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10 years at UT
It’s not unusual to rebel against the music of your parents.
“The thing about Tejano music, I always heard it growing up,” George Mercado says. “My dad always had it playing in the background, and whenever he was barbecuing, we’d be outside playing as kids and he’d have it blaring. … It would kind of embarrass me.
“But I will say I always respected it, too, because I always knew it was what he liked, and it was part of what defined him,” he says.
If only the young Mercado could see himself now, on stage singing Tejano music with the nickname “The Tex-Mex Cowboy.”
Mercado was born in San Marcos, raised in Austin and is definitely a Texan. And musically, it’s hard to get much more Texan than Tejano and country music. Still, it’s been a long journey from that childhood to becoming a Tejano and country singer signed to the Hacienda International Productions record label.
Mercado had a garage band with a cousin and a friend in high school, playing what in hindsight he’d describe as indie rock. It was fun, but then life got in the way — or, as he says, “But then we got into girls.”
Life moved on, with work, marriage and a family not leaving much time to even think about playing music. Then the same cousin who was his high school bandmate introduced him to karaoke, what Mercado calls a life-altering experience.
“I didn’t even know what karaoke was but went to a karaoke bar to try it out,” he says. “I was nervous, but I sang one song and felt that energy come out, and it started me down the road back to the music. I noticed how my voice had changed, my range had grown wider. Before that, I didn’t know how much I was missing singing music. Singing in front of people and receiving applause, it gave me a high.”
After that, Mercado landed a job singing with a Tejano band, which required him to learn many new songs and to brush up on his Spanish, a language he heard growing up but didn’t speak.
That gig lasted about a year and a half, followed by a two-year period when karaoke bars were his only musical outlet again.
“One night I asked myself, what was I doing out in these bars late at night with a wife and kids at home?” he says. “I asked God, ‘You’ve given me this gift. Do something with me.’”
Shortly after, at church praying for direction, Mercado decided to join the church choir. As it turned out, the choir director was a co-worker at UT whom Mercado had worked with but never met in person.
“I had doubts about joining, but that made it easier for me to say yes,” he says. “That experience opened up more doors for me. It built my confidence and helped me better understand the emotional connection with the music itself, whether it’s Christian music or Tejano music or country music.”
Getting signed to a record label and releasing his first single, a self-penned bilingual song with a strong Tex-Mex flavor titled “Honey, Pardon Me,” feels like a huge accomplishment for Mercado. A second song, a cumbia, is finished and awaiting release. But Mercado is realistic about his expectations for his music career.
“When people find out I do music, they sometimes ask if I’m going to do it full time and quit UT,” he says. “But it doesn’t work like that. You have to get lucky, know the right people, be at the right place at the right time. You never know. It could happen, but, honestly, I love working at the university. I love the atmosphere. I love that my supervisor and department are supportive. I want to retire from here. I’d still be young enough to be able to do what I love and do music full time.”