Fania Records 1964-1980 - The Original Sound Of Latin New York - out on Strut Records
Fania Records 1964-1980 - The Original Sound Of Latin New York
(2xCD/2xLP/Digital) Strut Records STRUT078CD/LP, 2011-03-21
Strut is pleased to present the first ever definitive 2CD retrospective of Fania Records, the seminal New York latin label, spanning its influential heyday between its formation in 1964 through to 1980. This new 2CD set follows the development of Fania's sound during its key years including early Johny Pacheco and Larry Harlow outings from 1964, classic Fania collaborations between Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, seminal Latin soul (Joe Bataan, Ray Barretto), boogaloo and epic outings by Fania's in-house super-group, the Fania All-Stars. The 2CD set is packaged in a thick digipak with a 32-page booklet including a full Fania label history, memorabilia, album artwork and many previously unseen photos from the Fania archive. The 2LP set will be released as a gatefold.
Fania Records 1964-1980 - The Original Sound Of Latin New York
(2xCD/2xLP/Digital) Strut Records STRUT078CD/LP, 2011-03-21
Tracklisting CD1 :
01. Johnny Pacheco - Dakar, Punto Final
02. Orchestra Harlow - La Juventud
03. Joe Bataan - Subway Joe
04. Ray Barretto - Mercy Mercy Baby
05. Bobby Valentin - Use It Before You Lose It
06. Willie Colon - The Hustler
07. Joe Bataan - Mambo De Bataan
08. Roberto Roena - Consolacion
09. Ismael Miranda con Orchestra Harlow - Abran Paso
10. Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz - Sonido Bestial
11. Willie Colon - Che Che Cole
12. Cheo Feliciano - Anacaona
13. The Fania All Stars - Quitate Tu (Live At The Cheetah)
14. Justo Betancourt - Pa' Bravo Yo
15. Ismael Miranda - Asi Se Compone Un Son
Tracklisting CD2 :
01. Ray Barretto - Indestructible
02. Willie Colon - Calle Luna, Calle Sol
03. Roberto Roena - Que Se Sepa
04. Bobby Valentin - Coco Seco
05. Celiz Cruz & Johnny Pacheco - Quimbara
06. Tommy Olivencia - Pa'Lante Otra Vez
07. Hector Lavoe - Mi Gente
08. Mongo Santamaria - O Mi Shango
09. Sonora Poncena - Bomba Carambomba
10. Ruben Blades & Willie Colon - Pablo Pueblo
11. Hector Lavoe - El Cantante
12. Ruben Blades & Willie Colon - Pedro Navaja
13. Celia Cruz Y Sonora Poncena - Sonaremos El Tambo
14. Fania All Stars & Celia Cruz - Cuando Despiertes
Press Release :
Strut is pleased to present the first ever definitive 2CD retrospective of Fania Records, the seminal New York latin label, spanning its influential heyday between its formation in 1964 through to 1980.
Fania was originally the brainchild of musician and bandleader Johnny Pacheco who, when disillusioned with the label releasing his music, teamed up with lawyer Jerry Masucci to form a new imprint, named after a Reinaldo Bolanos composition. At the time, the era of the 'mambo kings' that reigned supreme in New York from the late 1940s through the 1950s had begun to lose momentum. New York's new generation of young Latinos were more interested in doo-wop during the late 1950s, then the 'twist' and the R&B of Motown. Younger Nu Yorican musicians began experimenting with new, energetic fusions of Latin music like boogaloo and what ultimately became known as salsa and Fania arrived at the perfect time to bring the new sounds to the huge Latin communities in Spanish Harlem and across New York.
The label began signing artists like Louie Ramirez and Larry Harlow in 1966, then Bobby Valentin, Joe Bataan, conga maestro Ray Barretto, trombonist Willie Colon and singer Hector Lavoe. Over the next two decades, Fania successfully popularised the new music to a global audience and helped create a worldwide salsa explosion. Over time, it signed most of the major Latin artists of the era to the label including Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades and Roberto Roena.
This new 2CD set follows the development of Fania's sound during its key years including early Johny Pacheco and Larry Harlow outings from 1964, classic Fania collaborations between Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, seminal Latin soul (Joe Bataan, Ray Barretto), boogaloo and epic outings by Fania's in-house super-group, the Fania All-Stars.
