Héctor Bates

Tuegols - His story on Radio Argentina

he present note is composed of excerpts from the interview on radio made to the inspired composer Rafael Tuegols by Bates in 1935 -in his program, “Tangos, autores e intérpretes en Radio Argentina”-, published in his book La Historia del Tango. We have also added information of our own found in other publications and collected from our talks with Ernié, Bruno Cespi and Héctor Lucci.

«My most successful tango probable has been “Zorro gris”. It occurred to me while traveling on a streetcar on a trip to my mother’s house. When I was there I wrote it in a jiffy. A few days later I premiered with my group at the Café La Paloma. People liked it very much and soon others began to fake it.

«It was by 1920 and at that time collecting royalties was not an easy task. Each evening I played it I saw somebody, undoubtedly one who wrote music, who transcribed on a music staff my composition. I was about to make it published by Casa Breyer but in that way the pirate copies would be released before.

«That used to happen with many tangos, not only mine. But I had the good idea of adding lyrics to my melody. A friend of mine introduced me to a boy poet and he very soon handed me the story lines. That must have been the first work by Francisco García Jiménez.

«I did not study very much because my family was poor and I had to start working soon. I was about eleven when my elder brother Sebastián realized I had an inclination for music. By that time I played guitar –I had learnt with occasional teachers- and then he paid for me the studies at the Conservatorio Rossini to which he belonged. There my instrument was the violin. Later I only occasionally played guitar because I no longer played in tango groups.

«I made my debut as violinist at theaters that staged zarzuelas or venues that were devoted to one-act farces or revues. I had worked for the railway company for several years but in 1914 I quit my job and tried to make a living by playing tango. I was member of quartet at a café on San Juan and Boedo. It was led by the bandoneon player Antonio Gutman (aka El Ruso). The other sidemen were Roque Ardid on piano, Luis Aulisini on flute and I on violin.

«One year later I switched to the cabaret Montmartre along with Ricardo Brignolo and Luis Riccardi. I was a close friend and, of course, an admirer of Eduardo Arolas but he did not want me to join his group. His excuse was that a guy who wore top hat and cane was unable to join his group. I used to dress that elegant at that time. But Arolas was no less and Brignolo was like me. It was a kids’ fancy.

«One day he turned up at the Montmartre and there he persuaded me. I became his proxy. When he embarked on his last voyage to Paris I was in charge of his papers, of his affairs here in Buenos Aires.

«By that time he appeared at the Tabarín on 580 Suipacha Street and there I went. We were together for five years. After his death I was with Francisco Canaro for ten years.

«Then the sound movies came and we lost a large number of venues where to play. I decided to devote myself to trade but I failed and returned to music. For two years I joined the Anselmo Aieta’s group but again gigs declined and the pay was low. Now (1936) I returned to trade. I’m a livestock salesman and I very often travel throughout the interior of the country.»

His most famous tangos are, no doubt: “Zorro gris” and “Príncipe” —in collaboration with Aieta— and “La gayola” which have many recordings. Carlos Gardel recorded, besides the above three: “Beso ingrato”, the waltz “El trovero (Yo te imploro)” with lyrics by Agustín Irusta; “Lo que fuiste” and “Midinette porteña”.

Francisco Lomuto —as an instrumental— recorded twice “Zorro gris”, in 1927 and in 1941. And, last year “La gayola” with Fernando Díaz on vocals.

In 1928 Osvaldo Fresedo recorded “Barrio Piñeyro” with words by Domingo Precona and refrain by Ernesto Famá. In 1926 Ignacio Corsini committed to disc “Relicario criollo” with words by Alfredo Navarrine and the following year “Pasaron los abriles” with words by Armando Tagini.

In 1926 Francisco Canaro, with Azucena Maizani on vocals, recorded “Azucena” that Tuegols had co-composed with his brother Juan and which had lyrics by Enrique Rando. Charlo also with Pirincho, recorded the refrains of “Muchacho de ley” with words by Tagini and “Rosina”, both of 1928.

Much time later, in 1952, Juan D'Arienzo with Armando Laborde on vocals recorded his milonga “Se acabaron los guapos” with lyrics by Alfredo Tropiani.

There are other numbers, now forgotten, among them: “Ave negra”, his first tango, “Viejos pagos”, “La atropellada”, “Allá por Pedro Mendoza”, “Paraíso artificial” also with his brother Juan and lyrics by García Jiménez, “Decreto” with words by Roberto Roncayoli, “Horas tristes [b]”, “Calesita de ayer” and “Milonga del mozo guapo”.

As for the success of his tango “Zorro gris”, its public release was almost immediate after “Milonguita” and we think that this circumstance added to the subject matter of both lyrics had much to do with its popularity.

The two tangos tell us stories about an environment not easily reached by common people: the cabaret. It was an expensive world with plain beautiful young girls, tempted by wealthy gentleman who through false promises introduced them into a short life of luxuries and pleasures. Jewels, fox or mink coats, “voiturés” (automobiles), champagne and cabaret were the decoys, the exchange money.

When they managed to realize that all that was a lie and ephemeral, generally, it was too late. Because of that those lyrics with beautiful metaphors express the sorrows of those girls wrapped up in fox coats: “It was the intense coldness of your soul/ what you warmed with your gray fox”. Later, “You used to hide your saint tears/ in the pleats of your gray fox”. And, finally: “All the secret of your sad life/ will remain hidden in your gray fox”.

Let us explain that it was neither a chinchilla nor a red fox from the Russian steppes. Those coats were made with the furs of our gray fox from the southern Argentine plains but they were equally far from reach for most people in our country.