Lemos - Interview with Rodolfo Lemos
n February 24, 2014 I had an appointment with Rodolfo Lemos at the café Quintana on Caseros and La Rioja, right across the park. As soon as we started our chat he asked me if the noise bothered me. I told him that when I met another singer there was a sort of an uproar but everything went out all right. And so we came to mention the name of Alberto Podestá. «We are close friends, what a singer! What a vocal power! Wonderful!»
—What singers among the ones you worked with in the latter years do you highlight?
«The best vocalist among the ones we have today I think is Roberto Ayala and, going back, a beautiful voice was the one of Jorge Durán, another one was Jorge Casal and the one who stood out in expressing the lyrics was Floreal Ruiz. Many ones were good and some were suitable only for a certain orchestra, like the case of Alberto Echagüe with Juan D'Arienzo. Instead Roberto Rufino was capable to sing in any aggregation, especially with Carlos Di Sarli. With Aníbal Troilo he recorded in the later times and it’s amazing, I think that with El Gordo he surpassed everybody. The singers of previous times were in the need of possessing something different, personal, otherwise: Who would choose you? An orchestra leader used to pay attention that you were in tune. Sassone, for instance, when a violinist played a wrong note, would soon make a warning.»
—How did you come to join Florindo Sassone?
«I was working in the Secretary of Communications and one of my workmates was Osvaldo Amura who was Alfredo De Angelis’ agent. One day he told me that Sassone was looking for a singer and he encouraged me to go to see him. I went to a local located on Rivadavia and Callao (Callao 11) and I was auditioned by Pastor Cores, the lead bandoneonist of the orchestra. He had already listened to fifteen boys. I waited until they told me I had to go to the leader’s house which then was in Flores, on Artigas street. María Elena, his wife, who was piano teacher made me sing. When her husband arrived she told him: «Pedro, the boy can sing with you». Florindo was his second name.»
—Where are you working?
«The venues in which to work are but a few. In the latter years several of them closed. Lately I was in Mar del Plata, at the Teatro Colón and at the Café Orión on Avenida Luro and the seaside. A beautiful place. I’ll go back in fiften days. I’m singing at the La Casa de Aníbal Troilo, on 2500 Estados Unidos Street, near the corner with Jujuy. After that I go to Tandil on the weekend. The Café Torino is a special place, if the weather is fine they put tables on the street and there are plenty of attendants. I also go to the La Catedral del Tango, in the neighborhood of Mataderos. Another place is Candilejas, on Piedras Street, but there are not many people. Back in the 80s I remember Caño 14, it was always crowded. There I sang, even the evening when Enrique Francini died.
—As for that event, people always talk. I heard some guys saying that when he fell he had said «Look out! My violin!» and others, instead, that said he had said: «What an embarrassing situation!» Which of the two sayings is true?
«Those are foolish things that people make up. I was there, he didn’t say a thing. Along with Héctor Stamponi on piano, he had been the first to play that evening. He fell forward. Doctor Matera was in the audience and was one of the first to reach him. «He’s gone!», said he. He died while playing, in a standing position, later he fell down.
—Did you follow tertiary studies?
«Yes, while I was in the secondary school I began to work in the Post Office. When I finished those studies I went to the High School of Public Relations until I graduated. From the Post Office I was transferred to the Secretary of Communications and, on a recommendation, to the private secretary. I was gradually raising, from responsible of an area, chief and, finally, to general director. That happened in 1990. Thereafter I was advisor in the Secretary of Industry and Commerce. Previously, I studied one more year to join the press staff. I was general director for twenty years but I never quit singing. Thanks to that position I was able get a house and my own car. There are few singers who own a real estate.»
—With Sassone did you make a tour?
«We made one tour of Colombia and by the time of the military government or maybe before, we went to Venezuela for a month. I asked permission at my job and they allowed it. Sassone’s wife asked me to take care of Pedro. He had diabetes and she told me he would kill himself because he was crazy for chocolate, pastry and all sorts of candies. We went to Colombia and later to Brazil and appeared at the Teatro Leopoldina in Porto Alegre. We were there ten days and Pedro eluded my control among so many invitations to have lunch. Thereafter we arrived in Paraguay, and one evening in a performance I saw he was dizzy, grasping the piano and he told me he was not feeling well. We came back the following day and he was hospitalized at the Sanatorio Anchorena. Fortunately, in a week he recovered and was discharged. We continued with our job but he quit piano playing and only conducted seated on an easy chair. But soon later his health got worse and his daughter took him to the city of San Pedro where he died. With Norberto Ramos —his last pianist—, Osvaldo Monteleone and Pastor Cores we went on my car to bid him adieu. It was in 1982.»
—Did you start to sing when you were a young kid?
«I was born in Parque Patricios and I was lucky to have older brothers. I’m the youngest in the family and because of that it was a great support for me. My parents were nice Spaniards. A brother of Guillermo Barbieri, the Gardel’s guitarist, used to come home to talk. I was about eight and he was more than twenty years old and, as by that time we heard tango all day long on the radio, with other kids we used to learn lyrics and we spent our time singing. One day, Barbieri turned up with a guitar and so I began to sing with an accompaniment. It was my starting point. When I was fourteen I entered the Post Office. I was so fond of singing that one afternoon when I was walking along Corrientes Street, passing by the Café Marzotto, I dared to enter to see the Ángel Domínguez orchestra. And another afternoon I talked to him and he invited me to sing. I went up the small stage and sang. Since then I had been singing wherever I was able to and I joined a small orchestra in the neighborhood of Caseros which was led by a boy named D’Angelo. Later I recorded with Jorge Arduh, Leo Lipesker, an eleven-year tenure with Sassone, Ángel Cicchetti, Roberto Zanoni, Color Tango, the Rivas brothers, Jorge Dragone, and on Radio Del Pueblo I was backed up by a group led by Miguel Nijensohn.»
—Do you practice vocal exercises, do you follow a routine?
«Yes, it’s important, three times a week, around forty minutes and when I have to appear, also a little while before. And I have my singing teacher. And furthermore, a conduct in life. As I told you before, no cigarettes, no alcohol and not even mention drugs. I can tell you that in my life there was neither jealousy, nor envy, nor malice. I don’t forget things that were unpleasant but I keep them well locked. So I was growing with a better knowledge of my own person. I live well, peacefully, I sleep well and get up without worries. This is an award for me.»
—When did you start professionally?
«When Antonio Maida was director of LS6 Radio Del Pueblo our friendship grew up. He had put together an all-star cast: Aníbal Troilo, Edmundo Rivero, Alberto Marino, Roberto Goyeneche, Héctor Stamponi. And also he was the one who took me to Caño 14. Ah! He was also who named me Lemos.
—Are there any lyrics that belong to you?
«I wrote “Cambiemos el verso”, with music by Javier Mazzea and Roberto Zanoni; “Feliz noche de amor” (waltz), music by Sassone; “Tus hermosos años” —dedicated to my daughter when she was fifteen—, music by Mazzea; “Sólo tango”, music by Norberto Ramos; “Me equivoqué” with music by Jorge Dragone.»
—How would you describe yourself as singer?
«I’m a singer accepted by people. The day people whistle at me I’ll quit singing for good. I was lucky to keep my voice color, the same of previous decades.»