The Roots Of Cardi B’s “I Like It” In Boogaloo And Latin Soul: Latin Boogaloo & Soul Outburst—conclusion
(Independent scholar and cultural critic Paul Yamada has spent thirty years in different areas of the music business, in the midwest and the east. A founding editor of the pioneering rock zine Terminal Zone (1976-78), Paul has written on blues, rock, soul, jazz, and avant garde music. In addition, Yamada has written on cinema, art, and theater for a wide variety of local and national publications in Chicago, St. Louis and Washington DC. He has consulted for National Public Radio, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the Washington DC Performing Arts Society and Asian American theater companies in Chicago. His current works include a Chicago project, Wholesome, which includes music revues, essays, visual arts and daily streamed radio shows. He also does DJ gigs.)
Latin Boogaloo & Soul Outburst—conclusion
The emergence of multiple hits of latin boogaloo and latin soul in 1966 and 1967 began a wave. Perhaps not a tidal wave or tsunami, but a wave that stretched in time into the 1970s and in geography from Long Island to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, from the Gulf of Mexico and down the Atlantic to the Caribbean rim of Venezuela and Columbia, traveled to Los Angeles, and then as far south as Argentina.
The venerable label Seeco essentially, or more or less deliberately, did not venture far into these waters, despite continuing to release Joe Cuba Sextet recordings. In 1966 and 1967 the releases were mainly by older artists, such as merengue specialist Luis Kalaff as well as Celia Cruz, Sonora Matancera, Daniel Santos and Vincentico Valdez, who was also one of the label’s main producers.
Johnny “El Bravo” Lopez and Dominican Rene Grand were minor exceptions to the more traditional approach and Grand recorded the very wonderful “Space Walk” on 45 and his second album. The only boogaloo Lopez recorded was actually on his prized, At The Bronx Casino record, which did not come out on Seeco, but on an even smaller label. Pianist Chuito Velez and band leaders Joe Cotto and Joe Valle aimed for a contemporary edge on their Seeco recordings but they were not boogaloo. All of this recording and release activity, however, did not keep Seeco from business and internal problems.
The main staff producer and a recording artist himself, singer Vincentico Valdez, jumped ship during the summer of 1967 and moved to United Artists, a move notable enough that Billboard noted it, September 2, p. 60. This did not bring Seeco to its knees, but it helped, and by 1969, after owner Sidney Siegel passed away, the catalogue was purchased by Met-Richmond Record Sales. (1)
The more recently founded Fonseca Records tried hard, without the further contractual services of Ricardo Ray, to maintain a boogaloo and latin soul presence. None of the Ray & Cruz recordings on Fonseca broke into the mainstream, despite many great 45s and album releases, including the straightforward rock and soul effort, as by ‘Ricky and Bob’ of “Shu Fly Shu”/”My Love’s For You” (150). Both sides used electric bass and electric guitar and the material somewhat resembles The Righteous Brothers before they recorded for Phil Specter. This 45 is truly one of the unheard and earliest prime examples of latin soul that is REALLY soul, by a latin act!
Popular band leader Willie Rodriguez had six 45s and several albums of boogaloo and shingaling and jala jala. They were popular on latin radio, but like Fonseca in general, none of them were ever noticed by Billboard or Cash Box. The same went for all the label’s other bands: Orquesta Kool, Orquesta Moderna and Hommy Sanz, who recorded a killer instrumental version of the Yardbird’s “For Your Love.” Even the polite, pachanga derived disc, “Do The Boogaloo,” by Orquesta Novel, which seems to have attracted more attention than usual, did not attain any outside commerciality though it was soon covered by the Latin Dimensions for Cotique. There was no break out from the confines of latin radio, though the Latin Dimensions were signed to Columbia in 1968 perhaps on the strength of their version. By the end of the 1960s, though Fonseca was still putting out records, the bloom was gone and the label soon ceased to produce new albums and 45s.
The long since famous Fania Records was a new comer as well. The label was established in early 1964, not long after Fonseca, by Johnny Pacheco. Pacheco is a Dominican born musician and he partnered with a lawyer, Jerry Masucci, who had been Pacheco’s divorce lawyer. Born in 1935, Pacheco and his parents moved to NYC in 1946 and later he took up percussion and flute. The New York Department of State has an entry for Fania, with an address in Montclair, NY and a corporate registration date of April 9, 1964. The label also registered Fania Publishing and Sales (no dates) as well as Fania International, LTD, (May 27, 1969).
Five of the first seven Fania releases on lp were by Pacheco. Not until the debut of Bobby Valentin, Young Man With A Horn (332) in late 1966, did Fania enter the boogaloo sluice. Valentin previously had an early 1966 release on Fonseca of mostly mambo-jazz. His initial Fania record is superb, though the best boogaloo and latin soul tracks (“Batman’s Boogaloo” and inventive covers of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” and of “Good Loving”) never appeared on 45. The much lesser boogaloo-based “Geronimo” was on 45 with “Que Polito” (435) and for some reason, Valentin’s name was not, as it was credited to singer Marcelino “Junior” Morales.
The modestly progressive Orquesta Harlow jumped on the “Winchester Cathedral” band-wagon, without success (terrible version!) and the initial release by Bobby Quesada, who did a boogaloo-ish album, also met with no success (“Mas Feo Que Yo”/”El Guiro Sabroso,” 439). The Harlow follow-up, “Banjandote” (441) from 1967 was encouraging, but not as good as tracks from the Valentin album. Neither Billboard nor Cash Box noticed Fania until April 15, 1967, but that was only a mention of Pacheco playing Puerto Rico in the San Juan news column; the magazines ignored all initial releases.
