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The Roots Of Cardi B’s “I Like It” In Boogaloo And Latin Soul: 1966

1966 Latin Boogaloo & Soul

The year 1966 went quite some time without a significant latin hit. Whatever overall interest Cal Tjader’s Soul Sauce had for soul inflected, jazz and latin dance music does not seem to have been enough to start a trend, or even a follow up. Some change, however was coming, both positive and negative and in-between. In February one of the stronger latin labels which had started out in the mid 1950s, Alegre Records, was bought by Morris Levy’s Roulette Records and related holding company Branson Music. Alegre had been started by Al Santiago, along with Ben Perlman in 1956; the label issued only 45s until 1960 when the first album was Johnny Pacheco y su Charanga, the first of many Pacheco records for Alegre until 1964 when Pacheco co-founded Fania Records. Santiago knew Pacheco from Charlie Palmieri’s Duboney orchestra, which was one of the major groups popularizing pachanga dance music; a style that owed something to the traditional, Cuban danzon orchestra. By the 1950s, the bands were called a charanga, but still featured flutes and violins, along with piano, upright bass and percussion. Pachanga music could be excessively polite or pound and stomp a bit, but it was rarely beat heavy and its grooves were on the lighter side. Ray Barretto’s “El Watusi” is an example: stripped-down, and simplified, pachanga.

Alegre also was well known for furthering the adventures of the Cuban inspired descarga, a kind of jam session that owed a debt to jazz. It was popularized and shepherded by bassist Cachao—Israel Lopes Valdes—and marketed from Cuba by Panart Records, the first independent, Cuban record label, founded in 1944. In 1965 Alegre released a solid Louie Ramirez album, Vibes Galore and the first of several Tito Puente albums, while Puente was supposedly under contract to Tico. But money was low and Santiago, by then the company’s only driving force, sold to Levy’s business cartel and things changed swiftly. Santiago stuck around to produce Pete Rodriguez’s first album for the label, but apparently most production opportunities fell to Pancho Cristal, who replaced Teddy Reig at Tico and subsequently produced Joe Cuba. Cristal debuted for Alegre with a mildly jazzy record by El Gran Combo’s Roberto Roena and a very boogaloo oriented disc by pianist Ricardo Ray, who seems to have been almost stolen away by Levy from Carmelo Fonseca’s Fonseca label.

There also seems to have been an untold and undocumented backstory to the changes at Tico. It is not really apparent what happened to Teddy Reig. After producing Eddie Palmieri’s Mozambique (1126) and Tito Puente’s Carnival In Harlem (1127) he seems to have disappeared. There is some suggestion that he became an A&R administrator, overseeing the new producers, but at any rate, by some time in 1966, he was working for Verve and clearly gone from Tico. His former translator, assistant and go-fer, Pancho Cristal stepped in and produced Homenaje a Rafael Hernandez by Puente and La Lupe (1131) and then something strange, perhaps inexplicable, happened. Cristal produced the Cuba y Puerto Rico Son record by Puente and Celia Cruz with Al Santiago. Even stranger, Santiago, by himself, produced Son Con Guaguanco by Celia Cruz (1143) and They Call Me La Lupe (1144) as well. This apparently happened BEFORE Santiago was bought out by Levy’s business concerns, as the February 5 issue of BB notes that Roulette bought out Alegre on page 4. One might simply say, “stranger things have happened”, but the production jobs taken while Santiago still apparently owned Alegre are disconcerting, and if there were any artists under contract at the time, they must have had doubts, and concerns at the very least. Also in this unusual stew of events is the fact that Santiago, apart from Tico returned to Alegre to produce and release a Tito Puente record in 1965 (Alegre 842, y Parece Bobo, featuring a mildly “dirty” illustration on the cover) and another one with Puente and vocalist Gilbert Monroig in early 1966 (Alegre 853). During this period, Puente was supposedly under contract to Tico. Strange indeed. All this happened before May or June, when two other incidents of interest and change occurred.

