Joe Bataan: Subway Joe
From Subway Joe (Fania, 1968). Also available on Latin Funk Brother.

Joe Bataan: Ordinary Guy
From Gypsy Woman (Fania, 1967). Also available on Young, Gifted and Brown.

Joe Bataan: Call My Name
From Call My Name (Vampi Soul, 2004)

Over on my pop/politics blog, Poplicks, I’ve been neck-deep in the social, political issues raised by the Hurriance Katrina in New Orleans. I admit, it’s been emotionally and intellectually exhausting, and at times, a little despairing.

That’s why I’m really glad Joe Bataan came to town this weekend to play what was really and amazing, amazing show at Herbst Theater in S.F. It wasn’t sold out but it felt like a capacity show and it wasn’t just that the music was soul-satisfying and rousing (which it was). It was also that Bataan has incredible presence as a performer and as my friend who went with me put it: “he’s like your uncle. He just makes you feel like family,” and the rest of the audience clearly agreed. I’m used to hip-hop shows where everyone is mad stand-offish at times, including the performer, but here, Bataan went into the audience to hand out photos, to lead a conga line, to bring up a 12 year old girl, to kiss women and shake hands, etc. It’s not that he reinvented a stage show but rather, he knew exactly how to connect to the audience and brought it to us in a way that felt real, you know? That’s rare these days but at 62, with 40 years in the music business, Bataan knows how to make that real for you. It was, without doubt, one of the best live shows I’ve been to in years and I hope, as Bataan is back on the touring circuit, others go out and see him.

I could get into why I find Bataan’s music and career so special but I already do that in my story on Joe from this week’s SF Bay Guardian. The short version is that he’s had a really remarkable career and that he’s an undersung but pivotal innovator in music since the mid-1960s. I’ll be writing more about Joe in the future, don’t you worry. I was also honored to sit in on his rehearsals last night (that’s where the above photo comes from) and just see him work, up close and personal.

But ok, onto the songs. I start with one of his first big boogaloo hits, “Subway Joe,” off the Fania album by the same name. Bataan wasn’t the first boogaloo master – he followed in the footsteps of folks like Joe Cuba, Pete Rodriguez, and others – but what he brought into the genre was a real soulfulness that wasn’t always present in the more party-song style of other key boogaloo figures. You also was very much into storytelling and “Subway Joe” is a perfect example of such.

“Ordinary Guy,” has been Joe’s trademark for years – he’s recorded at least four versions of it, in different styles, over the years and it bespeaks his modesty and humility. It’s also a superb sweet soul song – a signature track that is a great entry point into appreciating how he really innovated the entire Latin Soul genre.

Last but not least, Joe disappeared from recording for about 20 years but when he came back to it, he really blew a lot of folks minds on his Call My Name album, released by Spain’s Vampi Soul and about to be put back out in U.S. rotation by Seattle’s Light in the Attic. Imagine Bataan singing over smartly produced funk and soul tracks that both nod to his legacy but give it a different twist and that’s what Call My Name is about. I personally really like the title track so I included it here.

Joe’s got another album due out by winter called The Message which is coming out on his own label, JoBa Records. Keep an eye out for it or just keep an eye here. I’ll certainly be talking about in the months to come.


Eddie Palmieri and Cal Tjader: Samba de Sueno
From Bamboleate (Tico, 1967)

Ray Barretto: Together
From Together (Fania, 1971)

A Latin Sides post has been long overdue. “Samba de Sueno” is a gorgeous, mellow piece of Latin jazz put together by two giants: vibraphonist Cal Tjader and pianist Eddie Palmieri. Tjader gets more shine here – his vibes give the song its heart and spirit; this is such a beautiful piece of music, perfect for the waning days of summer, no?

With Ray Barretto’s “Together,” I’m boosting up the energy level with an adrenaline shot through the chest. This is one of Barretto’s most fiery and exciting post-boogaloo tracks. His percussion section is locked deep in a fierce groove and Barretto scorches his way through this with vocals promoting social unity. That’s the win-win.


