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Tito Rodriguez – Back Home in Puerto Rico

With the warm weather a full month ahead of time (It was 86F in Meaford, Ontario on April 2nd, when normally there is snow on the ground), I have been thinking of two things: getting my hands dirty in the garden, and sucking cervesas on the patio. Both require a great soundtrack and what’s better for a warm vibe then some swinging latin jazz? This 1962 Tito Rodriguez recording for United Artists: Back Home in Puerto Rico, is probably one of the technically finest recordings of the period – a standout technical achievement.

Tito Rodriguez & his orchestra ~ Back Home in Puerto Rico
United Artists UAS-6224 [1962]

  1. Chevere
  2. Cuando, Cuando
  3. Una Vez Mas
  4. Payaso
  5. Fiesta De Besos
  6. Ven Vida Mia A Bailar
  7. Imtate En Mi
  8. Mango Del Monte
  9. No Insistas Mas
  10. Se Te Acabo El Jamon

Biography from MusicOfPuertoRico.com:

Pablo “Tito” Rodriguez was born on 4 January 1923, in Santurce, Puerto Rico. His father was from the Dominican Republic and his mother from Cuba. The internationally reknown vocalist, percussionist, bandleader, composer, and record producer, was equally talented as an uptempo sonero and a romantic singer.

At the age of 16 he played maracas and sang second voice with Cuarteto Mayari before relocating to New York to live with his older brother Johnny who had moved there in 1935. A popular vocalist and composer, Johnny formed his own trio in 1940. Recordings that he made with his trio on the Seeco label were collected on Encores De Johnny Rodríguez y Su Trio and Siempre Favoritas De Johnny Rodríguez Y Su Trio.

Rodríguez’s first job in New York City was with the Cuarteto Caney. After brief stints with Enric Madriguera and Xavier Cugat as a singer and bongo player; a year in the US Army was followed by a job singing with Noro Morales. “El Dinamico Tito Rodríguez” was a reissue of a Morales collection with Rodriguez.

In 1946 Cuban pianist and composer Curbelo recruited Rodríguez and Tito Puente (on timbales) to his band, which became an “incubator” for the future New York mambo sound. Recordings made by Curbelo’s band during the two years that Rodriguez was with him were later compiled on Los Reyes Del Mambo. In 1946, while Curbelo’s band was appearing at the China Doll nightclub, Rodríguez met a Japanese American chorus girl called Tobi Kei, whom he married a few months later.

In February 1947, while he was still with Curbelo, Rodríguez participated in a recording session by Chano Pozo for Gabriel Oller’s SMC label, which included the Machito band, Arsenio Rodríguez and Miguelito Valdes. Curbelo fired Rodríguez in 1947 when he had given him a day off to look after his sick wife, but someone informed Curbelo that Rodríguez spent the day drinking in a bar. Rodríguez was unemployed for some months.

After leading a short-lived quintet, which he formed in late 1947, Rodríguez organized a trumpet conjunto called the Mambo Devils in 1948. He recorded eight tunes for with the band on the SMC label. Four of those were arranged by Tito Puente, who went on to become his musical competitor. Rodíguez later expanded his outfit to a big band, which he led until 1965.

In 1949 he signed to Tico Records, formed just a year earlier. Rodríguez had to rename his band the Lobos Del Mambo (Mambo Wolves) as the record company objected to the name Mambo Devils. He did two stints with the label, between 1949 and 1953 and between 1956 and 1958, during which time he released 78 RPM recordings, six 10-inch volumes of mambos and various 12-inch albums. Material from both these periods was later compiled on Nostalgia and Uptempo. Tito made no records during 1950 because of turmoil in the record company which suspended all recording at Tico. He resumed recording the following year when the problems were resolved.

In pursuit of the crossover market, Rodríguez switched to RCA Records in 1953 and his recordings on that label sold well. Ritmo y Melodia, 15 Joyas Tropicales was the most recent compilation of material culled from his RCA period. On his return to Tico, he issued Wa-Pa-Cha. His final release for them was Señor Tito Rodríguez.