The 2CD set is packaged in a thick digipak with a 32-page booklet including a full Fania label history, memorabilia, album artwork and many previously unseen photos from the Fania archive. The 2LP set will be released as a gatefold.
Final sleeve notes by Dean Rudland :<:/b>
Fania Records is one of the great success stories of the American music industry. The brainchild of an Italian-American lawyer, Jerry Masucci, and a musician from the Dominican Republic, Johnny Pacheco, it took what was a specialist ethnic music, gave it a marketable name and then sold it the world over. It became an empire encompassing over half a dozen separate record labels, several publishing companies, a film division and a cast of stars. Fania was the Motown and Stax for the non-Mexican latin populations of the Americas and its stars were their Beatles and Stones.
In any town around the world you are likely to see salsa dance lessons being offered, a way to keep fit, perhaps meet a lover or a partner, or just an excuse to get out of the house on a wet Tuesday night. Yet the music that goes under the name 'salsa' is a hybrid of many different sorts of rhythms, brought from the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands, most notably Cuba, but also from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Fania took these sounds, mutated by the influences that surrounded their New York-based musicians, and marketed them to the world.
Born on March 25th, 1935 in Santiago De Los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic, Johnny Pacheco moved to New York with his family in 1946 and, by his mid teens, had become a professional musician. At school he had learned to read music, so when a percussionist was needed for the studio bands at the city's TV studios, he was often the one on call. In this way he played on both the Johnny Carson and the Steve Allen shows. Throughout the '50s he worked his way up on the New York latin scene playing in the groups of the "mambo kings" Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez and then forming his own band which started a craze for charanga groups, which were made up of violins and flute, two voices in unison and a rhythm section. It was a typically Cuban sound, but updated for the Big Apple and Pacheco's became the hottest band on the scene, signing to Al Santiago's Alegre label.
Santiago owned a record shop and, as such, he could shift quantities of his own releases but he was very much small fry in a latin market which was dominated by Tico Records, owned by music business legend Maurice Levy. The label had been founded by George Goldner, who had signed up and made stars of Puente and Rodriguez, before losing the label to Levy over gambling debts. Levy, who has gone down in music business legend as a man with many connections with the criminal classes, controlled the latin record business of the time and Tico was the label that everyone looked up to.
By 1963 Pacheco was a star and felt that he was not getting paid his due by Santiago. Discussing this with the lawyer whom he had met the previous year and who had represented him on various personal matters, the pair decided to start their own label. The lawyer, Jerry Masucci, was an ex-policeman who had never worked in music before but who had gone to school in Mexico and had also studied in Havana, Cuba - according to Pacheco, "he loved the music and the charanga sound". It may then have come as a surprise to Masucci that, once they had raised the $2,500 start up costs for the label, Pacheco disbanded his charanga group, replacing his violin players with horns to create a conjunto. They recorded their first album, 'Canonazo', on Pacheco's birthday and released it on the new Fania imprint with a catalogue number which reflected that date: F-325. The label was named after an old composition by Reinaldo Bolaños, a version of which appeared on the album.
Pacheco's new sound was a triumph, as you can hear in the opening track on our anthology, 'Dakar, Punto Final', a tribute to Africa and, in particular, Senegal where Pacheco's charanga records had been exceptionally popular. The new sound was partially the result of Pacheco's growing fascination with the Cuban super-group Sonora Mantancera, and you can clearly sense here the blueprint for what would become described as salsa. For a year or so Fania was entirely an outlet for Pacheco and a sideline for Masucci who was also running his law practice (which he continued to do into the latter part of the decade, leaving the day-to-day running of the label to one of his artists, Harvey Averne). However, from 1966 the roster started to grow and over the next couple of years would become crucial to the chronicling of the new sounds emerging from latin New York. The first couple of signings would become crucial members of what was to become a family of musicians at the label. 'Good News' by vibes player Louie Ramirez was the first non-Pacheco recording and Ramirez would return to the label time and again as a producer through the years, creating important leaps forward in the sound of salsa right up until his death in 1993. Louie's album was fairly traditional, as was the debut by Larry Harlow, 'Heavy Smokin'', from which we have included 'La Juventud'. Born Larry Khan, he was Jewish but had studied in Havana where he had discovered a deep love for Cuba's music and cultures. An incredible pianist and bandleader, Larry would be instrumental in many chapters of Fania's success.
