BY HECTOR SALDANA : SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 : Updated: September 25, 2013 8:09am
The touching story behind the Tejano and conjunto star's deeply personal new album, “Implacable,” informs the excellent CD.
That these are troubled times isn't immediately evident. A rowdy, long-awaited reunion with singer Eddie Gonzalez on “Cielo Azul, Cielo Nublado” kicks off the album.
But it's really the upbeat resolve of the track “Canciónes Tristes” (“Sad Songs”), a long-ago composition written by his father and performed in the studio as Sauceda held his ailing oldest child, that symbolizes the moment.
The accordionist and his family are coping with loss, a child's serious health issues and career choices.
“You really learn to step back and cherish every moment,” said Sauceda, 36, who lives in San Marcos with his wife and two young children. “You also learn that in the midst of the chaos that you have to push on forward. You can't put your life on hold.”
That's easier said than done.
On New Year's Eve 2012, his sister-in-law, Lauri Ann Rodriguez, was killed in an auto accident in Kingsbury. The new album is dedicated to her memory.
But that staggering blow was only the latest challenge.
Sauceda's 3-year-old son, Jaren, suffers from infantile spasms, a childhood epilepsy syndrome once known as West syndrome.
Jaren is prone to seizures upon waking, needs a specialized walker with wheelchair wheels and requires much neurological care. He has undergone brain surgery, a right frontal lobectomy in 2011 that left him weaker on his left side.
His first seizure, as in most such cases, was when Jaren was 4 months old.
He is a beautiful boy. But Jaren is unable to walk unassisted or speak. He has problems with balance, walking on the tips of his toes “like a ballerina,” said his mom, Vickie Sauceda. For that reason, he wears corrective braces on his ankles.
Jaren's nickname is “Funny Face.” He loves to make them.
“It's our family pastime,” Sauceda said.
“He's superattached to his dad,” Vickie Sauceda said. “His music soothes him.”
That's why dad often brought his son into the studio, where necessity proved the mother of invention.
It was easier for Sunny to hold the child as he sang. Jaren often cries uncontrollably if his father is away or if he can't be close by.
The flashy accordionist doesn't mind; he said his role is to “keep upbeat, stay strong.” He draws strength from his wife of 11 years and his 2-year-old daughter, Jalen.
“She's a little pistol,” he said. “She's actually the glue of the whole thing. She's so silly. No matter how sad it is, she just walks in and lights up the room.”
It's fair to say that much of the family's life centers on Jaren and his doctor and hospital visits.
“We've probably been on every floor there,” said Vickie Sauceda, standing in Milam Park downtown and looking across the street at Children's Hospital of San Antonio.
“You just can't stop,” Sunny Sauceda said. “That's why I called the album 'Implacable,' because you have to be relentless; you have to keep pushing yourself in everything you do, not just on an album but in life.”
He said he's had plenty of “Why me?” moments.
“Yeah, that's the knee-jerk reaction: 'What did I do wrong?'” said Sauceda, who came to realize that self-pity is not an answer.
For several months, his career took a back seat.
“We had to take a break from the music,” Vickie Sauceda said.
The Saucedas have discussed getting a motor coach to tour with their children, and they continue to meet with new specialists for Jaren.
But coping isn't easy. Jaren communicates through gestures, sounds and signals. He scoots on the floor to get around at home.
“He pops his lips when he's hungry,” Sunny Sauceda said. “But he's a typical kid. He likes to watch TV. He likes to play with his trucks. He loves cars.”
In such an atmosphere, it didn't take much for dad to draw on that love and range of emotions for the new album.
“As an artist, your emotional tank is almost always three-quarters full. It doesn't take very much for us to overspill,” he said.
The new album also represents a setting aside of old feuds. The ranchera track with Gonzalez was overdue. They hadn't recorded together in 17 years, when they both performed with Grupo Vida.
“We hadn't been on speaking terms. It was a pretty bad breakup. I mean, we're talking attorneys and fights,” Sauceda said.
The thaw began several months ago at a public gig.
“I was never comfortable with that whole 'not getting along' thing,” he said. “I like to get along with people. It's good for business.”
Sauceda acknowledged he's at a crossroads.
“It's tempting to quit,” he said.
He's been singing and playing since he was 5. His image, his Michael Jackson-style gloves and accordion flash are indelible — even in his mind.
“My next album, I'm going to do cover (art) where I'm boxed inside of my accordion.” he said. “But there are things that are a lot more important now.”