Interview with a Salsa Brother
A conversation with John Child
On the occasion of the reissue of Andy and Larry Harlow's 1988 album Salsa Brothers / The Miami Sessions (Primo Discos), reeds and vibes player, composer and arranger Andy Harlow speaks to John Child about the project and his diverse musical career as a sideman, bandleader, artist / talent agent and broadcaster. Andy talks about the heady days of the '70s New York salsa boom, during which he had a major hit with "La Lotería", and his experience of the Miami salsa scene, which he joined in 1977. He provides some fascinating insights into some popular bandleaders of the 1960s with whom he played, such as Payo Alicea (of La Playa Sextet) and Randy Carlos, and the tragic life of the brilliantly gifted pianist Mark "Markolino" Dimond, whose last recording was The Miami Sessions. At the outset, Andy told John: "I have plenty of stories and anecdotes for you about the music biz, etc. I promise to be straightforward with my answers and lay off the bullshit." He kept to his pledge, and provided a no holds barred interview, which continues here...
John Ian Child (JIC): Please can you begin by giving an outline of your family history?
Andy Harlow (AH): My father, Buddy Harlow, was a professional musician and entertainer all of his life. My mother, Rose Kahn, was basically a housewife since the birth of Larry, but was also a college-educated bookkeeper. Buddy made the money, and Rosie ran the house and spent it.
My father came from a musical family, his brother, Joe, was a professional violinist and sister Freida played piano and sang. My father's family came to the USA from Austria in the early 1900s and my mother's family, the Sherman's, came from Kiev, Russia, around the same time. My parents were childhood sweethearts from Brownsville, Brooklyn.
JIC: It's well documented how your older brother Larry got into Latin music, but how did you catch the bug?
AH: From Larry. I studied piano and then woodwinds as a child / adolescent. There was always lots of music in our house. Larry was six years older than me. He was already playing professionally when he was in his late teens and I would tag along and hang out with the older guys when I was 12/13 years old. The first Latin album I bought was Johnny Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. I on Alegre (1960), the black and yellow cover. It knocked me out. That was my introduction to charanga.
JIC: Tell me about your early musical experiences and education?
AH: I studied piano from age five to around 10 or 11, then switched to sax. I also studied oboe in junior high and played in the school band, orchestra and jazz bands. By age 13 or so, we had a little band made up of kids from the neighbourhood and we practiced in the basement of my house in Brooklyn. Larry and my father would help us. But, the best education I got was to hang around and watch real musicians on the job like my father and uncle and brother. My father was the bandleader at the Latin Quarter in New York and I would go to the gig with him and hang out. (I also dug checking out the chorus girls at the Latin Quarter.)
My first paid gig was at around age 14 or so. We played at a senior centre for about $3 each. By age 15 or 16 my little band had a summer gig in a small hotel in the Catskill Mountains. We made $20 a week plus room and board. But, we were away from home, partying, having fun and playing music. We got a gig one Xmas as the "twist" band at a hotel in Lakewood, New Jersey. Larry got us the gig, as he was the leader of the Latin band at the same hotel. This was around 1962. At another hotel nearby, the original Joe Cuba Sextet was working steady there for the season. Cheo was about 19 or 20 years old. Larry had Phil Newsum and Ralph Castrella in his band. That Xmas was a real education for me in more ways than one. Phil was the first one to turn me on to Brazilian music. He had Jobim and Gilberto LPs. Watching and listening to Joe Cuba was also an education. My two band buddies, Arnie Ernst (drums) and Stanley Ross (piano) and I hung out and played together until we went our separate ways after high school and during college.
The first time I ever went to a jazz club was when we were around 16 or 17. We took the subway to Manhattan and went to the Village Vanguard to see Miles Davis' quintet. We sat through two shows; not knowing that there was a $10 cover per show and couldn't pay the tab at the end. We had to call Arnie's old man who was an assistant DA in Brooklyn who got us off the hook by asking the club manager how his 16-year-old son could have an $80 bar tab. They let us go without paying.
While playing in the Catskills, we would make the rounds of all the hotels to check out the Latin bands. Machito was at one hotel; La Playa Sextet, Joe Cuba, Charlie Palmieri and Randy Carlos were at other hotels. One hotel, the Raleigh, had Mambo Tuesdays, and I remember seeing Orquesta Aragón play there one night. That was around 1962-63.
I really got a musical education in the Catskills. I learned a lot about the business side of music. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a professional musician, like learning how to read music, play for shows, how to be a band leader, and most important, how to make people happy by playing for the public. By the time I was 18 I was working steady in the Catskills as a leader and making a living as a musician. Also, around the same time, I was also getting calls from small Puerto Rican bands in Brooklyn to rehearse and play with them.
One of the first "real" Latin bands I played with (real in the sense that the players were Latino) was a band called Pete y su Modernos from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Richie Ray was the 16-year-old piano player and his brother Ray Maldonado played trumpet. Another Brooklyn band I played with was One-eyed Rudy and his Charanga. Keep in mind I graduated high school at the early age of 16 and I was attending Brooklyn College by age 17. (I was an overachiever.)
Things were different then. You could live on $100 a week. Minimum wage was less than $2 an hour and I was making enough money from music to support myself. By the time I was 18 I had my own apartment, car, etc. (The good old days.) I worked one winter at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills as a sideman with Sonny Rossi and his Orchestra. Sonny had Manny Román singing and the band had a lot of seasoned players in it. Three saxes and three trumpets with a lot of Puente style arrangements. $125 a week plus room and board - at age 18! Wow, I was the king of swing.
JIC: A cliché question I know, but which reeds and vibes players, arrangers and leaders influenced you?
AH: I always loved Stan Getz. I had all of his LPs. I listened to all the sax players as well: Bird, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims and later on Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. José "Chombo" Silva was also a big influence on me. His style was so close to that of Stan Getz but with Latin swing. When Getz did Jazz Samba (Verve, 1962), I listened to it over and over, almost wearing out the vinyl grooves.
It just so happens that we lived next door to Mr. Julius Gubenko, Terry Gibbs' father. My mother went to school with Terry; they grew up on the same block. Terry kept a set of Deagan vibes in his father's basement for him to use whenever he gigged in New York. We also had a set of vibes in our basement. They were Larry's. So I started fucking around on the vibes as well. Never really took a lesson. Of course I listened to a lot of Cal Tjader. One time, when I had my sextet with Ismael Miranda and Mark Dimond, we did a gig opposite Tjader at the old Casino 14 in Manhattan. We worked there every week so my vibes were on stage. The place was two flights up, so Tjader asked me if he could use my vibes. Then he asked me if I wanted to jam with him. I was too scared to do so. I just stood in the wings with my mouth open watching him. Only in New York can you get an education like that.
I studied arranging and orchestration at NYU and wrote charts for my band and others, but never really had the patience to sit down and write a lot. Nowadays, with musical computers it's a different story. No real arranging influences, I just wrote what I heard in my head.
Band leading is an art in itself. You have to be in control, yet you can't be an asshole and boss people around. There has to be a balance there. My father was a bandleader all his life and he always told me: "Don't let the sidemen push you around, they're all replaceable. The people are coming to see YOU not them." He knew what he was talking about. I found out the hard way a few times, mainly because I'm too nice of a guy sometimes. But karma counts as well. After 40 years in the biz I can honestly say I have very few enemies.