At the end of September three albums were listed by Billboard in its New Albums section on page 20: Bobby Valentin’s Bad Breath, 335; El Malo by Willie Colon, 337; and Joe Bataan’s Gypsy Woman, 340. The following week, October 10, Bad Breath received a four star endorsement. Only one other notice of anything Fania happened in 1967, and it was a San Juan note about Valentin and Orquesta Harlow playing in Puerto Rico; the notice called both bands “young exponents of boogaloo”. (p62)
Willie Colon got on to Fania indirectly, as he had been working with Al Santiago and his short lived Futura label earlier in 1967 and Santiago had released a 45, which ended up on El Malo. Bataan, after almost getting signed several times, ended up with Fania. He christened himself a latin, afro-filipino, and oriented his material to boogaloo, soul and doo wop-related songs and something like salsa. His “Gypsy Woman” was inspired by the Impressions record of the same title and was popular in the NYC area, it was noted in the September 21, WWRL survey as a lively extra.
Fania has become a big brand name and its promotional schemes since the 1980s have included both boogaloo and latin soul. There was boogaloo there during the period, but just barely in 1966, with a bit more in 1967 and 1968 but what it did much more of was latin soul, via Bataan and Harvey Averne, and then on a label it started for only soul 45s, Uptite. There was one notable exception, the three excellent albums by Ralph Robles, which included both latin boogaloo and soul as well as hard latin music. All Robles releases were on Fania, nothing was on Uptite and that label more or less went away in 1970; the man who pushed it, Harvey Averne, left Fania then, too. Fania did have some later latin soul success with Ralfi Pagan’s cover of “Make It With You” (BB r&b, peaked at 32 in 1971), and though it was originally released on Fania, its hit run was as a lease to Scepter. This proved to be one of the last things Fania leased to another label until its disaster with Columbia Records and one of its last really successful latin soul records as well.
Cotique, George Goldner’s second latin label, began by mostly trying to place itself with the new boogaloo and soul mix, though it also released several records that were more traditional latin and latin pop, by artists like Bobby Capo and Yomo Toro. The earliest releases, aside from the leased “Chicharonnes” by Ray Rivera, credit Goldner and record man Stanley Lewis (NOT the more famous label and distributor owner from Shreveport), though it seems that Lewis departed after only a few 45s and albums had been issued, and that almost all the releases through early 1970, were produced by Goldner (though musician Johnny Colon says he did a lot of work as well). It was his idea to grace each record cover with an exquisite photo from Charles “Chuck” Stewart, who quite recently passed on. (2)
No matter how murky and mysterious were the label’s release information and business details, Cotique proved very significant though relegated–like several other long lasting labels–to the underground or latin underground. Most of its successful artists and recordings were by younger bands than those of Joe Cuba and others, like Johnny Colon, the Lebron Brothers and Ray Jay and the Eastsiders.
Cotique was not mentioned at all in Billboard or Cash Box in 1966 or 1967. In February of 1968, Cotique ran an ad in Billboard (2/24/68, p22). On March 30, the magazine noted that Cotique was handled by Trinity Record Distributors (p77). The first record Billboard noted was actually a straight soul record, not a latin record: Johnny Kirk & Lilly Thomas, “A Love Like Ours,” 3001, on April 20, 1968, p32. Four more mentions are noted in October, November and December, and while the T ‘N’T Band’s “The Meditation” (136; a take off on “The Tighten Up”) was a regional breakout, noted on the final day of November, p78, neither it, nor “A Love Like Ours” charted, though radio station WWRL noted “The Meditation” in its Top 16 at 9 and 7 from November 27 through December 11.
With few exceptions, Goldner handled younger artists who were dissed or dismissed by older, established band leaders. Some of these groups apparently did not even survive the 1960s and quickly faded away, though there were always interesting musicians in them, as the great pianist Hilton Ruiz was in Ray Jay & the Eastsiders band as a teenager. Nevertheless, someone like song writer and producer Bobby Marin, when asked about his favorite boogaloo albums, has said:
Rather than try to recall so many great recordings going back 45 years, I would simplify it by recommending any recording on the Cotique label during the mid to late 1960s. (3)
Until 1968 few other labels were as active in any aspects of latin boogaloo and soul as Cotique. Larger and older labels did make some effort in this time period; of the big labels, Decca released the most records (many of them excellent) though the label ceased these efforts within a year. The catalyst for Decca’s run at latin boogaloo and soul was the hiring of producer Richard Marin, older brother of Bobby Marin. The move was announced in the October 29, 1966 Billboard, and through Marin, the label signed Manny Corchado and announced his debut Decca 45, “Pow Wow” (p4). Corchado recorded with the assistance of trumpeter and arranger Marty Sheller. Sheller had also worked with Pete Terrace and would go on to work for Harvey Averne and Joe Bataan, especially his Uptite 45s. “Pow Wow” has become well known thanks to a boogaloo compilation in the UK, but it did not chart or seem to get much airplay in 1966-67. His album, Aprovecha El Tiempo, was noted in Billboard on December 3, 1966 (p40) (Decca 4829) and the next Decca release, 4830 was also latin, produced by Richard Marin: Boogaloo in Apartment 41 by Ozzie Torrens, which received its own notice on January 28.
The Torrens record received a positive review on the February 4, 1967 Billboard and over the next two following weeks a third Decca release, The Latin Soul of Johnny Zamot was listed as well. All three records are excellent boogaloo and latin soul, though none of these releases or any 45s from them made the national charts, nor did they receive r&b radio play. Pat Patrick, veteran of both Mongo Santamaria and Sun Ra was in Zamot’s band at this time.
