Friday, January 22, 2010

posted by O.W.

Richard's People: Yo Yo (O-Dub's Extended Intro Edit)
From 7" (Tuba, 1968)

When Doc Delay came through to spin the other month, he dropped this in the middle of a funk mix and trainspotter as I am, I craned my neck over to ask: "wtf is this?" It sounded like the unruly love child of a Midwestern funkateer backed by an East Harlem band and as I dug around for more info on its background, turned out I was more or less on point.

While the 7" came out of Detroit (rumor is, the vocalist was a janitor at Tuba Records), the backing track originated in New York which probably explains why the dip into the shing-a-ling has a distinctive Nuyorican sabor on it. Boogaloo fiend as I am, I love where Latin boogaloo comes back to the Midwest (where the booglaoo was born). It's very post-modern before anyone was talking about post-modernity(ok, I'm hella nerding out right now) but all you need to know is that "Yo Yo" rocks. Sure, it's a derivative track in terms of being a "new dance" that also borrows from any number of hit songs from the same era such as the "Cool Jerk" and "Here Comes the Judge." (Again, pastiche! Collage!) Plus, all that and a breakbeat intro? Oh hells yes. (Personally, I'd love to see how the "Yo Yo" is done; sounds like fun.)

(See also Funky16Corners' excellent exploration of the single's history).

This is jarring gear shift but I'd be remiss in not taking the time to mourn the passing of Teddy Pendergrass, gone far before this time (which is about 99% of the great ones, no?).

Teddy Pendergrass: Love TKO
From TP (Philly Int'l, 1980)

All-time, end of night, slow jam, red light classic (though I suppose "Close the Door" is the king seduction song even more).

King Kong: The Love I Lost
From Funky Reggae (MFP, 1970s)

Just played this out last night and cotdamn was this Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (feat. Teddy) such an incredible jam, made all the more enticing in this reggae-fied remake.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

posted by O.W.

I just launched a new column for Fania's revamped website called "Latin Con Alma." It's part of their regular blog (and thus doesn't have a dedicated page) but I'll update folks here when a new one goes up.

My first three posts are all about the history of Speed Records. I've been researching them for Wax Poetics and wrote these posts as a beginner's guide of sorts to this small but popular Latin soul label. The formatting at Fania is still being worked out so I decided, for this post at least, to reprint what's there:
    The Speed Records Story, Part 1 of 3

    Speed Records was founded by Stanley Lewis around 1967/8 following an exit from Cotique Records, the Latin label that Lewis had run with partner George Goldner. Lewis started Speed along with with producer Morty Craft (who had never worked extensively in Latin prior) and Bobby Marin, the prolific Latin music songwriter/producer. Marin served as label’s informal A&R man and he helped bring aboard the accomplished player, composer, and arranger Louie Ramirez and together, along with bandleader Luis Aviles, they formed the nucleus of the Latin Blues Band. Their Take a Trip Pussycat became Speed’s first LP release and its innuendo-laden jokes about sex and drugs were a sly indication of the group's salacious sense of humor. Even in the cover art, which looked a visualization of an acid trip (but actually hid a naked woman), the album suggested a new team was in town.

    The best-known song off The Latin Blues Band album was “(I’ll Be a) Happy Man,” a fast, late-era boogaloo featuring the funky drum breaks of studio session player Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, a colleague of Ramirez’s. (“Happy Man,” had a curious life span, as it was remade into "Happy Soul," an instrumental for The Moon People’s Land of Love album on Speed, then was remade again as “Happy Soul With a Hook,” this time featuring organist Dave Cortez and then that version was stripped down slightly and released as “Hippy Skippy Moon Strut” by the Moon People, but for Roulette. Decades later, DJ Premier would sample it for Christina Aguilera’s hit, “Ain’t No Other Man.”)

    The second Speed LP is the most enigmatic: Dianne and Carole with the Latin Whatchamacallits’ Feeling The Pain. One of the very few female-lead New York Latin albums of that era, the LP itself offered no details of who Dianne and Carole were (not even their last names) nor who played on it. Marin is credited for some of the songwriting but even he doesn’t remember working on it or who else may have. Subsequent interviews with other Speed artists yielded no other details either. Given that the LP cover was a close-up of an eyeball (the first three Speed LPs were all fairly abstract in their cover art), we don’t know what they looked like. Regardless, “The Fuzz” off that LP has become its best known single; a slinky Latin soul number with vibrant organ and horns.

    Like Dianne and Carole, the Moon People were no less mysterious - or, at least, strange. Though not completely identical, their Land of Love album was essentially an instrumental variation on the Latin Blues Band's album - Morty Craft produced them as well and Louie Ramirez wrote the arrangements. The “Moon People/Los Astronautas” moniker was a Marin invention, reflecting the underlying sense of humor amongst Speed’s principals. The album sounded like a subtly, Latin-flavored version of any number of pop instrumental/exploitation albums, especially with covers of such hits as the Turtles’ “Happy Together,” Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Going Out of My Head” and The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.” The album’s most distinctive songs would be the originals, including “Monty’s Harem,” built around a catchy mod-groove. 

    In Part 2, we’ll look at the next four releases on Speed, all from young, up-and-coming bandleaders. In Part 3, we’ll talk about the label’s singles, latter day projects, and the missing-in-action recordings.

    "I'll Be a Happy Man"

    "The Fuzz"

    "The Harem"

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

posted by O.W.

Johnny Rivera and the Tequila Brass: Johnny on the Warpath
Boogaloo Que La Traigo
From S/T (Cotique, 1967)

Johnny Rivera and the Tequila Brass: Run, Run, Run
Light My Fire
From Up, Up and Away (Cotique, 1968)

(Editor's Note: Super Sonido is one of my favorite new blogs to hit the interweb. Excellent, in-depth posts about kick ass Latin music most of you will never hear outside of a plane ticket down south. Me and Sonido Franko decided to swap a pair of posts. Here's his... -O.W.)

It isn’t any wonder that in late 1990’s I started harvesting a deep appreciation for the Latin boogaloo. I already had a good sized soul, jazz, and Latin jazz collection by then. So a cross-over music like the boogaloo, which fused these similar genres together, drove me to a fascination with hybrid music that pretty much lasts to this day.

By the mid-60’s Latin music in the US was losing its popularity that it had garnered from the mambo era onward. Rock, doo-wop, R & B, and The Beatles had pretty much taken over the Anglo youth market. And what emerged was the very short lived boogaloo craze. One the one hand you can almost look at this genre as a really good marketing ploy. However, this association doesn’t stick all the time. Musically, there are no absolute definitions for the boogaloo, since it was drawing for a myriad assortment of sounds. And it is my belief that it was just the younger Latinos of the time who were carving out something unique in 60’s urban US. Like mambo in the swing era to reggaeton in the hip-hop era. Boogaloo in essence was the music as Latin American identity of its brief epoch.

When I purchased Up, Up, and Away on Ebay in the late 90’s I was surprised to actually get an email from Johnny Rivera himself. We corresponded for a while, but I unfortunately lost his email in one of the many computers I have burned through since then. If I remember correctly his boogaloo days lasted as long as the genre itself. He indicated that he spent the rest of his days as the conductor for the Statue of Liberty Army Band or something like that. Why did Johnny Rivera contact me in the first place? He wanted to know why I would have paid so much for his record. I’ll let the music be the answer to that question.

