Someone once told me that Esteban “Steve” Jordan plays like he has magical powers. With a salt-and-pepper mane and a single eyepatch, the accordion mastermind certainly appeared mystical.
In the early Aughts, I attended my most memorable of Jordan’s weekly Friday-night performances at his home-away-from-home, Saluté International Bar. During one song, he waved his arms in the air while his accordion kept singing the melodies. As I took a closer look through the crowd of dancing couples, jaws dropped in disbelief throughout the room. “Is this man as magical as they say?” I wondered.
Later, I realized that Jordan had devised a clever way of amplifying his squeezebox through various electronic pedals which produced a loop effect for his accordion … maybe not so magical, but mystically creative indeed.
For as long as my memory permits, Jordan played Saluté every Friday night, delivering three sets of energetic “rockordeon” — an eclectic blend of jazz, rock, and R&B layered over the traditional sounds of Tejano and conjunto music.
That enchanting night at Saluté a band of young, talented musicians backed the man they called “the master.” Turns out they were his sons Ricardo and Steve III, on guitar, and bass, plus visually impaired drummer Juanito Castillo, who pulled off jazzy beats like no other I’ve seen. Jordan called him a genius, a term he didn’t toss around lightly.
The youngsters were also the go-to guys in the band when anyone wanted to ask questions, compliment the talent, or maybe request a song, while Jordan sat at the bar with what seemed like an angry look in his good eye. He often appeared stand-offish, elusive and intimidating to those who didn’t know him well. It wasn’t anger, mutual friends told me, but a fierce passion for the music he created for more than five decades.
Jordan’s talent took him many places, from playing to farmworkers and cotton-pickers in dancehalls on the “taco circuit” to the critically acclaimed Austin City Limits. Many fans call him the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion because of his mesmerizing solos that squeezed psychedelic trills and thrills out of his custom Hohner accordion — minus the flames.
A special tribute to the magical accordionist was held in Austin, Texas, in 2008 in honor of Jordan’s legacy and musical accomplishments. Special guest performers included Little Joe Hernandez, Los Pinkys, Conjunto Atzlan, Ernie Garibay, Sauce Gonzalez and Dimas Garza, Ponty Bone, Johnny Degollado y Su Conjunto, and Texana Dames, to name a few, including a special appearance by Jordan himself.
Considering that Jordan performed steadily in San Antonio for a large portion of his career, I remember the Austin tribute left many wondering, why no similar tribute in SA for the man who became a San Anto legend. •