Dolores Vargas-“La Terremoto” The Earthquake.

Ask anyone who saw Dolores Vargas at the peak of the powers in the early seventies and they almost go misty eyed as they describe a flamboyant performer who combined a unique and inimitable mixture of flamenco funk, gypsy funk and rumba pop with a wild, energetic and frenzied dancing style. Dolores Vargas’ performances had audiences spellbound, but it was her powerhouse of a vocal that resulted in her earning the nickname  “La Terremoto”  (“The Earthquake.”) At one point, in the early seventies, Dolores Vargas was being compared to  Tina Turner and some critics believed she was a far superior performer to Lola Flores. This was high praise, and it looked as if Dolores Vargas was going to become one of the biggest names in Spanish music. Sadly, Dolores Vargas didn’t enjoy the commercial success that her undoubted talented deserved.

Recently, though, there has been a resurgence of interest in Dolores Vargas’ music, with a new generation of record buyers discovering the delights of The Earthquake’s music. They were in good company and joined a small coterie of musical connoisseurs who hold “The Earthquake” in the highest regard. 

Her story began in Barcelona, Spain, when María de los Dolores Castellón Vargas was born on the ’16th’ May 1936 in Barcelona, Spain. Growing up, music played in important part in Dolores Vargas life. By the time Dolores Vargas was sixteen, she had already married her cousin José Castellón, a.k.a. Pepe who was a guitarist and composer. He wrote many of the songs Dolores Vargas recorded during her career. However, two more years passed before Dolores Vargas made her professional debut.

Eighteen year old Dolores Vargas made her debut in her brother’s show Brindis al cielo at the Theatre de Vega, in Madrid. Each night, patrons saw Dolores Vargas perform the rhumba Tiquaitan. This was the start of Dolores Vargas’ long career.

Two years later, in 1956, Dolores Vargas made her acting debut in the first of several folkloric films she appeared in, Veraneo en España in 1956. This was followed by Un Torero para la Historia in 1957. By then, it looked as if Dolores Vargas was set for a career on the silver screen. This changed in 1958.

Dolores Vargas and Pepe had travelled to Cannes in 1958, where she found herself sharing the stage with none other than Edith Piaf. She was so impressed with Dolores Vargas’ performance that the legendary French singer invited her new friend to America, where she arranged for her to appear on Ed Sullivan’s television show.

On the ‘19th’ of October 1958, Americans who tuned into Ed Sullivan’s television show on CBS saw Dolores Vargas make her debut on American television. So successful was Dolores Vargas’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show that she spent the next two years living in America.

During the time Dolores Vargas spent living in America, her recording career began. Her career began at Brunswick where she recorded her 1959 EP Dolores Vargas Vol. 2 on Brunswick. It’s one of the finest recording of Dolores Vargas’ American years. The same can be said of Dolores Vargas’ 1960 album for Decca “El Terremoto Gitano” (The Gypsy Earthquake). It was a tantalising taste of what was to come from The Earthquake.

After returning to Spain, Dolores Vargas signed to Barcelona based Belter Records in 1962. This was the start of the next chapter in her career, and for the next three years, Belter was home to one of the rising stars of Spanish music. 

Especially with Pepe supplying Dolores Vargas with new songs which she recorded during her first two years at Belter. Some of Pepe’s songs were released as singles between 1962 and 1964, while  others found their way onto the album Dolores Vargas “La Terremoto.” Alas, neither the singles, nor The Earthquake’s debut album for Belter were a commercial success, which was a disappointment for her.

Especially, as Dolores Vargas was about to become a mother for the first time in 1964. That year, her daughter Dolores “Lores” Castellón Vargas was born. Now that she was a mother, Dolores Vargas hoped that commercial success wasn’t far away.

As 1964 gave way to 1954, still commercial success continued to elude Dolores Vargas. This was hugely disappointing for Dolores Vargas who decided to leave Belter in 1965, and sign to Polydor. 

This turned out tone a wise move, as executives at Polydor began the process of modernising Dolores Vargas’ music. They realised that Dolores Vargas’ music had to evolve to stay relevant. However, they also realised that this change had to be gradual, so as not to alienate her fans.

Gradually, elements of rock, pop and soul were incorporated into Dolores Vargas’ music transforming this traditional form of music into something moderne and innovative. A new chapter in The Earthquake’s career began to unfold during Dolores Vargas’ three years stay at Polydor.

During that period, Dolores Vargas’ released a string of singles for Polydor, which documented how her music evolved. These changes  had just begun when Dolores Vargas’ first album for her new label came in 1965. This was the prophetically titled Spain’s Most Exciting Singer. Two years later, in 1967, Viva Flamenco! Una Antologia Del Baíle Flamenco was released by Polydor, but was Dolores Vargas’ swan-song for the label. 

