The Matadors were one of the finest and most celebrated beat combos to emerge from Eastern Europe in the 1960s; they were a sensation in their native Czechoslovakia, and toured frequently in Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and other nations before eventually relocating to Munich. The first edition of the Matadors formed in early 1964, when bassist Otto Bezloja and sax player Jan Farmer Obermayer of the early Czech rock group Komety (aka the Comets) teamed up with Wilfried Jelinek, drummer with the Czech/German combo Pra-Be. Adopting the name Fontana, the group became a quintet with the addition of lead guitarist Radim Hladik and rhythm guitarist Vladimir Misik, who also sang lead. Fontana's early gigs were in East Germany, where Jelinek, who was doing double duty as the group's manager, had booking connections; in the spring of 1965, he struck an endorsement deal with a musical equipment manufacturer, and Obermayer moved from sax to a Matador-brand electronic organ, with the group renaming themselves after the instrument. In the fall of 1965, Jelinek gave up drumming to manage the Matadors full-time, and the band recruited new percussionist Miroslav Schwarz (aka Tony Black) as well as Karel Kahovec, a rhythm guitarist and vocalist, both former members of the combo Hell's Devils. In 1966, the Matadors began making a name for themselves on Prague's music scene; their tough, imaginative interpretations of American and British hits (often with amusingly misheard English vocals) and strong original material made them one of the most popular acts in town. The Czech Supraphon label took notice, and that year, the group made their recording debut, issuing a Czech-language single and a four-song EP in English. In the fall of 1966, the Matadors were booked to play a music festival in Belgium; however, Misik and Obermayer were performing their state-mandated service in the Army, and the band played the show as a four-piece. By 1967, Obermayer was back in the Matadors, but Misik and Kahovec were out, as was manager Jelinek; Viktor Sodoma, former of Flamengo, took over as lead singer. By this time, bassist Bezloja had become the group's leader, and with Sodoma's help he began revamping the Matadors' image, as psychedelic rock and more adventurous sounds became the new trend around the world. When the Matadors recorded their first full-length album in 1968, they'd began incorporating extended psychedelic jams into their set, such as the memorable and effects-laden "Extraction," while Hladik was maturing into an exceptional guitarist. The album was popular at home and in Europe, but fate had its own plans for the group. In the summer of 1968, Sodoma and Obermayer left the Matadors, and Milos "Reddy" Vokurka became their new lead vocalist, while Jiri Matosek became their new keyboard man. With the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in late August 1968, the Matadors saw little future in Prague, and they accepted an offer to serve as the musical ensemble for the Munich production of the rock musical Hair. Not long before their departure, Radim Hladik left the Matadors to form his own group, the more experimental act the Blue Effect, with former bandmate Vladimir Misik; Petr Netopil signed on as guitarist for the Matadors' final Czech performances and their run in Munich with Hair. After the Munich production of Hair closed in 1970, the Matadors were done, and Bezloja, Vokurka, and Matosek joined forces with Hanus Berka (a Czech sax player who had joined the Hair ensemble) and drummer Udo Lindenberg to form a prog rock outfit called Emergency. In 1991, Hladik and members of Blue Effect teamed with Sodoma, Obermayer, and Misik for a Matadors reunion show, and the group has played occasional live gigs ever since. Founder and bandleader Otto Bezloja died in 2001.
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