Through the end of 1967, Decca released albums by Joe Panama, Chano Martinez, Chuito Velez and a second Johnny Zamot; though the label gave up and 1968 saw no new releases in the boogaloo and latin soul area.
The Atlantic-Atco labels released a great 45 by Charlie Palmieri, “Uptight”/”Bugalu” (Atlantic 2384) in February 1967. The A-side was a largely instrumental version of the Stevie Wonder hit. There was also a very strong subsequent album, Latin Bugalu. A few months later Atco recorded Willie Rosario’s band and released “Watusi Boogaloo”/”Vienta En Popa” (Atco 45-6483) and later, an album, Boogaloo and Guajuanco. It was also quite strong. Apparently nothing came of these releases. At the very end of 1967 Atlantic leased recordings from Fania and released the first of two 45s by the Harvey Averne Dozen, “You’re No Good”/”Make Out” (2467, December 11, 1967). It was the second 45, “My Dream”/”The Micro Mini” (2505, April 1968) which proved influential, though neither 45 had much radio or sales vita. “My Dream,” however, proved popular in Tejano/norteno/Tex-Mex circles, garnering more than one cover from San Antonio bands like Sunny and the Sunliners. Much later, Fania’s smooth latin soul singer, Ralfi Pagan, remade My Dream (618, 1976), just another clue that latin soul was still alive well after the 1960s, and even on a label like Fania.
Fania leased additional material to Atlantic, as there was also an Averne album in 1968, but until Atlantic signed Mongo Santamaria away from Columbia at the end of 1969, this was the end of their admittedly limited but high quality foray into latin boogaloo and soul.
Columbia Records signed Mongo Santamaria before 1966 and he notched up several hits for the label encompassing boogaloo and latin soul. He had left the Battle-Riverside labels in September 1964 and while a number of his early Columbia recordings were remakes of earlier material for those two labels, his debut 45, “El Pussy Cat” was something new and it reached the Hot 100 in March 1965 and peaked at 97. As so much of this music was dominated by men, it is worth noting that “El Pussy Cat” is one of several Valerie Capers titles Santamaria recorded. Capers (b 1935), who continues to be an excellent pianist and writer, was the first blind graduate of Julliard. “El Pussy Cat,” despite the feline sound effects, which have not aged well at all, is a supple, soul dancer with a nod to Stax and Memphis and even “High Heel Sneakers,” a huge and influential hit for Tommy Tucker. While it is not nearly as hot as “Fat Man” or “Cuchy Frito Man,” it is a fine record.
The next record to attract attention was “Mongo’s Boogaloo” which certainly caught the current of the boogaloo and latin dance trends at the end of 1966. It received a Spotlight Singles notice on December 24, 1966 (p16) and garnered some airplay on WWRL, nearly charting on the stations Top 16 in early February, 1967. The rest of 1967 and the first four months of 1968 remained fallow for Santamaria’s 45 releases. Mid spring, a super heavy funk version of “Cold Sweat” reached 49 on the BB r&b chart. Then nothing came from nothing until early 1969 when he released a heavy latin soul cover of the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine”. It broke heavily on WWRL in January, remaining in the stations Top 16 for five weeks and peaked at 4 for three weeks in a row.
It hit the Cash Box pop charts the week of February 15 and hit 50, lasting for six weeks, while doing better on the CB Black Singles chart, making 20 and lasting for 7 weeks. It also made the BB r&b chart at 34 and then 33, March 8 and 15; and it also charted pop (Hot 100), reaching 32 and lasting for 8 weeks. Then he hit with another cover, of Edwin Starr’s “Twenty-Five Miles,” on the CB pop chart, though at a mere 99 for the week of June 28. In October, WWRL played “We Got Latin Soul” for five weeks and it went on to hit 40 on the BB r&b chart, though it never made the Hot 100, reaching 132 for only one week. However, “We Got Latin Soul” did much better on the CB Black Singles chart, as it hit 33 in November and had a five week run. His final entry for 1969, a version of Traffic’s “Feeling Alright,” also charted, at 96, but not for Columbia, for Atlantic. And it is not quite as much latin soul and certainly not boogaloo.
Santamaria’s five year stay at Columbia amounted to less than the company had hoped for, hit wise, though he also released a number of decent selling, sometimes charting albums. His success with covers of soul and funk songs does show that this music lasted well beyond 1967 and also shows, at least to some extent, that there was still a rock audience and an r&b radio audience, which was presumably a mostly African American audience, for changing versions of latin and soul but not so much for boogaloo.
Perhaps because Santamaria’s records were probably not as successful as CBS execs had hoped, the Columbia label did not release many other titles in this bag, though it did have two excellent releases in 1968. The New York Latin Scene with Sonny Bravo (1921/5221) brought together several talents and produced an exquisite conjunto, boogaloo & soul album. Overseen by Bobby Marin and Louie Ramirez—though they did not produce—the originals sparkle with elements of soul, jazz, mambo, guajira and other Afro Cuban elements. Sung mostly, but not exclusively, in English, and utilizing a three-man vocal group, the Latin Chords, this Bravo album is engaging and very hip; it features a significantly finger popping version of Archie Bell & the Drells”Tighten Up,” which was also culled for the only 45 from the album (44611, 8/68). Bravo had played with numerous older latin bands, including Cuban Jose Fajardo’s charanga. Bravo himself is Cuban American. After this he recorded and performed with the original line-up of Tipica 73; and in 2003 he was a guest on a CD by Los Soneros Del Barrio (Siguiendo La Tradicion, Rumba Jams 1015).