On the upside, Consolidated One Stop of NYC celebrated its first anniversary. Consolidated specialized in latin recordings and was poised to assist the main labels it repped. A party was held to mark this success and it received notice in Billboard (May 6, 1966, p6) On the downside, the famous Palladium ballroom closed in May. The Palladium had opened in 1947 and it was a major, major venue for latin bands, like Machito, Noro Morales, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. Located at 1692 Broadway, near 53rd street, it was also one block north of the famous jazz club, Birdland, and from Birdland it had continuously lured musicians and patrons, exposing Cal Tjader, George Shearing and many others who played and recorded latin jazz during the 1950s, to hear some of the best there was at the time in NYC. The Palladium was also a venue for various charanga groups to popularize the pachanga, as Jose Fajardo played there frequently from 1958 forward. Tito Rodriguez did records commemorating the establishment in 1960 and 1961, but even so, it was raided, disastrously, in 1961, and lost its liquor license, which proved to be a killing blow, though the ballroom survived, or limped on, for close to five more years. While many younger bands were not popular regulars there, the older and established groups, were hurt by the Palladium closing, and the closing coincided with the rise of a new and different audience and beat, at least for some groups. And of course, the ambitious and prolific Joe Cuba Sextet would take the lead.

Perhaps Levy anticipated some of the changes he did not participate in. One major thing Tico did, probably because of Cristal, was to organize a concert at the jazz mecca, the Village Gate, under the auspices of the Tico All Stars, and record the show for releases, which became three albums, the first of which was released at the end of 1965. While many of the musicians were Tico recording artists, several were not, and were associated with Alegre and Fania. Although the one number that used the word, “bugalu” was not released until the third volume, sometime in late 1966, some aspect of the latin boogaloo was clearly in evidence at this show. Other significant highlights were the tenor sax solos of Al Abreau, which show a mature and daring grasp of hard, avant garde jazz. The Tico All Stars records highlighted a new groove and perhaps unexpected jazz excitement and sounds!

The Village Gate show was complemented by two signings the label made at the same time. One was the signing of singer Celia Cruz from Seeco as her contract expired at the close of 1965. Tico wasted no time in recording her with Tito Puente; her debut, Cuba y Puerto Rico Son (1136) was probably released at the same time as the first All Stars record (1135). Cruz remained with Tico into the early 1970s. She never achieved the breakout success that was anticipated and at least in the US, she does not seem to have sold more records than she had for Seeco, a label which did next to nothing to promote her releases. Part of her career with Tico will be outlined in the 1967 section, but it is worth noting here that her relationship with the label was irregular. Her greatest chart success was outside the country; at least one of her foreign hits was never released by Tico in the US and during the mid 1960s she did much of her recording in Mexico, avoiding the home base operations in NYC.
The second Tico signing from the end of 1965 was Ismael Rivera, a famous singer whose career had been derailed by a drug possession arrest and imprisonment. It has been alleged that Morris Levy found a way to “spring” Rivera and even sent Al Santiago to the famous rehab and incarceration center in Lexington, KY, to collect Rivera and bring him to NYC. After his release—and he WAS released—Rivera was reunited with former employer, percussionist band leader Rafael Cortijo, and they recorded almost immediately. Cortijo, like Celia Cruz, had been recording for Seeco, but this new record came out on Tico (1140). Rivera and Cortijo made two new records together, (1158 is the other) and they each stayed with the label into the early 1970s. Like Cruz, neither had any hits in the US, and neither seem to have had the foreign chart success she managed. Rivera’s records with Cuban pianist Javier Vasquez are solid and well regarded and the same can be said of the Cortijo albums. Indeed, his third Tico release, Ahi Na Ma is sometimes considered the best of all his 1960s releases.
All of this is background to the release of the first Joe Cuba record produced by Pancho Cristal, sometime in late 1965. The first 45 drawn from the record made with Cristal, “Prueblo”/”My Wonderful You”, went nowhere. Nothing happened for more than six months and then Tico released a significantly edited version of El Pito and it became the first latin boogaloo hit of 1966, in fact, the first of three charters for the Joe Cuba Sextet.
Cuba had been garnering attention from dancers in mixed race venues and even in predominantly African American dance clubs. Perhaps his piano and vibes driven band, and their English language material intrigued this new audience; or the more sophisticated in these crowds discerned the similarities to records by Cal Tjader. At some point Cuba snagged gigs at the New York Cheetah Discotheque, known for attracting an interracial crowd of young adults. Anecdotal history also notes gigs at the Palm Gardens Ballroom, for a largely black audience. At such gigs, it was noticed that there was considerable response to “El Pito” and not so much to the mambo or cha cha cha material. Eventually, they were able to build on this recognition, but initially, it led to the release and rise of “El Pito” on 45.
Whatever all the circumstances really were, “El Pito” was edited down by 2:38 to 2:56 for its 45 release and at least in the world of Billboard it began a chart run on August 6, 1966, but not on the Hot 100 pop chart, on the R&B chart, at #45 (of 50).
On the following week it did make a move on pop, appearing on the Hot 100 Bubbling Under list at 115 and continuing at 45 on R&B. August 20, “El Pito” climbed one notch to 44 R&B but fell to 126 on the Bubbling Under. During the final August issue (8/27) “El Pito” fell to 46 R&B, with no pop notice. Next week it disappeared.
Short as this chart run was, it is somewhat remarkable because it was more in evidence on the R&B chart than on the pop-rock Hot 100, and Billboard noticed on page 8 of that August 13 issue:

