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1940s: The Dupla Elétrica and the Pau Elétrico

 Osmar Álvares Macêdo (3/22 1923 - 6/30 1997, right) and Adolfo Antônio Dodô Nascimento (11/10 1920- 6/15 1978) were part of the Salvador music scene since the 1930s. In the mid 30s, Dodô had helped to form the band Três e Meio ('Three and a Half'), put together by the legendary Dorival Caymmi. In 1938, after Caymmis' leave to Rio, Dodô restructured the band and added Osmar [1]. Around 1942 [2], the two friends saw a performance by guitarist Benedito Chaves from Rio de Janeiro -'Benedito Chaves and his Electric Guitar'- featuring an acoustic guitar with a pickup mounted across the soundhole as the great attraction, which inspired them to craft their own guitar pickups.

He [Chaves] was going to bring the famous electric guitar, that none had seen before, to Bahia. I myself had thought that, being electric and all, it was going to play all by itself [...] Benedito Chaves brought the electric guitar and we all went to see his show in Teatro Guarani, it was an apotheosis, it was beautiful! But there was this feedback effect, this whistling sound, pii, piii... Quite annoying. He [Chaves] had to stop playing, change the postion of the amplifier and reduce the volume in order to to compensate for the effect.
O. MACÊDO 1995, apud PAULAFREITAS (2005)


Dodô and Osmar went to talk to Chaves, who allowed them to take a closer look at the instrument and the electronics.

[...] Benedito was very receptive, not arrogant at all, he turned on the amplifier and let us try out the guitar. Since Dodô was a radio technician, an electronics technician, he wouldn't just look at the mechanism but inspect it down to the tiniest detail. The very next day, he took to building an amplifier and a pickup exactly like those used by Benedito Chaves in the concert. Within a few days, he had prepared a guitar for himself, just like that of Benedito Chaves, and a cavaquinho for me. The feedback problem wasn't fixed at all, which was very annoying, but nevertheless, this was the beginning of the Dupla Elétrica.
O. MACÊDO 1995, apud PAULAFREITAS

Shortly afterwards, Dodô and Osmar begin to perform with their new instruments, calling themselves the Dupla Elétrica ('electric duo') [3], playing a repertory of chorinhos and paso dobles. For over a year [4] they wrestled with the feedback effect, unable to play at full volume and obliged to change positions while performing [5]. After Osmar noticed that feedback was diminished by covering the soundhole or by stuffing the guitar with a towel, they eventually struck upon the principle of the solid body.

Well... when I was embracing the instrument in a certain way, the feedback stopped. When i let go, it was there again. There we saw that it was the resonance chamber that was provoking the feedback. That's where the idea came from to use a stick, a solid piece of log, like this one, and to put strings on it... just like with the instrument, only without a body. By itself, it would not make a sound, but when you plugged it in, it produced a clean and ringing tone, even at full volume. You could turn the amplifier all the way up, and still there was no feedback. This is how we identified the problem.
O. MACÊDO, 1995 apud PAULAFREITAS (2005)


"One day he [Dodô] decided to fix a single guitar string directly on two screws at either end of his workbench, and place a pickup below it, for testing purposes. When he turned on the amplification, boy, you can't imagine: It rang like a bell, a clean and perfect sound. The principle was discovered."
O. MACÊDO 1978 apud GÓES (1982)


The next iteration was far more sophisticated: Allegedly, Osmar visited a local music store (Primavera on Praça da Sé square in Salvador, the store still exists), asked for a guitar and a cavaquinho and disassembled their necks right in front of the vendor, saying that was all he needed [6]. Back in the workshop, Dodô mounted each neck onto a slab of wood, put strings on and plugged in, and the Pau Elétrico (left) was born [7]. By 1945 they were performing with their new instruments, playing an electric repertoire of popular tunes loud enough to entertain entire neighbourhoods [8].  By the end of the decade, when their performances took them as far as Itaparica island  [9], they had managed to power their system from batteries, and performed in carnival festivities like that of Calçada district using a cart [10]. This mobile technology would also come to play an important role in the birth of what now is known as the Trio Elétrico tradition of Bahian carnvial.




NOTES



[1]
"In the 1930s, Dodô helped to form a group with the legendary Dorival Caymmi, called O Três e Meio.,,"
A. MACÊDO (2002a)
Interview with Bruce GILMAN for Brazzil Magazine, Feb. 2002

The Conjunto Três e Meio  ("Three and a Half") was originally made up by Dorival Caymmi (guitar) Deraldo Caymmi (surdo), Zezinho (José Rodrigues de Oliveira, mandolin and cavaquinho) and Luis Rodrigues  (Zezinhos younger brother, the "half" of  the "Three and a Half"). Around 1934/35, Caymmi decided to perform during carnival, which resulted numerous spontaneous formations of Tres e Meio, which also included his friend Dodô. (CAYMMI 2001).

According to GOES (1982, 2000) another fixed formation ofTrés e Meio existed before Caymmis departure in 1938, consisting of Caymmi  himself, Zezinho, Alberto Costa and Dodô. Other sources mention Eduardo Nery as a fixed member of Trés e Meio. Unfortunately, CAYMMI (2001), a where the trajetory of Trés e Meio is described in detail, make no reference to Alberto Costa and Eduardo Nery.

