Seeing "La Musica" live for the first time!
I can’t BELIEVE how good we had it "back in da day" musically! It was at the Harlem Cultural Festival during the Summer of 1968 I first got to see Latin Music—Salsa—played live!
A local actor and Harlem entertainer, Tony Lawrence (along with various NYC jocks like Eddie O’Jay and Symphony Sid), would MC each show. The live outdoor concert would take place on Sundays between 1 and 5 PM; and then an edited one-hour tape of the show would be shown on Channel 5 (then WNEW-TV) the following Saturday night.
As I posted on another internet music group I’m a part of, I convinced my older sister to take me to see the Latin Music installment one Sunday. Man, we had a great time—well, at least I did anyway. My sister, who was five years older than me, was really astonished at how much, at age 13, I loved Latin Music and how I knew EVERY tune that was played. (She was more Beatles, Lovin’ Spoonful, and Rascals; I was "very WWRL and Latin Music.")
The lineup at the Festival that Sunday was (in order of appearance) Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, and "El Rey," Tito Puente. Each act played a total of about 30-40 minutes, and all three "orquestas" tore it up!!!! Barretto played (from the "Hard Hands" album) "Abidjan," "Mirame De Frente" (which he opened with), "Hard Hands," and going back one album to "Acid," he played the title tune and "Soul Drummers." In Ray’s band on timbales was the great Orestes Vilato, who was (and still is) an exciting showman. His solo on "Abidjan" had EVERYBODY going NUTS!!!!!
Next up was Eddie Palmieri, with Ismael Quintana on lead vocals. Now, "mental fuzziness" with the passage of time does not allow me to recall everything Eddie played, but I remember him opening with "Busco Lo Tuyo" (featuring blistering solos by Eddie on piano and the late, great Barry Rogers on trombone) from his then-current album, "Champagne." Eddie and the band also played "The African Twist," Ay Que Rico," "Palo De Mango," and "Cinturita" (all from "Champagne"), and "Tirandote Flores" (from "Echando Palante/Straight Ahead").
After the stage was cleared, an older Caucasian man with a sailor’s hat came to the mike. I had no idea who it was—until I heard the voice. It was the voice of the cat who would be in my earplug late at night on weeknights—long after my dad had issued his nightly "Go To Bed" edict at eleven o’clock—the late, great Sidney Torin—"Symphony Sid"! He introduces "El Rey," Tito Puente, and at this point I’m thinking—at age 13—it doesn’t get any better than this—LOL!!!!!
Puente starts kickin’ right away with his great "Mambo a la Tito." Then he goes through a slew of numbers from his then-current album, "The King Tito Puente:" "Fiesta Con Puente," "Guaguanco Margarito," "T.P.’s Shing-A-Ling," and "It Was Love." He reaches back to the earlier "20th Anniversary" album (the same album that "Mambo…" was on) for his boogaloo crowd-pleaser, "Fat Mama." Santos Colon handled lead vocals for most of the numbers.
It was because of that day, after seeing Vilato and Puente, that I started playing the timbales (One of my greatest regrets, though, is that I never got the chance to play that instrument in a Salsa band context.)