‘EL PITO’ MAKES THE CHART
—————THANKS TO R&B STATIONS

While the article is upbeat about the success of “El Pito”—70,000 copies sold in NYC alone, according to Roulette promotion chief Red Schwartz—it also notes valuable play on r&b stations, while pop radio demurred:
The nations r&b radio stations have been almost totally responsible for the chart success of Tico Records’ El Pito.

The Latin American-flavored r&b record by Joe Cuba has received heavy air-play in New York on r&b and jazz radio stations.

The article goes on to note that the program director of station WHAT in Philadelphia, George Wilson, heard “El Pito” while in NYC, was impressed, and after promising to make “El Pito” a pick of the week, Schwartz serviced WHAT and, in his words, “and bang, the record spread like wildfire” in Philadelphia.
On the down side, Schwartz complained
The rock’n’roll stations won’t play it and they’re beating around the bush about
the reason. I can’t find out why. Some say the record is too Latin American in
nature, but look at the success a few years ago of ‘El Watusi’. Look at the success
now of ‘Guantanamera’ by the Sandpipers on A&M Records.

Schwartz makes cogent points, though the Sandpipers record is almost MOR pop, and not exactly dance music. Further comment seems required, but almost nobody can give definitive reasons for what gets a record airplay and then makes it a hit. Clearly “El Pito” resonated with some aspects of an African American dancing and listening audience, which Cuba and band members noted at that time. Something happened that some r&b and black stations picked up on the record even though they were not in the habit of programming latin music. AS we shall have verified later, this article also omits the role of station WWRL in the popularity of “El Pito.”

What is curious is that on the Cash Box side, the results were almost the opposite. “El Pito” made the Cash Box pop chart July 30, 1966, a week ahead of any Billboard action and broke the 100 barrier, reaching 98 pop; it never entered the Cash Box r&b chart at all! Curious and impossible to explain. Still, this success is a reverberation, though perhaps not so much, and something of a beginning itself: a form of latin boogaloo reached an audience outside of latin radio and outside of spanish speaking record sales in NYC and perhaps Puerto Rico. It is difficult to argue with “facts”; perhaps paying attention to the record itself will provide more.

Oye es el Pito [here’s the whistle]

Is how the edited 45 version opens. Then comes the real whistle, equally insistent percussion, chattering in Spanish; then the galloping has begun: “El Pito” transforms into a brisk, galloping, latin pavane. And further, comes the English chorus

Never Go Back To Georgia
Never Go Back

Where did this come from?

Why Dizzy Gillespie, of course, and secondarily, Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. Gillespie and Pozo wrote a monstrous and foundational afro Cuban work together called “Manteca.” Recorded in December of 1947, it became a hit for Gillespie’s big band in 1948 and remained in his concert repertoire well into 1949. “Manteca” is as cool as it gets, combining the drive of early mambo, guajira and swing into an exultant mix that became known as Cu Bop! It was also a shout out to black Cubans and music hipsters, as ‘manteca’, which conventionally means ‘lard’, ‘fat’, or ‘grease’ in Spanish, means marijuana in black Cuban slang.

When Gillespie re-organized a big band in 1956 to tour the mid-east and do a State Department tour of South America, Manteca again became a concert staple. This time with a twist—when the bass began the tune the band would chant, commemorating racist experiences Gillespie had on his southern tour with the Billy Eckstine band, NEVER GO BACK TO GEORGIA, NEVER GO BACK! Times three. American audiences were not exposed to this new, “Manteca” twist or Gillespie’s ire and humour until his 1956 big band performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 6, 1957. This show was preserved by his label, and issued on Verve album, MGV 8242, Dizzy Gillespie at Newport. Someone connected with the Cuba Sextet either knew this record, or saw the band in 1957 in concert. For “El Pito,” it becomes a marvelous and socially conscious borrowing!

Never Go Back To Georgia
Never Go Back

Three times, and comes the vibes, glowing, racing, flowing and more: chanting of ‘hey, hey, hey, hey’ along with hand clapping. And full stop.

Then it replays all of it, from the top! Starting with that whistle. And again, finally fading to the chant of Never Go Back!