Even more extraordinary, but perhaps not quite as consistent and sophisticatedly diverse, was the release at the end of 1968 by the Latin Dimension (1926/5226, Nov 1968). Three of its members came from charangas: Kevin Sweeny (vocals & flute) from Orquesta Novel—recall Do The Bugalu on Fonseca; African American violinist Edward Drennon from Lou Perez’s charanga; and singer-percussionist Mike Martinez from Orquesta Broadway. Joining them was pianist Joe Torres, before he came to some prominence with Willie Colon. Although somewhat pachanga based, the choices of covers and many of the arrangements are interesting and mainly come from pop soul (“Hurt So Bad”; “Get Ready”), the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”) and the international, latin pop hit “Pulpa de Tamarindo.” There are tracks that represent a few missteps, and unlike Bravo’s disc, there is not much mambo or jazz/latin jazz influence here. The singing is almost entirely in English, from lead singer Jimmy Maeulen, who is soulful and powerful, and sometimes he has backing from the Primettes, a trio of African American female singers. The Little Anthony cover, “Hurt So Bad” is quite effective, and was released on 45. On 45 Maeulen even gets billing with the band (Latin Dimension featuring Jimmy Maeulen). “Eleanor Rigby” moves from a brisk violin and flute danzon to a crushing guajira groove with a crisp piano solo. Also of a very high groove is the party boogaloo-shingaling with a hyper pachanga pulse, “Mr Mod.” It is as much of a stomping success as something like “I Want Candy” and “Caralin” by the Strangeloves! Sony should re-release both albums on one CD as they are classics of latin soul and boogaloo.
Percusioinist and band leader Pete Terrace had an excellent album in 1966 on the largely r&b/soul label, Scepter. Founded in 1958 by Florence Greenberg, the label had great success with the Shirelles, Chuck Jackson and many other African American singers, though by 1966, the label had left its most productive period behind.
Terrace had made a name for himself playing percussion in various bands led by Joe Loco and recording with him on Tico. After striking out on his own he became a moderate success. Terrace featured jazz, mambo and the cha cha cha and eventually pachanga. In the mid 1960s his repertoire became more Afro Cuban and Puerto Rican, as he also mixed in rock, r&b and soul. His album on Scepter, Neuvo Pete Terrrace is a strong mix of current trends in pop, rock, r&b and latin. It includes a fine trumpet led version of “Louie Louie” and hard, tipica latin with great vocals. Ably assisted by trumpeter-arranger Marty Sheller—apparently before his work for Decca, Fania and Uptite—this great offering did not yield any singles. Terrace would make more hard, inventive boogaloo and latin soul for the A/S and Somerset labels before he founded Mio, his own label for the new sounds, in 1968. Many of the records on the Mio label from 1968 are also considered classics, albeit rare ones. The Terrace version of the r&b hit “Shotgun” is a latin soul and boogaloo record well worth hearing. (A/S 4502, rel Dec 1967-Jan 1968).
Scepter, perhaps via Marty Sheller, had one other boogaloo entry, a 45 by a band that may have been from Red Bank, NJ, “Damelo Baby”/”The Aztec Theme,”by the Aztecs (Scepter 12183, Jan 1967). “Damelo Baby” has some of the successful and offhand aspects of Joe Cuba’s party boogaloo; set to irresistible and quite familiar chord changes, which are paired with a percussive montuno. There was no follow up and Scepter did not have further boogaloo releases in the 1960s.
One more artist who deserves mention is Joe Torres, who recorded for the World Pacific label in 1966. Torres, who is apparently from NYC, made his recordings in California; this is an extreme anomaly. He was an experienced percussionist who had played with Arsenio Rodriguez and others before leaving the east for California. (4) His album Latino Con Soul, not to be confused with the Ray Barretto record of the same title, came out in late 1966 and the 45 drawn from it, “Sunny”/”Get Out Of My Way” was released in October (W-P 77849; the album, 21857). It is as strong as the Pete Terrace record; it manages to be very jazzy and at the same time is soulful and dance floor worthy. Very notable is that half the band are not at all latin or closely related to latin music. The excellent piano is provided by Victor Feldman! Torres’ music did not receive much attention though this is a strong reminder that the latin boogaloo in 1966, was now expanding and growing and moved all the way to Los Angeles and a jazz label better known for Chet Baker and Bud Shank.
During 1966 despite the chart success, latin boogaloo was criticized quite derisively by several older and established latin band leaders. Controversy and criticism ensued (and continued into the present, but from critics) and much of it involved Johnny Colon and “Boogaloo Blues”.
Much has been written and claimed—positive and negative—about “Boogaloo Blues.” There is very little information and evidence about the record, like release date, air play, and even sales, though Colon himself has claimed that it sold over three million copies. (5) He has given several interviews over the years, most of them during the 1990s and his accounts vary, though some details line up, more or less. It is impossible to verify that it was the biggest boogaloo hit of the year (or of all time?) or even that it was a big, “underground” hit. There is even no verifiable way to know when it was released. A European re-issue CD on Vampi Soul of Colon’s Cotique material states unequivocally it was released in March 1966. None of my research has clarified or verified this, though if I had to guess, March seems a bit early. The only evidence I have found is a 1967 WWRL playlist from March. Very few 45s have a life of a year, though producer-owner Goldner sometimes did work his 45s for months on end, and with some success; “Gee” by the Crows is an example. Perhaps Goldner did work “Boogaloo Blues” for a year, though it seems reasonable to be skeptical of this.
