PETE RODRIGUEZ: ON THE TURN


I’ve been revisiting the music of Pete Rodriguez lately after realizing how little of his catalog I had ever bothered to really sit with. Sure, I had been a fan of his big hits – “I Like It Like That,” “Oh That’s Nice”, “Micaela” for a while but I had never explored much else until I was asked to write the liner notes for Right On! Ahi Na Ma! and found myself digging back into Pete’s recordings (not the least of which was to untangle his discography) 1

I can be quite enjoyable to rediscover an artist you once took for granted and in going back to PR’s albums, what’s clear is how much his group really turned on a collaborative effort, especially when he had Tony Pabon and Benny Bonilla on his team. They helped guide PR through his most successful years on Alegre but the two albums I’m looking at today capture the group in a transitional moment.

Pete Rodriguez and His Orchestra: Contentos Estan
Pueblos De Borinquen
From Christmas Boogaloos/Boogaloo NavideƱo (Alegre, 1967)

Pete Rodriguez and His Orchestra: People Want to Know
Cata Con Tata
From Hot and Wild (Alegre, 1968)

I have to admit, I originally dismissed PR’s Christmas Boogaloos LP out of hand and that was clearly some dumb sh– on my part, assuming a holiday album couldn’t be good. In fact, the album is quite good though I had much less interest in the actual boogaloos on the LP vs. some awesome guajiras. The two, of course, share much in common in terms of musical arrangement so the basic appeal is still there.2 What the guajiras bring though is that smokiness to the groove, both on the super slow-burning “Contentos Estan” and the slightly more energetic “Pueblos De Borinquen.” Gorgeous piano work on the latter, especially (presumably by PR himself).

By the time the band reaches Hot and Wild in 1968, their fortunes are shifting. The Latin soul/boogaloo scene is now thick with all kinds of competitors and PR and crew simply aren’t knocking out major hits on the same level as in 1967.3 There are still some obvious attempts at riding the Latin soul gravy train – “People Want to Know” is a decent track (written by Pabon and Pete’s brother Manny) in that mold (though hardly a favorite of mine) and it came on a 7″ with a cover of “Here Comes the Judge” on the flip. For my money, you’re better off with the killer descarga “Cata Con Tata,” another Pabon/Manny Rodriguez collaboration).

One of these days, I’ll have to get around to more of PR’s late-Alegre recordings…but uh, first I need to cop ’em!


Notes:

  1. You’ll notice that took you to a new site I’m slowly putting together. Consider this the softest of “soft launches”.
  2. Joe Bataan did try to explain that guajiras are slow, minor-key and “sad” compared to the more uptempo and happy boogaloo but overall, their rhythmic style is often quite similar.
  3. It’s worth noting that this LP turns up in quantity but never for very much, which suggests that Alegre may have banked on it but it never came to fruition as one of the group’s better albums.

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