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This song started out as an Andean folk melody that Paul Simon came across in 1969 when he played a week-long engagement at a theater in Paris along with the South American group Los Incas, who played an instrumental version of the song called "Paso Del Condor." Said Simon: "I used to hang around every night to hear them play that. I loved it and I would play it all the time, and then I thought, Let's put words to it."
The Peruvian songwriter Daniel Robles recorded this song in 1913, and copyrighted it in the United States in 1933 during his travels in America. When Simon recorded it with his added lyrics, he thought it was a traditional song, as that's what Los Incas told him. When Robles' son filed a lawsuit, Simon had to give Robles a composer credit on the song, with his estate getting those royalties.
In discussing the song, Simon always talks about it as being based on a traditional Peruvian song, and we've never heard him mention Robles. This wasn't the first time Simon got tangled over songwriting credits on traditional melodies: Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair / Canticle
was based on a folk song, but his arrangement came from a singer named Martin Carthy. Simon was always clear on his influences, but legal misunderstandings were a problem in these cases.
Los Incas, who were the group that introduced Simon to the song, provided the instrumentation when they recorded it in Paris with Simon. Their leader, Jorge Milchberg, played a charango, which is an Andean string instrument made from the shell of an armadillo. Simon played acoustic guitar, and other members of Los Incas played flutes and percussion. When Simon brought the track to America, he added his lyrics. This was one of the easier songs to record for the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, since the backing track was already mixed together - it was just a matter of adding the vocals.
The title translates to English as "The Condor Passes." The lyrics Robles wrote to the song in 1913 are about returning home to his native Peru.
Los Incas leader Jorge Milchberg got a composer credit on this song along with Simon and Robles. Milchberg later became the head of the group Urubamba and remained friends with Simon, who toured with them and produced their first American album. (thanks, Kristy - La Porte City, IA)
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