Dancers must have been exhausted and exhilarated by “El Pito,” especially in performance. It is not hard to imagine why this hybrid of pumping piano and chanting, with some racial ire went over with African American listeners and dancers. But why did it make less impression on the pop and rock side? Perhaps because it was not relaxed enough as it is easy to distinguish “El Pito” from other kinds of rock, pop and r&b dance music.

Before moving to the next 1966 hit, there is a lesser known side to the expression “El Pito”: in Mexican slang, it means “dick”. Now the 1965-66 Joe Cuba Sextet contained only members of Puerto Rican descent. Slang, however, travels in mysterious ways. Was there a dirty joke therein? There is no clear answer.

Many years ago, in 1970, Richard “R” Meltzer wrote a wooly façade of a book he dared to call The Aesthetics of Of Rock. In it, he wrote a long, crazed section on what he insisted was the “unknown tongue” of rock music, something vulgar, sexual, candy like. Perhaps Meltzer’s fancy was more than he imagined: “hidden” cross-culturally and more; as much lingua as tongue. (1)

Now, as even the most clueless radio jocks used to say, the hit parade keeps on coming (huh?)! There was another latin boogaloo fanfare in October 1966, and once again by a Joe Cuba 45, a record called “Bang Bang”, or as it strangely appears on the 45 I own, “Bang” “Bang”. Not at all to be confused with a Sonny Bono song, this edited version of the track is a rousing party, in the tradition of early Gary US Bonds hit records—“Quarter To Three”, “School Is Out”, “School Is In”, from October 1960 to October 1961—and also like the twin latin rock versions of Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Thee Midnighters (Feb-Mar 1965) and Cannibal and the Headhunters (Feb-June 1965). Both bands had strong Mexican American audiences and Mexican American members, and the connection between Thee Midnighters and “To Be With You” has been duly noted. Perhaps the ambience of “Bang Bang” was something in return, perhaps someone in the band had heard some or all of these records. Nothing but what I hear and sense remains. On to the chart action.

“Bang Bang”entered the Billbpard R&B chart October 15, 1966, after it was noted as breaking regionally in the October 8 issue. It rode the R&B chart for 10 weeks and peaked at 21. It entered the Pop Hot 100 October 22, peaked at 63 and hung around for three weeks.

It had a similar ride in Cash Box, entering that R&B chart October 15 and managing a nine week run, cracking the top 15 at number 13. On the Cash Box pop side, same entrance date as Billboard, again October 22, but for eight weeks and peaking at 60.

As a dance music performance, “Bang Bang” is pure party mixed with crowd ambience. The opening piano part is a melodic and persuasive introduction to the sound of a crowded gathering, hand clapping and a languorous chant of

Beep Beep [or Bi Bi]
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
Beep Beep!

Bang Bang!

repeated and repeated and repeated, this is the verse, and all of it. It continues with additional crowd sound, interjections and then the chorus:

Corn Bread
Hog Maw
And Chitterlings
Corn Bread

Cloned four times, and combined with different interjections between the refrains—my favorites are “cuchy frito” and “Lechon! Lechon!”, references to different kinds of fried/deep fried pork, pork skin and pork rinds. A chorus of soul food with sides of Cuban and Puerto Rican pork dishes.

Bang Bang!

Then a vibes solo. “Ah beep beep,” over and over takes the record into the fade

Initial considerations might find this a simplistic yet chaotic performance, and in some ways it is, though its organization is persistent, persuasive and jubilant. “Bang Bang” is a party, and fueled by many voices, certainly more than just the Sextet and certainly by some distinctive female and children’s voices; there is testimony that some of the voices are the children of Hector Rivera. The party groove may be the key to greater chart success, and certainly seems to have been a key to a style of ‘let’s have a party’ latin boogaloo.The party that is “Bang Bang” really becomes a kind of standard for the latin boogaloo (party) on record and was taken up by other artists and it becomes one of the major elements of other hits. (2)

Like the next hit entry, but before surveying it, something important appeared in Billboard that must be noticed.

At the end of the year, in an article of some length, Billboard recognized the role that one r&b station played in the success of “El Pito” and” Bang Bang.” The headline reads:

WWRL ‘Format Frontiersmen’

The article presents the General Manager, Frank Ward and the Musical Director, Marty Wekser as “pioneering new programming concepts.” (p22) One of these concepts involves different programming and “opening up the Latin-rock field.” What the article considers Latin-rock is clearly the latin boogaloo of Joe Cuba’s hits and the success and appeal these records had outside the realm of latin radio and latin music retail.

