Tennessee, four decades of rock, ballads and toupees

  • The Madrid rock and roll group, who released their first album in 1985, overcame a streak of oblivion to reappear with force: they plan seventy concerts for this year

  • Last December they received a tribute in Parla, the town where they were born as a band, with the inauguration of a monolith on their Walk of Fame

  • The music that is made now leaves them cold: “Rosalía has very good arrangements, but then I don’t understand what she is saying,” says Isidro

Concerts throughout Spain, new recordings, tributes… It might seem that the boys from Tennessee they are currently governed by their 1989 agenda, but they are not. In the middle of 2023, the old Madrid rock and roll trio that make up Roberto Gil (58), Amancio Jimenez (58) e Isidro Arenas (59) —in other times a quartet— is experiencing a second youth. “Since we got back together in 2004 we have been very prolific, we have even gone to disco for a year”, says Amancio. “We are enjoying it so much morebecause the experience helps us to enjoy the journey, to enjoy every time we get on stage or every time we go into a recording studio”.

Their resurgence would leave us speechless if it weren’t for the fact that here at Uppers we have already documented the renewed rise of other musicians who started in the eighties, such as La Frontera, La Guardia, Los Rebeldes or Un Pingüino en mi Ascensor. “There is a current of veteran groups that are still there, operating at a very high level and we are lucky to be among them”, continues Amancio. “We did not reach the popularity of Rosalía, Ana Mena or Aitana, but silently we are living on music, doing what we like, and we continue to connect with our publicwhich fortunately is a lot”.

Tennessee, four decades in the gapYEF02_

It is paradoxical that in these times of throwaway music made by computer, a certain sector of the public, increasingly broad, effusively vindicates the bands that stood out in the happy eighties and early nineties and that in the twilight of the last century were temporarily relegated. “I think We’ve all been through that journey in the desert —says Roberto—, I don’t know if it was a curse for the groups of our generation, but suddenly there was a kind of emptiness”. So much so, that in 1995 Isidro, discouraged, deserted to try it alone and in 1998 Gregorio, another of the founding members, did the same. Amancio and Roberto focused for several years on working on the Spanish version of the musical “Grease”.

A generational resurgence

But since they published in 2004 The return, With Isidro back in the formation, the volume of activity has only continued an upward trend. Amancio points to a sociological explanation: “I have had this conversation many times with Javier Andreu, from La Frontera, and we have come to the conclusion that in the late nineties our audience was having children, which prevented them from going to concerts. We ourselves were also raising our children. And now that the children are older and live on their own, it turns out that those of us between 50 and 60 have more time, more or less stable jobs, generally good health, and we want to enjoy the time we have left with music. that has made us feel”. Social networks have also helped to strengthen this network of mature followers, who now go to concerts with their children.

In 1985, when they released their first album (“Tennessee”, in a small company, Dial Discos), the group was a rare bird within the bubbly Spanish music: in a time when the new wave, punk, hard rock and carefree pop prevailed, their inspiration was the classic rock and roll, rockabilly and doo-wop, venerable sounds of the fifties. “It was very difficult, we had almost everything against us”, says Roberto. They shared their first interview on the radio with Barón Rojo. “We always had the favor of the public“, Add. “Every time we did a performance or any event, our people supported us, they loved us, they were excited about what we did. It was a pride to differentiate ourselves from others, to be outside the currents that prevailed on television or radio.

They had grown up in the Madrid town of Parla soaking up music and aesthetics (toupees, glitter, costumes vintage) of classic rock. “When Elvis died in 1977, I realized that I liked rock and roll,” says Roberto. “We listened to records from our parents by Cliff Richard, from the Shadows…”. His early restlessness coincided with a revival of this style of music, with groups like Rocky Sharpe & the Replayswho became a sensation in 1979 with their album “Rama lama”, or Matchbox. “We copied his way of dressing. Sometimes we did it ourselves. We were rockers but gang members”. With those wickers, when they were 14 years old, Amancio and Roberto formed their first group, The Elvis Boys.