--Sonido Franko

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

posted by O.W.

Joe Bataan: Subway Joe
Joe Bataan: The Bottle (snippet)
Joe Bataan: Puerto Rico Me Llama (snippet)
All from King of Latin Soul (Vampisoul, 2009)

A few months back, Joe mentioned that he was working on some new projects, including an album with the Barcelona band, Los Fulanos. The album is finally here - King of Latin Soul and like Joe's last album, Call My Name, it's coming out on the Spanish label, Vampisoul.

(Contrary to rumor, this new album was not recorded with the same folks who worked on Call My Name).

The album are all updated versions of Joe's classic catalog, spanning from his boogaloo years ("Subway Joe", "Gipsy [sic] Woman" and "It's a Good Feeling" to some of his straight up Latin jams ("Puerto Rico Me Llama"), salsoul era material ("The Bottle"), ballads ("The Prayer"), even an update on "Rap-O Clap-O 2008."

Take a peek and let us know what you think.

(By the way, I think it should get American distribution in a matter of weeks).

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 15, 2009

posted by O.W.

Update (2/17): I wrote a short piece for on Cuba's music, including a five song playlist of some of his key recordings. Check it out here.

Update (2/17): (from Beto) "Joe Cuba will be viewed at the R&G Ortiz Funeral Home.

Wednesday & Thursday, February 18th & 19th from 2 to 10 p.m.

A funeral mass service will be held Friday morning at 11 a.m. at St. Paul's
Church located @ 213 E. 117th Street, between Park & Lexington."

This one really hurts; Joe Cuba is one of the main reasons I ever developed an interest in Latin boogaloo and now he's gone.

Cuba had a tremendous career in the New York Latin scene, easily one of the most important figures in the post-mambo era as both one of the pioneers in Latin soul and boogaloo and then transitioning into the salsa era.

I had been meaning to do a post on the "best of" Joe Cuba and I'll try to get that in gear sometime this week. In the meantime, enjoy this:

Joe Cuba: Hey Joe
From My Man Speedy (Tico, 1967)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 09, 2008

posted by O.W.

I recorded this mix for back in June and is now available on their website archive. I originally created it as a promo mix for Deep Covers 2 (though the timing was off since Dublab was back-logged over the summer). Still, I put in a nice selection of different cover songs here - some you've heard, some you haven't. Here's the tracklisting:
    Simply Red - I Know You Got Soul - You’ve Got It - WEA

    James Brown: Your Cheatin’ Heart - Soul On Top - King

    Jimmy McGriff - Ain’t It Funky Now - SOul Sugar - Groove Merchant

    Bo Diddley - Bad Side of the Moon - Another Dimension - Chess

    The Gimmicks - California Soul - Em Las Brisas - Swedisc

    Klaus Wunderlich - Summertime - Hammond Fur Millionen - Telefunken

    The Professionals - Theme From Godfather - On Tour - CES

    Dutch Rhythm Steel and Show Band - Down By the River - Soul, Steel and Show - Negram

    Byron Lee and the Dragonaires - Express Yourself - Reggay Splashdown! - Dynamic

    Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band - Movin’ On Up - Live at the Haunted House - Rhino Handmade

    Hielo Ardiente - Mensaje (The Message) - Ritmo Ardiente - Dicesa

    Al Escobar - Tighten Up - The Modern SOunds of Al Escobar - Tico

    El Freddy Flaco - K-Jee - La Fiesta Vol. 2 - FTA

    Manny Bolone and His Latin Boys - Micaela - Boogaloo - Boogaloo

    Conjunto Universal - Que Se Sepa - Que Se Sepa - Velvet

    Enrique Lynch - Viva Tirado - Sexympacto - Sono Radio

    Wganda Kenya - El Abanico - COmo Se Hace Ah - Fuentes

    Alton Ellis - What Does It Take To Win Your Love - Sunday Coming - Coxsone

    Sparrow’s Troubadours - Soulful Strut - Hot and Sweet - Hilary

    Joe Bataan - More Love - Singin’ Some Soul - Fania

    Margie Joseph - Let’s Stay Together - S/T - Atlantic

    Rhetta Hughes - Light My Fire - Re-Light My Fire - Tetragammon

    West Coast Revival - Feelin’ Alright - S/T - LAX

    Hodges, James, Smith and Crawford - Nobody - 7″ - Mpingo

    El Alamo - Candy - Malos Pensamientos - Decibel

    Donovan Carless - Be Thankful FOr What You Got - 7″ - Impact

    Nancy Holloway - Never Can Say GOodbye - 7″ - N/A

    Mark Holder - Sweet Caroline - Where THere’s a Will, There’s a Way - Deriva
And just because I wanted to be a good egg - I created a downloadable version of the mix, split into individual tracks (but no IDs written; I'm lazy - deal).

Enjoy! Hopefully I'll be rolling back to Dublab to do another mix soon.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 06, 2008

posted by O.W.

I was on WNYC's Soundcheck earlier today, talking about boogaloo since my essay on it for The Nation was included in this year's Best Music Writing 2008. Peep.

For those in Los Angeles, I'll be reading from the essay this Friday, at Skylight Books in Los Feliz.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

posted by O.W.

Someone recently wrote to ask: "You've eluded[sic] to a few of your [Latin music] favourites a couple of times, I was hoping you'd share more of your all time best with us."

That seemed like a perfectly fair request so I set out to think how I'd approach answering it. For one thing, I've actually posted up a few of them over the years and I went back to a few old posts and reattached missing sound files. That will get you these three basic - but essential - Latin dance tunes:

  • Joe Cuba: Bang Bang
  • Ray Barretto: Acid
  • Willie Colon: La Murga

    As noted - these are basic insofar as they're well-known but not having them in your crate is like professing a love for funk and having no James Brown.

    I had also written about these next two songs in the past but by past, I mean as far back as four, even five years ago and I thought it was worth coming back to them here, just to refresh people's memories.

    Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound: Que Se Sepa
    From 5 (Fania, 1975)

    Quite possibly my favorite Latin track ever. It's such an amazing mix of styles here, opening with that fantastically funky rhythm before shifting into a stripped down rumba which then turns into an incredible guaguanco section. This is as pure a dancefloor track as you could wish for. Not surprisingly, of all of Roena's many songs (and he has a ton), this is probably his best known by far.

    Mauricio Smith: Viva Guajira
    From Bitter Acid (Mainstream, 1967)

    I'd put this up as one of the best produced Latin albums Joe Cain ever laid hands on (and that's saying a lot given Cain's track record). It's not often you see a saxophonist heading up a Latin album but Mauricio Smith does excellent work here, especially on "Viva Guajira" which is one of the more upbeat and joyful guajiras you're likely to lay ears on. The way this song opens - with the piano progression and antiphonal chicken-scratch guitars - never grows old for me.

    Ok, onward to songs not previously spoken about...

