Al remembers Ponce, Puerto Rico
Column: The Other Side Of The CD
by Al Santiago
My father was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, like so many other musicians. In fact, Ponce is called "la cuna de los musicos" (the musicians cradle). Noro Morales, who was born in Isla Verde, composed songs to many towns including Ponce, of course. Ponce was the most populated town in Puerto Rico until San Juan and Santurce merged to become "la area metropolitana." My godfather (Mauras) was Commandant of the Police in "la area metropolitana." It never got me out of a speeding ticket but that made me even more proud of him.
Noro's "Ponce" was an instrumental (no vocals). He recorded it in the late '40s for MGM Records. In the late 50s Charlie Palmieri recorded it for George Goldner's Gone label. In the early '60s Kako's After Hour Band recorded "Ponce" for Alegre (#833). There were three piano players on that 4 a.m. session: Charlie Palmieri, Héctor Rivera and Rene "El Latigo" Hernandez. After playing his gig with his band Charlie picked up a few of the guys that were scattered in different dance halls. He delivered them to Nola Studios and took his place at the piano. After playing on three numbers Charlie fell asleep in the control room where Audio Engineer Roy Ramirez and I were working. Since the LP was to be a tribute to Noro, Héctor Rivera (another Noro freak) and I decided to do "Ponce." We talked it over with the guys who'll start, who'd solo and if we would fade out or make up a definite ending. Héctor started to play and Charlie woke up and said "wait a minute I'm playing on 'Ponce'". Héctor and I, of course, conceded to our musical director.
In 1976 I got an assignment from Tony Pabon and Ralph Cartagena of Rico Records to put together and record the Neo-Rican Orchestra. Their idea was that everyone involved from composers to arrangers to musicians to audio engineers to backliner note writer to cover illustrator to producer would be Neo-Ricans. We accomplished that. We also recorded "Ponce" again, this time Héctor did get to play piano on it while Charlie played on the other numbers. Chivirico Davila sang it, and, as usual for him, very well. It was never released. I was very disappointed because I had written lyrics to Noro's melody.
Eighteen years later ('94) I recorded "Ponce" again with Orchestra Pueblo and Johnny Magnifico on vocals. I had written the "Ponce" lyrics as a tribute to my father. He happened to have passed away the day before the '76 session. I mentioned to my sister that Dad never got to hear the "Ponce" lyrics. She was stunned. She asked, "You wrote the "Ponce" lyrics for dad?." I said "Sure!" My sis then said, "That's very funny 'cause Dad hated his hometown Ponce." That was news to me.