Firing Miguel Matamoros: Chapter 3, Renaming the Trio


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This is Part 3 of a 5-part historical-fiction series commemorating the 125th birthday of Miguel Matamoros, one of the pioneers of the Cuban son.

After Miguel noticed that Mr. Terry had left the nightclub, he went straight to the corner of the bar where the guys from the septet waited for him. His face couldn’t hide the disappointment. After all the years performing to reach his dream, only to see it walk out the door with the man that decides who gets recorded and who doesn’t.

He ordered his usual drink hoping to drown his frustration. As he turned around, he saw a man approaching him, which he recognized as one of the guys that had been sitting in Mr. Terry’s table.

“Hi Mr. Matamoros, my name is Juan Castro”, said the man as he extended his hand to shake Miguel’s.

“I work for Humara y Lastra, and we are partners with Mr. Terry and RCA Victor. We would like to invite you to have lunch with us tomorrow at the hotel. Would 12:30 pm work for you?”

“Sure, I’ll be there”, responded Miguel trying to recuperate quickly.

“Great. We really enjoyed your music tonight. And it’s evident that the crowd loves it.” said Mr. Castro.

Dressed in a double-breasted light-gray suit, and wearing the black and white shoes in vogue, Mr. Castro told Miguel he looked forward to their lunch the next day, and then said farewell while shaking his hand again before leaving the club.

Miguel Matamoros with Rafael Cueto and Siro Rodriguez of the Trio Matamoros
Miguel Matamoros had to rename his Trio Oriental to Trio Matamoros.

During lunch the next day, Mr. Terry offered Miguel Matamoros a recording contract, as Miguel had expected after the conversation with Mr. Castro the night before. Mr. Terry liked both the trio and the septet formats, but decided he would only record the trio format for now.

Miguel couldn’t contain his excitement. He went to Siro’s house, where Rafael was waiting with him for confirmation of the good news.

“We got the recording contract!”, Miguel said with a broad smile. Siro and Rafael exploded by screaming, hugging, and jumping up and down like kids celebrating a Mike Gonzalez home run.

“Now we need to decide if we want to go to record in Argentina or in New York”, added Miguel.

Rafael didn’t hesitate to respond. “The good thing about Argentina is that everybody speaks Spanish, but the boat trip is too long. I’ve always wanted to see New York, so that’s where I would like to go”, he said.

“Me too”, added Siro. “I want to see the city with the tall buildings and that never sleeps”.

“New York it is!”, added Miguel, with a smile that wouldn’t come off his face.
“Let’s go by the hotel to inform Mr. Terry, then we’ll go have some beers to celebrate!”

When May finally arrived, Matamoros and his Trio Oriental made the trip in boat to New York. They traveled on a brand new cruise ship; the SS Shawnee, which was inaugurated earlier in March, offering deluxe service from Havana to New York. The day after their arrival, they were picked up at their hotel and driven to the RCA recording studio in Camden, New Jersey.

The three of them were impressed when they stepped inside the recording studio.
“Everything here is so new and pretty” said Rafael. “First the boat; and now, look at this studio and all that electronic equipment!”, he said amazed.

Siro added, “Guys, all we need to worry about are the microphones, your guitars, and my maracas and guiro. We have a good repertoire, which we have played like a million times together. Let’s make our best version of these songs today!”, he said enthusiastically, trying to ease the nerves of everyone, especially himself, of recording for the first time.

SS Shawnee newspaper ad where Miguel Matamoros traveled.
The SS Shawnee inaugurated boat travel service between Havana and New York in 1928.

As the recording engineer was preparing the tapes, he realized he needed to add the name of the group to identify the reel.
“What’s the name of your group?”, he asked.

“Trio Oriental”, responded Miguel, almost instantly.

The engineer frowned, pulled a document he had close to him, and began looking through it.

“Is there a problem?”, asked Miguel with some concern.

“Yes, I’m afraid there is. There’s already another group with that name. Unfortunately, you’ll have to find a new name for your group.”, he responded.

Miguel was not expecting this. As creative has he was, he and the guys couldn’t come up with a good name on the spot. Siro, Rafa, and Miguel played with several names, but none convinced them for the trio, which would also have to work for the septet.

The engineer wanted to get the recording session going, so after a few minutes he intervened.

“May I suggest ‘Trio Matamoros”?

Miguel looked at Siro and Rafael for their reactions. They both shrug their shoulders and responded, “That’s fine with us”.

Without saying a word, Miguel gave an approving nod back to the recording engineer. The engineer then wrote “Trio Matamoros (May 28, 1928)” on the label of the reel, full of blank recording tape.

The whole renaming incident had a soothing effect on the three musicians. All three thought renaming the group was an insignificant detail in order to get the recording done. Yet, the few minutes of diversion served to calm their nerves. Somehow it took their minds off the worry of performing well in their first recording ever. After they renamed the group, the trio was all business.

With that, the newly named Trio Matamoros went on to play as if they were playing just for themselves in the steps in front of Miguel’s house. Just as they had done so many times before while rehearsing new songs. They went on to record 21 songs in three days; a mix of boleros, sones, and guarachas, although boleros dominated this recording session.

They have been told that the 78″ LPs would start coming out in about 2 or 3 months. It depended on how much work they had at RCA. The trio left New York with big hopes that their songs would become hits. But it was all wishful thinking. They had no idea if the records would sell or if they would play them on the radio.

Chapter 1: The Audition
Chapter 2: Second Chance

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