    Monguito Santamaria: Groovetime
    From Hey Sister (Fania, 1968)

    I'm genuinely amazed I never put this on Soul Sides before; must have been my oversight in thinking I already had. This was probably the song that got me interested in boogaloo and hence, Latin music writ large. It's that bassline - it'd catch your attention in any genre - and the the swing and swagger of Monguito on here sells how deliciously groovy and funky the whole affair is. Monguito was Mongo's son though he never came close to enjoying the same popularity. He could, at least, lay claim to being one of Fania's best boogaloo artists during the era and the way he pulls "Groovetime" together suggests why.

    One more boogaloo banger:

    Orchestra Harlow: Freak Off
    From El Exigente (Fania, 1967)

    Larry Harlow has to be one of the most interesting players in the New York Latin scene. He was hardly the only Jewish player in the mix but he was the most visible bandleader and overall talent. Heck, his nickname was "El Judio Maravilloso," (the marvelous Jew). Harlow's catalog in the '60s/'70s era runs deep but despite an impressive catalog of songs, you'd be hard pressed to find one more incredible than "Freak Off." I was trying to think of boogaloo songs with this level of energy and outside of some of Ray Barretto's material, I'm not sure there is one.

    Fruko Y Sus Tesos: Confundido
    From El Grande (Fuentes, 1975). Also on Grandes Exitos de Salsa Vol. 2

    My fondness for Fruko's Colombian take on salsa is well-known and there's no way I could come up with a list of my favorite Latin tracks and not have him on here at least once. I cycle through which song of his I'm into the most at any given time and this isn't necessarily the best song in terms of the vocals but for musical content, "Confundido" kills with that powerful, rolling piano riff that opens the song (that and the brass section which lights up the track too).

    Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos: Descarga Maracaibo
    From La Paila (Lider, 196?)

    The last track I'll include here is from one of the bigger names in Peruvian Latin music and while this more of a "listening" cut than something to blow up the dancefloor, I'm feeling how it begins with its folksy vocals that then give into this nimble guitar treatment that's brisk without being overpowering. These days, this is the kind of Latin that I've found most appealing. Hope you do too.

    Labels: ,

  • Monday, September 08, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Common feat. Bilal: Play Your Cards Right
    From Smokin' Aces soundtrack (Lakeshore, 2007)

    Joe Bataan: Under the Street Lamp
    Available on Under the Streetlamps: The Joe Bataan Anthology 1967 - 1972 (Fania/Emusica, 2008)

    Joe Bataan was just here in Los Angeles the last week or so (and I feel stupid for not posting up links to his performances) and we caught up twice during that time, including one meeting where he broke down the entire history behind "Rap-O, Clap-O". Fascinating stuff and I'll have to try to write that up sometime.

    Anyways, the other time we met, he was asking me if I knew anything about this Common song that sampled one of his songs. Joe had gotten a check for the clearance but hadn't heard the actual use of the song yet. Not having really followed the sampling game that closely of late, I couldn't think of anything off the top so we sat down and googled it and sure enough, it was Common's "Play Your Cards Right" from last year's Smokin' Aces soundtrack. And once you hear it, it's plain as day that producer Kareem Riggins had looped up Joe's great "Under the Street Lamp" (from his Singin' Some Soul album originally). (Joe got a kick out of hearing his song sampled).

    He was also gracious enough to sign a copy of his anthology that I did the liner notes for and I'm going to give this away to one lucky (and informed) reader.

    To be eligible, send an email to soulsides AT with the subject line "Joe Bataan giveaway." You need to answer the following:
      1) What Latin producer of Alegre fame did Joe Bataan record with prior to signing with Fania?

      2) How many original albums (not including compilations or reissued content) did Joe record for Fania (this is a trick question of sorts so think it through carefully)?

      3) Some of Joe's most successful songs have been covers: "Gypsy Woman, "Shaft," "The Bottle." Name the original artists behind these other Joe Bataan songs:
      a. "It's a Good Feeling (Riot)"
      b. "I'm No Stranger"
      c. "Make Me Smile"

      4) What Ismael Miranda boogaloo mash-up/cover of "Tighten Up" does Joe Bataan make a cameo on? Name the song and album.

      5) What pseudonym did Joe take on when he recorded for Bobby Marin's Dynamite label?

      6) Two different songs that Joe recorded earlier in his career ended up re-released on later albums in their intact (i.e. non-rerecorded) form. One was "Ordinary Guy" - the same version appears on both Riot and Singin' Some Soul. What is the other song and which two albums did it appear on?

      7) What classic from Joe's repertoire appears on his Salsoul album, but with a different name?

      8) What's different about the 7" version of "Woman Don't Want to Love Me" compared to the LP version from Afrofilipino (be specific)?

      9) What old school rap duo was supposed to appear on "Rap-O, Clap-O" instead of Joe rapping himself?

      10) What martial art are Joe's children all masters of?
    I'll select a winner at random from those with the most correct answers. Deadline: next Monday.

    I also have a second (unsigned) copy of the anthology to give away, randomly, to those who buy Deep Covers 2 in the next week. (Physical CD orders only, digital downloads don't apply, sorry).

    Labels: , , , , ,

    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Joe Bataan: Gypsy Woman (original, Futura version) + Latin Soul Square Dance
    From Under the Streetlamps: 1967-1972 (Fania, 2008)

    I'm very, very proud to announce the new Fania anthology focused on the work of Joe Bataan, Under the Streetlamps. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the liner notes for the compilation - you can read a teaser here - and as always, it was a pleasure to rap with Joe but also my first opportunity to speak with the great Bobby Marin as well.

    I've, er, waxed poetic about Joe on numerous occasions, especially here, so I won't add a great deal (though look for my Side Dishes post this week to go over some of the basics). I do want to bring attention to the two songs above though, both of which are important inclusions on the anthology. The "Gypsy Woman" version here is quite a find since it's never been released previously and very few people have ever heard it before. Futura was Al Santiago's (Alegre) short-lived label and a truly missed opportunity since Santiago recorded both Joe and Willie Colon at a time when no one in the Latin music world had really heard of them but he never capitalized on their potential. This version of "Gypsy Woman" is markedly different from the Fania version; it's quite slower which gives it a very different feel. Maybe it's just familiarity but I think the eventual version is better than this early attempt but just for history's sake, it's cool to hear the first try.

    "Latin Soul Square Dance" comes from the opposite end of Joe's Fania career. This was never released as a commercial single (just promo only) and it's from Joe's "lost" Live From San Frantasia album from which the masters are still MIA and may never be found. It would have come out had Joe not finally stepped off of Fania (with whom he was having issues with at the time) and went on to help found Salsoul Records with the Cayre Bros. Again, a really cool track to include since so few people have ever heard it. Enjoy!

    Labels: , ,

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Louie Ramirez: The New Breed
    From In the Heart of Spanish Harlem (Mercury, 1967)

    The Latin Blues Band: Oye Mi Guaguanco
    From Take a Trip Pussycat (Speed, 1968)

    Dianne & Carole: The Fuzz
    From Feeling the Pain (Speed, 1968)

    Kako and His Orchestra: Shingaling Shingaling
    From Live It Up (Musicor, 1968)

    Jose "Cheo" Feliciano: Esto Es El Guaguanco
    From Cheo (Vaya, 1971)

    La Crema: Cisco Kid
    From El Party Con La Crema (WS Latino, 1973)

    Bonus: Beatfanatic: Cookin'
    From Adventures in the World of No-Fi Beats (Raw Fusion, 2006)

    My most recent Side Dishes was on Latin arranger/composer/musician Louie Ramirez and the recommended Louie's Grooves anthology. I've been wanting to write something on Ramirez for a while and though the Side Dishes post allowed me to riff on some of his work, as the comp's liner notes acknowledge, it just brushes the surface of how deep his catalog can run. I'd suggest folks read that post first and then come back here.