The article goes on to state that WWRL did influence the larger radio market, the pop and rock market. MD Wekser is quoted:

The latin record business was doing extremely well in New York. That’s why we tried an experiment by playing ‘El Pito’.

After noticing this “latin format airplay” and taking a chance on “Bang Bang”, the wave began, and there was success as after WWRL play,” r&b sales picked up.” El Pito led to the success of “Bang Bang”.
It was broken by Symphony Sid on his latin jazz program on WFVD, then pushed into Billboard Hot 100 Chart by WWRL

“El Pito” reached 44 on Billboard’s r&b chart and WWRL played a part, an r&b station helped break a latin boogaloo record, because Ward and Wekser were paying attention to the latin side of contemporary music. It is worth noting that both Ward and Wekser were Caucasian, as well. Ward went on to make an interesting and sweeping claim about r&b radio stations, saying that they are “more creative” though that is difficult to judge after so many years. The recognition here of Symphony Sid does indicate that the impetus began in a latin radio scene, so WWRL and any other r&b or black stations were not alone, though in their programming daring, they were leads of a sort. There really is something cross cultural herein even if it is strictly commerce, and it is very seldom noticed that r&b radio played a significant part in the 1966 success of latin boogaloo & soul in both the r&b AND the pop, Hot 100 charts.

Toward the end of the article, the current efforts and programming of WWRL is also noted:

Last week the Soul 16 chart of the station featured three Latin oriented tunes.

The titles are not cited, though they most certainly include “At The Party” by Hector Rivera and “Hey, Leroy Your Mamas Calling You” by Jimmy Castor, and another Joe Cuba Sextet record, “Oh Yeah.”

This coverage of WWRL leaves and prompts many questions—all unanswered. While in 1966 it was commonplace that a station like WWRL, which essentially programmed black music, was run by two men who were not African American, it cannot be overlooked, especially since all the on air personalities WERE African American. What were the attitudes of the dee jays who played “El Pito” and “Bang Bang”? How did they feel about the creativity Ward and Wekser touted? Clearly Billboard did not notice and probably did not care. Success, measured in record sales, audience share and programming muscle are what Billboard cared about, and to some degree, Ward and Wekser as well, and perhaps the dee jays, too. Nonetheless, this is a curious and not easily parsed and analyzed situation and set of conditions. Motives, discussions, details and much more are not known and cannot be ascertained. Without pushing anything very much, it still remains an interesting happening and the result, the airplay and popularity, did contribute to the airing of new, interesting and hybrid music in a context that was not whence it came, though that context embodied some of the drawn on aspects of r&b in the hybridity of both “El Pito” and “Bang Bang.” Further speculation seems aimless, and there are still hits to discover.

“At the Party”, The third hit

Maybe leading a band did not suit Hector Rivera. He was a gifted pianist and arranger, though in a career that spanned three or more decades he made only eight albums. By comparison, Joe Cuba’s first Seeco record was already his eighth album!

Rivera (January 26, 1933 to January 8, 2006) studied piano and arranging at a very young age and had a good deal of performance and arranging experience before he entered the service in 1953. After his discharge in 1955 he continued some studies, taking instruction on arranging from the brilliant Walter ‘Gil’ Fuller. It is probably not a coincidence that Fuller had worked for the famous afro cu-bop big band led by Dizzy Gillespie. When Fuller worked for Mercury Records he essentially made it possible for Rivera to cut his initial album, Let’s Cha Cha Cha.

For the next 20 years Rivera was constantly employed as pianist, arranger and composer. He worked and played for Arsenio Rodrigues, Vincentico Valdes and Joe Quijano. In 1961 he was the driving force behind Ray Barretto’s first record which was released by Riverside. During his time with Valdes he made two pachanga albums for Epic Records. In the mid 1960s he worked for Johnny Pacheco and contributed to at least six Joe Cuba Sextet recordings. In fact it is claimed that Rivera’s children are among the many voices on “Bang Bang.” Through all of this, somehow Rivera made contact with the loveable, apparently criminal, “associate”, Hyman ‘Hy’ Weiss and recorded for one of Weiss’s labels, Barry.

Hy Weiss worked for several r&b labels in the late 1940s, then in distribution and later worked in record manufacturing. He had many skills, some of them ‘paralegal’ at best. It seems indisputable that he had a ‘good ear’ especially for matching songs with vocal groups, and along with his brother Sam, he started a label, Old Town, in August 1953. (3)

Old Town would not be his only label. Sometime in 1961 he created Barry, though in 1966 he seems to have persuaded Billboard that it was a newly minted business, since page 22 of the December 17, 1966 issue has a short paragraph “announcing” that Weiss was forming a “new” label, Barrie and that the “first artists signings include Thelma Jones and Hector Rivera.”

