Los Speakers

Hugo Watts Taylor remembers Colombia’s greatest band and talks to drummer Roberto Fiorilli.

Reprinted with permission by Ugly Things

Very little is known about the 60’s Colombia band “The Speakers” except, perhaps, that they recorded five albums. Their penultimate and final albums soar in the $1000 range among collectors.

In the Summer of 1966 my family and I were vacationing in a farmhouse located 18 Kilometers from Cali into the Western Andean mountains. Every night the adults would party , keeping us kids up with loud and detestable Tropical Music. It was during one of these cold and sleepless nights that someone brought and played this wonderful record.

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Side A played over and over since everyone was too drunk to flip the record over. I heard a sound that came as a delight to any kid that was into the Beatles. 

The first song sounded as if it was sung in English. It was a dreamy version of The Trashmen’s “The Bird”.

It was followed by a Spanish version of “Did you Ever” by the Hoolabaloos. I became an instant fan of the band. The record turned out to be The Speakers first album. The cover featured black and yellow pictures of the band in a train station. They were getting popular with a soft and cool version of “La Bamba”. The album on the Vergara label offered songs from the Dave Clark 5, Los Relampagos , The Beatles and two originals. “M.S. 63-64” featured Rodrigo on Pianifas, a Piano being played by plucking the strings with your fingers.  

By Christmas the band yielded their second L.P. “La Casa del Sol Naciente” (The House of the Rising Sun) now on Bambuco Records. Like their first, it consisted mostly of Covers sung in Spanish. There is something warm and different about these recordings. Perhaps the Sound Engineers were so used in recording Tropical music. By now we knew their names: Rodrigo Garcia was the Spaniard band leader who sang, played guitar and keyboards. Humberto Monroy who also sang and played the bass, Fernando LaTorre on drums, Luis Dueñas on keys and guitar and Oswaldo Hernandez on rhythm guitar.

The Speakers had great exposure on television and performed songs like “It’s gonna be Alright”, “Juanita Banana”, and of course, “The House of the Rising Sun”. Their two originals are loaded with tremolo and effects.  They even recorded a beautiful arrangement of Handel’s “See, the Conq’ring Hero Come Home”. A superb organ and tremolo guitar are featured here.

Los Speakers

Bogota, Colombia had an incredible Beat scene. There was one club in particular “La Bomba” (with an O) which had a rotating circular stage.  As a band ended, a new band would appear like magic as the circular stage was rotated by a man hiding behind the centered stage curtain.  People would dance until they passed out.  This club became home for The Speakers, The Flippers, Los Ampex, Los Young Beats, The Time Machine and many fighters!

Los Speakers Milo (the chocolate milk powder company) literally jumped on the band wagon and hired the best beat bands to promote their product nationally.  This campaign included an EP with four songs and their jingle which was a version of The Speakers playing “Round and Round” by The Shadows.

My family and I went back to the mountain farmhouse in the Summer of ’67. Living in Colombia is like being on a different planet.  We were barely aware of the existence of Sgt. Peppers, let alone the Summer of Love. I still watched the corny musical shows on television and during one of these shows, The Speakers came on singing “Sorbito de Champagne” by Los Brincos. Their hair was longer and Rodrigo wore a goatee. The drummer was different; they hired Edgar Dueñas (Luis’ brother) who had been drumming for Los Flippers. They looked very elegant and sounded soooo cool.  They also performed “Mr. Spaceman” and ended their show with a sound that I’ve never heard before: “Glendora” with an abundance of distortion, echo and reverb.

Milo a Go-Go had scheduled another national concert. My worst nightmare came true when my parents refused to let me go to the event.  “Tuercas, Tornillos y Alicates” had just hit the stores. Although loaded with cover songs , their three originals are superb and the picture on the front cover won a Latin American award. The Speakers were scheduled to do their concert and play during the evening at the Latino a Go-Go Club. I bought the album and spent the night over at my grandmother’s who happened to live at the Hotel Aristi, where all the world famous bullfighters and artists stayed.

I knew the concert would be over by 5:30pm and The Speakers would arrive at the hotel by 6:00pm. I boarded a packed elevator with my album still inside a shopping bag. I recognized Luis Dueñas in the elevator and I pulled my album out of the shopping bag. He noticed it and exclaimed “I’ll be damned!”  He signed it for me and proceeded to help me find the other four guys. 

I was in Speaker heaven! We went to the third floor where they were staying and we knocked on their doors. They all signed it except Rodrigo who was nowhere to be found. Later I spotted him eating at the hotel restaurant and I commented on his goatee.  He replied “You don’t like it?” 1967 was a great year.  Los Speakers A few months later they went back to the studio under an alias name “Los Angeles” and recorded two albums on the Bambuco record label featuring instrumental TROPICAL music.  The Speakers denied it was them because their Rock fans would have found this offensive!  I always recognized their vocals in the sparse choruses.  In early 1968 the band had a new line-up and recorded the theme song for a soap opera called “Almost a Stranger”.