    My pick six for Ramirez focuses mostly on albums not already covered by Louie's Grooves, beginning with arguably the easiest of his solo albums to acquire: In the Heart of Spanish Harlem. This was recorded for Mercury; I find that interesting since Mercury didn't have a ton of Latin recordings (that I know of) on the label but I suspect it may have had something to do with producer Richard Marin who was doing some A&R work for labels like Mercury and Verve at the time. Marin's brother Bobby - another Latin soul giant and fellow composer - is on this album as well; he was a frequent collaborator with Ramirez and it's not at all unusual to see them on the same projects together. In fact, for this album, Bobby appears on the cover photo alongside Richard and Louie

    I was always struck at how Ramirez was able to work on so many different labels at the same time; not long after that Mercury album, he must have been working with Fania on the Ali Baba LP (several of the songs from that rare title are on Louie's Grooves and then he was also working for Morty Craft's Speed imprint. I wrote about The Latin Blues Band for the Happy Soul Suite piece and I enjoy revisiting it - any Latin album that has Bernard Purdie as your studio drummer is bound to be rather interesting though instead of the funkier fare I could have nodded to, I went with "Oye Mi Guaguanco," a solid piece of classic Cuban style by Ramirez, feat. (I think) Luis Aviles on vocals.

    Like the Latin Blues Band, the Dianne and Carole album was also on Speed. Speed packed, in my opinion, the biggest bang for the buck - their catalog wasn't more than a dozen titles or so but what was there was almost all exceptional. This Dianne and Carole album is especially notably since it had one of the few examples of female singers heading a Latin soul album (La Lupe excepted of course). There's very little known about the two singers - their surnames aren't even credited on the album! In any case, "The Fuzz" leads side 2, where 4/5 of the songs are arranged by Ramirez and I suspect that most of the same players from the Latin Blues Band played on here as well.

    Not long thereafter, Ramirez was also helping compose, play on (and possible arrange?) for the great Puerto Rican bandleader Kako and his Live It Up album on Musicor. Personally, I've never figured out what separates a shingaling from a boogaloo and "Shingaling Shingaling" certainly displays many of the stylistic characteristics of both. I'm feeling this - and the whole LP is exceptional.

    Ramirez was multi-talented as a musician - known to rock both the timbales and vibes - and I wanted to include an example of the latter by including one of his salsa era performances, playing vibes on Cheo Feliciano's classic "Esto Es El Guaguanco." He's a big reason the opening is so memorable and Ramirez comes back to solo towards the second half of the song.

    Last in the pick six is this cool lil cover of "Cisco Kid" that Ramirez arranged for the La Crema album, a one-off project that involved him, Bobby Marin and some other familiar folks but in the Latin funk era of the 1970s.

    Bonus: As for "Cookin'", that might have been the first time I "heard" any Louie Ramirez song since it liberally borrows from "The New Breed." Slammin' Latin club cut - trust me on this one.

    Labels: ,

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    posted by Captain Planet

    bailando.JPG vaya.JPG exciting.JPG

    La Playa Sextet : Hong Kong, Hunca Munca, Olaya & El Chico Boogaloo
    taken from the album
    Bailando El Boogaloo on Musicor (1967)

    La Playa Sextet : Le-Lo-Lai & Sugar's Delight
    taken from the album
    Vaya Means Go! on United Artists (196?)

    La Playa Sextet : Coco Seco/Anabacca & Mambo Inn
    taken from the album
    The Exciting New La Playa Sound
    on United Artists (196?)

    I felt inspired to give
    La Playa (even THEY have a myspace page!) their due respect for several reasons. The first is selfish: I've been carrying these records in my crate consistently, week-in week-out, for probably a year now, and before I wear out the grooves on my favorite tunes, I wanted to retire the vinyl properly and let the music itself live on forever in digitally-preserved mp3/serato heaven. The second reason is because I'd also like to start doing a regular feature on somewhat overlooked latin groups. "Dura Obscura" or something like that. If I highlight a big name artist like Tito Puente or Eddie Palmieri, I'll pick out something that is a bit lesser-known from their catalogue. La Playa seemed like as good a place as any to start. Chronologically, they rose to popularity on the Latin tidal wave that crashed in 1968 with the death of the Boogaloo and the subsequent birth of "Salsa" superpower Fania. Cha-cha, Charanga, Mambo, Bomba, Bolero all got branded conveniently under one banner, and La Playa somehow didn't make the grade.

    Most of what little I know about La Playa I picked up
    here and here. But without knowing about all the players and particulars, one of the major aspects of the group's sound that stood out to me from the start, and caused me to seek out other titles, is the killer electric guitar playing by Payo Alicea. Beyond simply taking over the montuno parts traditionally played on piano, Payo really steered the sound of the group in a latin-rock direction (pre-Santana). "Hunca Munca" has that classic bluesy rock progression that sounds pretty dated today (maybe even tacky to some), but back then I imagine this was some pretty progressive stuff. I'm not sure what happened to the group after "Bailando.." was released, but their music is still heating up dancefloors here in Brooklyn on a weekly basis.

    Labels: , ,

    Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    As noted, I went to go see Joe Bataan play the Crazy Horse in West Covina. It was cool insofar as there were a lot of older, hardcore fans of his who rolled through and that's always great to see. But for once, I'd like to see him play a venue where the average age isn't 42 - he deserves a wider audience but so far, promoters out here in Los Angeles seem to only book him in places where things skew considerably older. If someone wants to help me work on this, holler.

    A small, unexpected, very pleasant surprise: at the beginning of the show, Joe came into the audience and was handing out photocopies of this. It reminds me: I really should scan the original in since the issue is sold out.

    In the meantime, enjoy these:


    Labels: , ,

    Friday, May 02, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    First off, for my Angelinos, Joe Bataan is playing at the Crazy Horse in West Covina on Sunday. See you there!

    I recently finished up a set of liner notes for an upcoming anthology on Joe's rich recording catalog for the Fania label. As folks probably know, I'm a huge fan of Joe and it's been a genuine honor to be able to interview him over the years and bring attention to his remarkable career.

    This post is part of the boogaloo series (and I'll do some more closer to the date the comp drops) but was really inspired by what is Joe's best-known song, "Ordinary Guy." It's not just a fan favorite - he's recorded it five times (and released it six) - but it's also a song integral to his own sense of self; he may be a star but in his own mind, he's still just a regular Joe (you saw that coming, right?) From the man himself: "While in prison, we did a lot of experimenting with songs. I had first heard the title “Ordinary Guy” in prison in Coxsackie, so I eventually rewrote the words, came back home, put ‘em to music. The song makes me cry sometimes when I see the reaction of people. In New York, it is so popular. People just love that song, and I guess the words mean a lot. “Hey, I’m just an ordinary guy, don’t expect anything else. That’s me” and I’ve always been that way. Having sung the song and how I have endeared a lot of people, how they felt about it, only influenced me more [to] give more of my heart than almost any other song. It describes me."


