“Maria Elena” – the song that changed everything

By the early 60s, the first wave of Rock and Roll was over – Chuck Berry was arrested in 1959 on Mann Act charges and spent four years in jail; Little Richard got religion and formed the Little Richard Evangelistic Team, traveling across the USA to preach; Elvis was drafted in the Army; Jerry Lee Lewis was ostracized for marrying his 13-year-old cousin; other greats like Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran had died in tragic accidents – Holly was 23, Cochran 21.
Popular music at that time was dominated by crooners like Pat Boone and the Bobbies (Vinton, Vee, Rydell, Darin, Curtola, Tillotson, Burnette, etc.). I couldn’t understand what had happened to that great music of the fifties and I felt lost without it. I was growing into adolescence and the world outside was changing – it was the time of the Cold War, racial riots, the Cuban missile crisis. Rockland tested a public alarm system in case of a nuclear attack and no sooner had I started high school that JFK was assassinated. I looked back at the happy years of my youth, remembering A.E. Housman’s words :
“ That is the land of lost content / I see it shining plain / The happy highways where I went / And cannot come again.”
As I started high school, I sensed a dread I could not name stretching out before me. I didn’t want to take part in this violent senseless world but everyone said I had to – you were expected to get a job, marry, raise a family. I had no faith in my abilities to go that route because I had no abilities – I was just a 13-year-old kid lost and drowning in this alien adult sea. And then I heard “Maria Elena” on the radio. And it was my salvation.
Los Indios Tabajaras

Los Indios Tabajaras

Maria Elena” was written in 1932 by Mexican composer Lorenzo Barcelata and the song was recorded by several musicians like Jimmy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk. It found its way into the repertoire of two native Indian brothers from the Tabajaras region of Brazil, Natalicio and Antenor Lima, who called themselves Los Indios Tabajaras (The Indians of Tabajaras). The Lima brothers were virtuoso guitarists and their magnificent recording of “Maria Elena” was a world-wide hit in 1963. I had previously developed a liking for instrumental guitar music, thanks to Link Wray and Duane Eddy who graced my brother Gabriel’s record collection, but the fluid and lyrical playing of Los Indios Tabajaras was way beyond anything I had ever heard before. Without realizing why, I immediately knew, the first time I heard the song, that I had to learn to play the guitar. Looking back, I must have thought that having that ability would give me shelter from the coming storm or that it would perhaps give me, an inconsequential kid from nowhere, some kind of an identity, the most essential thing for a young teenager.
There were only two problems: one, I had no guitar; two, I didn’t know anything about playing one! My parents certainly didn’t have the money to spend on guitars and music lessons so I was on my own. But fate stepped in – my older brother Bob returned home from a brief stint in the seminary with a new haircut and a new guitar, borrowed from a friend. I begged my brother to show me where to place my fingers on the guitar so that I might play the opening two bars of the melody of “Maria Elena.” He did, and that simple act of kindness changed my life. My brother and I have often reminisced about that seemingly insignificant gesture, my brother with great pride, me with eternal gratitude. From then on, I borrowed guitars, I looked at where other players placed their fingers on the fretboard, I listened, I practiced and I taught myself how to play. All I needed was that first push from my brother.
And now, more that 50 years later, it’s time to listen to “Maria Elena” and remember 1963.
Godin Artist Series

Godin Artist Series

This is my first recording using my new Godin Artist Series Seagull guitar.

Interesting fact: Buddy Holly’s widow’s name is Maria Elena.





Maria Elena

posted by R.A.Seguin in Non classé and have No Comments

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