The Best Guitarist in Mexico Calls San Antonio Home
Gilberto Puente and his twin brother Raúl rank among the “Worldwide Top Five” in the history of Mexico’s Golden Age of Trios.
Aside from that honor, maestro Rubén Fuentes, a classically trained musician, who has served as composer, producer, arranger and director with Mariachi Vargas, the “World’s Best Mariachi” for sixty years, named Gilberto “La Guitarra de México.”
In addition, Gilberto is also considered one of the best requinto players in the world. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone born in the small town of Anahuac, Nuevo León, México and whose parents, Gilberto Puente Quintero and mother Amparo González had no musical inclination.
“The only musician in our family was Tio Jose “Pepe” González and he played bajo sexto,” Puente said during an interview at his Northeast San Antonio home.
In 1945, his parents moved to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas where he continued his education.
“I was nine when my elementary school teacher, Juanita Pacheco, asked our class if anyone played an instrument, sang or recited poetry and nobody raised their hand. This was in February and the school was looking for talent for a Mother’s Day show.
“I didn’t even have a guitar, but they lent me one and I had to learn how to play it by May. That’s how I began,” the world famous guitarist explained.
A year later, his brother Raúl also learned how to play guitar and they formed Los Cuatitos Puente (The Puente Twins). Their first break came in 1947 when they met Felipe “El Charro” Gil, who later married San Antonio’s own Eva Garza.
Felipe’s brothers are Chucho and Alfredo “El Güero” Gil, the latter being one of the original Trio Los Panchos. With Felipe, Gilberto and Raúl recorded two songs written by Felipe Valdes Leal as 78-rpm singles for Discos Colombia.
With the addition of their brother, Gustavo, they started out the decade as Trio Los Hermanos Puente.
“In 1954, we lied to our father, who was an accountant. We told him we were going to Mexico City to work at a bank, but it was really to try out our luck as musicians at hotel restaurant bars,” Gilberto revealed.
“At Hilton Hotel, we performed for Jorge Negrette, Maria Felix, Dolores Del Rio plus many of the celebrities that stayed there and they would give us $100 peso tips. It was circa this time and at Los Globos Night Club that Virginia López baptized us Los Tres Reyes.
Gilbert was only twenty when he custom-designated his own requinto.
“The regular requinto had 18 frets and I extended mine to 23 frets; and most important, I did a recorte (cut inset) to my left hand would reach the high notes without any problem.
“We were doing well and in 1957, we read that Hernando Avilés had quit Los Panchos. So we invited him to join us,” the 74-year-old famed guitarist continued.
The following year they signed with Rogerio Azcárraga Madero’s Orfeón Records, they recorded “Odiame,” a song written by Federico Barret with music written by Rafael Otero López and which Los Panchos had turned down five years prior. Then it went on to sell ten million records.
“The most famous trios during the 1950s – in the order they were ranked worldwide — were Los Panchos, Los Diamantes, Los Ases, Los Cabelleros and us.”
“Incidentally, ‘Tristezas’ by José ‘Pepe’ Sánchez, considered to be the creator of the Cuban bolero, was registered in 1883,” Roberto “Bebo” Cardenas added.
In 1959 the trio recorded Bobby Capo’s “Poquita Fe” and that turned into another multi-million selling single. Their career skyrocketed as they toured all over the Latin Hemisphere on their own and also backing up Libertad Lamarque, Lola Beltran, María Luisa Landin, and Lalo “El Piporro” González. These tours included performances at the Alamo City’s Alameda Theater.
In the process, they reached the Silver Screen when they appeared in “Yo Quiero Ser Artista” backing up Virgina López on “Celoso;” and accompanying Agustin Lara on “Perdon” and “Hasta Morir.” Other films they appeared in were “Sin Carátula” and “Oro Blanco, Droga Maldita.”
They beat out Elvis Presley in popularity during the late 1950s, but when the Beatles hit the scene and English music invaded Mexico, trios started to lose popularity and in 1966, Los Tres Reyes disbanded.
However, they didn’t hang up their gloves completely. The twin brothers forged ahead as a part of numerous bands and orchestras that backed up Marco Antonio Muñiz and other Mexican greats.
Gilberto also wrote “O Papa Gallo” with a bossa nova beat and it was included in a movie soundtrack.
Twenty-two years later, in 1988, they regrouped with Johnny Albino on lead vocals. The Puerto Rican vocalist was also a former member of Los Panchos. Then he was replaced by Leonel Gálvez, of Los Tres Caballeros, followed by Luis Villa, who came onboard in 1993.
In between Gilberto continued to be in demand as a songwriter, a guitarist and a requinto player and joined Linda Ronstadt on her “Canciones de Mi Padre” sixty-city Tour.
He also backed up Placido Domingo, Vikki Carr, Pepe Jara, Fernando de La Mora and Soledad Bravo.
In 2004, Bebo Cardenas became the trio’s lead singer.
Three years ago, Gilberto, Raúl and Cardenas entered a recording studio in Hollywood to record “Hay Amores” with Shakira for inclusion in the movie soundtrack of “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
“We were recommended for this project by Andrea Bocelli’s guitar player,” Puente said.
This year alone, Los Tres Reyes have performed with the San Antonio Symphony, performed for a Smithsonian Museum National Folklife Festival in Butte, Montana and recorded a 20-song compact disc for the Smithsonian Institute.
Los Tres Reyes just returned from Puerto Rico and on September 28, they are headlining El Festival de Trios in Cali, Colombia.
As music icons, dozens of Los Tres Reyes videos can be seen on www.myspace.com and there’s a kick-butt Q-Productions video and CD available at most record stores.
The one thing this writer did note is that in spite of their worldwide success, this legendary trio has yet to receive one award or be inducted into any music hall of fame; and it’s sad to know these icons have been overlooked for their contributions to music.
On Friday, September 24, Gilberto and Raúl will accompany Cardenas when he performs “Tierra Mexicana” at the Sing for Hope and Justice Awards show to be held at the Restoration Centre at 6401 Bandera Rd. Pre-sale tickets are available to Del Bravo and Janie’s record shops. For more information call Dr. Paul Ruiz at (210) 979-0575.