El Gallo Cantor is a famous alternative record store in Galería Apolo, in the heart of Buenos Aires city. Literally “The Singing Rooster”, the name is a tribute to the cantata by Argentine poet Juan Gelman. Specialising in national Argentinian rock, original records from the 1960’s and 70’s and voices of famous and infamous writers and poets among other things, El Gallo Cantor begs for closer examination. Owner Hugo Latorre was kind enough to contextualise Speaker TV’s exploration of his self described “cave”, sharing some of his favourite items and the stories behind them, the life of a record collector and why he doesn’t like double albums.
Hugo moved to Buenos Aires in 1972 and has run El Gallo Cantor in Buenos Aires since 1986, initially in an almost secret galería a few blocks away at Libertad 1172. In 2001, the shop relocated to its current incarnation in the Galería Apolo on Avenida Corrientes. The galería itself is an eclectic treasure chest of theatre, vinyl, comics, cartoons, anime and sex due to the various businesses that infest the internals of this sunken shopping arcade, residing only a few blocks from Buenos Aires’ iconic Obelisk and “the widest road in the world” (depending if you ask an Argentinian or a Brazilian), Avenida 9 de Julio.
A Uruguayan native, Hugo’s infatuation with record collecting begun working at Montevideo’s La Diskeria record store as a fifteen year old, where he spent two years as a messenger carrying records to other stores, stocking and filing them for Clave Iemsa (the name of the company) between 1969 and 1971. He also spent five years working as a middle man for the famous record label Decca, dropping off records and picking up money.
Hugo sites his father, a radio broadcaster on 28 Radio Imparcial in Montevideo, as a major influence.
“He taught me about music and records,” says Hugo, “he made me be so calm, so collected.”
In the mold of his father’s influence, El Gallo Cantor is certainly very well organised. It is also full to the brim. It’s ranked as one of the top ten record stores in Argentina by Rolling Stone Magazine.
“This stuff is underground”, says Hugo, “the artists came and they talked mouth to mouth.”
Tell me a little about the store and what it specialises in.
“Rock Nacional – rock from Argentina and sixties and seventies and voices of writers and poets, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortáza and Dylan Thomas. Rarities, first editions of books, rare books too. Jingle comics, old Jingles from the 1950’s.”
Who are your customers?
“Collectors, just collectors and people about middle age. Also music journalists because I have guides and old guides of records, of CDs and radio programs from a long time ago. TV too. People coming here are all collectors and they know about this stuff even more than me. They come looking with the number of the record and the label and the year – it’s not the ordinary people, it’s just collectors. An example, some famous people came, some musicians, some journalists they come looking for something that was missing like old Jingles, like singles with covers, like voices of politics, writers.”
How popular is this industry in Argentina?
“Rock of the sixties and seventies and national rock, rock for Argentina is very popular and some tango. Some other tango like Ástor Piazzolla (an Argentine tango composer, bandoneon player and arranger), tango of the sixties, is popular too. The record has a constant value and also, they play better than the CD.”
Who are the most popular artists?
“The most popular is Almendra. They are the first Argentinian rock band, they released three albums. Their records are so expensive, about 1000 Argentine pesos (approximately $130 AUD) for each one.”
Almendra are considered to be one of the most important rock and roll groups from Buenos Aires in the late 1960s, revolutionising the sound of Argentinian rock for the remainder of the 20th century.
Do you have any modern records?
“I have records until the 1980s. Just records, the original ones, not re-releases, not 180 grams, just the original ones. You have the Clash here and The Cult, The Cure but no more than 1980s, middle ’80s.”
What is the rarest item you have in stock?
“The rarest item I have is this one [Artaud by Pescado Rabioso] from 1973 – 4000 Argentine pesos.”
Artaud is considered the greatest Latin-American rock album and an important piece of Argentinian rock history. Billed as the 1973 third full length album by Pescado Rabioso, it’s essentially a solo effort by singer-guitarist-songwriter Luis Alberto Spinetta (of Almendra fame), with Pescado Rabioso broken up at the time. The title makes reference to the French poet Antonin Artaud.
The cost of 4000 Argentine pesos is roughly $500 Australian dollars.
What are some of your other most special items?
“I have some singles with covers and some books about history, this is Martropía [below], the story of Luis Alberto Spinetta of the group Almendra who I told you about. This history of Spinetta is a long interview. Also books of history of rock and Latin rock and Artaud which I mentioned.”
“This is the 1969 original of Almendra’s first album,” says Hugo.
On top of Artaud, Martropía and the collection of Almendra records at El Gallo Cantor, Hugo displays his collection of Los Jaivas (1963-present) records, an early rock band from Chile whose name literally refers to “a little fish from the Pacific Ocean”. Los Jaivas appeared in Chilean music in 1963 as a progressive-rock-andino group, mixing rock with South American ancestral music.
“This instrument they are playing [pictured below] is called a surcas, a long trumpet,” says Hugo.
“This is a four string Egyptian guitar I bought in Colonia, Uruguay at an International Fair in 2013.”
And what are some of your personal favourite records and books?
“Records? Beatles of course and my favourite writer is Borges.”
Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish language literature. Borges’ works have contributed to philosophical literature and also to the fantasy genre. He became completely blind at the age of 55 and as he never learned braille, became unable to read.
Although not in stock currently, Hugo’s favourite Borges work is ‘The Maker’.
With reference also being made to the Beatles, whose work and images adorn El Gallo Cantor in abundance, Hugo eventually begins to flick through his current collection of the band’s vinyls, making particular reference to a unique Uruguayan mix of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
So a few different mixes of the Sgt. Pepper’s record were made?