The stories about how the song came to be and be recorded also vary, not just in Colon’s interviews, but in limited appreciation by Max Salazar and criticisms, particularly from author-professor Juan Flores. (6) Author-academic Juan Flores attacks “Boogaloo Blues” because he thinks it is a result of Goldner’s intercession and blatant manipulation of the band simply to produce a hit that Flores considers to be the equivalent of bubble gum music. This seems unlikely as Flores shows that he knows little about making records, the role of the producer or the creative processes of musicians. He also clearly expressed a bias against boogaloo because it had influences that he did not consider “true” to some latin, ethnic musical traditions; in the realm of commercial recordings this is a rather naïve and prejudiced position.
Some accounts given by Colon himself indicate that he was working on a new piece which was inspired by Horace Silver’s “Sayonara Blues” before he even met Goldner. As a producer, he may have encouraged him to work it out fully and play it live, though apparently Goldner was not willing to record it exactly as performed. As Colon has indicated, the band jumped from the Boogaloo Blues to a brisk guaracha called “Anabacoa” (7) Perhaps realizing that two songs in one was far too much for a 45, what Goldner got was a very long version of the main tune, which runs more than 6 minutes, and which he turned into “Boogaloo Blues Part 1” and “Part 2” (Cotique 108).
The music itself is a supple, bluesy piano vamp, a set and sometimes naked bass line and some amazing dual trombone parts. What makes it the more remarkable are the lead and background vocals. The lyrics recount what initially appears to be a sweet encounter between the singer and a female dancer at a gig, who cries and cries, and gets asked, “why do you feel so blue?/don’t you like my boogaloo?” At this point, the woman says she is in love with the singer through LSD and the chorus/coro goes: “LSD has a hold on me,” over and over; though the lyrics reveal that L is for love, S is for strong and D for divine. So there is a trick and a joke and perhaps more going on. Apparently some listeners and radio jocks were NOT amused. The A-side of the 45 ends around three minutes, with the trombones doing their wonderful thing, so unless a station played both parts, or the album version, nobody ever heard the “proposition”; wherein the singer demands, “take it off, take it all off, baby” in what seems like a, well, a proposition and more; this is kind of queasy, but nothing ever happens…and that LSD chorus changes, well before side two, from the LSD chant to “1, 2, 3, I feel so free!” Beautiful. More or less.
Regardless of what the LSD chant was about, there evidently were latin stations that refused to even consider playing “Boogaloo Blues.” Colon has claimed that Golder more or less strong-armed Symphony Sid to play it. Sid consented airing the record at the end of his show, around 2am. According to Colon the phones lit up anyway. Whether this is true can no more be ascertained than can WHEN this supposedly happened. Evidently the latin music establishment reacted quite negatively to any success the record had. My favorite attack is a combined one accomplished by Juan Flores which, without attribution, and without evidence, demeans the song, its creation and the band and then reveals Flores contempt:
Tito Puente said the song sounded like a Coca-Cola commercial…But there can be no doubt that the song is to a significant degree a fabrication of the record industry. P100
Since Flores does not source his Puente judgement, it may seem like picking on him to criticize this, but indeed, it is no stretch to find in Puente’s snark a significant amount of disconnect from the moment and the bandleader’s contempt for anything that can be characterized as a youth market. Indeed, while some Coke commercials from the 1960s that use popular music groups and artists seemed square then and now, some were not, as we can attest from listening to those that have been re-issued. Even a band with a “bad reputation” like the Shadows of Knight made a flexi disc for a potato chip brand that came with special bags of chips. Not all commodification, commerce and commercialism is or was unequivocally bad and it is worth noting the contempt and nastiness and ignorance in Puente’s remark, inasmuch as it is honestly rendered by Flores.
But it is Flores’ own comment which is really aberrant and ignorant. If Colon has told any “truths”, the making of “Boogaloo Blues” was by him and all Goldner did was suggest, or perhaps insist, that the recording not include “Anabacoa.” Further, as far as Goldner looking for something like a pre-fab band he could make into bubblegum pop, in one interview, Colon said that Golder was not initially interested in his band because he wanted a more traditional Cuban sound, and Colon claimed he chided Goldner by telling him that ‘sound’ was old hat. In the second version of his boogaloo piece, the one in his book, Flores actually softens his nasty comments, and tries to produce evidence for his position by quoting the singer, Tito Ramos. The quotes are general, vague and sound forced; equally pertinent is that Flores nowhere cites or quotes Colon. The most plausible view is that Goldner did his thing as producer, getting the band to stick to what Colon had recently worked out, and that Flores was so removed from the ways and means of record producing and record labels that he leapt to the conclusion that Goldner manufactured the record. Certainly, with years of experience, Goldner knew when to intercede and when to be hands off. It is also amusing to read Flores’ comments since Ray Barretto’s The Big Hits album fits the bill of something concocted as pure (and abysmal) product, but perhaps Barretto is ‘untouchable’ compared to Johnny Colon.
Flores also finds the record sexist and a horrible example of how women are treated in this kind of made up pop music. Since he is consistently a fan of Joe Cuba’s records, one must consider that he either never listened to the lyrics of “Oh Yeah!,” or he simply “forgot” about them when assessing his slanted version of “Boogaloo Blues.” Indeed, the lyrics do contain what I noted as “the proposition”, but it is hardly a threatening record—and again, unless some jock played the album version or the B-side Part 2, nobody heard that on the air! Rather, it is an undulating dance groove, with the insistence of gentle waves, fluid water; and while it is not glistening with the sweat of passion or lust, it is moist and sensual. And it is joyful, powerful in its way.