Needless to say, the records by Jones and Rivera appeared on Barry, not Barrie. She had five 45s and Rivera did four, several more that other artists on the label during the same period, 1966 to 1968 when the label became inactive. The records Jones made, sadly, went largely unnoticed, though the B-side of her forth Barry release, “Give It To Me Straight”/”The House That Jack Built” (Barry 1023) was redone by Aretha Franklin and became a significant pop and r&b hit for her in 1968.

Rivera’s initial release, “At The Party,” (1011) which he wrote and arranged, projects a vibe and sound that resonates with “Bang Bang”—yes, having a party!—and perhaps because of that managed as well in the charts. Released perhaps in November of 1966, “At The Party” entered the Cash Box r&b chart December 3, 1966 and reached the twelfth (12) position, staying in the chart for eleven weeks. On the Cash Box pop chart it entered December 31, 1966 and reached 98, but actually had a five week run.

Despite the notice about “Barrie” in the December 17 issue, “At The Party” did not dent the Billboard charts until December 31, reaching 26 on the r&b measure and remaining for eight weeks. It had a seven week run on the Billboard pop side though it never actually made the Hot 100, appearing only in the Bubbling Under list, and rising to 104. It is remarkable that any record should have done that, staying in the Bubbling Under list for SEVEN weeks in a row and never denting the Hot 100!

There are no clear answers why “At The Party” performed so well on Cash Box over Billboard. Certainly is not because the record is not infectious, though its use of a brass (all trumpets?) in the arrangement certainly gives it a profoundly stronger latin sound than some aspects of “El Pito” and “Bang Bang,” though there is not really much audible Spanish on the disc, and the singer Ray Pollard sounds very rock and soul, and was African American! (4)

Though the band assembled for “At The Party” seems like a full conjunto, with at least two trumpets, it is a piano driven performance and has a particularly strong vocal by Ray Pollard (or maybe David Coleman, who is also uncredited on all the Rivera 45s, save one, on which the label ascription is “David Coleman with the Hector Rivera Orchestra”).

An eloquent piano riff begins “At The Party,” and Rivera plays it throughout with a fine, distinctive touch, more caressing than the piano sounds in “El Pito” or “Bang Bang”. There are crowd sounds, people whooping, something fun is getting it on, and then there are seven, upward brass riffs.

The vocals are handled by Pollard (or perhaps Coleman), an agile, enthusiastic singer and he has help from a deliciously upbeat female chorus. Enter the brass again with a seven note figure repeated thrice. Coleman makes explicit r&b references, urging, “bring your red dress” (a reference to “High Heel Sneakers”) while a cow bell makes a persistent entrance. Suddenly the brass and the band make an ascending rock move—it’s not a bridge—as if it were “Good Loving,” and Pollard begins his ingratiating urging again; the female chorus repeats, “At The Party” over and over. We have gone to the go-go and it is hot!

That cow bell seems to get louder and louder and a new, two part brass riff repeats again and again and again, and there’s more vocals and more female chorus, until that brass part returns, pumping its multi-note figure all the way to the end of the fade out. Phew! Sweaty and smiling! The blend of latin brass, percussion, soul vocals and a matching vocal arrangement, make it obvious why, once the air play began, this was a substantial r&b hit!

Jimmy Castor

The next latin boogaloo hit is a bit unusual, as it was by a non-latin artist, singer, musician, writer, Jimmy Castor. Castor was at least a ten year performing veteran when he hit with “Hey, Leroy Your Mama’s Calling You” (here after as “Hey, Leroy” Smash 2069). Born January 23, 1940, Castor grew up in Harlem and Washington Heights, in NYC. In his teens he formed a singing group, Jimmy Castor and the Juniors, and they cut a 45 as early as May 17, 1956, which is information displayed on the label to Wing 90078. Castor wrote the B-side, “I Promise,” and as “I Promise To Remember,” it was rerecorded by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, becoming a big hit. The Castor/Juniors disc did not sell nor did a second group disc on Atomic. This did not discourage Castor as a singer and he continued to do vocal group/doo wop records. (5)

By the early 1960s, though, his strategy had changed and he was playing some tenor sax on record and not just singing. He recorded as the Jimmy Castor Quintet (Clown 1015—the label lists him as “Caster”) and then as the Jimmy Castor Quartet (Hull 758). During this time he played tenor sax on the hit “Rinky Dink,” by keyboard player, Dave “Baby” Cortez. Sometime in 1965 he was signed to the NY-DC based operation, Jet Set and he made three, or maybe even four, records for the label (Jet Set 1001, 1002, 1009 and a mystery release of “Majic Saxaphone” (sic)).

