Any overview discussion of the wonderful pop music of the 60’s must include references to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, arguably the two most stellar names from a surfeit of famous acts. To understand the influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and British pop music in general during the early 60’s, an appreciation of the little-known popular music movement that was the Uruguayan Invasion might be an illuminating, if unlikely barometer.
Given that 1960’s Latin America was a politically tumultuous corner of the world, one might be forgiven for thinking that the Uruguayan Invasion was an improbable scenario whereby the small South American nation mobilised their military to march into neighbouring Brazil or Argentina.
Happily, not. Instead, the Uruguayan Invasion represents a period of music history in the 60’s where Uruguayan bands made fame and small fortune in Argentina, much like the equivalent British Invasion of bands that populated the American charts of the same era.
Uruguayan, and a wider canon of Latin American bands adopted the sounds, styles and overall flavours of British and American popular acts. Of course, this adoption of musical styles meant The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were influential – they were the poster boys of The British Invasion. Other bands took influence from The Beach Boys and The Everly Brothers. It was a potent mix containing the marketable elements of British/American culture while retaining the Spanish language and cultural references in their songs. That said, many bands sung in English to add authenticity to their homage.
The Uruguayan Invasion began in Montevideo. Bands that performed Uruguayan candombe or Latin jazz took to emulating the pop music of Britain and America. The radio free world was exhilarated by the youthful, rebellious, noisy pop of The Beatles et al and the radios of London to Las Piedras, Milwaukee to Montevideo and seemingly all points in between made this new pop sound their playlist of choice.
By the mid-60’s record companies had taken notice enough of the music to sign bands and push them in the more economically viable market of Argentina. The Argentinian public responded favourably to the South American ‘Beatles’ sound and record companies frenzied to sign new Uruguayan and Argentinian bands to add to the canon.
Notably, the two main protagonists of the Uruguayan Invasion – Los Mockers and Los Shakers – were among the most direct emulators of the British pop sound. For many of the Uruguayan bands following this exciting path it was normal for them to adopt large parts of what identified bands of the British Invasion. Mostly, it was Beatlesque guitar pop and corresponding musical arrangements that were borrowed. But the Latin American buying public wanted the whole package, and bands – advised by record companies – adopted the clothes, the instruments, the marketing visuals and the syntax of the names. Some remained true to their cultural heritage and continued to sing in Spanish.
Formed in 1963 by college pals studying at the Zorilla Institute of Montevideo, Los Mockers began life as The Teddy Boys, a band playing original songs and covers in the style of Little Richard, Trini López and The Shadows. Initially, the band struggled with getting worthy musical instruments. They started off with a basic wooden box and broomstick bass, although they quickly upgraded to a double bass; the drum kit was a thrown together mix of odd parts; a Spanish guitar was fangled to work with a radio loudspeaker. Guitarist Jorge Fernandez’s father was a carpenter and convinced by his son’s talent made an electric guitar and bass for the band. Finally, a 50’s style ‘uniform’ of light coloured woollen sleeveless sweaters and slacks was added. Nice.
A year of scrubbing around Montevideo trying to get a regular gig, The Teddy Boys decided that their success would be better served with a change of direction and a change of name. They settled upon the name Los Encadenados (“The Chained Ones”) and added a gimmicky element by hanging their guitars around their necks with chains rather than conventional straps. The band spent the summer of 1965 playing in the lively milieu of Punta del Este beach clubs, often playing for small money or free food and lodgings.
They persisted with a rock n’ roll sound but struck a fascination with the new music coming from The United States and Britain. Eventually, they’d played enough clubs and bars to afford new electric guitars – Hofner import models that would remain with the band for the entirety of their career. A small Hammond organ was procured too. Its tuning was off and only one note at a time could be played without it farting and complaining. With the strangely agreeable mix of old and new instruments, the band began to arrive at a sound that felt right.
After the summer of playing beach clubs, Los Encadenados returned to Montevideo with a renewed vigour. The music scene of Montevideo had gotten hip. The British contemporary pop sound travelled to the radios of Latin America and an explosion of new young bands sought to emulate that music. It was a step away from the Latin jazz, tango and candombe of 30’s/40’s Uruguay – music that belonged to their fathers and grandfathers.
With the sound elicited from their mix of instruments and the skills and experience acquired playing the bars of Punta del Este, Los Encadenados readily took to the ‘British’ sound. They played regular gigs at ‘La Cueva’, Montevideo’s hippest club of the era. Those successes begat more fortune and they secured regular slots on a Sunday night TV show. It was at rehearsals for the TV show they met Polo Pereira, a talented vocalist. Taken with Polo’s ability to sound like John Lennon, the band immediately asked him to join their ranks.