But dirty? Deserving of condemnation and air play refusal? Touting the use of an hallucinogenic substance? Well, it was 1966.
Very little of this, save noting the nasty prejudices, would be worth re-counting were it not for Colon’s insistence that as the record became popular it generated push back and severe criticism. According to Flores (and Johnny Colon makes similar claims) and his sources, the recording also generated a movement to eliminate the boogaloo and the bands that favored it, though Colon and others claim that the conspiracy did not really start, or at least fully take effect, until 1968. Some artists claimed that established bands, particularly those represented by Jose Curbelo, convinced him to persuade all the major clubs and venues that booked latin bands not to book any boogaloo artists. Another claim is that Morris Levy—who had interests in some of the older bands–muscled the clubs not to book these bands and further, that Levy persuaded DJs not to play these boogaloo records.
So many years later–the claims for the most part started being recycled in the 1990s, at least in print—it is quite difficult to know what to make of this. I think a reasonable response is to be skeptical of the claims. The very notion that a booking fall-off in the market of only one city could kill all these bands and their music is difficult to accept, especially since international popularity had already been established.
The Morris Levy claim is perhaps more difficult to accept. First, he owned Tico, a label making money from all those Joe Cuba hits. Nobody in the record biz seeks to kill off successful trends and artists. Further, it has been established that Levy did run what can accurately be described as a racketeering enterprise within legitimate record label business. This enterprise relied on the ability to launder and move money and keep these dealings secret. Killing off his own hits and artists would have been counter to his racket, and it is almost impossible to consider that he would have done something so risky and counter to his illicit business affairs. (8)
Certainly by the end of 1968 there was a glut of latin boogaloo and soul recordings and lessening support from r&b radio in the NYC area, especially via WWRL’s charts. There were certainly many, many great records during this year, but ‘the more the merrier’ does not usually correspond with sustained commercial success of ‘a scene’ in the record business, especially if that scene or the trends are not brand new.
Dance music comes in waves of trends and fads and both of those come and go. The Twist and the Watusi had exceptional and surprising staying power and were able to move back and forth between different ‘markets’ and scenes and were also helped by television. Such large, overall success for several years is not common. Latin boogaloo, especially the party variety, made the charts for nine months and moved back and forth from the pop 100 (Hot and otherwise) and the r&b charts. It is a distinctive sort of hybrid with strong latin roots which seem to have developed because band members as well as individual musicians were responsive to the dances and audiences they played to, and in particular to African Americans in this context. This is, in many ways, truly remarkable, and is revealing of the changes and spirit that inhabited American culture during the mid 1960s, but perhaps for only a very brief time, as the winds of change knocked the wind from these newly hoisted sails. And those winds were of many diverse breezes of greed, ambition, fear, ethnic prejudice and maybe even others I have not considered.
In the case of Joe Cuba’s band members, clearly they found unique and specific measures that worked and that made some reference to the experiences and lives of African Americans; and not in minor ways, but, especially through the “never go back to Georgia, never go back” chant, in meaningful, emotional ways. The details of the chant in “Bang Bang” might be fleeting—though there is also something of shared experience there between Harlem and Spanish Harlem, while the chant from “El Pito” is significant and socially memorable. In this sense older bandleaders criticizing this music and the corresponding events that gave it meaning reveals they were out of touch, socially, if not insensitive and probably prejudiced in their actions and responses. This extends to the comments by Flores (and they are worse in the original, magazine version of his anti boogaloo piece).
The Joe Cuba Sextet and Hector Rivera made records which embraced some elements of African American music and an African American experience and did so in a musical and dance encouraging context. Jimmy Castor, an African American, did the reverse, embracing aspects of Caribbean and Afro Cuban music in the context of soul and r&b dance music. The denunciation of this hybridity and the corresponding touting of “tipica” as somehow miraculously “pure”, as well as at least some of the public relations and fanciful promotion around “salsa” is at least in part, a prejudicial denial of the fruits of this hybridity, of the fruits of change, experiment and the desire of musicians to grow and develop, even if that is in a commercial context, which, honestly, almost ALL of the latin bands were at this time, as it is pretty much impossible to find an uncommercial, avant garde at this time within latin music in NYC or Puerto Rico.
The anti boogaloo conspiracy and the claim that boogaloo and latin soul had their death in 1968 is clearly undercut by the success of Mongo Santamaria’s 45s, the modest success of Joe Bataan’s late 1960s 45s and the notice, no matter how brief, r&b radio WWRL gave to 45s on the Uptite label before Fania chose to discontinue it. There are examples of latin boogaloo and soul continuing to be popular on latin radio into the early 1970s and Billboard ran a 1971 article about a very popular latin soul show on Miami radio in 1971 (9) But I will not protest too much, because by the mid 1970s, salsa tipica was all the rage, although latin music also figured heavily in disco-cross-over, which is another story altogether.