What's the difference between a salsa band and a bull? The bull has the horns upfront and the asshole in the back!
JIC: I understand that while you were pursuing your formal education, you were receiving an education of another sort as a sideman with the likes of Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Ismael Rivera, Xavier Cugat, Machito and Joe Cuba. How did the opportunities arise to work with these luminaries? And, please, share your memories of this experience?
AH: I studied at Brooklyn College for a while, right after high school, dropped out of school for a while and supported myself playing music for a few years and in 1967, at the age of 22, went back to school full time at the New York College of Music on East 85th Street. It was the Vietnam era and you had to be in college or you got drafted into the army. Some of my classmates at NY College of Music, which later became NYU Department of Music Education in 1969, were Jerry González, Joe Mannozzi, René López, Rene McLean and Kenny Durham.
I had already been playing gigs for six or seven years: American gigs, Latin gigs, rock bands, blues bands, big bands. In those days you could actually pick up gigs at the Musicians Union; a Saturday night wedding or bar mitzvah, a weekend in the Catskills, a band going on the road, a jazz lounge gig, etc. Every gig was a learning experience, some good, some not so good. Musicians are a close-knit group; we all know each other. That is basically how I got to play with Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and Machito. Basically I subbed for one of my friends like Morty Lazar who played with Tito Rodríguez for years or someone recommended me.
Now the Xavier Cugat gig was different. Obviously he was already dead and as the music biz has it, someone was fronting his band, I can't remember who, but I got that gig on the union floor. They were putting the band together for a few run-outs. We rehearsed once or twice and hit the bus for a few days
ruffled sleeved rumbero shirts and all...La Cucaracha
I subbed for Joe Cuba's vibe player a few times as well. That was harder as there were no charts. I did a few gigs with Ismael Rivera in the '70s. José Madrid was his piano player and got me on the gig. Those gigs swung a lot, but Ismael was in bad shape in those days and everything was a little disorganised to say the least. I also worked with Randy Carlos in New York and when I moved to Florida in 1977 I met Payo Alicea from La Playa Sextet, and we gigged a lot together here in Miami. Both with Payo as a leader and myself as leader, and we both worked with the late Manteca. Payo and I were good friends until his death.
The late, great Manteca (nee Lázaro Plá) played timbales and congas at the same time with his hands, cowbell with his feet and sang lead all at the same time. He was a real class act, always dressed to the nines with a suit and ascot. I'm not sure if "Manteca" by Chano Pozo was named after him. Manteca was one of Armando Oréfiche's Havana Cuban Boys. He was a walking encyclopedia of Cuban music. We had a quartet: Manteca, myself, Payo on bass and vocals and Eddie Elmer Rodríguez on piano. We worked Mondays and Tuesdays at a club in Little Havana called the Lion's Lounge for about a year back in the '80s and then we worked some other joints in Miami like the Chateau Sevilla and Swanee's Lounge. Manteca died of a heart attack in the early '90s.
I just gotta tell you that sometimes it's hard remembering all this stuff - it was the psychedelic '60s into the '70s. There are years of my life I have trouble remembering, so bear with me.
I led a complicated life. At the same time all this was happening I was a rock and roller as well. I was the road manager for Larry's rock band Ambergris. And I toured with them from '69 until '72. I never went to my NYU graduation in June 1972 because I went on the road with Ambergris the day after class ended and missed the ceremony. Doing the whole rock trip at that time was a whole other trip. This was a five month, first class 25 city rock tour with everything that went with it: groupies, drugs, the band bus, etc. A once in a lifetime party. The only thing that bugs me now is that I don't have even one photo from those days. We opened for and toured with and hung out with Rod Stewart and the Small Faces, BB King, James Taylor, Chicago, John Sebastian and Mountain to name a few.
Here's a famous music biz quote from the late Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
JIC: Not much is documented about Randy Carlos and Payo Alicea. Can you tell me more about them?
AH: Paul "Payo" Alicea was founder of the La Playa Sextet, a guitarist and bassist. La Playa Sextet was one of the first Latin bands to become popular amongst the American and mostly Jewish "mambo" "Palladium" crowd in the '50s. I'm not sure, but I think Puerto Rican born Alicea founded the band in the early '50s along with his wife Marie who sang with the band. It was two guitars, Payo and Frankie Sánchez (who later on left and formed the rival La Plata Sextet), timbales, bass and a trumpet or two. They played all the top hotels, beach clubs and dance halls in New York and the Catskills. Later on, their son, Paul Jr. (now known as Papillon) was the timbalero. He joined the band as a teenager. Bands like La Playa and Joe Cuba had a distinct advantage business wise in that they were only six people and could work for a lot less. Also, imagine having a sextet, and three of the six salaries stay in the family.
Tito Rodríguez was either the first or one of the first singers with La Playa, then Vitín Avilés. Payo and Marie did real well in the music biz. In the 1960s La Playa worked at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for about five years steady year round. Payo had remarried and relocated here to Miami. He was a great guy. When I got here in 1977, he was getting up in years already, but could still play and sing as good as ever. We became friends, did lots of gigs together, whether he was the leader or I was or Manteca was.
Guitarist, Venezuelan born Randy Carlos was another Latin bandleader who was popular with the gringos in New York in the '50s. He had a hit record "Smoke" ("Fumo", included in Randy Carlos and his Orchestra: The Best '96 on Fiesta), an instrumental mambo that was later recorded by everyone. Trumpet player Joel Greenwald who went to high school with Larry wrote it. Larry and I both worked with Randy at different times in our lives in both the Catskills and New York clubs. Randy is old and retired and lives in Fort Lauderdale somewhere. By the '70s he was out of the business. Randy was never really popular with the Latinos where La Playa was very well known in Puerto Rico and worked the New York Latin clubs as well. Payo always used top guys like Ray Maldonado, El Negro Vivar, Frankie Malabe, Ray Armando, Larry Spencer and Victor Paz. La Playa has a nice LP on United Artists that features Barry Rogers. (Barry plays on La Playa's United Artists albums Si, Si, La Playa '64 and The La Playa Sextet in Puerto Rico '65.)
The end of Payo's life was a little sad. He had remarried, his new American / Jewish wife was very ill and their daughter was disabled in a wheelchair and it all took it's toll on him. His wife and daughter both died and he moved to Puerto Rico and then passed away. Papillon became a rock drummer and lives in Boca Raton. I run into him every once in a while. Payo was a guy I was proud to know and another one of those guys that no one ever spoke bad about. He was also a walking history book of Latin music.
JIC: Tell me about your earliest experiences as a leader?
AH: You really have to have that inner drive, a fire within you, and a fantasy / dream to wanna be a bandleader. Music is a gift and a curse all at once. It's hard enough trying to learn how to play an instrument and to reach a level of proficiency to call yourself a professional, and then try to make a living at it. After all, professionals earn their living at what they do. Achieving competence is an accomplishment. Like everything else, there are only a chosen few within each field that rise to the level of genius or innovator. Be it music, art, science or sports. Now on top of that add business, economics and ego factors and you have some of the ingredients of being a bandleader.