It was the signings of 1967 that firmly placed Fania on the map and, in many ways, they were a diversion from the path of salsa. By that time, the children of those latinos who had emigrated to New York in the 1940s were reaching an age where they were out at clubs and making music. They had grown up in the midst of American culture and in areas such as Spanish Harlem and the Bronx where they would often be mixing with the area's African-American youth, listening to soul music as well as the record collections of their parents and older brothers. This process had first started in the late '50s when young Nuyoricans would form doo-wop groups inspired by the example of hitmakers Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers who had two latinos in their line up at the height of their success. By the mid '60s this new generation created a youthful explosion that took the record labels, especially Tico, by surprise, leaving room for others to take up the slack. The sounds that were emerging were a mixture of latin beats and soul music, utilising English vocals and incredible dance rhythms. It picked up various names, the most prevalent of which were latin boogaloo or latin soul.
Puerto Rican-born Bobby Valentin was the first of Fania's roster to represent the new sound. Moving to New York in 1956 he had landed his professional break a couple of years later as a trumpeter in Joe Quijano's band. He became known for playing trumpet but he had also taught himself to play bass, finding employment as a bassist in Ray Barretto's group. In 1965, as a trumpeter, he formed his own group and recorded an album for Fonseca before signing to Fania. His debut album was called 'Young Man With A Horn' and featured some astounding playing. More importantly, it featured a couple of boogaloo tracks. His first two albums were good but it is 'Use It Before You Use It' from his third, 'Let's Turn On - Arrebatarnos', that is now incredibly sought after, having become an anthem on the northern soul scene. In 1969, Valentin moved to Puerto Rico and switched from trumpet to bass, the instrument on which he would become a salsa star in the decade that followed.
If Harlow and Valentin heralded a new age for the label, the signings of 1967 confirmed it. Buoyed by the uplift in sales caused by the boogaloo craze, Fania signed two of the hottest young names on the block. The most immediately successful was Joe Bataan. Born Bataan Nitollano, he grew up in Spanish Harlem and was in his own words "a neighbourhood tough guy" who, by the late '50s, was leading a neighbourhood gang called The Dragons. After a spell in prison he turned his life towards music, starting off on piano but moving to vocals when his Spanish vocalist couldn't handle the English lyrics required by latin soul. Fania snapped him up from under the noses of several labels and he became an immediate hit with his group's hard-hitting music and Joe's distinctive and, at times, fragile lead vocal. Hits followed with his sublime take on Curtis Mayfield's 'Gypsy Woman', 'What Good Is A Castle' and 'It's A Good Good Feeling (Riot)'. In the midst of these was his astounding tale of a journey through New York, 'Subway Joe'. From the percussive handclaps to the rhythmic horn blasts, this perennial favourite simply oozes with the heat, tension and underlying aggression of the Big Apple.
The signing of conga legend Ray Barretto was a marker that, if the label had yet to arrive, it was certainly well on its way. Barretto was older than everyone else on the label including Pacheco and had scored a national pop hit with 'El Watusi', a charanga that, in its rhythm, seemed to preface the boogaloo craze. That hit had been on Tico and Barretto had then signed to United Artists who had hoped to score further hits. By his last album for the label, he was recording boogaloos and the group that he assembled for his first Fania album was perfectly suited to mix jazz, soul and Afro-Cuban rhythms in a way that was beyond most others. The resultant 'Acid' is nothing short of a masterpiece, eight tracks long and brilliant throughout. The group was anchored by Ray and propelled by Louie Cruz on piano for the soul-based numbers, including 'Mercy Mercy Baby'. Vocalist on the track, Pete Bonet, boasted an incredible voice - his solo album on Swinger is well worth searching out.
If signing two stars wasn't enough, the next act through the door provided two for Fania. Willie Colón was from the Bronx and, although his first few albums included boogaloos, he was not considered a key artist in the boogaloo craze, despite his young age. Born in 1950, he had been brought up by his grandmother who had bought him his first trumpet, although by the time he began playing live, he had switched to valve trombone. He made his first recording for Al Santiago's Futura label but, when Santiago failed to pay some studio bills on further recordings, engineer Irv Greenburg alerted Pacheco, who promptly signed Colón. However, Pacheco didn't like the singer in Colón's band and suggested using a young Puerto Rican vocalist he had heard around town, Hector Lavoe. Together and apart, the pair would become Fania's biggest and most enduring stars. They debuted together on 'El Malo' and the following year released 'The Hustler'. The titles and covers of both point to the gangster image that Colon would use to define himself as a streetwise player.