Even George Lipsitz, a notable writer who reveres and looks for confluences of inter-ethnic influence in popular music and culture is critical of and wary of latin boogaloo and soul, as he is in his 1994 book, Dangerous Crossroads. (10)
In a chapter that explores what he deems strategic “anti-essentialism” that is a kind of essentialism, (because it supplants essentialism or subverts it), “Latin Bugalu” is one of the exemplars, but not without criticizing it in general ways. Concentrating on Puerto Rican musicians and singers, Lipsitz notes they were “Inspired by the growing popularity of “soul” music with popular audiences” (77). Even after writing that latin boogaloo and soul “showed that the [latin] community’s identity had always been found in relation to that of other groups in the USA”, as both a compliment and going on to suggest that in pointedly non-music ways, latin boogaloo and soul partakes of what has herein been called hybridity, Lipsitz suggests that it all was a sacrifice because “To get work they had to play the kinds of rock’n’roll they heard in school” and “By turning to Black music, Puerto Rican musicians also moved to where they thought the money was”. (80, 83) This suggests betrayal, selling out and that rock’n’roll is perhaps fake or spurious, and has no rooted, American or “native” qualities that would attract a wide variety of diverse people, including “latinos” and especially from Puerto Rico.
Clearly the rise of latin boogaloo was linked to the reactions and responses of latin bands, especially the Joe Cuba Sextet, playing gigs that had significant numbers of African Americans present, in hopes of dancing to the music, and clearly, the Joe Cuba Sextet and other latin bands wanted to get this audience to dance. This is not crass commercialism or selling out or shedding of ethnicity. It is being a working musician and a sensitive working musician. Clearly, money was made and records were sold, and not just to an ethnic, latin audience in NYC.
Lipsitz is correct when he states that during the 1970s, “many of the conditions that encouraged the rise of Latin Bugalu changed radically” though as we have seen, some things that changed involved Fania removing Joe Bataan and Harvey Averne and shutting down the Uptite label. (p83) These were hardly the work of an evil, heartless record industry, but the actions of a thriving, latin music and salsa label itself, as dropping Joe Bataan is a measure of both essentialism and false consciousness.
Several years after George Goldner died in 1970, Jerry Masucci, by then the sole owner of Fania Records, acquired what had been Goldner’s label, Cotique. The Lebron Brothers had been one of the major, youthful acts under Goldner and they stayed with the label after Goldner died. When it was sold, they were the only act left from 1967. In their initial, and perhaps only, business meeting with Masucci, he told them that he could make them salsa stars if they would have a handsome, white, lead singer, and he, Jerry Masucci, would really like to make that happen. The band and the brothers were repulsed and refused in silence. Though Masucci did not drop the band from the label, they were never included in any Fania events, tours, concerts, or promotions. It reveals another kind of prejudice, as the band members were all dark Puerto Ricans from the NYC area, and it raises the possibility that color and racial prejudice might have played a role in the dismissal of boogaloo in the 1960s, and it certainly suggests that the rise of salsa/tipica was not entirely an inclusive project. It also raises the possibility that Masucci could have been far more intrusive than Goldner and most other producers of boogaloo and even latin music in general. Masucci was also very willing to intrude and manufacture a band and an image in ways that there is little evidence that Goldner ever considered. (11)
A recent Paris Revue article on Fania Records has a more even handed view, even if the article gives, in my estimation, too much credit to Fania. (12) The article cites Harvey Averne, though it does not quote him directly, downplaying the conspiracy: it states, via Averne, “that the very notion that a record label would intentionally kill off a chance at profit is absurd.” Unlike what Flores and Lipsitz write, it also provides some specifics:
There’s a case to be made that the shift was inevitable. Boogaloo faded along with the historical forces that had driven it. Salsa arrived and thrived at a time when Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñero, poets of the Nuyorican school, started the Nuyorican Poets’ Café, and when the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican militant nationalist group, conducted direct actions in New York. To oversimplify: if boogaloo is cross-cultural, integrationist music, a product of the utopian sixties, then salsa is identity politics music, music to reaffirm the specificity of cultural heritage. The late ethnomusicologist Lisa Waxer called the genre “a potent emblem of Puerto Rican identity.” Salsa, unlike boogaloo, is meant to sound not like a meeting point between Afro-Caribbean music and other styles, but like a compressed expression of Latino experience. Classic salsa records, such as those by Colón, incorporate folk forms such as the Puerto Rican bomba and Panamanian murga. The lyrics, in Spanish, are imbued with a political imperative and ethnic specificity rarely found in boogaloo. Consider an iconic production, the Fania All-Stars concert LP and film Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa). The possessive adjectives in the title—and the implied superfluousness of including “Latin” in the Spanish title—communicate the shift from the conceptual expansiveness underlying boogaloo to a more concentric approach.
The word “concentric” is a deft way of not saying, “exclusive”, “prejudiced” and so on. Indeed, the next paragraph notes, regarding the film, “Our Latin Thing does not feature [Joe] Bataan.” The article does note that in the recent past, Bataan has “re-affiliated” with Fania, even though his music was pushed out the door by the label at the start of the 1970s. The overall approach taken by the article is delicate, diplomatic, but clear enough. Far better is it to behold and appreciate this Latin Thing, as a joyful mix of a little innovation and a lot of tradition, and assert that it was a polyglot all along, of elements from Europe, Africa, the near East, which emerged, especially in Cuba, from literally everywhere on that island and which encountered as well as transcended prejudices of color/ethnicity, class and commerce to engage listeners, dancers and musicians everywhere. Even if this is not altogether accurate, this is far more open and inclusive than some views and it begins to breakdown the proprietary aspects of tipica and salsa.
As alluded to earlier, it is quite fair to suggest that in the world of pop music, the line, “nothing is forever,” from the brilliant Outkast hit, “Hey Ya!,” is prophetic if not a rule of thumb. In addition,
one person’s hit is another person’s hate.