Soul Sides Podcast – Boogaloo Special (Part 1 of 3)

Included songs:

I initially discovered boogaloo about five years ago when a DJ friend of mine played me some songs by Monguito Santamaria. From there, I was hooked on the genre and have spent the last few years patiently collecting boogaloo albums and compilations when possible.

It’s a genre that, for long time, didn’t get much respect. Latin purists treated it as a pop fad – beneath the majesty of the mambo and older, more classic Laitn dances. Certainly, the boogaloo was a fad-driven music – blazing hot in 1966 and then tapering into oblivion by the late ’60s. However, that doesn’t automatically make it bad. The reason why boogaloos were so popular was because dancers loved the easy accessibility of the boogaloo rhythm – usually a simple 4/4 dressed up with tasty piano and brass riffs.

I recently reviewed the new Rough Guide to Boogaloo for NPR and wanted to expand on it vis a vis a few podcasts that call attention to the genre and its legacy. Today’s podcast is an introduction to the boogaloo, its history and sound. Next time, I’ll discuss the evolution of the boogaloo and its phenomenal growth in the mid-1960s. My third podcast will examine the lingering influence of the boogaloo as was as showcase a few of my favorites.


Eddie Palmieri: Condiciones Que Existen & Chocolate Ice Cream

From Salsa-Jazz-Descarga: Exploration (Coco, 1978)

Eddie (along with brother Charlie) Palmieri’s career spans several key transformations in the history of Latin music – soul, jazz, salsa, etc. In the late ’70s, producer Harvey Averne (yeah, that dude gets around) helped compile some of Palmieri’s more intriguing excursions into this album.

“Condiciones Que Existen” (Existing Conditions) comes off of Palmier’s 19T3 album Sentido and it’s one of the funkiest numbers he ever put together. It’s got this wicked squeegee sound to thanks to Harry Viggiano’s chicken scratch guitars. Slick as baby oil wrestling.

“Chocolate Ice Cream” (Helado De Chocolate) is one of Palmimri’s many jazz compositions, appearing (I think) on either his Superimposition album from ’71, or maybe from At the University of Puerto Rico (it’s a little unclear since this version is 4 minutes longer than the versions on those two albums). If “Condiciones Que Existen,” was brisk, “Chocolate,” takes its time to unwind, spiralling through a 10.5 minute blend of Charlie’s organ noodlings, Eddie’s electronic piano, plus some soulful sax wails by Ronnie Cuber. The rhythm section is top-notch on this, holding down a smooth groove the whole way through (big up Chuckie Lopez Jr. on bongos and Nicky Marrero on the timbales). I don’t smoke out but damn, this sounds like the perfect kind of tune to just light up a fatty too and chill out with.


Ralfi Pagan

    Make It With You

    Stray Woman

    I Never Thought You’d Leave Me

From With Love (Fania, 1972)

This is an album I’ve spent about two years looking for and had I really remembered how good Ralfi Pagan’s songs were, I probably would have just broken down and bought this LP at whatever price. Pagan doesn’t have the best damn voice ever handed down by the Almighty, but there’s just something about the combination of his vocals with Harvey Averne’s production that is sublime.

Take, “Make It With You,” a cover of Bread’s smash ballad. It begins with this tremendous wall of sound, very reminiscent of the opening of Buddy Miles’ version of “Down By the River.” Even when Averne and co-producer Jerry Masucci pull back, easing into a more mellow tone, it has just the right touch for Pagan’s soft, dulcet vocals. He reminds me of what one of the Gibbs brothers (i.e. the Bee-Gees) would have sounded like – a clean falsetto that isn’t as rich as say, Marvin Gaye, but his voice goes down real easy regardless.

