Riding to fame by staying close to the pop side of onda grupera, Ladrón (in English, Thief) has found itself admired throughout central Mexico and the Midwestern U.S., while ironically keeping a low profile in its native Monterrey, where norteño reigns supreme.
Group director and guitarist Sergio Villarreal (b. 1968), who writes nearly all the group's songs, began penning tunes at age 14 and has written at a prolific pace ever since, averaging 75 compositions per year. Determined to have another career to fall back on, he graduated engineering degree and briefly taught math and physics at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León with a mechanical Regiomontana. At Universidad Regiomontana, Villarreal and three students formed the rock group Gatos Con Botas (Cats With Boots). The group quickly decided it felt more comfortable with the softer onda grupera style, and became Ladrón in 1991. Simplicity and softness characterize their output, which consists almost entirely of cumbias and adult contemporary ballads. Villarreal also incorporated harmonies in the clean-cut tradition of the Association. With keyboard player Omar García (b. 1969), bass player Edgar "Gary" García (b. 1970), and drummer William Mejía (b. 1971), the four-man group was the smallest in a style known for six- to eight-man ensembles.
Signed by Discos Sabinas that same year, the group found an influential patron in the legendary Mexican composer Armando Manzanero, who produced its first album, Corazón Desvalido (Broken Heart). International success arrived in 1992 with No Tengo Lágrimas (I Don't Have Tears), which produced five hit singles, a rare feat in a genre whose artists average one album per year.
Villarreal's arranging and songwriting talents weren't lost on his colleagues; he has worked as arranger for albums by groups whose style is much different from Ladrón's, including Banda Móvil, Cardenales de Nuevo León and Banda R-15. In addition, he has written songs for Liberación, Flash, and Sonido Mazter, among others, saying someday he would like to be a full-time producer and songwriter.
Ladrón added two mariachi songs to 1994's Culpable De Tu Amor (Guilty of Your Love) and recorded some rapid-fire quebraditas for its 1998 CD Enamórate De Un Ladrón (Fall In Love With a Thief), but never strayed far from its trademark romantic sound, which includes frequent references to its earlier songs. The 1996 greatest-hits CD 15 Super Temas is the only U.S. release to include songs from Corazón Desvalido. Tu Me Quieres Lastimar followed in 1998; Misma Historia appeared three years later. ~ Douglas Shannon