My father was quite successful at being a bandleader. He was a great front man. He knew how to schmooze with the customers, everyone loved him, his sidemen respected him, and the bosses loved him because the music was consistently good and no problemas with him and his men. He kept the musicians under control, and when changes needed to be made, you were out, pal. Yet, he hung out on breaks with all the guys, drinkin' with them and more, but to a point. Listen I'm talking about making over $1000 a week, every week, cash money in the '50s and '60s. That's not chopped liver. Buddy worked at the LQ for 17 years steady. No day off for the first 10 years. My father would tell me stories about the music biz during the '30s and '40s, when there was no such thing as unemployment for musicians, about being on the road for months at a time, etc.
Well whatever the driving forces within me were, I had "leaderitis" early on. Sometimes I followed my father's advice and other times I learned the hard way. Being a bandleader in the Catskills hotels, working steady is one thing. You have work, you find the right guys to do the job, negotiate price, lay down the rules and you're off. Everyone gets paid once a week and it functions at one level of professionalism.
Now leading a salsa band in New York City in the '60s and '70s was a whole other reality with all kinds of social and environmental factors added to the mix. The biggest problem was keeping a band together. Economics my friend. In those days a Latin gig paid $30 on Saturday night. Most of the guys didn't have cars, transportation was a problem, sound systems, pianos, rehearsals, uniforms, music stands, and on and on and on. Looking back on it, it's amazing how we did it. We must have really loved it. Lots of times I made zilch, nada. You had to take certain gigs just to keep your band working. When I started my big band in 1973, after "La Lotería" was released, I made money, sometimes, but if I wasn't teaching school full time I couldn't have done it. I was newly married with a baby on the way, etc.
JIC: I understand that you and Mark Dimond played together when you were teenagers in the '60s in your original sextet with Ismael Miranda on vocals. Tell me all about how you hooked-up with Mark and Ismael?
AH: It was around 1966 sometime. I went with Larry to one of his gigs at the 3 in 1 Club in Brooklyn, Ralph Mercado's first club on Flatbush Avenue in downtown Brooklyn at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge on top of a carwash. (A real classy place.) Well, I was downstairs in the parking lot "having a smoke" - if you know what I mean? - when this short little kid comes up to me and introduces himself to me. He said his name was Ismael Miranda and he heard that I was forming a band and that he wanted to be in it. He said that he sang, played congas, maracas, and wrote songs and that he had a friend from his block on the Lower East Side, East 11th Street, who played piano. His friend's name was Mark Dimond. Well that's how it started. Ismael helped me put the original sextet together, helping me find the other member of the rhythm section. He also hooked us up with a new club on Broadway and 80th Street, the JJ Club, where we played our first gig and where we rehearsed. The owner of the JJ was Bobby (I can't remember his last name) but he went on to own a few other more famous clubs in Manhattan. We played there a lot and at other places as well, starting to make a buzz around town. Mark and Ismael were 16 and 17 years old, I was 19/20 years old. I had my own apartment in Brooklyn and a car already and they would hang out and crash there a lot. We were like teenage buddies. I wasn't studying at the time.
We did a few gigs opposite Larry and other big names of the time. I remember one gig opposite Tito Rodríguez at a place uptown called the Batcave. And also the Cal Tjader gig I mentioned previously. We also gigged opposite Richie Ray a few times. Then Dick Ricardo Sugar had a "best new band" contest at the Hunts Point Palace in the Bronx. The winner of the contest was gonna receive a recording contract, etc. Some of the bands in the contest were myself, Kent (Kenny) Gómez, Ricardo Marrero and Ray Rodríguez (the brother of Bobby Rodríguez y la Compañia). (I still have posters / flyers from a lot of these gigs in my scrapbook as well as a shitload of photos.) Anyway, Dick Sugar, who I knew already, got all the bands to play for free by promising each band that they were gonna win the contest. How naive of us to believe that bullshit. The dance was on a Sunday and he was gonna announce the winner on his radio show the following night, on Monday.
Well, there I was in my car listening to his show, waiting for the moment when he announces the winner: Ray Rodriguez!! I flipped, that mother fucking, son of a bitch, cock sucking rat bastard!!! To this day, it's one of the few things that still pisses me off - forty years later. Nobody likes to be made a schmuck of. I never forgave him for that. Five years later when "La Lotería" was a hit and he wanted me for his club the Psycho Room on 14th Street, I made him pay big time. Another music biz learning experience.
Soon after that the summer was nearing and I couldn't resist returning to the Catskills for some R & R and some real money.
JIC: The story goes that Larry nabbed Ismael Miranda as the lead vocalist for his band, which he joined in July 1967 and debuted on Orchestra Harlow's third album El Exigente (Fania, 1967). Please give me the lowdown? Were there any hard feelings?
AH: Miranda had already recorded an LP with Joey Pastrana (Let's Ball '67 on Cotique) but didn't wanna work with his band. Larry had his eye on him and started out having Ismael sing coro for Monguito. When I broke up the sextet to head upstate for the Catskills for the summer and had enrolled at NY College of Music for the fall, Ismael morphed into Larry's band and bye-bye Monguito. No hard feelings at all on my part. To this day Ismael and I remain friends, although we only see each other maybe once or twice a year. I last saw Ismael in Venezuela last September. He also mentions in interviews and liner notes that he first sang with me.
JIC: Mark Dimond went on to work with Willie Colón, become the short lived leader of his own band Sabor (which Angel Canales eventually assumed leadership of) and perform some notable solos on albums by Ismael Quintana, Héctor Lavoe and yourself. Tell me as much as you can about his tragic life story?
AH: Mark lived on East 11th Street with his mom and sister. His mom was African American. She was a social worker for the NYC welfare Department. His older sister, I don't remember her name, was a college student in those days. It's a Biblical story, one child overcomes the environment and the other succumbs to it. The good child and the "bad seed."
Mark was a natural when it came to music. He studied a little as a child, but was mostly self-taught. He could read music and he wrote charts, but mostly it was in his head and his soul. He had da swing and da riddim. I never met his mystery Cuban father. Nor did I know anyone else who ever met him. Mark only said he was a black Cuban whose last name was Dimond.
Mark was a high school drop out. Even as a teenager he loved drugs. We all did. Only, Mark couldn't control it. I never liked heroin, didn't like snorting it and I always had a fear of needles. Now coke and smoke, and LSD, can be fun at times. By the time Mark was playing with Willie Colón, he was shooting up. All the bad shit that went with drug addiction Mark had: irresponsibility, coming late, untrustworthiness with money and possessions, etc. He had his ups and downs, taking care of business at times, and totally fucking up other times. Yet, it was a known fact that Mark was one great piano player. Most of the time he never had his own electric keyboard. He never had a car, etc, and you had to baby-sit him at times. But because of his musical greatness, leaders used him and put up with him. Even Jerry Masucci used him in the Fania All Stars a few times when Larry wasn't available.
Mark had it. He "out-Palmieried" Eddie Palmieri. He couldn't read music that good, but all he had to do was listen to the record once or play the chart once at rehearsal and he knew the tune forever. Mark and Eddie Gua Gua together was something to hear.
I also played on one of Mark's Fania LPs. I don't even have a copy. It was a Latin soul album (The Alexander Review '75 on Vaya).
I could go on forever with Mark Dimond stories. The bottom line is I loved him like a brother and think about him sometimes. My eyes tear up, like now. As they say, another sad story from the Naked City. Everybody tried to help Mark, from his friends, to his mom, to Masucci. It didn't matter, the tragedy was already written.
