Freddy Fender was a Grammy-winning musician who was one of the first Mexican American artists to successfully cross over to the mainstream pop market and who helped introduce Tex-Mex music to a wider audience in the 1990s.
His life as a performer could be viewed as three distinct acts and included an interlude in prison.
He began as a 1950s balladeer who performed rock covers in Spanish as El Be-Bop Kid, then came back in 1975 as a country act with the chart-topping hit "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." In the 1990s, he earned high praise as a member of the Texas Tornados, a Tex-Mex group of all-stars.
With his pompadour haircut and Spanish-language cover of "Don't Be Cruel" ("No Seas Cruel") and other songs, Fender was considered the "Elvis of the Rio Grande."
"I was the first to take Hispanic rock 'n' roll south of the border," Fender told the Sacramento Bee in 2002. "I demand recognition for being the one that broke it in."
The curtain fell hard on Fender's early career when he was arrested in 1960 in Baton Rouge, La., for possession of a small amount of marijuana. He spent almost three years in the Louisiana state prison at Angola.
"I'm not bitter, but if friends ask, I still say the three years I had to spend in Angola state prison was a long time for a little mistake," he told the Associated Press in 1975.
After his release, Fender spent several years living in San Benito, Texas, and playing gigs on weekends. He worked as an auto mechanic and studied sociology at a community college.
He found fame on the national stage in the mid-1970s when record producer Huey Meaux persuaded Fender to bring his soulful tenor to country music. Recorded for a regional label in Texas, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" became the nation's No. 1 pop and country hit in April 1975. The mellow song included a verse in Spanish.
"The only thing that has ever been good to me is my music.... It got me out of a lot of predicaments," Fender told the Morning News in 1997. "When I open my mouth and I start singing like a little bird, everything is OK."