The comings and goings of popular music in the realm of popular culture are usually opaque and often ephemeral. It is quite fair to suggest that in the world of pop music, the line, “nothing is forever,” from that Outkast hit, “Hey Ya!,” is prophetic if not a rule of thumb. Latin boogaloo and soul achieved a significant vita, in formal, industry terms, because of hits and jumped out of the American market to other parts of the world. While the greatest influence and impact was certainly over the two years covered in depth, and even with controversy, it managed to last longer than that, by far. Since there are many aspects for which there are few, if any details, it is difficult to tell if latin boogaloo and soul became more, became what might be considered a “movement”; if that can be claimed about “disco”, “punk”, “grunge”, “emo” and so on. If nothing else, this music has not simply become just another marketing term, the way “jazz” and “blues” and other categories have at present. Perhaps this is because some of the traditional, as well as the hybrid invention, continues to resonate in personal, emotional and intellectual ways with listeners and dancers in the present.
Certainly there was enough “movement” in 1966 and 1967 that the industry trade papers noticed and covered that would otherwise not have happened. Ray Barretto received attention and a bio, even before the outburst. R&B radio got attention and credit for programming that was considered off limits or beyond the scope of music that was heretofore considered r&b and soul. This is nothing to dismiss. The admission of what we now think of as hybridity paved the way for further, later happenings in latin music, like the emergence of the Salsoul label, and the crossover movement involving some latin dance music and disco music of the mid and late 1970s. And all of this had an effect on the emergence of SALSA as a thriving, rooted, commercial music that was germane not just to the Caribbean and South America, but to NYC and Puerto Rico; and this Salsa also became seen as, at least in part, American as a result. And not just as a result of commercialism and marketing, as a result of tangible history. Except for the corrosive negativity of some strains of nationalistic essentialism and prejudice, everybody, so to speak, has benefitted.
1 http://www.bsnpubs.com/latin/seeco.html ;
2 Charles Stewart, Chuck Stewart’s Jazz Files, (New York: Little Brown, 1985). And phone interview on March 3, 2016. Stewart provided me with the only firm dating information I have encountered, as he did the photos for the very first Cotique album, 1001, The Groovy Sounds of the Gilberto Sextet, in May, 1966. The Johnny Colon album, Boogaloo Blues was 1004. Photographer Stewart did over 40 magnificent album covers for the label. Although he was not otherwise good with dates, he clearly remembered all the latin artists he photographed for Cotique covers and though he felt he was under paid, he stopped working for major labels because they told him what to do and kept all his work, while Goldner let him do what he wanted and let him keep all his work. Stewart, however, remembers that the first Cotique covers only paid $150.00, while work for Mercury or Columbia had paid $1500.00 or $2000.00.
4 David F Garcia, Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006) 70, 89. Otherwise, there is almost no information on Joe Torres at all.
5 It is worth being skeptical of this claim; I have been buying used records since at least 1968 and have never seen a used copy of the “Boogaloo Blues” 45.
6, Juan Flores, “Cha Cha with A Backbeat,” Black Renaissance Vol 2, No 2, July, 1999. A different version of this article appears in, Juan Flores, From Bomba to Hip-Hop, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000) 79-112. The Salazar writing first appeared here: Max Salazar, “The History of the Latinized Afro-American Rhythm, Part 1 and Part 2,” Latin Beat, September 1997, 36-38 and October 1977, 34-38. A different version appeared in, Vernon W Boggs, Salsiology Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City, (New York, Westport, CT, London: Greenwood Press, 1992) 263-83. Sayonara Blues is mentioned on 275.
7 “Anabacoa” was popularized in the early 1950s by Arsenio Rodriguez and by Benny More with Perez Prado; that Colon’s band was performing this indicates that he and his band were far from the shallow, overtly commercial neophytes claimed by Juan Flores.
8 Tommy James and Martin Fitzpatrick, Me, the Mob and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy
James and the Shondells, (New York: Scribner, 2010). This is the best overall accounting of the “mob” activities of Morris Levy.
9 “‘Arturo’ Pitches Miami Latin Youth,” Billboard, August 14, 1971, 21, 23. Art Kapper (the “Arturo” of the article) worked in the record business in NYC, was associated with the Swinger record label, which was mainly boogaloo records by an artist named King Nando. The label was eventually owned by Roulette and Morris Levy. After the Roulette purchase, Kapper seems to have “retired” to Miami.
10 George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads, (New York, NY, Verso, 1994) 94.
12 Jonathan Goldman, “Fania at Fifty,” Paris Review, October 9, 2014. The quote comes from the third to last paragraph of the article. http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/10/09/cha-cha-with-a-backbeat/
Most of the records discussed maybe found on youtube, though the 45 version is not always what has been posted.
Finally, I would like the thank Professor Charles McGovern for all his assistance. Nobody else helped.
Vernon W Boggs, Salsiology Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City, (New York, Westport, CT, London: Greenwood Press, 1992).
John Broven, Record Makers and Record Breakers, (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010).
Ken Emerson, Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era,(Viking Penguin Group, NY, NY, 2005).
Juan Flores, From Bomba to Hip-Hop, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).
David F Garcia, Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006).
Deborah Pucini Hernandez, Oye Como Va!, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010).
Tommy James and Martin Fitzpatrick, Me, the Mob and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy
James and the Shondells, (New York: Scribner, 2010).
George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads, (New York, NY, Verso, 1994).
Cesar Miguel Rendon, The Book of Salsa, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008, Caracas, Editorial Arts, 1980).
Charles Stewart, Chuck Stewart’s Jazz Files, (New York: Little Brown, 1985).
Nick Tosches, Save the Last Dance for Satan (New York: Kicks Books, 2011).