Ricardo García Blaya

Fernán - At home with Julio César Fernán

came to know this porteño singer because of the preview of the Germán Krall’s movie El último aplauso that took place at a movie theater in the neighborhood of Belgrano where I went as representative of the Academia Nacional del Tango. Later I had the chance, on two occasions, of listening to him at the legendary café Los Laureles in Barracas alongside Inés Arce, aka La Calandria, who also appears in the movie. I was struck by his interpretation, his tenor-like range, his intonation and the restrained use of his voice volume which he alternates with great ductility with the sotto voce. I invited him to meet at home so that he would tell me about his life and career; here it goes:

«I was born at my home as it was customary then. It was on the corner of Trole and Patagones, today Gregorio Pomar Street, in the neighborhood of Parque Patricios.

«Before I was twenty years old I began to get my early bucks with tango in the taverns of La Boca but I made a living by working as newspaper boy in my old man’s kiosk.

«In 1969 I appeared on TV Channel 9 in Grandes valores del tango. Do you know who presented me?... The great Hugo Del Carril, who asked me what I was doing and, when I told him that I was a newspaper boy he told me: “Kid, you won’t stay long in that job”.

«Thereafter, from 1972 to 1978, I sang at the cabarets Karina, Kim and other night venues. In 1977, at Karina, I shared the bill with Roberto Goyeneche, Alba Solís, the Sexteto Mayor and Hugo Marcel until the early days of the following year when I was hired to go to Mendoza.

«But before that, in the summer of 1973, I worked in Mar del Plata, at the Tango Bar on Buenos Aires Street on the corner of Belgrano where I was backed up by the Tango Trío. No less than the quartet led by Aníbal Troilo and the Osvaldo Pugliese orchestra used to play there. One evening El Gordo summoned me to his dressing room and asked me to replace Tito Reyes who had some problems. I remember that that day he asked me to start singing “Garúa”. I substituted for Tito several evenings. The other members of the quartet were Aníbal Arias (guitar), Rafael del Bagno (double bass) and José Colángelo (piano).

«In 1976 I traveled to Japan with the Cacho Vidal sextet and a dancing couple. It was a two-month tenure and I earned what in Argentina would have taken me three years. Today it’s not the same, the Japanese realized about that and now they pay just a little more than what we get here.

«I arrived in Mendoza before the beginning of the 1978 World Soccer Cup and there was a great expectation because the province was one of the secondary venues. I had to sing at the recently opened Cabaret Scorpios which was located in the city of Mendoza. I signed for fifteen days but I stayed one year in the Andean region. In that period I appeared in a great number of venues and in San Juan: Bodega del 900, El Amasijo, Casino de Mendoza, among others and shared the bill with great stars that came from Buenos Aires, among them: Roberto Rufino.

«Rufino, besides being an extraordinary singer, was a special guy and, as we know, was kind of crazy. On one occasion, at the La Casona de Ganímedes, when there were a few attendants —no more than 25 people—, he sang a number for each one of the members of the audience. The following day, when the venue was full —more than three hundred people—, he sang three tango pieces and left.

«At Barrabás, another venue in Mendoza, I met again Goyeneche who had been hired to appear at that local. But on the first evening the owner made him sing at three different places for the same money. The next day El Polaco was very angry and told me: “I won’t sing this evening I have a hoarse throat”. Later he told me that he had a technique for speaking with just one vocal cord. What a character!

«On my comeback to Buenos Aires I went on singing with the accompaniment of the Tango Trío that included Rubén Castro (guitar), Humberto Pinheiro (double bass) and Julio Esbrez (bandoneon).

«I recorded two numbers on a double disc for the Almalí label (A/D 1027) as vocalist of the orchestra fronted by Luis Alberto Salvadeo Marcuccito: “Con pena y amor” by Jorge Serrano and Luis Rodríguez Armesto, teaming up with Alberto Selpa as duo and “El último escalón”. By that time I worked at the Banco Latinoamericano and, as from 1981 to 1985, at the Banco Ciudad in the pawnbroking area.

«In 1982 I resumed my appearances in Grandes valores del tango, now emceed by Silvio Soldán. Later I returned to Brazil on a short contract to open the Cabaret Pigall in Porto Alegre and I stayed nearly one year with appearances throughout Rio Grande do Sul.

«When I came back to Buenos Aires with the orchestra headed by Alberto Coral I appeared at the Boite Mi Club on the corner of Suipacha and Tucumán Street. The violinist of that aggregation was Wenceslao Cinosi who had written the tango “Carga” and the variation of “La cumparsita” when he was lead violin in the Alfredo De Angelis orchestra.

«Thereafter I made a tour of Paraguay and, as from the 90s, I appeared at night venues in Buenos Aires, among them: La Taberna de Ricardo, Arturito, Guayana, La Casona de Parque Patricios, La Casa de Aníbal Troilo, Café Tortoni, Caballito Blanco and, of couse, at the beloved Bar El Chino. In 1997 I appeared for three months in a Music Hall at the Teatro Avenida».

Before leaving he left me a disc with the soundtrack of the motion picture El último aplauso. The chat with Julio César Fernán was very amusing and, in some way, rewarding. Being aware of things behind the scenes of a show business career and the stories provided by night and tango characters always bring the feeling of having learnt something more about the praiseworthy métier of the artist.