Saturday, 11 February 2017

Alf Soares, Brazilian rock 'wunderkind' - 1959-1962

Afonso Soares de Azevedo aka Alf Soares was only 20 years old in 1958, when he scored a dream-job - to be the factotum (secretario de produções) of Miguel Vaccaro Netto, a radio man who had a 2 hour-rock-show - from 3:00 to 5:00 PM - on Radio Panamericana in São Paulo where he played hit parade discs and records not yet released in the Brazilian market.  

Alf who has been living in Miami, Florida since 1992, has recently sent an account of those early rock'n'roll years to blogger Lucinha Zanetti and here are excerpts of that report:

a very young Alf Soares in 1960. 

In 1958, there were 4 big multi-national record companies in Brazil: RCA VictorEMI-OdeonColumbia and Philips that had just got into the Brazilian market incorporating local Companhia Brasileira de Discos. As far as rock'n'roll records went RCA had Elvis, the biggest of them all; Odeon-Capitol had Little Richard and Columbia had Johnny Ray. Paul Anka was released in Brazil through Germany's Polydor. 

As Miguel Vaccaro radio show 'Disque Disco' became the highest rating programme among Sao Paulo teen-agers, Enrique Lebendiger, chairman of Fermata do Brasil, a sheet-music-cum-record-label company approached him with an offer he could not refuse. He offered Vaccaro the catalog of various US record companies he had the rights to release in Brazil. Many of these labels had already had number ones at the charts in the US like Atlantic-AtcoCameo-ParkwayDolphinDorèJubilee etc. but they had no outlet in Brazil. 

Mr Lebendiger didn't know what to do with all that material. Most of those records would never be released at all due to the smallness of the Brazilian record market. Suddenly, Vaccaro thought he could assemble a team of Brazilian young musicians who already gravitated around his daily radio-show at Radio Panamericana, record some of that material and release it through his own label.  

Brazilian rock up to that moment was made up mostly of Anglo-American songs translated into Portuguese and  sung by local talents like Carlos Gonzaga who took Paul Anka's 'Diana' to the top of the charts in May 1958. But translating rock songs into Portuguese was not universal. 

During a short period between December 1957 and September 1958, there was a string of rock'n'roll tunes recorded by Brazilian acts singing in English that reached Number One in the charts. It all started with Lana Bittencourt's 'Little darlin' which was a cover of The Diamonds, a Canadian group who had in their turn covered The Gladiola's original. 

On 8 March 1958, Brazilian studio band The Playings took 'Love me forever', a cover of The Four Esquires to #1. Two weeks later, on 22 March 1959, Conjunto Farropilha went to #1 with 'Mr. Lee', a cover of The Bobbettes, to be followed by Miss Bittencourt again with 'Alone' (Why must I be alone?), a cover of the Shepherd Sisters that topped the charts on 8 April 1958. 

On 19 July 1958, Tony Campello took 'Forgive me' b/w 'Handsome boy' sung by his baby sister Celly Campello to #1 in Sao Paulo. Both songs had been written by blind musician Mario Gennari Filho with original English words written by Celia Novaes. Before the year was over Lana Bittencourt reached #1 for the 3rd time with 'With all my heart' on 20 September 1958. 

Vaccaro must have thought that translating hits from English into Portuguese was not necessary. Brazilians could sing in English too: Miss Bittencourt, The Playings, Conjunto Farroupilha, Tony & Celly Campello had proved it. 

That's how the idea of forming Young Records came to be. Now, Vaccaro had only to go through the mountains of 45 rpms received from those US labels, choose the tunes he thought would best fit the local trends, hire recording studio time from Continental Records, the best Brazilian company and get his musicians to cover that material. 

It was March 1959, just when Celly Campello shot to #1 with 'Estupido cupido', a Neil Sedaka tune Connie Francis had taken to #14 in the US charts. Actually, EMI-Odeon wasn't sure when it released the disc just after Carnaval: it had 'The secret' sung in English on the A-side, but radio DJs immediately chose the flip-side sung in Portuguese

The Avalons were spotted singing the Everly Brothers' 'Bye bye love' on a TV Paulista programme produced by David Conde and invited to record at the new label. They were the first act to record for Young, at the state-of-the-art RGE studios on Rua Paula Souza, under the direction of Stelio Carlini, legendary sound-engineer whose nephew Luis Sergio Carlini would become a guitar hero in the 1970s as part of Rita Lee's Tutti Frutti. 

Hamilton Di Giorgio sang Buddy Holly's 'Peggy Sue' at 'Boite do Minguinho', on Radio São Paulo and was so successful that Domingos Paulo Mamone himself introduced him to Vaccaro at sister radio station Panamericana. 

Regiane was spotted singing and playing her acoustic guitar at a Sunday show music-instructor Theotônio Pavão had on TV Tupi. She was invited by Vaccaro to show up at 'Disque Disco' where she sang songs of Maysa and Maria Theresa aka 'Mecha Branca'. When Regiane sang in English we knew right away she was 'it'. 

Regiane whose name is Regina Celia Belocchi had to have a name-change due to the existence of another Regina Celia who recorded for Polydor. An instant competition was set up on air to canvass for a new name for such a musical prodigy. Regiane was Vaccaro's answered prayer. She could sing as well as Celly Campello, who was fast becoming Brazil's sweetheart.

The Beverlys were a vocal group from Penha, an Eastern suburb, who were in the right place at the right time. They showed up at Radio Panamericana exactly when Vaccaro was assembling a cast of hopeful new talents to launch Young Records. They were four Black men: Pereira, Mariano, Castro, Vander and Amelia who was Vander's wife. They had been performing doo-wop material from The Platters, were very tuneful and were warmly welcomed into the Young family. The Beverlys were a little older than the rest of the cast and ended up adding their background vocals to most recordings besides their own. They were among the five top acts in the label. 

