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Willie Colon is today one of the superstars of salsa, a living legend whose career spans

almost 40 years. His groundbreaking albums of the 1970s, with vocalists Hector Lavoe and
Ruben Blades, still stand as some of the greatest salsa recordings of all time. Not only
were they groundbreaking musically, incorporating other Latin musical styles not often
featured in mainstream salsa (samba, bomba, plena), but also non-Latin elements such as
funk and disco. Their socially conscious lyrics describing the hardships of life in the barrio
for ordinary Latinos, be it New York, San Juan or Caracas, made Colon and his singers "the
people's musicians". But back in 1967, a very different Willie Colon was about to embark
on the long musical journey that would eventually lead him to the top of his game. Just 17
years old, Colon has been playing trombone for a couple of years after starting out on the
trumpet. Born in New York in 1950, he had grown up like many of his contemporaries,
listening equally to the Latin music of his parent's homeland, and the black rhythm and
blues, jazz and doo-wop of his native city. To many of the second generation Puerto Ricans
of the time, there was no contradiction in this. Why couldn't you dig Tito Puente as well as
Frankie Lymon, Otis Redding and Herbie Hancock? It was as normal as speaking Spanish
and English in equal measures, or eating arroz con pollo one day, burgers the next. They
maintained the cultural roots of their parents but were absorbed into the American
society they grew up in. "El Malo" showcased this cultural diversity perfectly. The album
brought together Cuban guaguanco, son montuno and mozambique, Puerto Rican bomba,
and the current craze at the time, boogaloo and shing-a-ling. The latter in particular was
becoming hugely popular with Latino youth, but also crossing over into both the black and
white communities. With a heavy rock/soul backbeat wedded to a slowed-down mambo
rhythm, and lyrics in both Spanish and English, the boogaloo was threatening to take over.
Many of the young musicians and bands coming up through the boogaloo scene were
dismissed at first by the established band leaders like Tito Puente and Charlie Palmieri. It
was said that they couldn't play and they broke the golden rules - they played "out of
clave" or mixed rhythms like bomba and guaguanco together! However very quickly, Willie
and many of the younger musicians not only proved themselves musically but also in
album sales, and the same established bandleaders soon backtracked, employing the new
breed and also adopting the boogaloo sound in their sets. Although very young, Willie
Colon had all the right ingredients to make his debut album special. A young and energetic
band including future Fania Allstar timbalero Nicky Marrero and bassist Eddie "Gua Gua"
Rivera. He wrote some great arrangements and songs, perfectly judging the mood of the
times, a desire for change, and Willie's boogaloo and shingaling tracks offered something
new and vibrant. Finally, the Willie Colon secret weapon was one Hector Lavoe. A young
teenage singer born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, raised in New York, Lavoe was the link to the
Caribbean, the roots of Willie Colon's music. Lavoe had a beautiful tenor voice, tuneful but
gritty, and with that nasal delivery of the traditional soneros. Young and inexperienced as
they were, the Willie Colon band had something special and that's why Fania Record's
Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco signed them. They were right - the album sold well
achieving excellent figures for a totally new and unknown artist. Nearly 40 years later, "El

Malo" still sounds fresh and exciting. Salsa has undergone so many changes and become
at times too sophisticated. "El Malo" reminds you of it's purest and simplest elements rhythm, percussive drive, blazing brass, hypnotic tumbaos/montunos and a great
improvising vocalist. Opening track "Jazzy" is a mambo-jazz explosion, from it's opening
brass riff through to the blues-tinged piano solo and on to Marrero's incendary timbal solo
at the end. This still sends mambo and jazz dancers into ecstasy four decades later!
Tradition is represented by the guaguanco "Borinquen" and the son montuno "Chonqui,
both highlighting Hector Lavoe's majestic voice and "tipico" delivery. The new crossover
boogalo sound of the time is represented by "Willie Baby", "Skinny Papa" and "Willie
Whopper", a shing-a-ling featuring a funky hammond organ. The tracks are still fun and fill
dancefloors in soul and funk clubs worldwide. The final two tracks show Willie Colon's
desire to experiment, even at 17! "El Malo" blends Puerto Rican bomba and Cuban
guaguanco, whislst "Quimbombo" merges the two Cuban rhythms of guaguanco and
mozambique into a trombone maelstrom, the perfect close to the album. This truly is a
classic album, and one that all Willie Colon fans should own, but also anyone interested in
the history and developement of Afro-Rican music in the last century. A snapshot of the
first forays into recording of a musician who would go on to shape the future of salsa in
the 1970s and 80s. Personnel Willie Colon 1st Trombone Leader Joe Santiago
Trombone Nick Marrero Timbales Mario Galagarza Conga Pablo Rosario Bongos
Dwight Brewster Piano Eddie Guagua Bass James Taylor Bass Vocals: Hector Lavoe,
Yayo El Indio, Elliot Romero Recording Director: Johnny Pacheco Produced by: Jerry
Masucci Audio Engineer: Inving Greenbaum Cover Photo: Irv Elkin Cover Design: Shelly
Schreiber Written by Lubi Jovanovic