That same year the Speakers recorded two more albums-The Speakers (not to be confused with their eponymous debut on Vergara, this one is on Bambuco) and The Speakers en el Maravilloso Mundo de Ingeson (on the Kris Label, and erroneously credited to ‘Kris Kringle’ for many years , a confusion perpetuated by a bootleg reissue by that name) – both superb and highly original examples of late ‘60’s South American psychedelia , and both , needless to say , extremely rare.

Los Speakers

In 2003, I managed to contact Roberto Fiorilli, the drummer for their last line-up.  I asked him if he had a version of the unreleased “Almost a Stranger”.  He did not keep a version of this song because back then he detested typical Colombian music. Of course, now he would love to have a copy of it.  I did get the copies of “Los Angeles” from him! Roberto laments that the Colombian 60’s rock bands have been given the “silence of a graveyard” treatment, as if they never existed.  The rest of the South American countries are proud of their past.  I informed him about Mike Stax and his wonderful Ugly Things.  Roberto kindly agreed to answer these questions:

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UT:  How and when did you end up joining The Speakers?

ROBERTO:  The version of The Speakers that included Oscar Lasprilla and myself was formed during the last months of 1967.  Rodrigo Garcia and Humberto Monroy had problems with their drummer, Edgar Dueñas and they decided to replace him.  His brother, Luis, and guitarist, Oswaldo, didn’t like it, so they quit at the same time.  My band, “The Time Machine” was going through a crisis:  hardly any work and Yamel, the bass player, wanted to move to Spain.  Oscar and myself (Time Machine members) were contacted by Rodrigo and Humberto who offered a tour to South America and the recording of a fourth album.  The tour in Ecuador lasted three months and the group returned to Bogota in February 1968.   We recorded the fourth album at Suramericana de Grabaciones studio during March and April.

UT:  What kind of equipment was used for these recordings?

ROBERTO:  The studio owned a four-track Telefunken with a 10 channel Telefunken W66 board.  We used Neumann U47 and Km54 microphones.

UT:  What brands of instruments were used on the fourth album?

ROBERTO:  The group used Fender Super Reverb amps for the guitars, a Fender Bassman for the bass, Rodrigo played a Gretsch Falcon and Oscar played a Gretsch Country Gentlemen that belonged to me.  The bass was a Gibson G.S. Standard.  My drums were Hollywood Meazzi, an Italian brand, but made in the USA.  The fuzz box was made by Mosrite and there was one designed and made by me. (Roberto has a background in electronics.)

UT:  How was the fourth album promoted and what were the results?

ROBERTO:  For the release of the album, we counted on musical shows on national television, the press, and popular magazines.  The album was received in a lukewarm fashion since the style of music had a way rougher edge.  We ceased to be the “cover” beat band that everybody knew.  We each contributed three original songs and the music theme was starting to get sophisticated.  I started an internal campaign to have this band turn into something serious.  Humberto was the second in line, but Rodrigo became the most enthusiastic follower of the radical change by our fifth album

UT:  What happened to Oscar Lasprilla?  What did the band do after his departure?

ROBERTO:  Oscar left for Spain at Yamel’s request.  This was a time when beat and psych music was living it’s last days.  Tropical music was to become popular again.  In Spain, Oscar worked and recorded with Fernando Arbex, the drummer and singer of Los Brincos. (Oscar plays on Los Brincos “World, Devil and Body” and “Alacran”.)  He later moved to London with good results, but I can’t find him on the internet to follow-up with his work.  At this point, Rodrigo, Humberto and I decided to keep the band as a three piece.  We would call Fernando Cordova (ex-Young Beats, ex-Time Machine) to fill in on guitar and vocals during our live performances.

UT:  How was “The Speakers en el Maravilloso Mundo de Ingeson” conceived?

ROBERTO:  We started to plan a production in which each of us could express our inner selves whether it be through music, graphic ideas, etc. and so the fifth and last album was born.  As soon as we had a clear notion of the project, we made a proposal to CBS, Phillips, Sonolux and Bambuco Records.  Their reply was always the same:  “Too expensive and of no commercial value.” They were right!!!

So we decided to embark on this alone. (Forming their own label: KRIS.)  In previous years, I started getting involved with the intellectual ambient of the period.  This allowed me to convince Danilo Vitalini to take the pictures, Ricardo Cortazar to do the front cover, and Maestro Augusto Rendon, and the 1967 award-winning painter, Carlos Granada to do the inner art.  We ended up with an album jacket that included 16 pages. 

The studio, of course, was a very important issue.  We talked to the owner of Ingeson Studio, Dr. Drezner, who said we could use the studio free of charge during the night.  In return we would have to use the name “Ingeson” any way we could. Since I was a professional studio drummer who worked there eight hours a day, I asked him:  “What if we call the album The Speakers in the Marvelous World of Ingeson?”  And Dr. Dezner replied “You can start tomorrow!”

I was friends with Luigi Sandri who owned the most prestigious lithograph shop in Bogota.  He collaborated on the whole album cover.  He would spend many afternoons just selecting the right colors.

