G and B—primarily because he wanted someone to accompany him. But when he went to the service, he took his guitars with him. So I saved my money picking alfalfa and stacking the bales, or picking watermelons on a farm down the road for 50 cents a day, until I had enough to go down to Mays Music where they had a guitar for $25. But by the time I got there, it was $40. The owner told me the $25 price was from a special sale last month. I didn’t want to cry in front of him so I ran out the door. He followed and asked me how much money I had. I emptied my pockets and showed him a little over $26. He said, “I’ll sell you the guitar.” I spent everything including my bus fare, and had to walk back 7 or 8 miles, but I had my first guitar.

And he threw in a Bob Dylan songbook!

Frances: That’s quite a trajectory—from backbreaking agricultural work to tending the diverse garden of New Mexico’s talented musicians. How did that come to be?

read the Interview at Local Flavor