Castor recorded after Smash in the 1960s and as The Jimmy Castor Bunch and then just Jimmy Castor; had numerous hits in the 1970s and 1980s, which story is outside of this one.

The Jet Set records are soul and r&b, some featuring Castor as a fine, hard blowing sax player in a honking mold. Two of them also have magical, latin moments! “It’s OK” from Jet Set 1001 has a moment of montuno piano, and “Block Party,” on 1002 has a segment of very latin horns and even a brief solo trumpet flurry. This trend continued as he had a mid 1966 disc for Decca, “In A Boogaloo Bag,” part 1&2, though it was not in the latin boogaloo mold but an r&b boogaloo groove, plus some latin percussion. His next record, “Hey, Leroy”, for the Smash label, as the NYT obit put it, “was calypso-inflected” melody while “the groove was Latin….” The only way to make this more accurate would be to make it more general by calling it Caribbean and calypso as well as latin boogaloo. (6)

“Hey, Leroy” has some of the qualities that link to “Bang Bang” and “At the Party,” and it made its initial r&b appearance again in Cash Box, December 24, 1966, at 27, where it had a spectacular life, peaking at 5, for two weeks and remaining for thirteen weeks. It did very well on the pop side of Cash Box as well, entering the following week, hitting 35 and staying for nine weeks. On Billboard, “Hey, Leroy” was in the Bubbling Under list at 127 during the week of December 24. It officially made both charts on December 31, 1966, on the Hot 100 at 95, peaking at 31; also having a nine week run; while on the R&B charts, it entered at 48 (the printed, official chart back then only went to 50), Though it only had an eight week run, it peaked at 16. This is considerable success, and may have seemed ironic and perhaps other than a little ironic to Cuba and Rivera that it did better than their discs. “Hey, Leroy” is not really an inferior record, it simply is not as lively, and there really isn’t a party going on, as much as there is street corner dissing. The opening use of whistling does perhaps suggest that Castor had heard “El Pito” and it seems safe to say that he must have heard some latin boogaloo music in 1966, or before.

In a long Village Voice article, Castor is quoted about how Hey, Leroy happened:

One day I’m hearing Joe Panama [former employer of Joe Cuba] plying piano, so I got an idea, I tell my guitar player, play C, E-minor, F, G, (imitates calypso rhythm) just keep playing that. And we started playing it in the clubs and people were loving it. Latin calypso. See, I’m part Bermudian.

The same article also quotes singer and band leader Joe Bataan, a latin soul signatory and innovator, who recalled seeing Castor’s band playing “Manteca” on a shared gig. He further commented on how diverse and impressive the band’s repertoire was, as “he had this diversified music, you couldn’t put your finger on it…he was playing Caribbean music, then going latin, then funky soul….” (7)

The material on the album Castor did for Smash, the label that released “Hey, Leroy,” is also diverse, mixing Caribbean and latin with soul, r&b as well as rock. His latin version of “Ol Man River” is great mambo jazz with a long segment of congas and timbales, which Castor played—in addition to tenor sax! Castor’s sax also graces the middle and end of “Hey, Leroy,” and he plays in a muscular, bluesy jazz and honking style. His solo beautifully counters the catchy and florid piano parts which carry the song.

Oh Yeah, Joe Cuba again!

The last hit of 1966 was a return of the Joe Cuba Sextet. “Oh Yeah!” with its uninhibited words and music (with “Sock It To Me” on the B-side) was released on Tico 45 490, perhaps in early December of 1966. By the end of the month, it was listed at 127 in the Bubbling Under section of the Hot 100 and 49 on the Billboard r&b chart. For the first week of January 1967, “Oh Yeah!” registered 85 on the Hot 100 and rose three slots to 46 on the r&b chart. On that r&b chart, “Oh Yeah!” had only a four week run, 49, 46, 46 and then, on January 21, 45 and no more. It lasted two more weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at 62 for its final weeks of January 28 and February 4 at the end of a six week run. The five hits of 1966 (and yes, early 1967), are bookended by two from Joe Cuba, and two which have somewhat similar chart runs, though “Oh Yeah!” definitely did better than “El Pito” on the Hot 100. The performance on the r&b chart is remarkably similar. Cash Box listed “Oh Yeah!” as debuting December 31 and peaking at 91 spending three weeks on the chart. It did not register on the Cash Box r&b chart. This also is similar to the performance of “El Pito” in Cash Box.

