So did Smiley Cuellar. And now he's nominated for best new male artist of the year in the 2012 Tejano Music Awards.

An ex-Marine, Cuellar last year interviewed retired Texas Ranger Andy Lopez Jr. — who is now the Refugio police chief — after hearing his story from other residents.

"I write about subjects that are close and dear to me," Cuellar said. "The majority of my songs are about veterans or my service."

Lopez's story caught Cuellar's attention when, after 22 years of service in the Marines, Cuellar retired to Refugio. Cuellar, who served during Vietnam, said during his service he often thought about writing a book, but corridos, or Spanish ballads, also allow him to express his thoughts.

Lopez initiated a traffic stop on Sept. 21, 1991, after seeing a defective head light. As he walked up to the vehicle he noticed the three people inside all had stoic faces.

"They were kind of like deer in the headlights, and you could tell that something just wasn't right," Lopez said.

After talking for a few minutes, Lopez asked for permission to search the car, and that's when the front-seat passenger pulled out a gun.

"I don't know who fired the first round, but he obviously was killed," Lopez said. "I'll tell you right now I've never been a person of glory or anything like that. It's a necessary evil of this line of work that we're in. I'm not proud of it. It's just something that happened. It's unfortunate that things happened the way it did."

He's humbled to a have a corrido written in his honor, and Lopez said it has a nice tune and is written well.

Cuellar grew up on a Sarita ranch with Tony De La Rosa, an accordionist well-known in Tejano circles. Cuellar can remember the ranch families getting together on Saturday afternoons to barbecue and play music. That's where De La Rosa learned to play the accordion.

The Cuellars moved to Refugio during Smiley's freshman year in high school, and Cuellar's father gave him an accordion of his own, with holes in it. He plugged those up with electrical tape and began to pick out notes along with the radio. He had two uncles who new how to play the bass and the guitar, and they formed Cuellar's first band.

Cuellar also has written about United 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

Another corrido receiving attention is about Joe Anzaldua, a friend of Cuellar's who was a prisoner of war for three years. After Cuellar retired, he saw his friend again and was inspired to write the corrido. He said the song has been downloaded internationally.

"If it pertains to shootouts, heroes, things like that, I'm all for it," Cuellar said. "Sometimes, just to change the subject, I'll write a love song, but that's not my style."

Nominees for best new artist recorded at least one album, but not more than three. All nominations were vetted through a screening committee and the top 12 were sent to the fans for a final vote. The winner will be announced Aug. 18 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

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