Joe Cuba Sextet - El Pito
If you grew up in the New York area, Latin music was pretty much summed up by the tempting but ultimately incomprehensible sounds of NY salsa radio stations on the streets of the city – punctuated by the heavily echoed, fast talking DJs who would anchor spaghetti strings of Spanish sentences with exclamations of “Yankee Stadium” or “Times Square”. That and the always entertaining world of Spanish TV – but that’s another post entirely. Back in the 60’s, several NY based Latin artists (many Puerto Rican, some Cuban) started to fuse the sounds of salsa with R&B and soul, resulting in the super-tasty sounds of the boogaloo. Cats like Ray Barretto, Joe Cuba, Larry Harlow (not himself a Hispanic but a master of the music), Mongo Santamaria, Ricardo Ray and Willie Bobo started (on labels like Fania, Tico and Allegre) cranking out some of the hottest grooves on 45. They combined black soul with clave and filled dance floors. At the time, in spite of the obvious high quality of the music many of these artists – who had been successful as purveyors of more “traditional” sounds – met resistance with some in the Latino community who saw all of this boogaloo and shingaling as a corruption of “real” music. Fortunately the music they were making had crossover success and artists like the Joe Cuba Sextet and Ray Barretto made it onto the pop charts. Joe Cuba (real name Gilbert Calderon, and a member of the Stickball Hall of Fame) had been releasing albums since the late 50’s before hitting in 1965 with ‘El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia)’. Based on a chant from a Dizzy Gillespie song, the tune is a raving, soul-clapping burner featuring the vocals of Jimmy Sabater and Cheo Feliciano, plenty of Latin percussion and Cuba’s vibes. If ever a 45 had the power to get your toes tapping and your ass moving (hopefully at the same time) ‘El Pito’ is it. The Joe Cuba Sextet would hit it even bigger the following year with the international smash ‘Bang! Bang!’ (the LP ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ (Bang! Bang! Push! Push!) also included the sublime Latin jazz of ‘Que Son Uno’) . The mid to late 60’s was the golden era for Latin soul, and it would be wise to seek out the sounds of cats like Ricardo Ray (who’s cover of ‘Nitty Gritty’ on Allegre is a killer), Ray Barretto (cuts like the monumental ‘Soul Drummers’ and his landmark ‘Acid’ LP which includes classics like ‘Hard Hands’ and ‘A Deeper Shade of Soul’), Mongo Santamaria (all of his Battle, Columbia and Atlantic recordings), Harvey Averne (on Fania and Atlantic), Willie Bobo (on Verve) and countless lesser known but no less amazing artists like the LeBron Brothers, Monguito Santamaria (son of Mongo), Kako, and The Latinaires. If you don’t have the time or cash to hunt down the original 45’s and LPs (and some of them pull extremely righteous coin) I’d suggest picking up some of the Boogaloo comps on the UK Harmless label and reissues of original Fania and Tico LPs, many of which are available over at DustyGroove.