When Caymmi left Bahia in 1938, the original Trés e Meio split up. Maintaining the name, Dodô founded a new 7 piece band which included Druvaltério Carvalho, Milton Lima, Rupiara Ferreira Santos, Reginaldo Silva, Luizinho da Flauta, and Osmar Macêdo (GÓES, 1982, 2000).


[2]
Some of the main sources on the history of the guitarra baiana, GÓES (1982, 2000) and PAULAFREITAS (2005), give different dates for the year of this performance. According to GÓES (1982, 2000), it ocurred in 1941, while for PAULAFREITAS (2005) it did in 1943. Both authors rely on personal interviews with Osmar Macêdo. In addition, a great number of other texts and articles name -without citing any sources- 1942 as the year of the Chaves performance.


[3]
With electricity still being considered a kind of miracle in large parts of Brazil at the time, the term carried a humerous note, as it toyed with the interchangeability of the terms 'electric', 'magnifcent' and 'miraculous'. In addition, experts of Brazilian slang will note that the term "pau" (meaning log or slab) also serves as a synoym for the male sexual organ.

[4]
"Durante mais de um ano Dodô e Osmar tentaram eliminar a microfonia, sem resultado. [...] A solução foi descoberta após uma das muitas experiências de tentativa e érro."
PAULAFREITAS (2005).

Considering that it took Dodô and Osmar a good year to come up with solid body prototypes after the Chaves performance, the first pau elétrico would have been ready somewhere between 1942 and 1944 (for more info, check note 1 in the article Pau Elétrico in the instrument section).

[5]
In the same period (42/43), Dodô and Osmar had frequent contact with US military stationed at the nearby Aratu Naval Base, where they were invited to perform.

"During WW II, were often invited to play and the dances held by the American in the Naval Base. it was a great success, we played Tico-Tico no Fuba  [well known Carmen Miranda tune] and chorinhos. It was in that period where we came in contact with two novelties: the first was the whistling and yelling of the audience as a sign of appreciation. Dodô and I, after we played there the first time, thought that we had been a failure, because of the way the audience reacted, until it was explained to us that this was their way of appauding. The other was Coca-Cola. ... The first time I saw Coca-Cola was in 43/44, on one of these American parties. After the first sip, I ran to the bathroom to spit out this nonsense, which tasted like liquid soap to me."
O. MACÊDO 1978 apud GÓES (1982)

"....around 1942 or 1943, I'm not perfectly sure about the date, during WW II in any case, there were many Americans here, and me and Dodô saw a catalog by a company called Sears-Roebuck, where electric instruments were displayed. There was a guitar exactly like that of Benedito Chaves, and next to the illustration was a recommendation where it said that it was necessary to experiment with the angle one kept to the amplifier in order to avoid feedback, and to not open the volume too much. This proves that they [ie. 'they '= the Americans'] did not yet know solid body instruments then...."
O. MACÊDO, 1978 apud GÓES (1982)

In the second passage, Osmar expresses the opinion that solid body electric guitars were not known in the US in 1942-43. Unfortunately, the statement doesn't clearly reveal whether him and Dodô already had their own solid body instruments ready at this point.

[6]
In a version of this story told by Amardinho Macêdo, Osmar had decided to take the necks off the instruments because it would make his bus ride home less complicated. In a joking mood, he took to breaking them, before having payed for them, saying something like 'lets see how strong these things are', which caused the manager to call for the police. Osmar the explained that he had been kidding, payed the full price and walked away.

"Meu pai foi à loja Primavera, uma loja de música antiga da Bahia, e como ele queria só o braço e ia voltar de ônibus para casa, resolveu quebrar os instrumentos, o bojo do violão e o bojo do cavaquinho. Quebrava e brincava com o cara dizendo: "Esse instrumento é forte mesmo?" Começou a quebrar, acabaram chamando o gerente e a polícia. Disse que estava brincando mesmo e ia pagar porque só queria o braço. O dono da loja morreu há pouco tempo. Até então, ele contava essa história do maluco que saiu quebrando os instrumentos".
A. MACÊDO (2002b)
Interview with Musica e Tecnologia Online


[7]
Again, the exact year is not entirely clear. See also note 1 in the article Pau Elétrico in the instrument section.

[8]
"From 1945, they already had solid body electric instruments and threw huge parties involving almost entire neighbourhoods. In 1949 thez were ezperimenting  witn car batteries as a power source."

(A partir de 1945 eles já tinham os instrumentos maciços elétricos e já davam grandes festas para quase um bairro inteiro. [...] Em 1949 eles experimentaram ligar em bateria.)
A. MACÊDO (2002b)
Interview with Musica e Tecnologia Online

[9]
"They were already travelling to Itaparica [island, on the opposite side of the Bay of All Saints] to play. They decided to use a cart and play the carnival of  Calçada district in the lower city [near the port of Salvador and an important industrial district at the time]. The sound came from those tweeters. The speakers were for whoever was close, and the tweeters were for whoever stood further away." 

(Já viajavam para Itaparica para tocar. Resolveram colocar num carrinho e tocar no carnaval lá no bairro da Calçada, na cidade baixa. O som era aquela corneta metálica que amplificava. Os alto-falantes serviam para quem estava perto, as cornetas, eram para quem estava longe).
A. MACÊDO (2002b)
Internview with Musica e Tecnologia Online