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Al talks about Ray Barretto

Column: The Other Side Of The CD

by Al Santiago

Thank you for the many compliments to the last issue's "What's In a Name" column. Luis Fraticelli, an early booster of the column and a collector, told me I had previously written about my childrens' names in my press kit. I don't remember. I haven't checked it, but I also do not doubt it.

What I think I remember is that I haven't given much space to Mr. Hard Hands, and we do go back mucho years. Ray and I are not just hello, goodbye pals. We do have a relationship.

In the early sixties, Ray Barretto had a charanga and recorded for Riverside Records. One of his records was the novelty tune "Me Duele La Espalda Por Bailar La Pachanga..." or something like that. If I wasn't so lazy I'd call Ray again and get the exact title or go through my 45s. To make up for my laziness, I will give you at no charge a piece of trivia. It was a black label. The color—not the ownership or the type of music. Which reminds me of Kako...not, again, because of color but because, for one thing, Kako used to analyze situations in at least three ways where most people see only two sides to things, and, two, one night Ray, Kako and I spent a Friday night till early dawn listening and reviewing Ray's LP Latino with Chombo and El Negro Vivar. Without sleeping at all, I drove them home and went and opened up Casalegre Record Shop the next morning.

Shortly after, I decided not to sign Ray to Alegre because I already had the charangas of Charlie Palmieri and Johnny Pacheco. In turn, Ray turned down my suggestion to change his instrumentation. It appears that he made the right decision because in 1964, with his charanga instrumentation, he recorded "Watusi" for Tico Records and sold nearly a half million records.

In 1967 Ray was not planning to re-sign with Tico and was now going to change his instrumentation to that of a conjunto. We spoke of possibly signing Ray with Musicor where I was staff producer of Latin product. It did not materialize because, again, he made the right decision and signed with Fania whereas a year later I left Musicor. I cannot forget the first time I heard Ray's two trumpet conjunto. Roberto Rodriguez and Rene Lopez (not the producer) were mostly improvising due to lack of arrangements at that time. Wow! The trumpets were fantastic, soloing at the same time with exciting interweaving lines of improvised gems.

Eventually, Ray had one of the tightest, biting, brightest three trumpet section conjuntos ever. That Ray had played with Tito Puente's three trumpet conjunto did not hurt. Ray has ideas, plays conga extremely well, and has great taste in personnel and arrangers....Gil Lopez, Eddie Martinez, Luis Cruz and Sonny Bravo come quickly to mind. Little Ray, Adalberto, Orestes and Dandy were no slouches either. The Barretto Fania years produced classics including Together, Hard Hands, Quitate La Mascara, Indestructible, Que Viva La Musica and, my favorite, The Other Road.

In the early 70s, mutiny was in its planning stages. Most of Ray's guys were going to leave en masse and form Tipica '73. My buddies, Dandy and Sonny Bravo, were the ringleaders. Dandy spoke to me and I was very seriously thinking of signing them. I didn't.

Tipica '73 made some noise for a few years. Dandy and Sonny have now been with Tito Puente for about twenty years.

Two more items. I remember that over the years Ray used to give me the courtesy of listening to his test pressings. After I sold Casalegre in 1975, we got out of the habit. The habit that we continued was that when Ray could not locate an old record he wanted to revive, he would call me. In fact, I got Ray the lead sheet of "Taboo," which he somehow knew I owned, for one of his CDs.

It might be difficult to believe, but I wrote this column because I had to have a reason to quote my favorite conversationalist. Ray recently told me, "You know, you know what you know?" Now that's a know?

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