JIC: How did the record deal with Vaya Records come about in the early '70s?
AH: Larry approached me. Fania was doing real good in 1972 and Jerry was always looking for new talent, and I had name value, meaning the Harlow name would sell records. The plan was for me to record Sorpresa La Flauta (Vaya, 1972) using studio musicians (basically the guys from Larry's band), Miranda would write a few original tunes and be co-producer, sing coro, etc, and Larry had originally selected Johnny Vázquez as the singer. Larry had produced Orchestra Dicupé for Fania and he liked the way Johnny sang and also liked him personally. Johnny was a straight-ahead all business kind of guy, with a day job, no bad vices and very reliable, and a good singer. Larry had already hooked me up with Abie Lima, timbalero / drummer. Abie and I were already working together in the Catskills. Abie had played with Arsenio and Tito Rodríguez in the '50s and '60s.
Larry even did the album cover photography himself. The recording was very well planned up front. We spent a lot of time selecting tunes and assigning arrangers. Larry, Ismael and I did it together. It was also, Larry's concept to do the two 'bones and flute a la La Perfecta. It was a tremendous break for me and I really put all my energies into it. But remember it was a business deal, there were publishing rights and producer points involved, etc.
JIC: Sorpresa La Flauta contained the smash hit "La Lotería" and garnered a gold disc. Apart from vocal and arranger credits, there are no sidemen listed on my vinyl copy of the album. The lead singer identifies solos from timbalero Abie Lima, the album's "spirtual advisor", and pianist José Madrid. Please could you fill in the missing details?
AH: Now you're really taxing my memory! Joe Santiago, bass; Louis Kahn and Leopoldo Pineda, trombones; Abie Lima, timbales; José Madrid and Alfredo Rodríguez, piano; Nicky Marrero, bongos; Frankie Rodríguez, congas; coro: Ismael Miranda, Adalberto Santiago and Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez; and Ismael Miranda, maracas.
JIC: José Madrid also recorded with Mongo Santamaría, appearing on his Vaya albums Fuego (1973) Mongo Santamaría Live At Yankee Stadium (1974) and Ubane (1976), and Angel Canales (Sabor '75 on Alegre). Please tell me more about José?
AH: Here's another guy who became a real close friend and also a neighbour for a while. Around 1971 sometime, Abie Lima met José at the Musicians Union. He just got to town from Dallas, Texas, where he was teaching music at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Prior to that he lived and worked in Miami for a while. He came to Miami from Bogotá, Colombia, with Sidney Reyes and his Orquesta. (I found this all out when I arrived in Miami and also worked with Sidney who sang and played drums.)
The timing was great. The planning had already begun for Sorpresa La Flauta and we were looking for a piano player for the record and I also needed a pianist for weekends in the Catskills. José fit right in. José's wife was British / Polish / Russian who spoke many languages and they had a little girl named Nicole. They lived nearby my wife and me in Queens, New York, and we would hang out a lot and party together and the wives would baby-sit for each other, etc.
Well, it didn't take long for word about José's playing and arranging to spread around town and before long he was gigging with everyone from Mongo to Barretto, etc. That is why he's only on half of the LP. He was on the road with someone - I think it was Mongo - when the second half was recorded.
José continued to arrange and record with me and we remained friends. He created a bit of a name for himself recording with Mongo and Ray and for whatever reasons he decided to return to Colombia where he was real busy playing, writing, recording and producing.
His personal life was a bit more hectic. He liked to party and Colombia was the place to do it. His wife left him and returned to London. He would call me every now and then.
About two years ago I got a call from Nicole who was now an adult with a baby of her own and was living in Miami. She told me José had medical problems. Last Xmas she called and said that he had died from emphysema in Bogotá.
JIC: As we have established, the lead vocalist on Sorpresa La Flauta and the 1974 follow-up La Música Brava was Johnny Vázquez (born: Juan Batista Vázquez in Cayey, Puerto Rico). He worked with small groups like Pete Hernández and Manzano y su Tumbao before recording with Orchestra Dicupé (Orchestra Dicupé '72 on Fania) and yourself. Then he returned to Puerto Rico where promoter / producer Rafael Viera facilitated him replacing Frankie Hernández in Bobby Valentín's band. He debuted on Bobby's Afuera (Bronco, 1976) and remained with the bandleader until his retirement in circa 2001. Tell me more about Johnny?
AH: I already explained how we met. Even though we were total strangers and put together for business purposes, Johnny and I became friends. We didn't really hang out or party together, but he was truly dedicated to the band for the time he was with me. Never missed a gig, never came late, never held me up for money. Johnny was a family man, always had a day gig. He left the band because he had made a name for himself with me and wanted to live in Puerto Rico. I saw him a few times in Miami when he came to play with Bobby. Johnny is Chino Rodríguez's wife's first cousin.
Chino and I are still friends. Chino is here in Miami this week attending the Billboard Latino convention. Chino lives in Jacksonville and books reggaeton acts, so Chino keeps me up to date about Johnny. Lately, he's had voice problems and has become a born again Christian. Johnny is a few years older than me and I'm 60, so he must be around 65.
JIC: Please could you identify the tracks that you, Barry Levitt, Javier Vázquez and Mark Weinstein arranged on Sorpresa La Flauta?
AH: Arrangers: Andy Harlow - "El Primer Montuno" and "Sorpresa La Flauta"; Barry Levitt - "Superstar"; Mark Weinstein - "La Lotería" and "Cambia El Paso"; and Javier Vázquez - "No, Que Va A Llorar" and "Ay Que Bueno".
JIC: For want of a better term, your band on Sorpresa La Flauta had a trombanga sound with you just playing flute, whereas on La Música Brava, while you retain the trombanga foundation, you bring in the tenor sax, vibes and celeste. I would like to hear your comments about this development?
AH: Sax was my main instrument; I was playing it on gigs and wanted to add another dimension to the sound of the band on record. Sax is a jazz instrument as are the vibes. Also, I had a little more input on La Musica Brava, especially after the first LP was such a big seller.
JIC: José Madrid arranged four tracks on La Música Brava and trombonist Mike Gibson wrote two charts and co-arranged the Chano Pozo classic "Tin Tin Deo" with Abie Lima. I note that Mike also arranged for Larry's band, tell me more about him?
AH: Mike Gibson was a great trombonist; listen to his solo on "Tin Tin Deo". He was young at the time and new to the Big Apple and was dedicated to the Andy Harlow band for quite a while. We rehearsed a lot for La Música Brava. I don't really know what happened to Mike, we lost touch. I know he wrote / arranged the music for a few Broadway shows and was quite successful.
JIC: The lyric consultant on La Música Brava was Heny Alvarez, a force behind your brother's salsa opera Hommy, who passed away on March 30th 2006. Please could your share your memories of him?
AH: I never had much to do with Heny Alvarez. Making him lyric consultant was just a way to put a few pesos in his pocket. I never had any problems with him; he was an OK singer and songwriter. Recently, just before his death, Larry and him had some problems over a Hommy revival.
JIC: Did you gig with the personnel featured on Sorpresa La Flauta and La Música Brava at the time? And if so, what numbers did you customarily feature in your sets?
AH: My gig band was basically the band on La Música Brava. The rhythm section was pretty constant: Abie, Rubén Figueroa (bongosero) and Steve Colón (conguero). The piano players and bassists varied as did the 'bone section.