In 1960 he signed to United Artists Records with the agreement that he would be the only Latin bandleader to record for the company. His first album on the label, Live At The Palladium, was a great success, marred only by the continued conflict over top billing at New York’s famous Palladium Ballroom and elsewhere, between Puente and Rodríguez.

In 1962, Rodríguez had three great consecutive hit songs: “Vuela La Paloma”, “Cuando, Cuando” and “Cara De Payaso”, which all went to the top of the charts in Puerto Rico and other South American countries. Rodríguez and his band recorded “Back Home In Puerto Rico” during a two-week stay on the island during June 1962. His return was marked by official government receptions and heavy media coverage.

He also tried to find fame in Las Vegas with a revue, but it was a dismal failure that caused a heavy financial loss. Rodríguez also recorded as lead singer with La Playa Sextet, whose line-up substituted the electric guitar of their Puerto Rican leader, Payo Alicea, for traditional piano. A compilation of La Playa Sextet cuts with Rodríguez on lead vocals was issued under the title, Tito Dice … Separala Tambien!.

In 1963 he issued the Latin jazz Live At Birdland, which featured the jazz musicians Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Bob Brookmeyer, Al Cohen and Bernie Leighton. The same year Rodríguez had a huge hit of over one-and-a-half million sales with the song, “Inolvidable”, on the album From Tito Rodríguez With Love. The song was written by Cuban bandleader/pianist Julio Gutierrez. He followed this with a series of soft romantic bolero albums, interspersed with uptempo collections like Tito Tito Tito, on which accompanist Israel “Cachao” Lopez’s championing of Latin jam sessions was spotlighted on the opening track “Descarga Cachao”.

His compilation album: The Best of Tito Rodriguez included many of his classic hit songs such as Asi, Asi.

The Rodríguez/Puente feud was reflected on some of the recordings Rodríguez made for Musicor Records, such as “Avisale A Mi Contrario Que Aqui Estoy Yo’ from the Carnival Of The Americas album. Cuban vocalist Miguelito Valdes and Machito appealed to the two combatants in the song “Que Pena Me Da”, composed by Valdes for their 1963 collaboration Reunion. Rodríguez and his band accompanied singer Nelson Pinedo on his Musicor release “A Latin In America”.

Bad business deals and conflict with his colleagues over pay led him to disband and move to Puerto Rico in 1966. Negative attitudes towards “Nuyoricans” (New York Puerto Ricans) initially prevented him from breaking into Puerto Rican television, but he managed to get a show when the parent company of United Artists acquired one of the island’s channels. Guests like Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jnr. appeared on his programme. He believed that anti-Nuyorican sentiment was also the reason why he did not receive an award for the show.

Feeling rejected by his own people, Rodríguez moved to Coral Gables, Florida, United States (near Miami). He returned to New York to the delight of the capacity audience at the Manhattan Center with the title track of “Estoy Como Nunca”. He followed that with the El Doctor album which contained “Esa Bomba”, his last rivalry tune aimed at Tito Puente.

Rodríguez first displayed signs of illness in 1967 while making one of his last television shows. He decided to found his own TR Records label in 1969 and while waiting for medical test results in the UK, he used British musicians to record the music for his first TR album, Involvidable/Unforgettable. It was confirmed that he had leukemia but he insisted that the results be kept secret. TR Records, Inc. was launched in August 1971 and his second album on the label, Palladium Memories, sold well. He teamed up with Louie Ramírez for the third release, Algo Nuevo. Rodríguez’ 25th Anniversary Performance, recorded in a nightclub in Per£, was issued a month before his death. The album provoked speculation about whether he had intended it to be a farewell. Rodríguez’s last appearance was with Machito and his band at Madison Square Garden on 2 February 1973. He finally lost the battle with leukemia and 26 days later, on 28 February 1973, Rodríguez died in his wife’s arms.

3 Responses

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  1. avatar
    guineap1g.myopenid.com/ April 24, 2010 at 7:03 pm |

    hey I’m in

    hopefully it don’t frost over at some point or you’ll lose your wee green bairns

  2. avatar
    guineap1g.myopenid.com/ April 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm |

    oh and wordpress 2.9.2 is available, senior administrador ;)

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