Colón's music was a complex mix of Cuban, Puerto Rican, West African and jazz elements and was always vital and exciting. Our first number from Willie is the instrumental title track to 'The Hustler', which showcases his vibrant trombone and the incredible piano playing of Markolino Dimond. On 'Che Che Colé' from the fourth album 'Cosa Nuestra', Hector is in great voice, gliding effortlessly over the music whilst maintaining complete control. This song, adapted from a Ghanaian nursery rhyme, became a massive hit across Latin America and the Caribbean, confirming Willie and Hector's status as superstars.
As the '60s came to a close, boogaloo ran out of steam for a variety of reasons. Old-school latin promoters may have been reasserting their dominance, but the philosophy of the era was changing, as ethnic communities began reclaiming their own heritage. So, the language and rhythms of the islands became important and, whilst most of the New York-based perpetrators of the music had their own personal roots in Puerto Rico, it was the rhythms of Cuba that were becoming dominant, although still fed through with the influences of New York. As Johnny Pacheco told author Mary Kent in her seminal book 'Salsa Talks', "We took the Cuban music and, since we grew up in New York and had jazz influences, we modernised certain chords… And the rhythm section is more pronounced when we perform… We play for dancers and that's what gives us the percussion sound". A track like 'Abran Paso' by Larry Harlow demonstrates the emergence of this new salsa sound. The form is Cuban but the accents on the horns are straight from the big city and the vocals are in Spanish. Harlow had recruited the vocalist Ismael Miranda as an 18 year-old in 1968 and the pair were, in the words of Miranda, "a perfect combination". They would make seven albums together before going their separate ways in the early '70s.
Miranda was part of the influx of new signings that were flooding into the label which led Masucci to set up a slew of new labels including the Uptite imprint, formed to try and cross over into the R&B market. It failed in its aim but may have achieved the groundwork to help Ralfi Pagan score a hit in 1971 with a cover of Bread's 'Make It With You'. In 1969, the International label was set up for artists from outside of the United States, eventually covering artists from across the latin diaspora, but its earliest signing would be its mainstay. Puerto Rican-based percussionist Roberto Roena had his musical breakthrough in the band of Cortijo before moving on to join El Gran Combo in the early '60s. He stayed with them until he formed the Apollo Sound in 1969, topically named after the Apollo moon missions and featuring a dynamite, Blood Sweat & Tears-influenced horn section. Their debut album featured 'Consolacion' and, due to its US influences, seems to be as much a salsa record as anything recorded in New York at the time.
The most successful label set up by Masucci was Vaya which acted as alternative outlet for salsa from the main Fania line and, although it would soon have its own roster of stars, musically, all of them could just have easily appeared on the main imprint. Early hits on Vaya included Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz's 'El Bestial Sonido' and Cheo Feliciano's album 'Cheo' which included the smash hit 'Anacaona'. Cheo, like Ray & Cruz, was not some new discovery but a recognised legend of latin music, having been the joint lead vocalist of the Joe Cuba Sextet from the late '50s through to the middle of the next decade. He then suffered personal problems that saw him retreat to Puerto Rico before being persuaded by various friends to get back into the business, whereupon he signed with Fania. The possessor of a voice as rich and smooth as a good dark coffee, Cheo also had the timing of the finest jazz singer and, on 'Anacaona', a salsa standard written by his friend Tito Curet Alonso, he weaves his way through an arrangement dominated by the incredible vibes playing of Louie Ramirez.
Fania was on the verge of a breakthrough, marked over the following years by a series of concerts given by the label's super-group, The Fania All Stars. In latin music, the all-star group was something of a tradition - Al Santiago had released a series of records by the Alegre All Stars in the early '60s and, over the years, records had appeared by the Questa and the Tico All Stars. Masucci had launched the Fania All Stars in 1968 with a show at the Red Garter featuring the acts signed to the label at the time and some special guests such as Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri whom he managed to persuade to turn up. It was an act of bravado and he pulled it off but the label was, at the time, far too small for it to be meaningful. By the next Fania All Stars concert, his label had established itself and its acts were stars. He took over a downtown club called the Cheetah and used the performance of the Fania All Stars as the centrepiece of the film he was making, 'Our Latin Thing'.