I always liked to surround myself with the best jazz oriented players. I had a lot of gigs, but you know the biz, some weeks / months you're busy, other times slower. Now this is a fact: I always paid top dollar and never screwed anyone out of a cent - straight ahead always. Maybe that's because I also worked as a sideman and saw things from both sides. Anyway, my book was not the easiest to play, especially the 'bone parts and you needed good sight readers as well as guys who could blow loud and solo. I always stretched out on the gigs, playing long extended versions of tunes with lots of solos.
Piano players: Mark, José Madrid, Jorge Dalto. Kenny Gómez, Edy Martínez, Willie Mullings, Paquito Pastor, Alfredo Rodríguez are some who cut it with me.
'Bones players: Mike Gibson and Art Barron (from the Ellington band) were a great duo and worked with me steady around the time of La Musica Brava. Then of course there was Barry Rogers, Tom "Bones" Malone, Ed Byrne, Steve Turre, Louis Kahn, Leopoldo Pineda, Sam Burtis - all top guys who passed through the band, among others.
Bass players: Gua Gua was always my favourite and a long time buddy. But guys like Sal Cuevas, Joe Santiago, Guillermo Edghill, Cucho Martínez and Izzy Feliu were also first class. Mark and Gua Gua were a dynamic duo.
Beside playing tunes from my LPs, "La Lotería", "La Musica Brava", "Sorpresa La Flauta", etc, we did some salsa / Latin jazz standards like "Picadillo", "Vamonos P'al Monte", "Mi Bohio", "Tu Tu Ta Ta" and even a few jazz boleros.
JIC: Your next album, 1975's El Campesino, was a different kettle of fish. Whereas your first two albums had a coherent style, El Campesino, was a mixture ranging from the straight charanga of "Ritmo De Azucar" (with a violin solo by Pupi Legarreta), experimental "Montuno Con Harlow", through to the more typical "El Campesino De Oriente". Plus the 27 odd performers listed on the album cover in addition to you suggest that the project was recorded over a number of different sessions. However you retained most of your rhythm section from the previous album: Steve Colón, Rubén Figueroa and José Madrid. What was going on?
AH: We had a lot of fun recording this LP. First of all, the money was flowing - no budgetary restraints. Fania was doing real well, my first two LPs sold very well and Jerry gave Larry and me the green light.
Once again, I wanted to expand my horizons and record some Latin big band, a bolero with strings, charanga, typical Cuban, Latin jazz, a sequel to "La Lotería", a bomba and a jazz cumbia. Wow! Why not? You only live once! What would you have done?
The rhythm section: Abie Lima and I had parted company by now. Abie's personal problems were too much to bear. I replaced him with the late Tony Jiménez (Wampo) for the recording. Tony was playing with Larry. For my live gigs, Rubén was playing timbales and bongos a la Manny Oquendo. Tony was a good influence on Rubén and Steve who were still very young. Rubén and Steve were my band's backbone and they were extremely loyal and I wouldn't have used anyone else for the recording out of respect. And you know what? They rose to the occasion.
José Madrid was very involved in this recording. He arranged four tunes, played piano on it and conducted the bolero while Jorge Dalto played piano. José also composed "La Cumbiamba" and co-wrote "Mi Mujer" with Rubén Blades. José wanted to do the cumbia and the bomba with a big band; saxes, trumpets and 'bones, so I said OK. Whatever was needed: drums, French horn, strings, extra rhythm, the best coro singers in town.
I used Louie Ramírez to arrange the more commercial tunes and the one where I play vibes, as he knew how to arrange for vibes. I arranged the title tune for trumpets, 'bones and tres. I'm not even playing on the tune.
The concept for "Ritmo De Azucar" was mine. It was originally a cha cha all the way by Aragón. It was my idea to start out as a cha cha and change to a son montuno. In those days, Pupi was the man for violin.
"El 640" was supposed to be the follow up to "La Lotería". It never caught on.
"Mi Mujer" is a modern bomba that sort of ends in almost Dixieland style with all the horns soloing at once at the coda, also my idea.
"Montuno Con Harlow" turned out to be a semi-disaster. Tata Guerra, the Cuban composer who lives in Venezuela, wrote it. He originally wrote it with Larry in mind. After we laid the tracks down it was kind of blah, so Larry had the crazy idea to overdub a moog synthesizer that he really didn't know that much about. They were new and state of the art at the time. Also, we couldn't get one complete take, so Larry added that synth shit in the middle with the fade outs and fade ins to cover up the splice of different takes with different tempos that almost matched. It's actually a cute tune, but once again: show biz. Also, three cheers for Gua Gua who was on every track and played his ass off.
JIC: Among the highlights on El Campesino, of which there are many, is Louie Cruz's arrangement of the Miguelito Valdés composition "Que Mulata" with solos from Madrid and a trombonist. Tell me more?
AH: I still love Ed Byrne's valve trombone solo on "Que Mulata", as well as José's piano solo. Also, Louie Cruz's chart.
JIC: In addition to Miguelito Valdés, you featured covers of songs by other icons like Arsenio Rodríguez and Beny Moré on your first two Vaya albums. Tell me about this policy?
AH: A good song is a good song is a good song, no matter where or when it was written, or by whom. Also, it was a matter of "Cuban roots" - showing the public and other music lovers that you know the history of the music you're playing and respect it.
JIC: Tell me about Edwin Natal, the lead singer on El Campesino?
AH: Edwin was singing coro with Héctor Lavoe, and was sort of Héctor's protégé in more ways than one. Edwin would cover for Héctor if he was late for a gig or unable to perform. I really don't remember how we got together, but after Johnny decided to move to Puerto Rico, Edwin stepped right in. He fit the bill. He was a "pretty boy" with a great on stage personality. He was young, in his early twenties. The ladies loved him, etc. He sang great as well. His only problems were personal ones. Having Edwin and Mark in the band at the same time was like babysitting twins. I found out about a year ago that Edwin had died a few years back. I got an email from his brother. We had sort of lost touch after I fired him for not showing up on a few gigs and some other stuff. Another sad story.
JIC: You concluded your quartet of Vaya albums with Latin Fever (1976) just as the New York salsa boom was overheating. Please, could you share your reminiscences of this period in the history of Latin music? And were you gigging much as a leader in New York at this stage?
AH: You're right; by 1976 the Latin music biz had cooled off, both in record sales and in-person gigs. Disco was now king.
By this time, I was already married to my first wife and my son Eli was born in November 1974 and Marta was pregnant with my second son, Roy, to be born February 20th 1977. I was teaching music full time at a middle school on Long Island until June 1974. Then I gave it up to concentrate on the band. I continued to teach part time as a substitute teacher, just to help pay the bills. Well, I don't have to tell you about the money problems that arise when you're married with babies and expecting wives. There wasn't enough bread coming in from the band gigs and I was even driving my friend's cab part time to help put food on the table.
Finally, in the spring of 1975 I sort of broke up the band or, for lack of better words, did what I had to do and took a gig at a big resort hotel in the Catskills for three months with a five piece Latin conjunto. I took Edwin with me, singing and playing congas, plus we had Gabriel Paunessa, an Argentine bass player who sang, Manny Jiménez, Tony Jiménez's father, on drums and timbales and an American piano player, whose name escapes me. The money was real good, I was out of the city for three months enjoying the countryside, took the family with me, etc.
