I am saddened to learn of the passing of seminal Tex-Mex drummer Kookie Martinez. I had worked with him for many years when I was a member of Santiago Jimenez, Jr's conjunto and was always suprised and impressed by his rock steady timing and ultra-tastefull fills.
Almost never credited in his many years of recording with both Flaco and Santiago Jr. Jimenez among others, his singular playing style set the standard for the genre. With his snapping 'popcorn" pop of the the snare and the "box of rocks kicked down the stars" tom fills, Kookie's personal style is what you emulated when you wanted a "Tex-Mex" conjunto feel.
Bassist JJ Barerra took over my chair in the band for the last few years and he adds these comments:
"Drummer extraordinaire Refugio Rufus "Kookie" Martinez from San Antonio passed away last night (03/31/06).
Kookie had contracted pneumonia over a year ago and it was a constant battle for him I don't know much of the details (time of death, rosary, burial) but will be finding out. He was one of the best Conjunto drummers I have had the pleasure to play with.
He had a style and technique that was unmistakable. He didn't like to play Huapangos, but after performing one I would call him 'Kookie monster' for the tremendous job he did in . Kookie played with Jimenez brothers Flaco and Santiago Jr throughout his career. I remember we played together with 'Chief' at the Continental Club a few years back in Austin,TX and there would always be drummers (blues, rock n' roll) there watching him intently.
Kookie' had 2 nicknames, the other being 'Rufus'. Many Mexican-Americans go by shortened versions of their names or pick-up some nickname from their relatives or friends. Joking around on stage he would refer to me as "el padrecito" (the priest) in turn I would sarcastically respond with... yeah, right! I guess the way I dressed or something made him think I looked like a priest. Haha
Kookie was one of the kindest and soft spoken gentlemen on this planet, with the eyes of a hawk that would pierce to your soul. Oh, and if you have a chance ask Rabbit (longtime bajo sexto player and bandmate) to tell you a funny story about how Kookie told him how he knew Santiago's every move which clued him the direction the songs would take.
Kookie got this name because, according to his wife 'Mona' ( Ramona)... "It comes from the fact that he was born on July 4,1936 and his real name was Refugio." But, how does the term Kookie enter into this? "From what I understand, in order to communicate with non-Spanish speakers the name Refugio morphs into 'Rufus'. And because of the combination of all these 'odd' factors (including that he was a Mexican-American born on Independence Day of U.S.A.) in turn it becomes kooky or kookie. It continues to 'snowball' in that he was also referred to as 'Kookie Monster', a term of endearment... not only in reference to PBS television character Cookie Monster in 'Sesame Street' but to the tremendous talent of his drumming style. 'Güero' Polkas of KEDA 1540 Radio Jalapeño has been announcing his death and referring to Rufus as 'Kookie Monster'.
Anyway, could you help Mona out by mentioning in your newspaper and emails to the community at large that, because Kookie was ill for such a long time and was short on insurance coverage, she will need monetary relief at least for the funeral services. She was at his hospital bedside for a year and a half. When I spoke to her today she said she was still about $800.00 short and was going to have to come up with the rest of it somehow.
Contributions can be sent to:
San Antonio, TX 78228
Kookie always told me" You ever need a drummer, you just pay my gas money and beer and I'll be there." I never did take him up on his offer, but hopefully he's keeping a cold one for me when we meet again.