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Horst Wende made music through seven decades of the 20th century, recording over 100 easy listening albums as producer, bandleader, conductor, arranger, and musician. Today many of his records, released under his own name or his longtime alias of Roberto Delgado, are sought and coveted by collectors of the German big band movement of the '70s.
Horst Wende was born into a musical family in Saxony, Germany, in 1919, and was skilled enough that by six years old he as able to regularly guest on accordion in his grandfather's band at a local restaurant. Young Wende played and studied music constantly; by his fifteenth birthday he was already accomplished at playing piano, accordion, and xylophone, and he was accepted into the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory of Music.
His music studies there were interrupted by World War II; conscripted into the Germany army, he was captured by British troops and incarcerated in a POW camp in Denmark in 1942. There he met a young trumpet player, Ladi Geisler, who had just been given a guitar by a fellow prisoner and was determined to learn that instrument (Geisler became the greatest session guitarist in the German music industry, playing on thousands of recordings and continuing to release his own material even now). On their release after the end of the war, Geisler and Wende relocated to the city of Hamburg, where they formed a trio playing small clubs in the same neighborhood that would later launch the Beatles. Wende started getting recording work as a session musician, then became a member of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Big Band (North German Radio Big Band, aka NDR) with included such bandmates as Bert Kaempfert, James Last, and Geisler. The Horst Wende trio grew in popularity, becoming a major attraction on the American military base circuit while Horst Wende and His Swinging Accordion headlined the Tarantella nightclub in Hamburg.
In the mid-'50s Polydor Records snapped up all the budding stars of the swinging local Hamburg music scene, making long-term deals with James Last and Bert Kaempfert, and signing Wende as a staff producer. There Wende produced, arranged, and composed many compositions for Last, Kaempfert, Max Greger, and others, contributing heavily to the popularity of Schlager, that particularly northern European style of party pop music combining sweet sentimental ballads with catchy melodies. Wende assembled and began producing his own accordion group in the early '60s, releasing folk and pop recordings to considerable success in Germany. Always interested in new sounds, he released several accomplished records exploring world music styles, most notably Africana and Todos Bailan Calypso, which were critically acclaimed but had very limited sales.
Feeling there was an opportunity to sell more records in Germany by giving Wende an exotic alias, Polydor decided to release future world music style records under an alias, giving Wende the Latin-sounding name of Roberto Delgado. Young producer Uwe Bowien was brought in to add a modern recording sound to Wende's musical ideas, and the result — brightly recorded and well-arranged albums of funky, upbeat party music — proved to be a sales bonanza for Polydor, when fans in the U.K. and the United States embraced the "happy dancing" sound. That label was then opening international subsidiaries, and heavily marketed the Delgado titles simultaneously with two of their biggest priorities, the big-band recordings of Bert Kaempfert and James Last. All three orchestras shared many of the same musicians and recording facilities, giving a sleek professional sound that came to define easy listening big-band music for several decades. Using the name of Delgado, Wende explored many ethnic musical styles, and has been credited with the early popularization of world music, releasing upbeat dance albums and exploring Asian, African, South American, Italian, Russian, Greek, and Jamaican themes, as well as pop hits and show tunes. As with James Last's output, Delgado's records show a considerable sense of humor, covering such oddities as "The Mosquito" from the Doors' Morrison-less Full Circle album as a Moog ballad, with occasional jazzy fills, funky backbeats, or brassy counter-melodies (for example) which helped to make the recordings stand up over time
Wende also recorded and accompanied many Germany pop stars, and appears on hundreds of recordings by such stars as Freddy Quinn, Lolita, Helmuth Zacharias, Alfred Hause, and Rudi Schuricke. His popularity faded in the '80s, and he retired from music professionally later in that decade. He passed away in 1996, just as his recordings started to be reissued on CD.