When Dolores Vargas left Polydor in 1968, still a hit single continued to elude her. She was no nearer to making a breakthrough than she had been when she made her recording debut in 1959. This was a huge blow for Dolores Vargas. Despite that, she returned to Belter, and continued her search for a hit single.

The three years away from Belter had allowed Dolores Vargas to modernise her sound. Whether she would’ve been able to do this if she had remained at Belter is debatable. However, they signed a very different singer to the one that left the label three years earlier. Proof of this was Dolores Vargas “La Terremoto” which was released in 1969, and saw the reinvention of The Earthquake continue.

As the seventies dawned, little did anyone realise that a golden period in Dolores Vargas’ career was about to begin. For the next five years she released what is regarded as some of the best music of her career. 

By 1970, the reinvention of Dolores Vargas “La Terremoto” as she was billed, recorded a new EP. One of the songs on the EP was the cumbia La Piragua,which was written by the famous Colombian composer José Barros. In Dolores Vargas’ hands it’s transformed into an irresistible and mesmeric gypsy-tinged rumba which was totally different to everything that has gone before. Surely this was a game changer for Dolores Vargas?

When the EP was released in 1970, La Piragua which quite rightly received top billing. It was also released as a single during 1970 in the hope that it would transform Dolores Vargas’ flagging fortunes. Sadly that wasn’t the case when the EP and single failed to find an audience. For Dolores Vargas this was a huge blow.

Despite the disappointment, Dolores Vargas returned later in 1970 with the single Urtain, El K.O. Y Ole. Again, executives at Belter and Dolores Vargas had high hopes for the single. It was a hook laden ye-ye rumba that benefited from a big, bold arrangement. This it was hoped would provide Dolores Vargas with that elusive hit single. Sadly, despite the quality of the arrangement and lyrics dedicated to Spanish boxer Jose Manuel Ibar Azpiazu who was the European heavyweight champion, the single failed commercially. This was just the latest disappointment for Dolores Vargas.

When Dolores Vargas released A-Chi-Li-Pu as a single later in 1970, this just happened to coincide with the dawn of Catalan rumba and flamenco pop era. Dolores Vargas’ single A-Chi-Li-Pu charted, and started climbing charts and even outsells Encarnita Polo’s dance track Paco, Paco, Paco. At last, Dolores Vargas had enjoyed that elusive hit single, eleven years after making her recording debut in 1959. However, A-Chi-Li-Pu which has become an oft-covered song amongst Spanish artists doesn’t feature on the compilation.

Both A-Chi-Li-Pu and Urtain, El K.O. Y Ole featured on the album Dolores Vargas La Terremoto, which was released in 1970. This was the first album Dolores Vargas had released since enjoying her first hit single. However, it didn’t feature Dolores Vargas’ second hit single.

Buoyed by her first hit single, Belter got behind Dolores Vargas’ next single, which was a cover of Middle Of The Road’s hit single Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. It’s almost unrecognisable during what’s a captivating and sometime anarchic reinvention of what was originally a throwaway pop single. In Dolores Vargas’ hands, it’s transformed and takes on new life and meaning. Dolores Vargas’ cover of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep topped the Spanish charts, giving the thirty-five year old her second hit single.

For the followup, Dolores Vargas’ husband José Castellón wrote Anana Hip with Spanish singer, songwriter and composer, conductor, arranger  and producer Juan Carlos Calderón. When Dolores Vargas recorded Anana Hip, it African rhythms were added the arrangement as the song headed in the direction of funk rock. It features a vocal powerhouse from Dolores Vargas as this memorable and mesmeric slice of funk rock shows yet another side to a truly versatile singer.

After enjoying the most successful year of a career that had spanned three decades, Dolores Vargas was looking forward to 1972, and hoping that she would enjoy further success. Dolores Vargas released a trio of singles and an EP. One of her finest moments was the explosive and hook-laden El Ma-Ta-Ri-Le which features another vocal powerhouse from Dolores Vargas. Alas, it failed to find the audience it deserved and 1972 was proving to be a disappointing year for Dolores Vargas. 

Later in 1972, Dolores Vargas released El Toro De La Vida as a single. When Dolores Vargas “La Terremoto” was released later in 1972, El Desgrasiao featured alongside El Ma-Ta-Ri-Le, La Hawaiana, Anana Hip, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and La Piragua. Dolores Vargas would return to the album Dolores Vargas “La Terremoto” in 1973, when she was looking for a new single.