    Joe Bataan: Ordinary Guy
    From Gypsy Woman (Fania, 1967)

    The original version of "Ordinary Guy" was recorded for Gypsy Woman, Joe's debut album for Fania. He and his band, the Latin Swingers, recorded the album in one single studio session, a relatively unusual practice. By the end of the day, Joe had this - his last song - left to record but his voice was starting to give out. Session engineer (and Fania co-founder) Johnny Pacheco asked, "'Don’t you want to come back tomorrow?’ and I said no," said Joe. "Actually, my fear was that they were going to change their mind and not use it." So, even with his voice at the point of breaking, they recorded this and completed the entire album that day.

    Ordinary Guy
    From 7" (Fania, 1967)

    For reasons not entirely clear, Fania decided to re-record the song to release on single. For the most part, this 7" version isn't wildly different from the LP except that Fania brought in pianist Richard Tee. Tee changes the opening to the song, giving it a stronger presence, especially with a striking arrangement that sounds very much like the beginning of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Precious Love." This is probably my favorite version of the song, precisely for that intro which gives the tune such a rich, soulful feel to it. (Thanks to Reynaldo for digitizing).

    Interestingly, at the Crazy Horse show, when Joe sang "Ordinary Guy", he opened it with that same Tee melody.
    Ordinary Guy
    From Riot! (Fania, 1968)

    By Joe's third album, the gold-selling Riot!, Fania convinced him to record the song again, but this time with a dramatic makeover as the song was given a new arrangement by Broadway's Harold Wheeler. Joe admits, "I didn't particularly like it...I love it now but at the time, I just thought he was altering my music because he gave it this jazzy feel. It had to grow on me because I thought it was too fast." This new version, in my opinion, is lovely and a great change-up from the original. Wheeler adds in some vibes, speeds up the tempo a bit, and has Joe open with some soaring vocals and well-timed drum hits.

    It's worth noting, Fania put this same recording - albeit longer by a few seconds - onto Joe's Singin' Some Soul album. I'm guessing it's because they thought it'd fit well with the concept of that album. That would be the last time Joe recorded "Ordinary Guy" for Fania.

    Muchacho Ordinario
    From Salsoul (Mericana, 1973)

    The next incarnation of the song is perhaps the most unique: a Spanish-language version that appeared on Joe's first post-Fania album, Salsoul. The arrangement is completely different too - here, the song isn't really in the R&B vein, it's much more like a son montuno. Bueno!

    Ordinary Guy
    From Afrofilipino (Salsoul, 1975)

    The final version of the song came on the next album, Afrofilipino. This is a version I know a lot of Soul Sides folks are familiar with - I comped it for Soul Sides Vol. 1. I like to think of it as a bridge version between the Latin-fied flavor of "Muchacho Ordinario" and the more R&B stylings of the earlier versions. The song is more in a soul vein in the beginning but at the end, he yells, "salsa!" and the ballad then transforms into a whirling dance tune.

    Labels: , , ,

    Monday, March 31, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Pete Rodriguez: Micaela
    From I Like It Like That (Alegre, 1967)

    Pedrito Ramirez y su Combo: Micaela
    From 7" (Popo, 196?)

    Los Cinco De Oro: Micaela
    From 7" (Philips, 196?)

    Tone Done's Hollywood Quintent: Micaela
    From 7" (Vance, 196?)

    As promised, here's the first in hopefully many boogaloo-themed posts in honor of the new Soul Sides Boxset #2.

    In general, I've found that Latin soul/boogaloo songs are not always given to covers very well. I'm still not sure why this is - whether it's a failing on the groups covering or something inherent to the genre but, for example, covers of Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang" never sound as good as the original (in contrast, "El Pito" seems to go over better). However, it dawned on me recently that there's another boogaloo classic that might disprove my casual theory: Pete Rodriguez's "Micaela." Not only is the song well-covered - possibly the most of his several hits - but many of the other versions are done competently, often on par with the original. I think that says something important about said original: that it's one of those magical songs that lends itself to multiple permutations, all of which excel simply be referencing back to the original (for another example, see variations on Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" - a song that can be covered any which way and still sound great).

    I genuinely love this song and how it sounds and have made it a pet project to track down other versions of "Micaela" in hopes of finding yet another charmer. I have to admit though, until very recently, I barely understood it since my Spanish lexicon is limited to, um, counting 1-10 and ordering from taco trucks. That great if I ever need to order "dos tacos, carne asada," not so good for deciphering even basic songwriting en español.


    Luckily, I had some friends help me out and what they came up with is a translation that suggests that Rodriguez was singing about how Micaela blew him away on the dancefloor, which seems apropos for a boogaloo song. If someone has a more elaborate translation, feel free to share in the comments.

    In any case, I start with Rodriguez's original, featured on his best-selling I Like It Like That LP for Alegre. The "ooh aah" intro is just a touch too forced but it's all about that piano montuno. Hands-down, one of the best riffs of its kind in Latin. (I'm curious if it has an antecedent...songwriters borrowed from each other all the time in this era). And then there's the hook, "ay ay ay, Micaela se boto" - so catchy.

    The Pedrito Ramirez y su Combo version is out of the Bay Area of all places, making it one of the rare West Coast Latin boogaloo cuts I know of (see below). I really like this version - it's livelier and brighter, especially with the addition of the piccolo and greater use of coro-pregón (call-and-response). You can also hear the obvious Joe Cuba influence with the "ah ha, beep beep" chorus that opens. A great party cut and one that I play out at Boogaloo[L.A.] with much pleasure. If you like it, the one dealer I know who has copies is selling one now.

    The Los Cinco De Oro version comes from PeruColombia and is notable for at least two reasons: one, it feels much faster than the original. Had I not known better, I would have thought it was a 33 record that I accidentally put in 45 but nope, it's supposed to be that fast. Second, it's a very stripped down version: all piano and hand-claps and that's practically it (save for a lil flute)! I made the mistake of playing this out at the club only to remember: oh yeah, there's no low end to this at all. Can't say this is my favorite but even sped-up, stripped down, with no bass...the song is still catchy.

    Lastly, we come to what may be my favorite version and - damn - wouldn't you know, it's also the rarest of the batch? Let's give credit where it's due: I first read/heard this at Office Naps, which included it as part of their West Coast boogaloo series. It's an L.A. record in fact, but one that is uber-obscure and thus, this sound file is likely the closest I'm going to come to it.

    What I like about it is how it's also stripped down but not as sparsely as the Los Cinco version - instead, Done's Quintet keeps it to piano and some percussion and really, the song doesn't need any more than that essence. The Ramirez is more lively but Done's just nails what I think is the essence of the song.

    By the way, congrats to Asid and Dan who won the Truth and Soul/Fallin' Off the Reel Vol. 2 contest.

    The correct answer to the mini-mix selection was: Tom Scott ("Today"), Sylvia Striplin ("You Can't Turn Me Away"), Wild Sugar ("Bring It Here") and the one that caught most folks: S.O.U.L. ("Peace of Mind"). Get familiar!