The line-up included virtually all of the label's acts (although the soulful Joe Bataan and Ralfi Pagan appear to have been deliberately excluded) under the musical direction of Johnny Pacheco and the music was perfect. Every number was a hit and the albums that were recorded from the evening's performance established the Fania All Stars as the label's flagship act. 'Quitate Tú' became a highlight of virtually every show, its loose structure allowing the band to showcase their talents, whilst the shortened single edit became a radio staple. Masucci would organise bigger shows including legendary nights at the Yankee Stadium and the All Stars debut in Puerto Rico at the Roberto Clemente Stadium in San Juan but musically the Cheetah shows were perhaps the greatest.
With Pacheco as Fania's musical director and with so many of the acts feeding off each other in the Fania All Stars, the early part of the 1970s saw the label at an incredible artistic high. They were defining salsa via a string of hit songs and hit albums. Singer Justo Betancourt, another whose career had started in the late '50s, signed to Fania in 1968 and hit peak form with 'Pa' Bravo Yo' and Ismael Miranda struck out on his own after his spell with Larry Harlow and hit paydirt with the timeless 'Asi Se Compone Un Son' which set him up for a further decade of hit recordings for Fania. Bobby Valentin had left New York for Puerto Rico and put down his horn in favour of the bass, using his new found position to make some of the most danceable salsa records of all time such as the anthemically funky 'Coco Seco' from the aptly titled 'Rey Del Bajo' ('King Of The Bass'). Valentin would continue to be a key member of the Fania All Stars but, in 1975, launched his own label Bronco based in Puerto Rico but distributed by Fania. Roberto Roena continued to plough his distinctive furrow mixing salsa with the big horn sound of his US favourites and, from 'Apollo Sound 5', we feature the perfect example of this fusion, the sought after funk cut 'Que Se Sepa'.
Ray Barretto had gone from strength to strength with his band since he had joined Fania and was one of the most sought after acts in the latin world, especially following the success of 1972's 'Que Viva La Musica'. It was a success that broke his band as almost the whole group left to form Tipica 73, leaving Ray to start from scratch. Whilst recording a jazz album, 'The Other Road'. he formed the nucleus of a new set of musicians and set about completing the line-up, including the addition of vocalist Tito Allen. The resultant album, 'Indestructible', with its distinctive cover by Izzy Sanabria showing Ray changing from Clark Kent into Superman, was a classic and his biggest hit to date. In his heart, Ray was far from being simply a salsero. He loved jazz as well and, whilst he recorded off and on for Fania up until Masucci's death in 1997, he would take time out, sometimes in conjunction with Masucci, in attempts to cross over, releasing records in jazzy, funky styles for labels including Atlantic, CTI and Blue Note. Throughout this time, he remained a key member of the Fania All Stars.
Fania's biggest act was, without doubt, Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe. The combination between the two was incendiary and album after album, built around the conceit of the pair's gangster image and the magnificent music within, hit home. Willie was never afraid to add new sounds to his musical world, which threw up thrilling results such as the sheer funkiness of 'Calle Luna, Calle Sol' from 'Lo Mato'. It was to be the last album made by the pair under Willie's name. By all accounts, Willie's life on the road with Hector, a man who could most definitely party hard, was never easy and Willie was more interested in making music in the studio. He retired from the live circuit, handed his band over to Hector and Fania suddenly had two acts instead of one. Willie produced Hector's debut album as a solo artist, 'La Voz', which proved what everyone already knew, that Hector would be a massive star. The album saw members of his own band such as Mark Diamond join forces with greats from the Fania All Stars like Nicky Marrero and Ray Maldonado, whilst the vocal chorus featured Fania's new vocalist of note, Rubén Blades. The hit single was 'El Todopoderoso' but it was the Johnny Pacheco composed 'Mi Gente' that became Hector's anthem.