JIC: Your Vaya parting shot, Latin Fever (1976), which I described as "an intriguing hotchpotch of styles, but none the worse for that" in my 2005 Classics Revisited review for Descarga.com involved a staggering 34 individuals in the recording sessions. Please could you provide some insight into the making of this project?
AH: When we returned to the city in the fall of 1975, I reformed the band when needed for occasional gigs, but the biz was really bad. I was now also working as a music therapist for retarded and emotionally disturbed children. This is when I began planning the Latin Fever LP. I really didn't have a band anymore. But I remember doing gigs, basically with pickup bands that burned. No one was working a lot then, so I used Barry Rogers, Mark, Joe Santiago, Steve Turre, all the top guys.
I think we finally went into the studio around the spring of 1976. I remember taking the cover photo here in Miami on a yacht. That was the summer of 1976. I had come to Miami to play a six-week gig at the Numero Uno Club on Miami Beach. Artie Kapper, the Fania deejay / promo man, got me the gig. (By this time I had dumped two agent managers: José Curbelo was my first, then it was Angelo Santiago.) I was basically booking myself, which was actually better. I had learned from past mistakes and from my father's words of wisdom how to survive in the music biz by now.
It was a sextet. I played sax, flute and vibes. Mark, Edwin, Izzy Feliu on bass, Pablito Rosario on timbales and bongos and Frankie Rosario, congas, completed the sextet. I was making real good money on this gig: like $1500 a week. Pretty good bread even now, unbelievable bread for 1976. We followed Joe Cuba into the club. Miami was swinging then. Lots of "everything", which didn't help with keeping Mark and Edwin under control. We played from 11:00pm to 4:00am. I was the headliner. In the lounge was Willy Chirino with a trio plus Arturito as deejay. We stayed across the street in a motel and the club was also an Italian restaurant and we got free dinner every night as well. We all thought we had died and gone to heaven: sunshine, beach, a lot of babes, good money, Cuban coffee, etc.
We finished the gig and went back to New York. Edwin and I parted ways when we returned to New York, before Latin Fever was recorded in the fall of 1976. Even though biz was bad, Jerry was still cool with the money. No problemas with the budget. Besides all the different types of tunes, we were seriously trying for a crossover disco hit, i.e. "Shangri'La". "Shangri'La" was basically my baby. I picked the tune, the arranger, Harry Max, whom I knew from Larry's rock band Ambergris and from gigs around town. The whole concept of backup female vocals, strings, Elliot Randall (I'm sure you know who he is?) on guitar, the rock rhythm section and the all-star horn section from Saturday Night Live and the Blues Brothers Band. I've listened to it again and the chart still stands up, Eliot Randall's guitar is first class. It never took off. Whether it was lack of gringo promotion or nobody liked it, who knows? Not to knock Larry, but it could have used a different "disco" mix and the tempo could have been a little slower - it runs away. Enough about "Shangri'La".
JIC: To again quote my Classics Revisited review: "I have to unashamedly admit that the highlight for me is "Las Mujeres" and its piano solo from the track's arranger Mark "Markolino" Dimond." Please could you share your memories about this stage in Mark's life?
AH: Mark needed money and was in bad shape. He was gigging with me, on and off, and I let him arrange and play on one tune to help him out and put some bread in his pocket. I think he wrote the chart on the subway on the way to the session. It was all scribbled out in pencil, but guess what? As fucked up as Mark was, he had it. He knew what to write. It wasn't the most intricate chart, it was simple, typical and it swung and made sense.
JIC: I am particularly fond of Marty Sheller's arrangements of "Baila Mi Gente" and "Comportate Jevita". Would you like to comment about these tracks?
AH: "Baila Mi Gente" came from a La Playa Sextet / Tito Rodríguez LP (Pachanga, Cha Cha Cha Anyone? '65 on Mardi Gras and compiled on Tito Dice
Separala Tambien! c. '71 on Alegre). Mike Guagenti, who sang with me occasionally when he wasn't with Joe Cuba, wrote "Comportate Jevita". He also wrote "Los Cueros", "Marcela Candela" and "Salta Pa'ca, Brinca Pa'lla".
JIC: Mark Weinstein, who is credited as an arranger on your first album, wrote the chart for the samba "Volvere Algun Dia". Please tell me more about Mark, who also played trombone with your brother's band in the '60s?
AH: Pedro Paunessa, the Argentine bass player who worked with me in the Catskills, wrote "Volvere Algun Dia". It was another attempt at a bilingual crossover hit, this time with a disco/samba beat. The late Nancy O'Neill, from the all girl Latin Fever band managed by Larry's ex-wife, sang lead. Nancy was also Larry Spencer's significant other. Years later, I pitched the tune to Gloria Estefan, but she passed. I own half the publishing on it.
I've known Mark Weinstein since I was a pre-teen. Mark and Larry go way back. They played together when they were teens. When I was 13 and went to the Catskills to hang out with Larry and his band, and got bitten by the music bug, Mark was Larry's bass player. (I have a photo of Larry and Mark as teenagers.) Well, I gave Mark the assignment to write the chart for the samba. The chart was great and I thought the tune came out great. Again, nada. Mark is now a professor of philosophy. I saw him about a year ago; he was in Miami promoting his flute CD (Algo Más '05 on Jazzheads). I also saw him at Larry's wedding a few years ago.
Ismael Rosado, who sang on Latin Fever, was a friend of Frankie Rosario. I took him to Miami for the Xmas gig. To me, his voice reminded me of Ismael Rivera. A real nice guy as well.
JIC: Around the same time, you guested on Chino Rodríguez y La Consagracion (Mary Lou, 1976). Could you share your recollections of this project?
AH: I knew Chino for years; he was Johnny Vázquez's wife's cousin. Besides that, Chino was a real hustler and got my band and me a lot of gigs and I played opposite him lots of times. Chino had some political connections and we got a lot of city / park gigs.
Somehow he got a deal with Mary Lou Records and Bobby Marín was supposed to produce the LP and I was a last minute replacement. Why? Yo no sé. I knew all of the guys in his band. I supervised a few rehearsals and we went into the studio. I put myself on a few tunes on sax and vibes for both effect and as part of the producer / guest star deal. He had a nice band of young kids. Steve Guttman went on to play with Larry and others. It was only on the bolero, Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade", that we had to replace the piano player, and I brought in Alfredo Rodríguez and we also wiped out Chino's voice and overdubbed a friend of mine, Eddie Rivera Jr. on vocals. That's a real hard tune to play or sing. I warned Chino about that tune, but he insisted. I saw Chino two weeks ago.
JIC: What was the story behind your decision to relocate to Miami in 1977?
AH: Moving to Miami? Well, there I was making almost $2000 a week in Miami - holy shit!! Now I knew how my grandparents felt when they came over from Russia to New York. The Promised Land was not Israel, it was Miami!! Would you go back to the Big Apple?
Well, guess what? I did do real well in Miami, but not the way I expected. Rent was cheap in Miami, a nice place to raise a family and a happening music scene, and I was ANDY HARLOW - salsa maven from New York, the guy who made "La Lotería".
JIC: Please could you give a summary of your activities after you moved to Miami?