Tennessee, pride of Parla

Tennessee, pride of ParlaYEF02_

Elegant romance

Most requested by television networks —“We were a family group, friendly, white, and communication greats like Concha Velasco or María Teresa Campos always counted on us”, explains Roberto; In addition, his vocal harmonies were always very showy— that on the radio, the best means of diffusion in Tennessee was the word of mouth of fans delivered thanks to singles like “Today I’m thinking of you” (1986), “Silly for you ” (1988), “I saw you run” (1989) or “It rains in my heart” (1991), many of them ballads.

Beautiful and timeless songs that exuded romanticism. “We are one hundred percent romantic”, declares Isidro. They disagree, therefore, with the idea, defended by certain sectors, that romantic love is a product of heteropatriarchy. “No, no, no,” says Isidro. “Romantic love exists, has always existed and will exist for a lifetime.”

Amancio intervenes: “We don’t feel macho at all for telling a woman how pretty she is. Obviously, it is not the same to say it in a song than on the street. We have always talked about love, but in a more elegant, more affectionate, whiter… more normal way. We are very normal guys. We fall in love and get excited about normal things, and that’s what we tell in our songs.

Better romanticism than perreo”, says Roberto. “You can’t say ‘what a beautiful ass’, but the perreos say it,” says Isidro. It is clear, then, that perreo and reggaeton are not saints of his devotion. Roberto clarifies: “It’s not that perreo itself bothers me; It bothers me how women are treated in many song lyrics.” Isidro resumes: “The ‘Lambada’ [canción de Kaoma de 1989] it was also very sexual, but no one was shocked. Now it’s all ‘here I’ll catch you, here I’ll kill you’.

However, some argue that the rejection that reggaeton causes among older audiences today is exactly the same as that caused by rock and roll in its early days, a genre that was also considered obscene and provocative by adults in the 1950s. “But it was because of the dances”, justifies Isidro. “With Frank Sinatra the audience was seated, but rock and roll was a way of dancing, and as such it shocked people.”

A hypersexualized society

Amancio: “It is clear that we now live in a hypersexualized society. On your mobile or computer you have access to sex continuously. You open TikTok and you only see girls in bikinis dancing. And that is very normal. Other things have been lost, such as seduction, the power of the word, listening… It happens with everything: people get the headlines, nobody goes to the development of the news, and that for me is a step backwards. It has happened to me talking to some people, who tell me: ‘To the point, to the point’. The good thing about communication is being able to develop an idea. We live faster, and I think we enjoy life less”.

In the strictly musical field, they believe that there are currently very good groups, “but what sounds on the radio is another thing, mere karaoke, rehashes, people with Auto-Tune…”, laments Amancio. “There are always fashions in music, and we have to adapt to what is out there,” says Isidro. “But I personally don’t like it. Rosalía has very good arrangements, but then I don’t understand what she is saying ”.

“Because in the end the important thing is not to make a good song, but to hit a ball, as Shakira has done,” Roberto points out. “The important thing is not that Tennessee is forty years old and continues to release records, but that Mrs. Shakira complains, and that is what matters to the media. Luckily, there is always a stronghold of people who like good music. But what prevails is fast consumption, the pim, pam, pum, and there is no more. If now one of us got involved with…”

“I, I ask myself,” says Isidro.

“If Isidro got involved with Pep Guardiola, then we would be in the top ten.”

What they do have, apart from a sense of humor and irreducible fans, is the appreciation of the municipality that saw them born as a group. Last December, Tennessee kicked off her column in Parla’s Walk of Fame. “Signing the recognition of the place we came from was a pending issue for us,” acknowledges Amancio. “Groups like Danza Invisible, who have a street in Torremolinos, made us envious; We were very excited to receive something like this in Parla, and it was also by popular vote, which makes us even more proud”.

The proclamation that they will give next June at the Parla festivities is one more section within the plans for 2023. “A very good year is expected —continues Amancio—, we are already over the twenty performances signed for this summer and another twenty reserved, that is, we believe that we are going to meet our goal of seventy or eighty performances. And if there is a record in between, then that would also be great”.

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