The recording alone took four months, from June through September 1968.  We inaugurated the brand new state-of-the-art recording equipment at Ingeson!  They had a 40 channel Langhevin Console with 24-track Ampex recorders, 5-inch reels, Neumann mikes and the first AKG condenser mikes ever used, Westrex amps and JBL monitors.  The instruments were basically the same as on the previous album, Rodrigo played his Falcon Gretsch and some parts with a Strat, but this time he used his amplified Tiple (12 string instrument), Humberto always played his Gibson Bass and I played my black Hollywood drum kit which had little silver stars all over it.  There was an abundance of percussion instruments, marimbas, xylophones, tabla, glass, bells, indigenous percussion all which were used on “Oda A La Gente Mediocore” (“Ode to the Mediocre People”.)  We experimented with several sound effects and since the new Ampex Tape Recorder allowed us to have repetition echo, double-speed recordings on the voice on the “Historia de un Loto” song.  Backwards recording was used on “Oda a La Gente Mediocre.”  The distorted guitar on the right channel is backwards while the distorted guitar on the left channel is normal.

This album work was enormous and exhausting, but in the end, we reached what we originally desired.  We finished it in September 1968.  After the stamping, mastering and using the Scully and the Westrex stereo head, we took it to Fonoton for it’s last phase:  we personally put the records inside the sleeves while we were spraying them with rose essence!

The promotion for this record in Colombia was enormous:  television, newspaper, radio talk shows, we did everything you can possibly do and the critics loved it and the end result . . . only 800 copies sold.  The only record company in all Latin America that was interested in pushing the album was Polydor of Mexico.  We decided to sell the rights to them to recover some of the expenses.

Things went downhill after this experience.  Rodrigo had enough of Colombia and returned to his native country – Spain. (He joined Los Pekenikes and recorded their fourth LP.)  Humberto and I decided to form Siglo Cero.  I worked in other musical ventures until “Columna de Fuego”, a band that toured Europe and Russia in 1973. (Humberto formed Grupo Genesis.) 

UT:  How come you never returned to Colombia?

ROBERTO:  I left Colombia being the number one drummer.  I really didn’t want to return and start again from scratch.  So I bit the bullet, I remained in my native country of Italy where I truly started again from scratch!  It was very difficult, nobody knew me here, not even the cat!

UT:  Can you tell me about the band members’ personalities?

ROBERTO:  Let’s see. . . Rodrigo Garcia was pragmatic, traditional, classic, very righteous, punctual, elegant, intelligent, man of great taste.  On the other hand, he was fragile, not very well prepared for life and small problems made him desperate:  the cockroaches, mosquitoes, uncleanliness and he was picky about his food.  Musically, he studied 16 years of piano and violin at the Conservatory.  His music and text reflect his personality.  I got along with him great. When he left Colombia, he told me that he would miss me a lot since I made him have so much fun!

Humberto Monroy was a middle of the road bourgeois, of normal culture, an idealist, unselfish, a good companion, sensitive and fragile, who was very much in love with a girl who once gave him candy and he never got over it.  Musically self-taught, with several technical handicaps for lack of study in harmony.  He played with average technique.  His compositions reflect his existential anxieties, but his ideological motives changed with the creation of Grupo Genesis.  We always got along well, to the point of continuing to work with him in Siglo Cero.  When I left Colombia, it was a very painful good-bye because we knew we would never see each other again. 

I can’t talk about myself.  I am how I am with all my defects and qualities.  People would say that I was a drummer who gave it all.  I get along with everyone; I have a well-balanced, universal character.  I believe Rodrigo and I were the most compatible musically.  

(Roberto continues to play the drums professionally in Italy. Rodrigo continues to record and play music in Spain. Humberto – RIP.)

NOTE: At the time of the interview I tried to contact Rodrigo Garcia to no avail. Everyone who knew him in Colombia thought he had died in combat fighting for the Guerrillas in Central America during the 70’s. The person responsible for this information got him confused with a Guerrilla member that shared his same name. Roberto was shocked about this and called it “rubbish”. The elusive Rodrigo is alive and well and still recording up till recently in Spain. 

Related Discography

The Speakers “The Speakers” - Vergara - 1966

The Speakers “La Casa del Sol Naciente” - Bambuco -  1966

The Speakers “Tuercas, Tornillos y Alicates” – Bambuco - 1967

Los Angeles Volume 1 & 2 - Bambuco - 1967

The Speakers “The Speakers” – Bambuco – 1968

The Speakers “The Speakers en el Maravilloso Mundo de Ingeson” – Producciones Kris -1968

Siglo Cero – “Latinoamerica” - Zodiaco – 1970

Los Pekenikes – “Los Pekenikes Musicos (Sus Seguros Servidores Que Estrechan Su Mano)” - Hispavox -1971

Columna de Fuego - “Columna de Fuego” – Polydor

Grupo Genesis – “Atomo” - Zodiaco, “Grupo Genesis” - Famoso, “Yakta Mama” - Famoso

Solera “Solera”- Hispavox  1972

Canovas, Rodrigo, Adolfo y Guzman- “Señora Azul” – Hispavox 1974

Written by: Hugo W. Taylor

Reprinted with permission from UGLY THINGS Ugly Things...thank you!!!!


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