Justo Piernes

Gardel and the guitarists

ardel and his guitarists, saved!, was the phrase included into the language of the porteño when he got rid of being ruined at a gambling session or at the races.

This saying points out the importance Gardel’s guitarists had, above the choice or dislike of the connoisseurs of the Zorzal’s records about them, and they were as well the origen of much criticism.

The real and mythical aspect of the issue is that Gardel’s guitarists gave rise to a trade that jumped from the River Plate outskirts to the stages of highest level in the world.

Two of them passed away with Gardel in Medellín. The other one saved miraculously his life in the accident, even though he was seriously burnt.

One of the dead ones in Medellín was Guillermo Barbieri, father of one of the outstanding comic actors in the Buenos Aires theaters, Alfredo Barbieri. El Negro Barbieri was the oldest in the guitar trio when the accident happened. He had joined them in 1921, when Gardel was still performing in duo with Razzano. Guillermo Barbieri, whom Gardel called El Barba, was discovered by the Zorzal and Razzano in the city of Lincoln, in the province of Buenos Aires, during a tour of the duo throughout the countryside.

Barbieri was then the «second guitar» because the lead guitar was José Ricardo, who was with the duo since 1916, when Gardel-Razzano were achieving importance in the show-business and needed an accompaniment of higher level.

Ricardo was 13 years with Gardel and split with him in May l929 unexpectedly, since he was playing at the Teatro Avenida, of Madrid, when he decided to go back to Buenos Aires.

Ángel Domingo Riverol, who died in Medellín, two days after the accident, came to take a seat at the guitar trio, together with Guillermo Barbieri and José María Aguilar, the latter joined Gardel’s team in 1928, after having played with Ignacio Corsini, the other great singer of the period.

Aguilar’s debut took place on July 18, 1928 at the Paramount cinema theater. He was called El Indio and his strong temper led him to quit Gardel’s accompaniment on several occasions, but he always resumed his job after his fits of anger.

Barbieri, Riverol and Aguilar are associated together with José Ricardo to Gardel’s career for their long permanence by the Zorzal’s side, but on special occasions they were reinforced by Julio Vivas and Horacio Pettorosi.

The «guitars of Gardel» were not merely accompanists or «background noise». All them produced authentic tango classics for Argentine music, recorded for the first time by Gardel.

Guillermo Barbieri wrote: “Anclao en París”, “Preparate p'al domingo”, “Viejo smoking”, “Rosa de otoño (Rosas de otoño)”, “Barrio reo” and “Dicha pasada”. José Ricardo was the composer of “Margot” and “Pobre gallo bataraz”, two classics. Aguilar composed the music of “Mala suerte”, “Tengo miedo” and “Lloró como una mujer”. Riverol, who died in Medellín together with Barbieri, left us as his most remarkable piece the tango “Falsas promesas”.

Carlos Gardel was condescending with his guitarists. He recorded 32 numbers of Barbieri’s compositions, 11 of Ricardo’s, another 11 of Aguilar’s and 3 by Riverol. There are for all choices, tangos, shimmies, foxtrots, pasodobles, waltzes and country songs, an evidence that Gardel sang even “La Marsellesa” (The Marseillaise), the “Marcha de Garibaldi” (Garibaldi’s March) and “Il trovatore” (The troubadour).

Gardel’s guitarists cannot be regarded as the «ugly ducklings» of the Zorzal’s story, as was evidenced in this brief review of their music pieces, in spite of the opinion of many «Gardelians» about the quality of their sound in the recordings which are now historical.

The people were responsible for introducing them into Gardel's mythology. Gardel and his guitar players were unable to survive out of the accident in Medellín, but the phrase «Gardel and his guitarists, saved» indicates the scenery of a miracle that did not came true, but that remained latent in the popular imagination and hope.

Published on the Tiempo Argentino daily paper, on June 9, 1985.