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Al talks about Willie Rosario, Frankie Figueroa and others

Column: The Other Side Of The CD

by Al Santiago

I am seeing more of my productions of the 60s and 70s being released in CD form and of that’s music to my ears. Too bad it could not also be money in my pockets, but “c’est la vie.” I recently heard that more of my Alegre productions will soon be released. Nando Alvericci of WBAI radio told me he negotiated a tape leasing deal.

One of the oldies to be released will be Alegre LP #825 El Bravo Soy Yo with Willie Rosario and Frankie Figueroa. That was a debut album for both of them (circa 1962/3). Frankie was not happy with the picture we used on the backliner. He insisted he looked like a gorilla. Some of his friends answered, “the camera doesn’t lie.” Frankie is no longer with Tito Puente after 21 years. The reason being given by Tito’s management office is that Frankie refused to sing coro for Celia Cruz. Frankie says he would love to sing coro for the queen but that he would like to get paid for it, that’s all. Frankie also would have liked to be asked to sing coro on the queen’s recording sessions so he could make the bucks. If he was asked to sing coro on the road, why not also on the records? I recorded Willie and Frankie again in 1967 for Musicor orange LP cover with the title Two Too Much. On that session I suggested to Willie Rosario the instrumentation he is still using today — 4 trumpets and a baritone sax. Now how’s that for an idea with longevity? 26 years! Wow!

Willie is a gentleman with determination and talent, besides being an excellent percussionist. He played on many occasions with the Herbie Mann Orchestra, and also with the Alegre All Stars. Willie can sure pick tunes, arrangers and sidemen. And speaking of sidemen, I first met Tony Cofresi at the El Bravo Soy Yo session. Tony was playing third or fourth trumpet at the recording studio. He had just substituted for a friend in a pit band at some theatre and he was very proud of himself for sight-reading the music (that means no rehearsal, honey). He was in his late teens or early twenties then and little did I dream that this young man would not only end up playing first trumpet with Macho, the two Titos and even Claude Thornhill, but that he would marry my cousin. Before that marriage he played on many Alegre recording sessions including the classic Són Con Guaguancó LP on Tico with Celia Cruz. Victor Paz was also on that session and Victor once told me (at a Tito Rodriguez dance) that the trumpet high note playing that last set was not him, as I had probably assumed, but that it was Tony screeching over the other 3 trumpets.

Getting back to Willie Rosario, I want you to know that Willie and Eddie Palmieri are two of the most grateful people I have known. Willie is frequently sending me his regards via Neo-Ricans visiting Puerto Rico. We have been exchanging Christmas cards for over 20 years and Willie even dedicated one of his LPs to me. All this gratitude because I produced his first LP and managed his publicity when he was with Alegre Records in the early 60’s. Eddie did me a great financial service in the early days of Alegre when he included in his new Tico contract a clause very beneficial to me. I did not expect it, I hadn’t asked for it but Eddie They say Eddie is crazy and they have said the same about me. Well... Eddie may be crazy, but he is also original, gracious, sensitive and appreciative. We thank you for the music Eddie y tu tambien “Guilie”.

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