Don Juan is one of the oldest classics of the tango repertoire. There are no primary sources on the circumstances of it’s creation but it is generally attributed to 13-years-old violinist Ernesto Ponzio and dated 1898. It was dedicated to a man named Juan Cabello, Don Juan, who was a regular at Lo de Hansen.
As musicians of the guardia vieja had no access to copyrights, they often dedicate their work in exchange for money or favors. According Eusebio Aspiazu, guitarist who used to perform with Ernesto Ponzio, “Don Juan” was originally entitled “El Panzudo” and dedicated to a nightclub owner. Later it was dedicated to a man named Juan Cabello (Don Juan) who was a client at the prestigious Cafe Tarana, also know as Lo de Hansen.
Like most tango of the guardia vieja, Don Juan was an instrumental composition. The lyrics we know today from recordings were written by Ricardo Podestá later in 1914. They evoke Juan Cabello as a guapo enjoying the attention and admiration of everyone in his neighbourhood.
Me llaman Don Juan Cabello, anóteselo en el cuello, y ahí va, y ahí va, asi me quieren ver.
“Don Juan” was the first tango to be recorded by an orquesta típica in 1910. The recording was made in the studios of Casa Tagini for Colombia with the so-called orquesta típica of Vicente Greco. It was recorded again in 1911 by Alfredo Gobbi, with now forgotten lyrics of his own, under the title of “Mozos guapos”.
Al compas de una marchita, muy marcada y compadrona, a casa de Ña Ramona, me fui un ratito a bailar
Countless recordings of “Don Juan” were made up to this day, most of which are instrumental versions. Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli and Anibal Troilo all recorded “Don Juan” more then once, leaving many different versions each from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Astor Piazzolla recorded his own version of “Don Juan” with his quinteto in 1961. The Orquesta Típica Victor recorded a version with the lyrics of Ricardo Podestá and the voice of Alberto Gomez in 1932. Solo singers, such as Charlo and Sophía Bozán, also recorded “Don Juan” with lyrics. Alfredo de Angelis recorded a version with estribillo of unknown author.
We can see Ernesto Ponzio performing “Don Juan” in the 1933 sound film “Tango!” with his Orquesta de la Guardia Vieja.
Del Priore, Oscar, and Irene Amachástegui. Cien tangos fundamentales. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998.
Selles, Roberto. Historia del tango “Don Juan”. Todotango. Online http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/215/Don-Juan-Historia-del-tango-Don-Juan/
Alfredo Gobbi, Don Juan (Mozos Guapos), Disco original de 78 rmp. Youtube, Online. Alfredo Gobbi – Don Juan (Mozos guapos) – Tango – Disco original de 78 rpm
Selles, Roberto. “El tango y sus dos primeras decadas (1880- 1900)” in La historia del tango: Primera epoca. Buenos Aires: Corregidor. 1977. Print.