For the remainder of the decade Hector would be salsa music's biggest star. But, for all the talk of drug abuse and non-appearance at shows, it failed to affect the music on his albums. 'De Ti Depende' followed, then 'El Sabio' and 'Comedia' with its classic cover image of Hector dressed as Charlie Chaplin. This album produced the anthem 'El Cantante' ('The Singer') and it was indicative of his consummate vocal skill that this became his nickname and the title for the film of his life that was made in 2006 starring Mark Anthony in the title role. When Hector's lifestyle did catch up with him, it marked a slow descent to his death in 1993, having hardly recorded in a decade.
The success of the Fania All Stars in pushing salsa and Fania as the main purveyor of the music allowed Masucci to indulge in some empire building. In the early '70s he purchased two active labels and added them to the Fania operation. Inca was a Miami-based Puerto Rican label which boasted two of the island's most successful groups on its roster. Tommy Olivencia sang and played trumpet and was a star in Puerto Rico from the early '60s until his death in 2006. His album 'Juntos De Nuevo' is generally regarded as his greatest and 'Pa'Lante Otra Vez' is the perfect example of his skill. Inca's other main signing was Sonora Ponceña lead by pianist Papa Lucca. Over the years they have made a succession of great albums, often housed in sleeves that pay homage to the legends of the Conquistadors. Lucca would, in the latter half of the 1970s, replace Larry Harlow as the main pianist in the Fania All Stars. Eventually, Masucci acquired many of the most important latin labels of the post-war years. At the tail end of 1975, he purchased Tico, Alegre and a variety of smaller labels from Maurice Levy in a deal that bought him the catalogue as well as some of the remaining artists such as Tito Puente and La Lupe, although the Tico acts were kept quite separate from the Fania roster at the time. The purchase also allowed Fania to own the catalogues of many of the established artists that they had been signing.
There had been no let up on momentum with the success of Cheo and Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz but Fania's biggest coup came with the signing and rehabilitation of Celia Cruz. A Cuban singing icon, Cruz had been a star since the early '50s when she joined Sonora Mantancera. By the early '70s, after a period signed to Tico, her star was very clearly on the wane. However, she appeared with Larry Harlow in his performance of 'Hommy: A Latin Opera' at Carnegie Hall and was then signed to Vaya where her first album was a collaboration with Johnny Pacheco, 'Celia And Johnny'. It contained the smash hit 'Quimbara' that firmly cemented her position as salsa's leading lady and she then joined the Fania All Stars, appearing with them live and in the studio on their non-crossover albums. She would continue to record for Vaya, often in collaboration with Fania's greatest stars, making albums with, amongst others, Ray Barretto, Willie Colón and, in 1979 for the album 'La Ceiba', Sonora Ponceña. Celia recorded with the Fania All Stars well into the 1980s and then continued her career as a hit recording artist at Ralphie Mercado's RMM label throughout the '90s. By the time of her death in 2003 she was probably the best known latin artist in the world.
Mongo Santamaria could perhaps have provided the label with an equally sizeable coup. The Cuban percussionist had first come to world's attention when he joined Cal Tjader's band in the mid '50s, then surprised everyone when he scored a US pop top ten hit with his version of Herbie Hancock's 'Watermelon Man'. This led to him spending the next decade signed to Columbia and Atlantic before he appeared as a special guest with the Fania All Stars at the Yankee Stadium. He signed to Vaya and, despite recording some great records including the revered 'Sofrito' album, his sound took a jazzier path than much of the label's output and never achieved the level of success of other artists on the roster.
By the second half of the 1970s, although Fania and its artists were having their greatest successes, there was a lack of new acts coming through. Artists were still being signed but they were not becoming stars. The one artist who did break through was Rubén Blades. The Panamanian-born Blades had first come to New York in the late '60s to record an album with Pete Rodriguez before heading back home. When he tried again in the mid '70s, Masucci found him a job in the Fania mailroom as he attempted to establish his name. He appeared on albums by Ray Barretto and wrote songs for Hector Lavoe but it was when he appeared on several tracks on Willie Colón's 'The Good The Bad and The Ugly' that he began to find his way. 'Metiendo Mano' was released as 'Willie Colón presents Rubén Blades' and the pair then recorded the mighty 'Siembra'.