During 1973, Dolores Vargas released three singles. This included Oh, La, La, which featured the Juan Erasmo Mochi composition El Despertador on the B-Side. Both songs were taken from the 1972 album Dolores Vargas “La Terremoto” and oozed quality. Indeed, Oh, La, La which was written by her husband José Castellón is a truly joyous and irresistible song with a feel-good sound. Despite that, the single failed commercially and Oh, La, La was the one that got away for Dolores Vargas. 

1973 wasn’t a particularly successful year for Dolores Vargas, with none of her three singles charting. Two years had passed since her last single. Ironically, Dolores Vargas was releasing some of the best and most progressive music of her career. Maybe though, it was to progressive and innovative, and the record buying public didn’t understand or approve of what Dolores Vargas was doing to what they saw as Spain’s traditional music?

While Dolores Vargas had only released two singles during 1973, that number fell to two during 1974. This included Maria Lisi, where elements of flamenco and rhumba melted into one during a joyous and uplifting song. Despite its quality and a strong hook, it failed to trouble the charts. However, the next single Dolores Vargas released lifted her profile.

This was Macarrones which had been inspired by a type of sauce that accompanies macaroni. Although Macarrones was essentially a novelty song, it was one of two songs shortlisted to represent Spain in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. However, it was Peret who triumphed and won the day with Canta y sé feliz. While this was disappointing for Dolores Vargas who was now thirty-eight, being on the shortlist lifted her profile. Sadly, though, Macarrones wasn’t a commercial success, and it was now three years since her last hit.

When 1974 gave way to 1975, Dolores Vargas continued her search for a hit single. However, still commercial success eluded the two singles she released during 1975. However, one of the finest songs Dolores Vargas recorded during 1975 was the funky cinematic Gitana Real which sounded as if it belonged on the soundtrack to a Spanish thriller. Gitana Real which lent its name to Dolores Vargas 1975 album, also marked the end of the rhumba funk period. Sadly, Dolores Vargas’ album Gitana Real failed commercially which was leased a golden period for Dolores Vargas, and saw her release some of the best music of a career. By 1975, Dolores Vargas’ career had already spanned three decades and she was a vastly experienced singer. Despite her experience and considerable talent and versatility , Dolores Vargas had only enjoyed two hit singles between 1959 and 1975. This wasn’t much to show for an artist who had spent the last ten years reinventing herself musically.

The reinvention of Dolores Vargas began at Polydor in 1965, and continued when she returned to Belter in 1968. All her hard work paid off between 1970 and 1975, during what was a golden period for Dolores Vargas. She released ambitious and innovative music that included flamenco funk, gypsy funk and rumba pop. Dolores Vargas was on of the first artists to incorporate elements of pop, rock and soul into flamenco and rumba. 

It took a while before the record buying public understood, appreciated and embraced this new genre-melting sound. Some shortsighted traditionalists probably saw this as sacrilege, but failed to realise that if flamenco and rumba failed to evolve they risked becoming irrelevant. Musical pioneers like Dolores Vargas were determined that this wouldn’t happen, began to reinvent the music that meant so much to her. 

While Dolores Vargas who played her part in ensuring that flamenco and rumba remain relevant, the commercial success she enjoyed was only fleeting. After two hits in 1971, Dolores Vargas failed to reach the same heights during the period that Pharaway Sounds new compilation  “La Terremoto” Anana Funk Hip 1970-75 covers.

During that period, Dolores Vargas “The Earthquake” was a flamboyant performer who combined a unique and inimitable mixture of flamenco funk, gypsy funk and rumba pop. At one point, Dolores Vargas was compared to Tina Turner in her sixties prime. By then, many critics thought that Dolores Vargas was about to become one the biggest names in Spanish music. Sadly, Dolores Vargas enjoyed the commercial success that her undoubted talented deserved, and retired in 1987 after the death of her husband José Castellón. 

Following Dolores Vargas’ retirement, there was a resurgence of interest in The Earthquake’s music. This came after new generation of record buyers discovered some of Dolores Vargas’ old albums in record shops and second-hand shops. Straight away, they were won over by the delights of Dolores Vargas music, and joined an exclusive club that features a small coterie of musical connoisseurs with an educated musical palette who held The Earthquake’s music in the highest regard. 

Dolores Vargas watched on with interest as her music was discovered by a new and appreciative audience. They embraced the ambitious and innovative music Dolores Vargas recorded during her golden era when she combined a unique and inimitable mixture of flamenco funk, gypsy funk and rumba pop.

Dolores Vargas-“La Terremoto” The Earthquake.

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