“Yes there are a few, but when you release worldwide, you release just one. However in Uruguay they don’t have to send Uruguay a mix so they send another mix and this is a collector item now because it sounds different to the rest of the world. All the Beatles collectors fans in the world, they pursue that edition from Uruguay.”
How rare is it?
“It’s very rare, but this is a junky one!”
Do you have one of the rare ones?
“No I sold it.”
How much did you sell it for?
“I can’t remember, it was a year ago, maybe 200 dollars.”
You have Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Is it controversial to have that kind of stuff or are people interested for collecting purposes?
“The first one was just a common one and then it became a collector item [so no].”
Are you interested in German history?
“Yes, in Germany, in the second world war. There is a common edition of Mein Kamphf, which any shop is allowed to show. Then there is this one, this is the price [850 Argentinian pesos, roughly $110 AUD], the text is the same but the print and the years are different. This edition was printed in Chile in 1934.”
“This is the one Hitler Told Me – the conversations after lunch with his generals and ministers.”
You also have a lot of other historical works such as books on homosexuality, transsexuals, cannabis…
“Yes, this is the gay stuff. I have a gay friend because this country is the number one country for gay couples to travel to, gays who have a lot of money and are searching for places they won’t be disturbed and no one bothers them – this is the number one country for gay tourists, a few years ago it was Brazil, but now it is Argentina. You can also marry here if you want.”
So the attitude towards gay people is positive in Argentina?
Hugo gravitates to the back of the store, where there is yet more Beatles paraphernalia.
“… And then you have all the Beatles pictures (movies), in the order of periods, the first one in black and white – A Hard Day’s Night; and the others in colour, and the cartoons,” says Hugo.
Do you have a lot of the Rolling Stones too?
“Yes, I have records of Rolling Stones. This is the first one, 1962, the first Rolling Stones -with ‘Susie Q’. Do you like the Stones?”
“This record, Big Hits [High Tide and Green Grass], is from this rare record label, Pax Music.”
Where is Pax from?
“Pax is from the UK. I like the Stones until ’72-73, until Sticky Fingers, and no more. I don’t like Exile on Main Street, like any double album, it must be one! Even The White Album of The Beatles has things that are filler.”
Hugo laughs at the idea that he should be a producer.
“Do you know this one [The Addams Family]?”
“And this one – Thunderbolt; this is marvelous, have you seen the movie? This is the battle in the middle of the ocean.”
“And From Russia with Love; this is a different cover, a cover from Uruguay, it’s different from the whole world. From Russia with Love is from 64-65.”
Above the records, Hugo has all 14 of the original pocket edition James Bond novels lined up on the wall – they were originally from Mexico and Chile.
Where do you find your records, do you go and collect them and bring them back here?
“Yes and I travel so far to get them, I go mostly five, ten travels to Uruguay or Brazil or Chile. It’s really hard to find them because in 1992 the records became CDs.”
Tell me about how you have built this collection.
“One by one. I tried to collect some records again, but it’s hard to find another one. You sell the one you have and maybe for one year, two years, you don’t see another one. Sometimes never.”
Do you sometimes miss some of the records?
“I have my own collection!”
What are some of the favourite records that you have in your personal collection?
“I like the rhythm and blues, the British blues, I like them, the first Stones. You know Van Morrison and Savoy Brown? I like Keef Hartley, who was the drummer of John Mayall, that kind of music I like. From Australia I like the Bee Gees – the first ones; and the Easybeats too and AC/DC. This is Keef Hartley, the first one, this was released in Uruguay, I like so much.”
And what was the record you looked for the hardest? Do you have a memory of a record you looked and looked for and finally found?
“I like so much the Lemon Pipers, you know Lemon Pipers? This one, hmmm (Hugo smiles as he pulls out the record)… Jungle Marmalade.”
That’s one you had to search for a lot?
“Yes this one, the story of the group is very fun because they wanted to make a lot of music and the label was not agreeing – do you know the story? ‘Jingle jangle for me oh do lay lay lay’ (singing), this is wonderful, this is ’68. I like it so much.”
Was it difficult to find and where did you find it?
“Yes, in vinyl [it’s difficult to find]. In CD it’s easy. Like any CD. But the records stopped more or less in the same year, in 1992, so you must look after them, it’s very hard to find them and very expensive too. Also with MercadoLibre (the eBay of Latin America) you know, the prices are rising up. I found Jungle Marmalade in Uruguay, because I worked in Decca records who distributed London Records. London Records distribute Buddha, which was the original record label who distributed this record.”
What other music do you like?
“There’s another label from Decca called Deram (a subsidiary record label established in 1966) who released bands like the Moody Blues, many old groups and special ones, Cat Stevens, also the first singles by The Move, that I like. I like so much the late 60’s sound with a touch of orchestra and pop, like the Hollies. This one is wonderful, this is Evolution, look at the cover!”
Hugo continues to dig through his collection.
“Do you like the Doors?”
Do you have any Australian records here today? Do you have any of the Easybeats?
“Just one release – ‘Friday on my Mind’ but not in the LP, just in single. I have AC/DC here – If You Want Blood.”
“It says the titles in Spanish – here is The Blood Doesn’t Help; because there is a law here – you had to translate the titles once, but not anymore.”
“This is very strange too, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, produced by Peter Townshend.”
Hugo has been a generous and knowledgeable host and after flicking through several more records, it is time to leave. El Gallo Cantor scores highly in both content and presentation and definitely reflects the calm, collected attitude of it’s owner.
For more information about Hugo Latorre and El Gallo Cantor you can visit Hugo’s website.
El Gallo Cantor, Av. Corrientes 1382 | LOCAL 23 | Buenos Aires | Argentina | CP 1035.