Around the same time, Los Encadenados became aware of The Rolling Stones and their debut album, released in 1964. This changed everything. The band wanted to tap into the swaggering rhythm and blues pop that The Rolling Stones delivered. They covered songs off the debut ‘Stones album, learning to sing them in English with Polo Pereira adopting the vocal mannerisms of Mick Jagger.
After seeing footage of the battles between Mods and Rockers on British beaches and streets, the college band that started off as The Teddy Boys, and then Los Encadenados changed their name again to a portmanteau version of the two words – Mods and Rockers – to become Los Mockers!
Another summer season playing the beach clubs of Punta del Este helped the band establish the name. They honed their repertoire of Rolling Stones covers and began composing their own songs in English. They were a hot ticket during those summer months. Instead of playing for food and lodgings, they were paid for their music.
A talent spotter for EMI Argentina so happened to be vacationing in Punta del Este. He heard the buzz circulating about Los Mockers and after attending successive gigs, arranged for Los Mockers to travel to Buenos Aires and EMI Argentina’s offices. Los Mockers showed the record bosses their talents and were rewarded with a recording contract. Los Mockers became the Latin American version of The Rolling Stones. EMI Argentina’s marketers dressed them in natty suits and afforded them the best recording studios in Buenos Aires, even though they were made to wait months for that particular luxury. The result was a self-titled debut album of their own.
Los Mockers (the debut album) was released only in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. It was a shame. The album was energetic and had the swagger and hint at wildness that The Rolling Stones had mastered so early. The world was so much larger then! It was near impossible for a Latin American band to transmit their success beyond their immediate borders. American and British audiences had an overabundance of music to enjoy and pick from – a band from Uruguay or Argentina stood no chance of successfully breaking into those markets.
1966 was Los Mockers’ best and worst year rolled into one. EMI Argentina insisted the band should remain in Buenos Aires. The band (who were still only in their late teens) were making no money and living hand to mouth in a run-down old boarding house in central Buenos Aires. That year they released the first of three singles and their only album. It didn’t achieve the major success they’d hoped for. The songs were well crafted, the look was marketable; all the aspects seemed to be in place – but like thousands of bands before and after, in every corner of the world that has musicians trying to sell their music, it just didn’t take off.
They had a good number of loyal fans, but their music was too raucous and ‘British’ for a wider Latin audience. A second album was mooted but never completed (although a year later a collection of songs were compiled to create a ‘second’ album – ‘Los Mockers II’).
Los Mockers had grown tired of scraping by and were discouraged and defeated. They were homesick for Uruguay and the relative simplicity of playing the beaches clubs of Punta del Este. In early 1967, the band returned to Uruguay, chastened by their experience.
Los Mockers attempted to regroup and reassess. But something of the band was lost in trying to make the big time. They planned a tour and recorded a handful of new songs but the heart had been ripped out of the project and in 1967 Los Mockers disbanded.
If Los Mockers were the Uruguayan version of The Rolling Stones, Los Shakers were the Uruguayan Beatles. The homage paid to the Fab Four was quite something. The look was almost identical – the mop-top hairstyles, the Millings style ‘Beatle’ collarless suits, the Chelsea boots, the cheeky grins – Los Shakers were sincere in their form of flattery.
Beatlemania hit Latin America! ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – The Beatles’ feature length movie of 1964 played in cinemas across the continent. Television showed newsreels of The Beatles waving to adoring fans from hotel balconies or on the steps of a jumbo jet. Footage of the fresh-faced lads from Liverpool captured the imaginations of the youth of Latin America. Magazines ran Beatles cover stories and the radio played the swinging sounds of British pop music.
Los Shakers were formed in 1964, in Montevideo, by brothers Hugo and Osvaldo Fattoruso. The brothers (accompanied by two friends) had seen ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ at the cinema and all were spellbound by The Beatles music and the pop scene. The boys were already fledgling musicians and decided to model themselves on The Beatles and set about forming their own band.
Los Shakers practiced the whole Beatles repertoire. They found that their playing styles suited the guitar pop Beatles sound. Los Shakers caught on to the theory of harmonic accompaniments with melodic chords changes, often in peculiar combinations; musical elements that formed the blueprint for the British Invasion sound. What Los Shakers excelled at was creating original music where the melodic lines followed the harmonic patterns, thus creating catchy, memorable songs.
Los Shakers took their beat pop on the road. They played at the Hot Club in Montevideo, a place more known for Latin Jazz and avant-garde musical expression but a place known for attracting record company executives and music moguls. They also played the beach bars of Punta del Este where they created a buzz among a lively and youthful audience.
Soon word spread about the Uruguayan ‘Beatles’. Los Shakers sold out bars and clubs in Montevideo and Punta del Este with ease. The songs were Beatles-like in arrangement but the compositions were entirely their own, and they sung in English, which only a handful of Uruguayan bands attempted.