    Labels: , ,

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    It took a while but the second Soul Sides boxset is finally available. The first one was an in-depth look at Aretha Franklin and this latest tackles one of my favorite genres: Latin boogaloo.

    Included are a full, downloaable playlist of songs, a selection of compilations, a small set of videos and recommended other reading. All annotated in an edutainment tradition by yours truly. Now that this boxset is finally launched, I'll use it as an excuse to get back to a few boogaloo themed posts here on Soul Sides.

    What I need from ya'll is to help support the Boxset series by posting comments there (not here!). The more interactivity I can generate, the more I can justify my future work for Uber on the Boxset series.

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    I have my first piece for The Nation available on newsstands now: "Boogaloo Nights," looking at - you guessed it - Latin boogaloo in all its splendor. This essay serves as a primer on not just boogaloo's history but its import in understanding the intertwined complexity of American cultural exchange.

    A few "additions" - mostly things that were cut from the article for space. First of all, I tried, in the original drafts of the piece, to acknowledge the immense contribution to the public knowledge about boogaloo thanks to Juan Flores and the late Max Salazar. Much of my historical retelling of boogaloo depended on their research and I didn't realize the final copy had excised my attempt to credit them as such.

    Second, the article tends to focus on Fania as a "bad guy" figure in the death of boogaloo and that's probably largely earned but what's missing is how ironic it is that Fania (or really, Emusica) is taking such a leading role in reviving the genre. I think that's a fascinating story in and of itself but I wasn't able to get that deep into it here. Moreover, I also want to note that Fania is far, far, far from the only label in town in regards to the boogaloo. It was arguably the biggest player but one of many.

    Third, a note on the piece, I refer to the Latin boogaloo as bugalú as a form of shorthand so I don't confuse people between the R&B boogaloo and the Latin boogaloo. This said, on most Latin records, boogaloo is spelled "boogaloo," not bugalú.

    Fourth, and this actually very important and something raised by someone in the comments: the piece is based around the idea of boogaloo being a cross-cultural bridge, between Latin America and African America but I couch it, at times, in the language of "Brown and Black" and I realize this is a faulty shorthand. After all, the notion of race within Latino communities is much more complex than a label like "Brown." The primary personnel behind the boogaloo revolution - Puerto Ricans - can be Black, Brown or White if we're talking about skin tone and so it's not that useful to deploy "Brown" as a catch-all category.

    I also wrote a sidebar on five boogaloo compilations worth picking up for the neophyte.

    Fear not, much more on boogaloo to come. I've been asked - and gratefully accepted - the opportunity to write liner notes for an upcoming anthology of Joe Bataan's Fania output that will be coming out around April.

    Labels: , ,

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    posted by O.W.

    Latin Blues Band: I'll Be a Happy Man
    From Take a Trip Pussycat (Speed, 196?). Also on Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo Vol. 1

    Willy Baby: Hot Buns
    From 7" (Ding Dong, 196/7?). Also on Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo Vol. 2

    Bruce Cloud: Soul Mambo
    From 7" (Motif, 196/7?). Also on Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo Vol. 3

    This isn't letting the cat out of the bag, but volume 2 of the Soul Sides Boxsets series will be boogaloo-themed. That's probably overdue on my part - I've done a few boogaloo-themed posts in the past, including a few podcast-style, but considering that it's one of those genres that I've focused an intense amount of attention on, that interest isn't necessarily reflected on this site. That's why I wanted to do a huge post on it for Uber but even then, it won't cover everything (btw, it should go live in early January).

    In the meantime, I wanted to fill people in on a few titles worth checking out, especially this intriguing "Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo" series that came out earlier this year. Unfortunately, it's vinyl only which won't help non-turntabled folks but for any DJ with an inkling of interest in Latin soul/boogaloo, the entire series is highly recommended. I got mine through Dusty Groove but it looks like they're out right now - but I think Andale has them.

    The deal with the BOBOB series is that most of the songs on here do NOT come from the usual suspects, i.e. Tico, Cotique, Alegre or Fania. Instead, they draw mostly on the smaller Speed label, one of those boutique Latin labels that collectors jones for. (The series claims to have titles from Ghetto Records, Joe Bataan's one-time project, but it's just one song (by Joe Acosta) so I consider the claim to be a bit suspect. There are, however, many songs not on Speed or the major Latin imprints, but these obscure one-offs (the Cloud 45, for example, is a $500+ piece). The series does repeat artists often - usually milking two songs off a single LP in order to stretch things out but the quality, overall, is very, very good, especially for beginning boogaloo fans.

    "I'll Be a Happy Man" is an interesting cut insofar as the Latin Blues Band uses the identical backing track as two other Latin titles: the Moon People's "Hippy Skippy Moon Strut" and Dave Cortez's "Happy Soul With a Hook." Out of the batch, if you like vocals, this Latin Blues Band is the version you want (if you prefer an instrumental, then the Moon People track is pretty appears on Vol. 1 as well).

    "Soul Mambo" is a slick, classic-style boogaloo though, from what I understand, the track is also a hit in Northern Soul circles. Can't say I know much about Bruce Cloud at all but had this appeared on, say, a Cotique album, I wouldn't have blinked an eye; it just sounds so "of that era."

    "Hot Buns" by Willy Baby (another artist I know nothing about) is in Spanish, making me wonder if it originated in Puerto Rico though the sound is incredibly New York. The track is very raucous and the prominence of the guitar is unusual and a welcome surprise.

    All in all, the entire BOBOB series is nicely assembled; reminds me of those great Latin soul comps that came out on the UK's Harmless back in the early '00s (but have gone out of print since). Keep 'em coming....


    Monday, June 18, 2007

    DJ Rumor: Fania Live 01
    posted by O.W.

    DJ Rumor: Fania Live 01: From The Meat Market (Fania, 2007)
    The beautiful thing about having a love affair with music is that no matter how many good songs you already know, you can always be humbled by the infinite number of great songs you don't know. Case in point: this mix commissioned by Fania (or Emusica), mixed by DJ Rumor includes a bevy of kick ass Latin dance songs, many of which I already knew but a few I had never heard before and a few that I just plain slept on. The Joe Cuba Sextet's "Gimme Some Love" is a perfect example: I never picked up My Man Speedy before so I never heard this tune but once this boogaloo shifts midway through to bring in some classic piano vamps, I was hooked. Likewise, Acid is possibly my favorite Latin album ever...but I usually skipped past "Teacher of Love" and failed to appreciate how it was yet another excellent Latin soul cooker from Barretto (whose catalog only gets better to me with age). And likewise, I had heard "Pata Pata" before but never really listened to it, if you know what I mean.

    And just in general, I love the idea behind this mix series especially since it's not purely Fania-oriented but can include many of the other Latin labels that Fania has swallowed up over the years like Tico and Alegre. Definitely looking forward to the next volume.

    Labels: ,

    Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    Ricardo Ray: Back to the Boogaloo
    posted by O.W.

