Néstor Pinsón
| Ricardo García Blaya

ccording to many people he was the greatest guitarist appeared in tango.

Through the history of the genre there were other great players who, differently to Grela, formally studied their instruments and achieved further musical knowledge, such were the cases of Mario Pardo, Horacio Pettorossi, José María Aguilar, Edmundo Rivero, Aníbal Arias or Osvaldo Avena. But he belonged to the group of guitarists that played by ear, and who polished their craft by daily performing at stints, improving their skills by their own talent and through the contact with other musicians. He was in the group of the self-taught artists like: Guillermo Barbieri, Manuel Parada, Rafael Iriarte and Rosendo Pesoa.

Many criticize his use of the pick or plectrum. But who cares about that, if his sound was unique, brings us pleasure and, like no other, touches our spirit.

He was defined as a self-taught musician, a player by ear that used the pick because with it he found the sound he strived for. But its use was neither strident nor a gimmick. Horacio Ferrer tells us: «An artist of exquisite finesse and rare musical facility, he transferred to his instrument the brilliant legato phrasing of the bandoneon tradition.»

His association with Aníbal Troilo left for the history of tango the most touching Grela and the best Troilo in his profile as bandoneonist. But it is Grela the one that touches Troilo so that the latter plays his best. Some time later he had a similar experience with Leopoldo Federico but we, unfortunately, discover that he was no longer the same player, that he was missing Troilo, in spite of Leopoldo’s superior technique. Evidently the team Troilo-Grela was unique and irreplaceable. El Gordo as well inspired in the guitarist a deep mood full of feeling. Both were spiritually blended.

He was born in the neighborhood of San Telmo and in his early childhood he started with music since his family was very fond of music. His father and his uncle formed a guitar duet: Los Hermanos Delpaso. His home was frequented by Manuel Parada, who influenced him to choose guitar instead of mandolin which was the instrument he liked then.

To earn some money he began accompanying singers with «little future», as José Gobello would call them. The first one was Domingo Gallichio, who later joined the Antonio Arcieri’s orchestra. (we ignore if he is someone with the same name or the Uruguayan playwright and critic himself, friend of Gardel’s and Razzano’s, and author of the tango lyrics “De flor en flor”).

Later he backed Antonio Maida when he split with Juan Maglio (Pacho). Subsequently he led the group of guitarists that accompanied Charlo and, between 1936 and 1938, he had the same role for Fernando Díaz who tried to continue as soloist after having recorded over 110 refrains for Francisco Lomuto.

At this stage, with Fernando Díaz, an important event took place. They were on tour of the province of La Pampa and the singer told him that he was worried because he did not have in his book a hit tango tune for his debut on Radio Belgrano on their comeback to Buenos Aires. Grela surprised him by taking out of his pocket a piece of lyrics that Francisco Gorrindo had given him and to which he had just composed a music. It was “Las cuarenta”, which they premiered in 1937 to great acclaim.

Immediately this tango was included in the songbooks of Antonio Maida and Azucena Maizani, among others, becoming a classic of the genre. It turns out evident that what caused the impact was the lyric, but the melody as well is quite good and, consequently, Grela’s name remained linked forever to a tango that will last over the years.

The curious thing is that Fernando Díaz did not record the piece neither as soloist nor when he came back to the orchestra led by Lomuto in 1939, when he recorded 58 refrains more. But the other vocalist of the orchestra, Jorge Omar, did it.

He joined the folk group led by Abel Fleury, with whom he learnt all the secrets of the instrument. To such an extent that he considered him the father of the guitarists of his generation.

His experience with folklore did not last long and he searched for new paths in jazz. He even led his own syncopated lineup: The American Fire group. He also developed an interest for Brazilian music.

He came back to tango by means of Troilo's invitation, who alongside Cátulo Castillo, author of the script, were about to premiere the musical comedy El Patio de la Morocha, at the then Enrique Santos Discépolo theater, today Teatro Alvear. It was 1952 and Troilo in the role of Eduardo Arolas, thought that Grela would be perfect to accompany him in the rendition of "La cachila". The performance made the audience burst into a big applause. An encore was asked and they had to play it again; it was the only number they had rehearsed.

With no further purpose, the Troilo-Grela quartet was being born, because immediately the TK label suggested them recording. To the duo the bass guitar played by Edmundo Porteño Zaldivar and the bassist Kicho Díaz were added. Later Eugenio Pro replaced Díaz and Ernesto Báez was substitute for Zaldivar and the guitarist Domingo Laine was added.

The quartet appeared during a period and later they reunited only to make recordings. In 1958, he put together a guitar quartet for public performances lined up by Laine, Báez, Ayala and the double bassist Pro.

In 1965, he teamed up with Leopoldo Federico and put together the Cuarteto San Telmo, with Báez on guitar and Román Arias on bass. They performed together for several years.

During his long career he was accompanist to a never-ending list of interpreters: Edmundo Rivero, Nelly Omar, Alberto Marino, Agustín Irusta, Tito Reyes, Osvaldo Cordó, Héctor Mauré, Osvaldo Ribó, Alberto Podestá, Jorge Vidal, among many others.

In 1980, he joined the staff orchestra of the television channel eleven, conducted by Osvaldo Requena.

He also composed "Viejo baldío" (lyrics by Víctor Lamanna), "Callejón" (lyrics by Héctor Marcó) and "A San Telmo" (in collaboration with Héctor Ayala).