What transpired was a beat pop sound that was every bit as professional and talented as many of the Merseybeat bands but also unique to Latin America. For a part of the world that was famous for tango and jazz, candombe and old-world music, it was a significant event that Los Shakers formed a valid part of the pop explosion. Music had barely moved on from rock n’ roll and swing – beat music was still relatively young, and here was a Uruguayan quartet mixing it with the best of the genre.
Los Shakers soon outgrew their homeland. Culturally, it was difficult to express themselves fully in Uruguay. The economy was struggling and politically it was fraught. Los Shakers decided for career fulfilment, it would serve them to relocate to Argentina, where the music scene was bustling and there was the opportunity to earn some money.
At the time Argentina – particularly Buenos Aires, was besotted with The Beatles and British pop. It was a shame that as economically vibrant as Buenos Aires was compared to much of South America, The Beatles nor any other British or American band of note came to play – it just didn’t make financial sense. A Beatles concert would have likely filled both Boca Juniors and River Plate’s football stadiums 10 nights running but still not have made as much money as a few nights in New York or London!
A cartoon strip from 60’s Argentinian magazine ‘Mafalda’
Translation: So, the word is out that I don’t like The Beatles!…
When Los Shakers presented themselves to their Argentinian market they were overwhelmed at the reaction. Fans there took them on as their own – they had their very own Latin American ‘Beatles’. It didn’t take long before record companies noticed too. EMI/Odeon in Argentina signed them to a deal in 1965 and they released their first single, ‘Break It All’ followed by another song ‘More’ in the same year. Now it was their songs being played on the radios across the continent. From Santiago to Buenos Aires to Montevideo, across the Rio de la Plata and as far north as Colombia, Los Shakers were getting airplay and making a splash.
Their sound had become more and more Beatles-like; the record company encouraged as much. It was a homage to The Beatles and British Invasion pop but it was of high quality, containing all the ingredients for hit songs. An album was commissioned and contained 12 original songs and two cover versions – neither of which were Beatles covers.
Live performances and television appearances across South America followed. Los Shakers never made a determined effort to crack the American or British market with their music but surprisingly, America came to them. A small New York label, Audio Fidelity, wanted to release an album in the US. Los Shakers agreed. The album mirrored the original release in Argentina but additional songs from their singles were added, including a Spanish language version of The Beatles’ hit ‘Ticket to Ride’.
The US released album wasn’t a major success. It passed by unnoticed by the mainstream. Today, it is a real collector’s item. Good luck finding an original copy!
Los Shakers released a second album in 1966. ‘Shakers for You’ was a continuation of the first album – infectious, jangly guitar pop with a huge dollop of Beatles influence. There was a hint of psychedelia and a tip of the hat towards Latin rhythms, especially with the song ‘Never, Never’ which proved to be a huge hit in Brazil.
The band began to burn out. The constant attention and demands on their time was exhausting. They had one studio album left in them, which was arguably their finest. ‘La Conferencia Secreta del Toto’s Bar’ was the title of their third release in 1968. Again, it unashamedly reflected the work of The Beatles. Critics likened it to a Latin American version of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ There were psychedelic, Magical Mystery Tour-like moments that sat side by side with Uruguayan candombe and tango rhythms. It was unique.
Too unique for EMI/Odeon though. The record company didn’t care for the new sound and refused to put any money into promotion or marketing. It left the band snookered by their own success. Their musical raison d’être was to emulate the ‘British’ beat pop sound. Yet, their success should have afforded them the opportunity to evolve that sound; to aggregate their version of beat pop with the music true to their roots.
The band split up shortly after.
Both Los Mockers and Los Shakers reformed some years later, buoyed by the renaissance in 60’s music and the bands that defined that remarkable era. Their albums enjoyed multiple re-issues, with additional tracks added for fans, new and old, to savour. Both bands pioneered pop music in a continent famous for the ardent rhythms of tango, mambo and salsa – that achievement is something in itself. When Americans or Brits think of the artists that define the 60’s music scene we don’t necessarily think of Los Shakers or Los Mockers, but for a continent that was home to 160 million people, those bands stood alongside the famous names we all attribute legendary status upon.
I began this article by conditioning it as the Uruguayan Invasion being the highlighter for the worldwide influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the bands of the British Invasion. Except, of course, this would be underselling the importance of the Uruguayan Invasion in its own right. It just so happened that the bands I’ve highlighted were devotees of the sounds given to us by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In truth, there were many other bands at the time that sounded unique and not so ‘British’ influenced. The Uruguayan Invasion was centred around Los Mockers and Los Shakers – two excellent bands, but they were by no means the only ones exported continent-wide. Also vying for attention were Los Iracundos, Los Delfines, Kano y Los Bulldogs, Totem, Los Malditos – the list runs on. The bands of the Uruguayan Invasion were numerous, varied, talented and they’re worth a listen.