Nick Savoia was strictly upper-class whose father had been Sao Paulo mayor for a time after the 1932 upheavals. Nick had an independent streak having worked as an airline steward to travel the world. He had lived in the USA when rock'n'roll was king and returned to Brazil at the right time to be teamed up with The Scarletts and swing it all the way. Savoia had a penchant to Tin Pan Alley material the way Bobby Darin had shown in his best selling 1959 album 'That's all'. 

There were many other acts at the Young stable: The Jester Tigers led by guitar virtuoso Jose Provetti aka Gato who usually backed Antonio Claudio; The Rebels with Nenê, a 12 year-old drummer and Zezinho, a singer who could swing like hell; The Teenagers who started as the High Teenagers and came up with great harmonies; Lucy Perrier & The Cupids who gave future Jovem Guarda two excellent crooners: Marcos Roberto and Dori Angiolella aka Dori Edson; The youngs, a group from Rio Claro-SP; Carlos David, a good looking young man whose 'In my heart' is surely one of the best recordings in the Young catalog. Demetrius was a late-comer who was backed by The Devils. Demetrius ended up being the first Young act to break out into the mainstream in 1962 with a cover of Ray Peterson's 'Corinna, Corinna' he recorded in Portuguese for Continental Records. 

Marathon recording session in March 1959

As studio-recording time is not so busy during the Holy Week, Vaccaro & Lebendiger booked the Continental Records studios facilities for the whole 1959 Easter weekend for the exclusive use of the Young musicians.  The studio was located at Largo da Misericordia, near Praça da Sé, the heart of the city of Sao Paulo. 

On 26 March 1959, Maundy Thursday (Quinta-feira Santa), at 9:00 AM arrived most of the musicians recruited by Waldemar Marchetti aka Corisco. They were mostly cello & violin players who would record the string sections on tracks to be played back later when Regiane, Nick Savoia, Hamilton Di Giorgio and The Beverlys recorded their voices over the final cut. The string arrangements were written by Elias Slon, the spalla violinist of São Paulo's Symphonic Orchestra who brought along his son Claudio Slon, a 16-year-old drummer who would later play with the likes of Walter Wanderley and Sergio Mendes in the USA. 

On 27 March 1959, Good Friday (Sexta-feira Santa) and 28 March 1959, Holy Saturday (Sabado de Aleluia) groups and singers would put their voices & instruments on tape under the direction of Ivany Soares, a very patient sound engineer who was attentive to every minor details. Ivany had 4 additional technicians under him. 

The marathon session would take more than 48 hours eliciting this comment from Regiane in her 2016 written report to Miss Zanetti's blog: 'Me and everyone else at Young recorded everything in one go that took 1,000 hours at Continental, where we had a lot of fun... I recorded 'I'm yours' with a string-section from Sao Paulo's Symphonic Orchestra, Edgard at the guitar and Bolão at the saxophone'. 

There were more than 30 artists gathered in one single recording space. Talented musicians who helped each other to achieve excellency either hand-clapping to the beat or adding his voice to background vocals, giving suggestions on how to improve a song etc. It was a magical long weekend that remains in the memories of those who were lucky to be there. 

Early Easter Sunday morning, 29 March 1959, myself and Gato, who was the last to add his voice on top of the play-back of 'Kissin' time', left the Continental studio at 8:30, walked a couple of blocks up to Praça João Mendes and had breakfast at Santa Theresa bakery. Then we said good-bye and went our separate ways. I went home straight to bed and woke up only on Monday at noon... more than 24 hours later.

Alf & Brenda Lee in 1959Alf Neil Sedaka on 17 November 1959.
DJ Miguel Vaccaro Netto presents 14 year-old Brenda Lee at his radio-show 'Disque Disco' on Sao Paulo's Radio Panamericana on a Monday, 14 September 1959; Brenda's manager Dub Allbritten answers questions on the microphone. 
Brenda Lee & manager Dub Allbritten at the microphone of Radio Panamericana on 14 September 1959. Photos taken by Alf Soares.
Brenda Lee at Miguel Vaccaro's 'Disque Disco' radio-show from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM.
Regiane presents Brenda Lee with a bouquet being looked at by Miguel Vaccaro's father in the background and manager Dub Allbritten on the right. 

Alf presents Frankie Avalon a Young 45 rpm single when he sang at Teatro Record from 19 to 25 June 1961

you may read the whole story as told by Alfie Soares at Lucinha Zanetti's blog or in here at different posts; 
photos taken from Lucy Zanetti's blog:

EMI-Odeon released a single in late 1958, with Tony Campello singing 'Forgive me' on the A-side and his younger sister Celly Campello with 'Handsome boy' on the flip-side. Both songs were written by blind-accordion player Mario Gennari Filho with words in English by Celeste Novaes. That must have given Miguel Vaccaro the idea that rock'n'roll records in Brazil were only successful if they were recorded in English. 
In March 1959 EMI-Odeon release 'The secret' (sung in English) b/w 'Estupido cupido' (Stupid cupid) with Celly Campello singing the Neil Sedaka song in Portuguese; even though 'The secret' was the A-side Brazilian disc jockeys all around the country chose to play the flip-side 'Estupido cupido' which shot to Number One in the charts ending the year as the best selling record of 1959. That proved beyond any shade of doubt that Brazilians (like everyone else around the globe) liked to listen to songs they could understand the lyrics. 

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