“Stray Woman,” features more excellent production by Masucci and Averne, more reminiscent of a mid-60s soul tune. And since Pagan was a Latin artist (there’s a song on here called “Latin Soul”) and Fania was a huge label in that genre, I wanted to include one of the more Latin-fied cuts off the album: “I Never Thought You’d Leave Me.” It sounds like a mega-slow mambo, especially with those vibes – something sultry for a dim parquet.

Ah, this is such awesome album, one of my favorite recent arrivals.


Celio Gonzalez: Arriba!
From Arriba!/Up! (Tico, 196?)

When I first started to get into Latin, this is one of the first titles I picked up. Gonzalez is a Cuban artist, recorded a few sides with Tico (this was from his third album) and he has the distinction of looking like Mr. Rogers, only more waxen and a little scary.

When I first bought this LP, the store owner warned, “the instrumentation is good but his voice kind of ruins it” but I have to disagree. The music is great – swinging and soulful, just the kind of beat to get you twirling a dance partner on the parquet. But Gonzalez’ singing fits right in the mix. Sure, he’s not the finest Latin troubadour I’ve ever heard, but he’s got verve and the ability to belt out a good one which seems to fit with this cut just fine.


The Calbidos: Barrio Bueno

From Crossfire (Vroomm, 197?). Also available on Extended 12″ (Kudos, 2003).

Toro: Michaela

From 7″ (Scepter, 1975) and Toro (Coco, 1975)

Sophy: Es Lamentable

From Sophy (Velvet, 197?)

“Lados Del Alma” = my weak Spanish translation of “Soul Sides” – if someone can offer a more accurate translation, please feel free to make suggestions. In any case, it’s yet another theme to keep track of (we need some SS Score Cards up in hurr), dedicated to Latin-tinged music. Like European jazz, it’s a genre that I’ve only really been learning much about in the last three or four years but despite my relative ignorance, I’m very much a fan. I’m a sucker for a good boogaloo (and I’ll have to bring some of those to the fore), but I’m an equal opportunity lover of Latin soul, jazz, rock, (of course funk), bossa novas, batucadas, descargas, mambos, guaranchas, etc., etc., etc. There are many, many Latin sub-genres to memorize, covering an immense gamut of Afro-Latin-Cuban-Brazilian influences.

I launch with “Barrio Bueno,” a Latin jazz library record out of Italty. The Cabildos had two albums in the ’70s – Crossfire is actually the inferior one compared with Yuxtaposition (recorded under the name, The Cabildo’s Three) which has nary a flat track. Crossfire is solid, don’t get me wrong, but its “Barrio Bueno” is the main standout. A very laid back, smoky groover, “Barrio Bueno,” sounds like it came off a soundtrack for very hip stoners (this would be a good thing). It’s so good in fact, Kudos Records extended the song and pressed it up on clear vinyl last year.

With Toro…this was a Groove Merchant find – really nice Latin rock album that bears the obvious influence of Santana but doesn’t sound like a clone. Super-producer Harvey Averne (remember Viva Soul?) helms this one (at the Electric Lady Studios no less) and his cross-genre embrace of different styles are well served here and especially for “Michaela,” an excellent Latin soul/rock number which is just one of many great songs off the LP.

And also, Toro just has one of the best logos I’ve ever seen. I want a t-shirt with that on it.

Last, it’s Sophy: only one of the biggest singers in Puerto Rican history which is ironic since I find her singing on this album barely tolerable. No disrespect intended but her voice isn’t particuarly nuanced or dynamic and it also sounds engineered too loudly over the track. This all said, I’m giving her song “Es Lamentable”, off one of her big hit albums on Velvet, a spin because it’s a slick, funky dance number and a female vocal track, thus combining two genres that I get weak in the knees for.