🐵 Terence 🐵
- Polo Pereira (guitar, vocals)
- Jorge Fernández (guitar, backing vocals)
- Esteban Hirschfield (organ, backing vocals, harmonica)
- Julio Montero (bass, vocals)
- Beto Freigeda (drums)
- Quiero irme/Nena mía (1966; Odeon Pops)
- Empty Harem/Let me try again (1966; Odeon Pops)
- Captain Grey/Confusion (1967; Odeon Pops)
- Estoy Llorando / Cumpleaños (1968; Microfon, 3641)
- Canela / Confesiones De Medianoche (1968 Promo; Disc Jockey, TS 372)
- La Cama / El Hijo De Dinero (1968 Promo; Disc Jockey, TS 346)
- Botella De Vino (1968 Promo; Disc jockey, TS 324)
- Viento / Estoy Llorando (1970; Microfon, 45-28501)
- Girl, You Won’t Succeed / Time Is On My Side (1986; Los 20 Lacteos, GA-201-1)
- Los Mockers* – Jingle Bells (2003; Munster Records, 7185)
- Reunión 40 Aniversario (2008; Munster Records, 7218)
- City Of Maybe (2014; MOCK Records – 000)
- Some Silly Songs (2018; Little Butterfly Records, LBR015)
*b/w The Legendary Tigerman – Fuck X-Mas, I Got The Blues
- Los Mockers (1966; Odeon, LDF 4325)
- ‘Mockers’ Los Mockers II (1968; Microfon, PROM-250)
- Make Up Your Mind (1987; Garageland, BF617)
- The Original Recording 1967 – 1967 (1994; Get Hip Recordings, GHAS-5065CD)
- The Best Of (1965-1968) (1994; Rock-In-Beat Records, RB 144)
- Montevideo En Los Salvajes ’60 (1994; Perro Andaluz; 068)
- Los Mockers: Complete Recordings (2003; Munster Records, MR 231)
- Los Mockers: Do It Again! (2012; Bizarro Records, 5102-2)
- Hugo Fattoruso – lead vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica
- Osvaldo Fattoruso – guitar, vocals
- Roberto “Pelín” Capobianco – bass guitar, Bandoneon, backing vocals
- Carlos “Caio” Vila – drums, backing vocals
- Sigue Buscando (Keep Searching) / Solo En Tus Ojos (Only In Your Eyes) (1965; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8041)
- Rompan Todo (Break It All) / Más (More) (1965; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8042)
- No Molestar (Do Not Disturb / Déjame Ir (Let Me Go) (1965; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8106)
- Quieres Por Favor (Won’t You Please) / No Está Mal (It’s Not Bad) (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8131)
- Diles (Tell Them) / No Juegues (Stop The Game) (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8153)
- Michelle / My Bonnie (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8160)
- Oh Mi Amigo (Oh My Friend) / Siempre Tú (Always You) (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8167)
- Muchachita (Girl) / Déjame Solo (Let Me Alone) (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8168)
- Submarino Amarillo (Yellow Submarine) / Espero Que Les Guste 042 (I Hope You’ll Like It 042) (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8212)
- Nunca Nunca (Never Never) / Déjame Decirte (Let Me Tell You) (1966; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8220)
- Pelota De Goma Roja (Red Rubber Ball) / No Llames Más Por Teléfono, Nena (Don’t Call Me On The Telephone Anymore, Baby) (1967; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8252)
- La Tierra De Las Mil Danzas (The Land Of A Thousand Dances) / Aleluya (Hallelujah) (1967; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8275)
- Marilú (Peek-A-Boo) / Si Lo Supiera Mamá (If I Knew Mother) (1967; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8277)
- Cuando Tenga Sesenta Y Cuatro (When I’m Sixty-Four) / Adorable Lola (Lovely Lola) (1967; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8331)
- Mi Tía Clementina (My Aunt Clementine) / El Pino Y La Rosa (The Pine And The Rose) (1968; Odeon Pops, DTOA-8392)
- Los Shakers (1965; Odeon Pops)
- Break It All (1966; Audio Fidelty)
- Shakers For You (1966; Odeon Pops)
- La Conferencia Secreta Del Toto’s Bar (1968; Odeon Pops)
- Bonus Tracks (2005; Sony BMG/RCA, 8287 678827-2)
- Archivo Secreto(1967; Odeon Pops; unofficial release/bootleg)
- La Vigencia De Los Shakers (1976; EMI SLPE, 500.569)
- Los Ineditos De Los Shakers (1977; EMI, 6186)
- All The Best (1999; Hitland, 8022090400142)
- ¡Por Favor! (2000; Big Beat Records, CDWIK201)
- Los Shakers + Shakers for You (2010; Circolo Del Disco Produzione, CDDP XXV AGADU)
🐵 Terence 🐵