AH: Well I really thought I was gonna take the Miami Latin scene by storm. After all, we played the Numero Uno for six weeks, packed every night. About halfway through the gig, my wife and I decided that maybe we should give Miami a try. I had some family living in Miami: my uncle, aunt and cousins who lived on Miami Beach and I was just renting in New York. It was cold in New York and so nice and sunny and warm in Miami, so I flew up to New York on my day off and sold all my furniture, packed up everything else, and went right back to Miami.
Eddie Gua Gua and Frankie Rosario also decided to stay in Miami. They both had fallen in love with women they met in Miami. Gua Gua is still married to Kathy (the sister of René López from Típica 73). Frankie married his Cuban love - it lasted about a year or so, they split up and Frankie went back to the Apple. Gua Gua stayed in Miami until last year, when he moved to Orlando with his family.
After the Numero Uno gig ended, I tried booking myself in other Miami clubs, but I ran into resistance. First money-wise. Once they found out I was now "local" they wanted to pay "local" money. At that time, guys were making around $300 weekly to work in local clubs. The leader made more. I also experienced another kind of resistance, especially from the local club owners, who either weren't familiar with the New York salsa scene or me or who were sceptical about a gringo playing salsa.
This was not the case with many musicians I began meeting and playing with in Miami. All great players accepted me right away on my musical merits. Some were transplants from New York whom I had known previously, like Kenny Gómez, Cachao, Arturo Campa and Payo Alicea. Some of the first musicians from Miami that I met were Manteca, Paquito Hechavarría, Nelson "El Flaco" Padrón, Tany Gil, Carlos "Flaco" Elosua, who still sings with me, Sidney Reyes, Ignacio "Nacho" Arbucias, the Casales family, Juanito Vilella, Luis de la Torre and El Negro Vivar. The Miami musicians had a different style from the New York guys, but we blended and accepted each other. Because Miami had a lot of clubs with small, 4-6 piece conjuntos, you had a lot of guys who played drums and timbales and sang at the same time, and bass players who also sang, like Luis Serrano, etc. There were only a handful of real big salsa bands in Miami then, as there are only a few now. There were also a few charangas. Fajardo followed me into the Numero Uno with a quintet. Just José on flute, with piano, bass, timbales and congas - no violins. That's where I met Fajardo for the first time. I would check him out a lot and he taught me a lot and was very kind to me. Fajardo eventually couldn't make a living in Miami and moved to New Jersey in the early '80s.
So here I am unemployed in Miami now with a family to support. Well I had known a lot of American musicians from New York, who were now in Miami and just by luck I landed a gig as a sideman at the Sheraton hotel in Key Biscayne playing dinner music with two other gringos, six nights a week and really good pay. I did that for a few months just to get some bread together. We were living in a furnished cottage on the beach.
At the same time I was checking out the day gig scene and was applying for teaching jobs. I wound up getting a job as a music therapist at a private school for emotionally disturbed kids. I worked there for about a year until I landed the same gig with the State of Florida. All along I was freelancing around playing Latin clubs as a sideman as well as American weddings and bar mitzvahs. The club date music business in Miami was happening. By club dates I mean private parties - one night gigs - such as conventions, weddings, condo dances, bar mitzvahs, etc. Those gigs paid the best, much better that Latin clubs.
I knew some guys from New York who had moved down to Miami and were doing real well in this end of the music biz. They needed help with the Latin music side of the biz and I was the guy who could do that for them. For lack of a better term, "bilingual" events were happening in Miami. The gigs required authentic Latin music: salsa, merengue and cumbia plus American music. A friend of mine, Les Wagman, a piano player, was the king of "Cuban Jewish" parties. Miami has a large Cuban Jewish community and you can imagine the music they require for one of their parties. These were high-end parties where people of means spent lots of money. Les had Sonny Crespo (the original timbalero from La Playa Sextet) on timbales, plus Eddie Elmer (the composer of "Mortifica" in Salsa Brothers / The Miami Sessions '88 on Songo Records) on piano and other good guys. I worked for Les for a while and learned that end of the business.
Then I went to work for another company that did the same thing: book high-end private parties, this time as a leader of my own band. By now I had met Luis Serrano, and we were playing together. Luis had been the original bass player in the Miami Latin Boys, which became the Miami Sound Machine. After a few months we decided to open our own office / business, Harlow / Serrano Productions, Inc. Luis handled the Latin side and I handled the Jewish side / customers and within a few months we were swinging. It was around 1989 that we actually opened an office / showroom. Our main business was weddings. There was a lot of selling involved as well, but the money was real good - I mean REAL GOOD!! One year we grossed $500,000. We had salesmen, secretaries, etc. We put in a lot of hours both selling and playing. We also booked other bands and musicians such as mariachis and violins.
In the early '90s I bought Luis out of the business. We're still friends to this day and gig together occasionally. Like everything else, things change, and the business is not what it used to be. Times change, Miami lost a lot of convention business, deejays have taken over the wedding biz, and all the drug dealers with cash left town, sequencers and computers have replaced live musicians. I closed the office a few years ago and what's left of the biz I run from my house now. But I was smart enough during those hot years to stash away a few bucks, plus I was doing my day gig all along.
JIC: I'm not familiar with Carlos "Flaco" Elosua; tell me about him?
AH: Cuban born Carlos "Flaco" Elosua went from Cuba to New Jersey in his teens, went to high school with Alfredo de la Fé, sings and plays percussion. He recorded two LPs on Coco records with José Fajardo under the name of Carlos Alberto (Fajardo y sus Estrellas del 75 '75 and Fajardo '76: La Raiz De La Charanga "Charanga Roots" '76), moved to Florida in the early '70s, worked with Fajardo until Fajardo went back to Jersey. He worked with Paquito Hechavarría and Flyout with Nelson "El Flaco" Padrón and recorded the theme for ¿Que Pasa, USA? TV show. He also recorded a few LPs for Kubaney. Flaco has been with me for years. His biggest regret was not taking Larry's offer to sing with him in the '80s because he didn't want to return to New York. He's also a good songwriter, and a loyal friend.
JIC: Tell me about Flyout?
AH: Flyout worked the local club scene. Paquito on piano, "Flaco" Carlos Alberto on conga / vocals, Nelson Padrón on drums and Bobby Martínez on sax. Paquito is another character you could write a book about. Paquito worked at the Fontainebleau with Payo. Paquito worked with everyone in this town at least once. When they recorded the theme song for ¿Que Pasa, USA? they were given the choice of either cash for the session or residual royalties. It was then a local show being produced on the local pubic TV station, so they took the cash. The show is still in syndication 30 years later around the world - another show biz horror story! Then Paquito did it again! He took cash for his piano solo on "Conga" (1986) by the Miami Sound Machine. I heard he was offered half a point.
JIC: What was the story behind recording the Salsa Brothers / The Miami Sessions project, which has been digitally re-mastered and reissued by Primo Discos in 2006?
AH: In 1985 I was in a bad auto accident. I almost lost my life, had a broken leg and other injuries. I was going through physical therapy, had my leg in a cast when Salsa Brothers was recorded. I basically used the insurance money I got from the accident, which wasn't a lot, to finance the recording, which was done in 1986.
JIC: You previously described the Salsa Brothers to me as "sort of in between Joe Cuba Sextet and Seis del Solar: no horns, just sax, flute, vibes and synthesizer and rhythm." What shaped this concept?