    Ricardo Ray: Danzon Bugaloo + Lookie Lookie
    From Se Soltó/On the Loose (Alegre, 1966)

    It's been a while since I wrote anything about the boogaloo but I've recently been researching it again for a paper I'm presenting in April. In the process of doing that, I realized that I had totally slept on one of the best resources ever written in regards to boogaloo history: Juan Flores' "Cha Cha With a Backbeat" which appears in his 2000 book on Puerto Rican American culture, From Bomba to Hip-Hop. I cannot overstate this: the essay is excellent and is a must-read for anyone with an abiding interest in the history of boogaloo.

    What's funny is that, in doing my own research, I ended up simply duplicating the work Flores had already done (just goes to show - it pays to read up on other people's work before embarking on your own sometimes), namely in identifying the "first" boogaloo song as coming off this Ricardo Ray album from 1966.

    Technically speaking, this is probably the first song labeled as a boogaloo but that doesn't mean that it's the first boogaloo song in terms of style. As Flores also notes, there's no shortage of antecedents to the boogaloo from the worlds of cha cha and guajiras and other proto-Latin soul styles. However, Ray was the first artist - it seems - to have consciously labeled what he was doing as a new Latin dance/rhythm known as "bugaloo" (interestingly, some people would go on to spell it "bugalu" or "boogaloo" but Ray's contraction of the two seems relatively unique.

    What's interesting about "Danzon Bugaloo" is how it doesn't quite conform to the musical "norms" we associate with boogaloo but perhaps that's the "danzon" influence. It may also be the fact that the song is a cover of "Whipped Cream" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. You have to admit there is a deep, rich web of connections when a White musician trying to capture the sound of Mexico at the border would get covered by a Nuyorican, fusing Cuban dance with Black R&B lyrics and rhythms.

    However, though "Danzon Bugaloo" has its own eccentricities, there's no denying that "Lookie Lookie" lays down what would become a classic template for the boogaloo: a repeating piano muntono riff, English lyrics, an anchored, measured sense of percussion plus an added bonus of having the song swing into a higher tempo mid-way through. It's not the most scintillating boogaloo ever recorded but for the first attempt, it's more than laudable.

    Se Soltó, overall, is a great Latin album. I'm a little surprised if only because I didn't find Ray's next album, the better known Jala Jala Boogaloo to be quite as interesting or adventurous as Se Soltó.

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    posted by DJ Little Danny

    Manny Corchado: Pow Wow + Up and Down
    From Aprovecha El Tiempo (Swing While You Can) (Decca, 1967).

    Barely had early boogaloos like Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang,” Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That,” and Ray Barretto’s “El Watusi” become bona fide commercial hits than young Latino combos were coalescing to perform it, savvy older bandleaders were adding it their repertoire, and homegrown New York City record labels were there to package, promote, and, naturally, sell it. This is part of what’s exciting about the boogaloo: for a few years in the ‘60s, there was this great rush to capitalize upon its ephemeral success, and forty years later it makes for a lot of hip, fascinating music. It’s also what’s vaguely disappointing about the boogaloo. After hearing what sounds like your thirty fourth derivation of “Watermelon Man” for the day, you’ll start looking around, exhausted - wondering if maybe there isn’t something a bit formulaic about it all.

    Then - heralded as though with a chorus of miniskirt-ed angels - you’ll catch something like 1967’s “Pow Wow.” From its long, soul clapping introduction, “Pow Wow” sails forth in a brilliant burst of percussion, piano, horns, and pure Nuyorican dance floor bravura potent enough - unlike possibly any other boogaloo - to transcend its embarrassing Tonto wampum and “pipa de la paz” chatter.

    Sometimes I’ll hear that note perfect nugget of 1970s harmony soul - or, say, some blissed out ’68 pop production - and I’ll scratch my head, amazed that, in its time, the release in question went absolutely nowhere commercially. Not so with Corchado’s “Pow Wow.” It’s obvious why it wasn’t a hit: it’s just too heavy, too booming, too wild. Too everything. Which, of course, is why we love it today.

    Loyal Soul Sides readers may already know “Pow Wow” from its recent reissue as part of the fabulous Jazzman 45 series. Less familiar, possibly, is Corchado’s “Up and Down,” a storming jazz mambo with a bottomless bassline, which, even more than “Pow Wow,” showcases the heart stopping power of a full Latin orquesta.

    Corchado’s name turns up occasionally in the context of the ‘60s NYC Latin scene (primarily as timbalero for the same Joe Quijano ensemble that recorded an early version of “Up and Down”), though Aprovecha El Tiempo - a sublime mix of mambo, boogaloo, bolero, and Latin jazz - was, alas, his only album as a band leader. This album was part of Decca’s brief lived and forward thinking Latin series, which also included slick releases by Chano Martinez, Joe Panama, Johnny Zamot, and Ozzie Torrens.

    --Little Danny (Office Naps)

    Labels: , ,

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    posted by O.W.

    Los Exagerados: Panama Esta Bueno Y...Ma
    Los Fabulosos Festivals: El Mensaje
    Both from Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75 (Soundway, 2006)

    This is going to sound odd coming from someone who put out a compilation but I usually don't like comps because I don't like knowing what I don't have. Yeah, record avarice is an ugly beast and I'm no less susceptible to it than the next vinyl dork. (Despite what people seem to think, I don't actually own every album and 45 ever made).

    That said, there are "hard to find" records and then there are near-impossible records and when people comp the latter, I'm actually quite appreciative because it brings into the light great recordings that would have otherwise flown under the radar because they're so obscure. This is precisely why I was very happy to see this compilation of Panamanian soul/Latin come out: most of these recordings are songs that I, barring a trip to Panama, would never, ever have heard/found on my own. For that reason, I'm glad that someone went through the trouble to make these available to a larger public (myself included within that) and share some great sounds with a fascinating back story.

    What makes Panama special in terms of its musical history has much also to do with its economic and political history. The building of the Panama Canal not only brought in a mix of laborers from throughout South and Central American, the Caribbean and elsewhere, but just geographically, Panama is a nexus point between multiple musical cultures. Panama! reflects that vibrant set of styles with a 15 song collection of everything from frenetic descargas, to Calypso soul, to funky jazz, etc.

    The two picks above don't do justice to that diversity but they're still, you know, great songs regardless. I wanted to make sure the Latin sabor of the comp got some shine so I went with the Los Exagerados' catchy descarga "Panama Esta Bueno Y...Ma." Not only is this a great example of this popular Latin dance rhythm but you gotta dig the name: "it's good in Panama...and then some." I tend to be more of a boogaloo kind of guy but its songs like this that make me appreciate how kick ass a good descarga can be.

    As for the Los Fabulosos Festivals...if you know anything about me, there's no way I could pass up a Panamanian soul cover of "The Message" by Cymande. I have a Spanish language version of this song from a Mexican group but I have to say - this is killer too despite its lo-fi sound. I like how they switch up the lyrics especially - nice way for them to put their own stamp on this. If someone's got a copy of this 45 for sale or trade, holla!

    Labels: ,

    Sunday, February 19, 2006

    posted by O.W.

    Ray Barretto: El Watusi
    From Charanga Moderna (Tico, 1962)

    Boogaloo Con Soul
    From Latino Con Soul (United Artists, 1967)

    Acid + A Deeper Shade of Soul
    From Acid (Fania, 1967)

    From Together (Fania, 1969)

    From Our Latin Thing (Fania, 1972)

    Slo Flo
    From Barretto Live: Tomorrow (Atlantic, 1976)

    (Editor's Note: Jeff Chang and I collaborated on the following post. I write the following:)


    Ray Barretto passed away on Friday from heart failure, at age 76.