'Siembra' is often termed as the "Sgt. Pepper of latin music" but, in reality, it was much more important than that. It not only proved that a salsa album could make a coherent statement about the world but that it could do some serious business. A hit across the latin diaspora, 'Siembra' sold over a million copies and every one of its tracks became radio hits. The two biggest numbers were 'Plastico', Blades' coruscating attack on unfettered materialism, and 'Pedro Navaja' described by Colón as "phono-novela". Loosely based on 'Mack The Knife', it tells the story of a street thug who beats up a prostitute and then gets his come-uppance. Luis Ortiz' arrangement is magnificent in building up the tension, introducing Blades' vocals with just a stark backing of congas before adding more and more elements. As Colón told writer Agustin Gurza, "He didn't overwrite, but that was smart as he had such a long way to run… His arrangement was dynamic. It just kept building and, by the time it did get to the chorus, it was smoking'. Colón's production was just as important, adding elements of the street such as sirens, wind and voices to create atmosphere.
Ironically, the success of the album may have proved to be Fania's ultimate downfall. Masucci had always sought a crossover hit for the label since Fania's albums were successful within a restricted market with sales far inferior to those of a pop hit. As such, from the earliest days, he had agreed deals with major labels in an attempt to sell more. In the late '70s, he signed the Fania All Stars to a four album deal with Columbia, whereby top producers would be brought in and Columbia would attempt to achieve mainstream sales. The opening salvo, 'Delicate and Jumpy' produced by Gene Page, failed to capture the charm of the All Stars and subsequently failed to sell. The follow-ups, 'Rhythm Machine' and 'Spanish Fever' produced by Jay Chattaway, worked far better. Still, though, they failed to sell. 'Siembra' was proof that you didn't have to change your music to shift serious numbers and the album's success attracted the major labels into the latin market in a major way, making life far more difficult for independents, even big ones such as Fania.
By the early 1980s, Fania was still releasing some great records, but the spark had gone for Jerry Masucci and he no longer felt that he could devote himself as he once had. "We went from 1964 to 1980, that's a long time…It was difficult. It was the hardest thing. You have to work 24 hours a day. You have to be in the office. You have to be in the clubs at night because that's when they play… But when you get tired of it it's not fun any more." The label never closed but the artists started to leave, going elsewhere, and Jerry started to devote his time to other projects and found success in the Argentinean condom market. By the time he died in 1997, his reputation and that of his label was secure. It was a reputation that was predicated on nearly twenty years of recording and running a record label. It was an archetypal American story of self-made men and we are all more than a little better off for their efforts.
Dean Rudland, January 2011
'Salsa Talks: A Musical Heritage' by Mary Kent (pub. Digital Domain, 2005)
'Siembra: 30th Anniversary Edition' note by Agustin Gurza (Fania, 2008)
'La Voz: Masterworks' note by Jaime Torres-Torres (Fania, 2009)
'Indestructible: Masterworks' note by George Rivera (Fania, 2009)
'Cheo Feliciano: A Man And His Music' note by Jaime Torres-Torres (Fania, 2009)
Various conversations between the author and Willie Colón, Harvey Averne, Joe Bataan, Izzy Sanabria and Bobby Marin between 2006 & 2010.