The Harvey Averne Dozen:You’re No Good
From Viva Soul (Atlantic, 1968)

“You’re No Good” kicks off the Harvey Averne Dozen’s Viva Soul and the song is so good, so sublime in its affect, so remarkably not like anything else on the album that you wish Averne had pressed this up on 45 so you could have the song without the clutter of the rest of the LP to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, Viva Soul is a decent Latin album in its own right and had “You’re No Good” not appeared on here, I would still have found pleasure in songs like the mid-tempo mambo, “The Micro Mini.” But “You’re No Good” opens the album on such a stupendous note that the desperate desire for the rest of the LP to sound the same can only be met by consecutive waves of disappointment as you skip tracks to realize that “You’re No Good” is some kind of aberration – lucky to exist but still alone in the world, at least the world of Viva Soul.

Averne himself isn’t a great vocalist here – he belts out a passable but unremarkable performance that reminded me of a Tony Bennett knock-off in a Vegas bar. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds but Averne isn’t about to topple Otis Redding or Al Green off the top of the canon. What makes “You’re No Good” so damn good is the chorus of female singers, sounding like the latter-day Ronettes or similar girl group. Averne sings against them in a call and response between himself and what sounds like a bevy of girlfriends he’s cheated on. We hear their grievances first as the song opens on a brassy opening of horns and vibes that gives way to a funky, walking bassline and jabbing piano chords. They sing: “I don’t trust you when you’re out of sight/like you were last night.

On Averne’s reply – “I don’t want to hear anymore/enough of that jive/I know the score…” – the song brings the horns back in and the arrangement switches from soul into pop, only to swing back to soul when the women come back: “If you love me/like you say do/then make up your mind”. It’s a great exchange, not quite as tit-for-tat as, say, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas’ “Tramp” but like that classic, “You’re No Good,” is light and playful in its attitude too.

It’s those moments, when the women are seeking their revenge that every element in this song: the arrangement, production and vocals, all come together beautifully. There is something both incredibly soulful and funky about these women’s singing and it creates that moment of pop brilliance that so many songs hope for but few attain. I don’t know what Averne was thinking in writing this song, insofar as the rest of the album doesn’t sound much like this cut, but whatever inspired him is our blessing as well.


Emilio Santiago: Bananeira & Brother
From Emilio Santiago (CID, 1975)

I’m not as big of a fan of Brazilian (i.e. samba, bossa, etc.) as I am of Latin soul (i.e. boogaloo, guajira, etc.) but I’m trying to learn more about the former, especially since there’s such a wealth of great Brazilian music. Especially when it comes to more funky and soulful material, I’m always discovering new artists, having already sampled the likes of Jorge Ben and Tim Maia. Santiago is still going strong as an artist today – he’s considered a giant in the genre – but these two songs are from what I’m assuming is his first (or one of his first) albums, a self-titled affair from 1970 which covers songs by Ben, Joao Donato and others. “Bananeira” sounds like it belongs on some blaxploitation soundtrack for a movie set in the favelas of Sao Paulo while “Brother” is an incredibly soulful ode to Jesus that, despite my agnosticism, left me swooning.

By the way, call me crazy, but isn’t Santiago a dead ringer for actor Luiz Guzman on this cover?


Willie Rosario and His Orchestra: Boogaloo and Guaguanco
This is easily one of the best boogaloo albums you can find for under $30. Sure, Joe Bataan’s Fania albums are amazing too, but original copies of those puppies will set you back to a flat wallet. Rosario gives you not one, not two, but three (yes three!) excellent boogaloos for your buck, plus a slick mambo jazz cut to boot. For starters, “Watusi Boogaloo” is just a solid, solid example of what a good boogaloo should sound like: fun, catchy, with plenty of people screaming in Latin-tinged voices, the whole nine. Personally, I can’t believe no one’s bothered to comp this cut yet. Ridiculous. I’ve always liked Rosario’s cover of “Taste of Honey” – it begins with a slow brass build-up but then gets a lil funky as this classic standard gets the boogaloo treatment. “Light and Sweet” is the third in the trio, and in my opinion, the least interesting, but it’s still dependable. Ending the album is the airy, swinging “Stop and Go”, that mambo jazz cut I mentioned before. For anyone looking to start up a basic Latin collection, this one comes highly recommended.