    With his signature, thick-rimmed glasses, Barretto never looked like what'd you expect from a king of Latin percussion: he seemed more like, well, your accountant maybe. Yet even if he never became as famous as his fellow conguero Mongo Santamaria, for many Latin music aficionados, he was just as revered, if not more, especially given a late career resurgence in the last five years. Barretto was also part of a larger wave of great percussionists to come out of New York, alongside Tito Puente, Willie Bobo and Sabu Martinez and of that bunch, none was as influential as Barretto in helping to push the Latin soul sound in the 1960s and '70s.

    Barretto's early influences came out of the Latin jazz experimentations of the 1950s, specifically Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" which became one of Barretto's early hits during his years as a studio sessionist and sideman, recording for Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige. His emergence as a bandleader came with Riverside but it was his move over to George Goldner's Tico Records (the king of Latin labels until Fania came along) that yielded Barretto's first huge hit: "El Watusi".

    "El Watusi" was a charanga, one of the precursors to the boogaloo - you can hear on "Watusi" how boogaloo would build on the same basic elements as the charanga: piano-lead rhythm section, hand claps, and an irresistible dance groove (albeit at a much slower tempo).

    Barretto rode the success of "El Watusi" for years: his next album for Tico was called El Watusi Man, two years later he released, Viva Watusi!. By 1967 however, Barretto had moved onto trying to capitalize on the boogaloo craze, recording his Latino Con Soul (a simple but rather genius title) for United Artists. "Boogaloo Con Soul" comes from that LP (the title is a bit redundant since, technically speaking, the "con soul" part is implicit in boogaloo songs). It's a cool tune, one of the slower boogaloos out there, especially in comparison to Joe Cuba or Pete Rodriguez's hits of the same era. It's also longer than most, clocking in just over five minutes and in that respect, many of Barretto's boogaloos nodded to his background in jazz and the longer compositions of the genre.

    After Latino Con Soul, Barretto moved over to Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacecho's Fania imprint - then still a fledging label - and then released Acid which is, hands-down, the greatest Latin soul album ever recorded. I say this not simply because it had some of the best songs in the genre, but it was also a surprisingly consistent album. Many Latin LPs in the mid/late '60s (and really, Acid is more of a post-boogaloo LP, especially in how it pushed the genre forward) tended to try to touch one at least three or four different dance rhythms: so you'd have a boogaloo or two here, a mambo there, a shing-a-ling there, etc. Acid, in comparison, was one of the rare albums of the era that embraced Latin soul (and jazz) wholeheartedly, not afraid to play the crossover card with songs that were clearly a meeting point between the Brown and Black musical cultures of New York. Barretto wasn't alone in this regard - Joe Bataan would be another obvious example - but Acid ranks as the album that did it best.

    The title track is a monster, blending both soul, Latin and jazz. I remember the first time I heard this: Chairman Mao was playing it at the Saturday night weekly he and Citizen Kane used to share at APT in Manhattan. I usually don't try to sweat the DJ but when this came on, I had to ask Mao what the hell it was. Believe me, over a club system, the song is amazing.

    The track wasn't alone: other notable songs were the epic "Espiritu Libre," the raucous "Soul Drummers," fairly straight forward boogaloos like "Mercy, Mercy, Baby" and "Teacher of Love" and a personal favorite: "A Deeper Shade of Soul" (which became the source for a song by the same name in the late '80s by a European group called the Urban Dance Sqaud).

    Following Acid, Barretto put together several more Latin soul themed albums including Hard Hands, the compilation Head Sounds (which was basically a few key cuts from Acid plus a handful of new songs including "Drum Poem" and a version of "Tin Tin Deo", and Together. The title song, "Together" is a stunner, not only for its fiery rhythm (which seriously kick ass) but listen to the song content: it's a definitive post-Civil Rights Era anthem that I'll put up against anything from James Brown.

    (Jeff takes over from here):

    Barretto's records for Fania were some of the label's firsts, and paved the way for the experimental, probing, but always relentlessly dance-able records to follow. Barretto found the groove and then opened it wide.

    Fania Records ushered in the "Golden Age of Salsa", and the historical parallels to what happened in hip-hop during the late 80s are striking. Salsa was a conscious effort to frame a particular world-view in sound: an Afrocentric brown-power music, if you will. Barretto's contribution was key. Album manifestos like Que Viva La Musica and Barretto Power made him the KRS-One of salsa, to Eddie Palmieri's Chuck D.

    (You might even think of Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe as the Ice Cube and Dr. Dre of salsa. The very existence of the Fania All-Stars was extraordinary—as if the Stop the Violence Movement wasn't just a one-off but a central, ongoing project!)

    Just as importantly, Barretto helped shape Fania's seminal sound, which was essentially a Puerto Rican update of classic Cuban music, extended into descargas or jams. To extend Oliver's observation above, the sound was meant to move past the fast cycle of dance crazes into something more capital-I "Important", something that was literally art for the people, in exactly the same way that P.E. set out to end an era characterized by fads like the Wop, the Cabbage Patch, and the Robocop with a conscious nod to a tradition of Black music and political struggle. Salsa took it black to the future.

    One of Barretto's biggest hits, "Cocinando", alludes to Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" and Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera's "Cha Cha Guere", but extends the themes into a nice long solo vehicle. At once, the music is meant to be more contemplative and virtuousic. The version here by the Fania All-Stars—where I've edited in a brief interview with him at the beginning—is from the label's biggest sound-and-vision statement, the movie feature Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa).

    In the mid-70s, now feeling stifled by salsa, Barretto left Fania. In a sense he was right on time. Groups like Santana, El Chicano, Malo, War, Earth, Wind & Fire, and War had taken Latin rhythms into the pop mainstream. And this was also the heyday of what would become known as the breakbeat—with Latinized, globalized funk coming from the Jimmy Castor Bunch, the Incredible Bongo Band, and Babe Ruth. The time had finally come for the sounds Barretto had pioneered during the 60s. In the liner notes to the classic 1976 live album Tomorrow, he wrote, "Gracias to la gente, the people who came out and kept us alive while they waited for the rest of the world to catch up!"

    "Slo Flo" is a monster jam from that album. Barretto's playing is masterful throughout, and this is an all-but-forgotten gem of the era, known mainly to serious Latin music heads and breakbeat fans. Like a lot of other Latin musicians, he migrated toward disco. It was simply the latest dance thing. A hustle anthem, "Stargazer", is from 1978, and Barretto's precision breakdowns would be imitated by house bands who played behind the earliest hip-hop records between 1979 and 1982.

    Though he never got the credit, it's hard to conceive of hip-hop's backbeat these days without Hard Hands. He laid it down, and people followed, improvised on over it, whether with their sampling machines or their hips. He never asked for much more.

    Be sure also to visit Captain Crate's Barretto tribute.

    Labels: , ,

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    posted by O.W.

    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.

    Labels: ,

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    posted by O.W.

    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.

    Labels: ,