1. Johnny Pacheco - Dakar, Punto Final
Taken from the album 'Canonazo' (Fania 325). Composed by Johnny Pacheco. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1964 Fania
2. Orchestra Harlow - La Juventud
Taken from the album 'Heavy Smokin'' (Fania 331). Composed by Larry Harlow. Publishing: Copyright Control. P 1965 Fania
3. Joe Bataan - Subway Joe
Taken from the album 'Subway Joe' (Fania 345). Composed by Bataan Nitollano. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1967 Fania
4. Ray Barretto - Mercy Mercy Baby
Taken from the album 'Acid' (Fania 346). Composed by Ray Barretto. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1968 Fania
5. Bobby Valentin - Use It Before You Lose It
Taken from the LP 'Let's Turn On - Arrebatarnos' (Fania 343). Composed by Roberto Valentin. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1967 Fania
6. Willie Colón - The Hustler
Taken from the album 'The Hustler' (Fania 347). Composed by Willie Colón. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1968 Fania
7. Joe Bataan - Mambo De Bataan
Taken from the album 'Riot!' (Fania F-354). Composed by Bataan Nitollano. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1968 Fania
8. Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound - Consolación
Taken from the album 'Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound' (Fania 383). Composed by Baden Powell. Publishing: Copyright Control. P 1969 Fania
9. Ismael Miranda con Orchestra Harlow - Abran Paso
Taken from the album 'Abran Paso' (Fania 396). Composed by Ismael Miranda. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1970 Fania
10. Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz - Sonido Bestial
Taken from the album 'El Bestial Sonido de Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz' (Vaya V-1). Composed by Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1970 Vaya
11. Willie Colón - Che Che Colé
Taken from the album 'Cosa Nuestra' (Fania 384). Composed by Willie Colón. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1969 Fania
12. Cheo Feliciano - Anacaona
Taken from the album 'Cheo' (VS-5). Composed by C. Curet Alonso. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1971 Vaya
13. The Fania All Stars - Quitate Tú (Live At The Cheetah)
Original version from the album 'Fania All Stars Live At The Cheetah, August 26th' (Fania 415). Composed by Johnny Pacheco and Roberto Valentin. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1971 Fania
14. Justo Betancourt - Pa' Bravo Yo
Taken from the album 'Pa' Bravo Yo (Fania 426). Composed by Ismael Miranda. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1972 Fania
15. Ismael Miranda - Asi Se Compone Un Son
Taken from the album 'Asi Se Compone Un Son' (Fania 437). Composed by Ismael Miranda. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1973 Fania
1. Ray Barretto - Indestructible
Taken from the album 'Indestructible' (Fania 456). Composed by Ray Barretto and Joseph Roman. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1973 Fania
2. Willie Colón - Calle Luna, Calle Sol
Taken from the album 'Lo Mato' (Fania 444). Composed by Willie Colón. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1973 Fania
3. Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound - Que Se Sepa
Taken from the album 'Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound 5' (Fania 443). Composed by Titti Sotto. Published by Nota Pubishing. P 1973 Fania
4. Bobby Valentin - Coco Seco
Taken from the album 'Rey Del Bajo' (Fania 457). Composed by Luis Reyes Bacallao. Published by Peer International Corp. P 1974 Fania
5. Celia Cruz & Johnny Pacheco - Quimbara
Taken from the album 'Celia & Johnny' (Vaya V-31). Composed by Junior Cepeda. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1974 Vaya
6. Tommy Olivencia - Pa'Lante Otra Vez
Taken from the album 'Juntos De Nuevo' (Inca 1035). Composed by C. Curet Alonso. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1974 Inca
7. Hector Lavoe - Mi Gente
Taken from the album 'La Voz' (Fania 461). Composed by Johnny Pacheco. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1975 Fania
8. Mongo Santamaria - O Mi Shango
Taken from the album 'Sofrito' (Vaya VS 53). Composed by Mongo Santamaria. Published by Bug Music o.b.o. Mongo Music, Inc. P 1976 Vaya
9. Sonora Ponceña - Bomba Carambomba
Taken from the album 'Musical Conquest / Conquista Musical' (Inca 1052) Composed by A. Amadeo. Publishing: Copyright Control. P 1976 Inca
10. Willie Colón & Rubén Blades - Pablo Pueblo
Taken from the album 'Metiendo Mano' (Fania 500). Composed by Rubén Blades. Published by Universal Musica o.b.o. Rubén Blades Music Pub. P 1977 Fania
11. Hector Lavoe - El Cantante
Taken from the album 'Comedia' (Fania 522). Composed by Rubén Blades. Published by Universal Musica o.b.o. Rubén Blades Music Pub. P 1978 Fania
12. Willie Colón & Rubén Blades - Pedro Navaja
Taken from the album 'Siembra' (Fania 537). Composed by Rubén Blades. Published by Universal Musica o.b.o. Rubén Blades Music Pub. P 1978 Fania
13. Celia Cruz Y La Sonora Ponceña - Sonaremos El Tambó
Taken from the album 'La Ceiba' (Vaya VS 84). Composed by Horacio De La Lastra. Published by Peer International Corp. P 1979 Vaya
14. Fania All Stars feat. Celia Cruz - Cuando Despiertes
Taken from the album 'Commitment' (Fania 564). Composed by Jerry Masucci, Louie Ramirez and Anam Munar. Published by Fania Music (BMI). P 1980 Fania