Country Music Lover and former soldier Elmer E. Gonzales known for his name “Fiddlin’ Doc Gonzales,” passed away last week at the age of 80. Funeral service will be held today in Santa Fe. His wife of 57 years, Betty Gonzales, said he passed away following a short battle with cancer. “He died peacefully Thursday surrounded by his wife and family,” she said.
Aside from being known as a musician, Gonzales was also known as a chiropractor. His family members said that he practiced in Española beginning in 1976 and continued to see patients until recently. From an early age, music was already a part of his life. “He taught himself to play the violin when he was 8 or 9 years old,” Betty Gonzales said. “It was just a God-given talent.”
In 1954, Gonzales graduated high school and shortly after, he joined the Army and became a part of the special service. During his time serving as the country, he was in a country band called “Circle A Wranglers.” In the band, he played with many country music icons like Faron Young, Roger Miller, and Roy Dusky. He became “Doc” during those years, Elmer Gonzales was known as “speedy” Gonzales, said by his widow.
In the 1950s, he also played in an Albuquerque country band led by Dick Bills — who probably is best known as the host of a popular 1960s children’s show, The K-Circle-B Ranch. Bills’ band included his nephew, the late Glenn Campbell, who later became a major star.
Gonzales continued his music after his discharge. Although, he decided that being a performer out on the road wasn’t the life he wanted. He decided to follow his brother Isidro Gonzales into the chiropractic profession. He and another brother, Rudy Gonzales, were admitted to the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. Elmer Gonzales earned his Doctorate of Chiropractic in 1961.
Eventhough he is already a chiropractor, he kept playing in local bands. His best-known was called The Orange Blossom Express. Drummer Wayne Brewster said he first began playing with Gonzales in the late 1970s. “The thing I remember most about him is what a gentleman he was,” Brewster said Monday. “He treated all kinds of people with kindness and respect. He was just a sweet person. And he tolerated me as a drummer all those years.”
Brewster said his last show with Doc Gonzales was a Santa Fe Bandstand show on the Plaza in 2015. Gonzales was a frequent Bandstand player, Edie Gonzales said, as well as a perennial performer at the Fiesta de Santa Fe until recent years, she said.
For the past 13 years, Gonzales also played with the Albuquerque-based Western-swing band The Curio Cowboys. “I used to introduce him as ‘our national treasure,’ when he’d do a solo,” John Feldman, leader of that band said. “Some people thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. It was such a pleasure listening to him.”
Feldman said that earlier this year, before Gonzales began cancer treatments, the old fiddler suggested the band do a version of “September Song,” a song about a man reaching the final part of his life. “It was so beautiful hearing him playing it knowing he’d reached the September of his years.”
Gonzales also participated in a University of New Mexico country music program called the UNM HonkyTonk Ensemble. The ensemble’s Facebook page recently noted Gonzales’ death and posted photos of him with some of the students.
“Doc was incredibly generous with his time and with our UNM HonkyTonk Ensemble students, where he came each semester to offer master classes, jam with students and offered words of wisdom and encouragement to aspiring country musicians,” the post said. “He will be deeply missed, but certainly not forgotten by any of us who had the joy of making music with him.”
A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Anne’s Parish. The family asks that attendees wear bolo ties if possible. A celebration of Gonzales’ life will follow at the Fraternal Order of Police, 3300 Calle Maria Luisa. Burial with full military honors is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Friday at Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Do you like him the same as we do? Let us know in the comments section below.
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