“Oh Yeah!” Is indeed simple, catchy music which strings together a most remarkable story, mis-en-scene and ambience. It emits a warm glow but about intoxication and casual (and perhaps male dominated) sex. It is entirely expressive of the singer’s perspective and the woman involved does not speak and is not given even the slightest input or expression.

Still, the mood is of elation; it is joyful and not just intoxicated, It is festive, loose, upbeat, fun and slightly frivolous. It is impossible to reproduce this in writing, especially the chanting, the chorus of voices that constitute the refrain of “Oh Yeah!” It is worth producing the lyrics.

We’re going to a party
Put your red dress on
Ain’t nothing too fancy, baby
So don’t you get too sharp

Hey, hey, hey…

It’s in the park (oh, yeah)
It’s getting dark (oh, yeah)
It’s on the roof (oh, yeah)
One hundred proof (oh, yeah)

You’re looking good (oh, yeah)
You’re looking fine (oh, yeah)
No one can tell (oh, yeah)
You’re getting blind (oh, yeah)

Hey, hey, hey…

One, two, three
You’re looking good to me
(Yes, you’re cute)
Four, five, six
I’d like to kiss your lips

Seven, eight, nine
Hey, girl, you’re looking fine
Eight, nine, ten
We’re gonna do it again

Hey, hey, hey…

Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)

Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)

Hey, hey, hey…

It’s in the park (oh, yeah)
It’s getting dark (oh, yeah)
It’s on the roof (oh, yeah)
One hundred proof (oh, yeah)

You’re looking good (oh, yeah)
You’re looking fine (oh, yeah)
No one can tell (oh, yeah)
You’re getting blind (oh, yeah)

Hey, hey, hey…

Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)
Oh, yeah (oh, yeah)

– –

Hey, hey, hey…

It’s in the park (oh, yeah)
It’s getting dark (oh, yeah)
It’s on the roof (oh, yeah)
One hundred proof (oh, yeah)

You’re looking good (oh, yeah)
You’re looking fine (oh, yeah)
No one can tell (oh, yeah)
You’re getting blind (oh, yeah)

Hey, hey, hey…

[the lyrics below the two dashes only appear on the longer album version]

A simple piano and vibes part is played between the verses (at ‘hey, hey, hey’) and after the chorus of ‘Oh Yeah!’ The 45 release is only 2:23 while the version on the album is 3:12 and there is a false fade to black before it repeats for a third and final time before the final fade out. While contagious, it is simple and very direct. Given why many songs were refused air play or pulled after initial air play, it is mildly surprising that “Oh Yeah!” received enough air play to chart, even if it was not a significant hit. The three Joe Cuba Sextet hits of 1966 certainly do establish a party kind of latin boogaloo that was important, influential and quite popular, and the other two hits, especially “At The Party,” add to the strength of this kind of vibe and record. In all, it really does make 1966 an official time of latin, party boogaloo. It would not be the same in 1967.

Notes

1 “the greatest and most familiar analogue to the unknown tongue (anyway) in mere human experience is the (mere) orgasm.” R Meltzer, The Aesthetics Of Rock, (New York City: Something Else Press, Inc, 1970) 111-127, the quote is 119-120.

2 Two other records with party aspects are “Soulfinger” by the Bar Kays and the Premiers’ version of “Farmer John”.

3 John Broven, Record Makers and Record Breakers, (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010); Nick Tosches, Save the Last Dance for Satan (New York: Kicks Books, 2011) 3; Caliente=hot, New World 244 liner notes, 3; article/obit at Descarga.com http://www.descarga.com/cgi-bin/db/archives/Profile83 ]

4 An article by Juan Flores claims that the singer on At The Party is Ray Pollard and the Willie Torres Discography claims this as well. Since one Rivera 45 on Barry bills singer David Coleman, he also remains a possibility, 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.

5 NYT obit, 01/18/2012, Castor died 01/16/2016; liner notes to Castor CD, Collectables 5620; BMI Repertoire Search for “I Promise”; 45cat and discogs for Wing and Castor, Soulfulkindamusic for Castor and Jet Set.

6 “Hey Leroy” had Caribbean appeal as it was recorded by Jamaican sax player Tommy McCook in 1967.

7 Matt Rogers , “Jimmy Castor R.I.P.”, Village Voice, Thursday Jan 19, 2012 : 21, 22. See also, villagevoice.com.

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