AH: I was always a big Joe Cuba fan and had been playing more vibes in Miami than I did in New York. I was also knocked out by Rubén Blades' Buscando America LP (Elektra, 1984), which I think was his first with Seis del Solar. Those two factors, plus the need to keep the recording low budget is how Salsa Brothers sort of came about. Synthesizers were happening, so we experimented.
JIC: You told me elsewhere that: "In 1985 in Miami, Mark Dimond showed up at my door unannounced, broke and totally fucked up. I was just about to self-produce and record Salsa Brothers with Larry. I put Mark to work writing arrangements and he also played piano on it. That was Mark's last recording." Please could you pick up the story?
AH: The story about Mark Dimond showing up unannounced is true. His timing was perfect. Mark was in bad shape. He was living with some girl in a motel and I loaned him a small electric piano to write the charts. Mark takes all the piano solos except "Philadelphia Mambo".
JIC: So how long was it after the Salsa Brothers album was completed that Mark Dimond died? And what were the circumstances?
AH: I can't remember how long it was after we finished recording and Mark went on his way, that I got a phone call from his mom, who was retired and living in Augusta, Georgia. Maybe a year or so after. I don't know how she got my number either, maybe from the album cover. Well she told me Mark had died in the San Francisco / Oakland area of California. He went on a quest to find his Cuban father and did. They reunited and it seems that Mark was getting his life together a little, he was selling pianos at a piano store in a mall, when he keeled over and dropped dead. The cause of death was undetected syphilis of the brain, that he must have had for years. I remember I sent his mother a copy of the LP. Never heard from her again.
JIC: Rising salsa romántica star Luis Enrique composed and sang the cut "Impossible" and played conga and percussion on the album. Tell me more?
AH: Luis Mejia, as he was known then, was just a young unknown local conga drummer at that time, he hadn't signed with CBS yet as a singer and I originally hired him to be the conguero on the date. "Impossible" was a filler tune we added at the last minute and worked out the arrangement right there in the studio.
JIC: Tell me about the other lead singer, Frankie Castro, who sings on "Envenenao" and his compositions "Fracaso" and "Nadie Da Nada"? His timbre reminds me of Israel Kantor.
AH: I forget how I met Frankie Castro, but he wrote and then sang lead on his compositions. Frankie was a Nuyorican who was singing with some local band in Miami.
JIC: Bassist Eddie "Gua Gua" Rivera, who played on your La Música Brava and El Campesino albums, is the only "name" sideman. Tell me about the other musicians?
AH: Ramón Casales and his brother Jorge (you might know their sister, Mayra Casales, percussionist from New York) were the rhythm section from the Harlow / Serrano club date band. They both worked in the office as well as salesman for us. Ramón is also an excellent singer. They're both still around and we work together quite often. Freddy Lugo (bongosero) I knew from New York. He originally came to Miami around the same time as me with Hansel and Raúl. Rafael Solano is an excellent percussionist, Dominician born, who was a friend of Luis Enrique.
JIC: To my knowledge, the Salsa Brothers is only recording you and Larry have released under your joint names. Would you like to comment on this?
AH: As far as Larry and I recording together again - if anyone offers us a deal, we're both open to it. I've been playing a lot lately with Larry and the concert we did in San Juan in 2001 (35th anniversary) is finally gonna be released on Fania real soon. The best sax solo I ever took on record is on that CD - a live version of "Tin Tin Deo" - wait till you hear it. I guess if I had hung around Fania longer, we would have recorded together.
I never really gigged a lot together with Larry in the New York days for a few reasons. Orchestra Harlow not having sax/flute parts was one reason. I would sit in with them occasionally. We did many gigs opposite each other with both our bands. The local promoters usually played up the battle of the brothers' angle. It was also a case of each of us doing "our own thing". I'll always be grateful to Larry for opening up all those doors for me. But, I followed one path and Larry another. I never really had the drive he had then and still has today at age 67. I'm more laid back in a lot of ways.
Yogi Berra once said: "When you get to the fork in the road, take it". Well I did, lots of times, and there's no sense in doing the "coulda, shoulda, woulda" 30 or 40 years later. We all make decisions along the way that profoundly affect the future course of events - that's life, baby.
Larry is my bro, but he's a tough cookie when it comes to biz, much tougher than me in some ways. Salsa Brothers was my project, but I had to pay Larry for producing and playing on it, plus plain fare and hotel. Business is business. He pays me quite well, when I gig for him.
JIC: Please tell me the story behind the track "Calle Ocho"?
AH: "Calle Ocho" was actually recorded a few years earlier when I was working for that other company Musically Yours Orchestras. They put up the money originally for me to record that one tune, which was originally used as the theme song for the then fairly new Calle Ocho Music Festival. It got a lot of airplay at the time and we sold a few thousand 45s to the festival promoters to use as giveaways the day of the festival. I wrote the song in English and Fernando Resto translated it into Spanish and added the melody. The intro was stolen from an old Tito Puente tune (which is on one of the Fania reissues). I don't remember all of the players on the track, but some were Teddy Mulet (from Miami Sound Machine) on 'bone, Nelson Padrón on timbales. The chart was by Luis de la Torre, who also played piano.
JIC: In the December 1987 Miami Herald article "Anglo Catches Latin Fever", the writer Patricia Duarte put it to you that you receive "mixed reviews from Latins in the music industry." You riposted: "I can hold my own against anyone. Fajardo, Pacheco. Anyone." Could you comment on the attitudes you have encountered as an Anglo musician working in the Latin genre?
AH: The Miami Herald article - I remember that. Where did you dig that up from? The real story about that is that a few local bandleaders, "celosos" (jealous mother fuckers), bad rapped me to her. I spoke before about the resistance I ran into at first in Miami. But let me tell you something: when the Harlow / Serrano band was in top form and I was soloing on flute, people would stop dancing and turn around and check me out and give us standing ovations. We played hundred of parties, opposite all kinds of bands, both local and from out of town and stole the show. I could never understand why people have jealousies like that; it must come from their own insecurities. We did dozens of gigs opposite Miami's "best", Chirino, Carlos Oliva & Los Sobrinos de Juez, Miami Sound Machine (who also started out as a wedding band), Clouds, etc, and always held our own.
There's also an ongoing feud here in Miami about where "salsa" came from. The Cubans refuse to accept New York as the birthplace of "salsa". They cannot distinguish between Cuban music and salsa, but that's another book for you to write. Once again, let me make it clear that 99% of those in Miami, be they Cuban or other Latinos, are great people who all get along and accept each other for their talents. It's just a small minority, who have tunnel vision when it comes to this subject.
JIC: You asked where I dug up the 1987 Miami Herald article. It was included in the press kit that accompanied the original vinyl release of Salsa Brothers in 1988. Tell me a bit about Carlos Oliva & Los Sobrinos de Juez?
AH: Wow! You must be a pack rat to save a press kit from 1988. I don't even remember putting together a press kit. Carlos Oliva has a band Los Sobrinos de Juez (The Judges Nephews). They've been a Miami band for 30 years (their 3 Decadas De Exitos...Y Más '05 on Universal / Pimienta is an anniversary compilation). He's real well known in the Cuban community and politically connected. He used to book every band at the Calle Ocho Festival. He had a local TV show at one time, does Spanish TV commercials, etc.
JIC: How has the Latin music scene in Miami changed during the 29 years you have been based there?
AH: The Latin music scene has changed a lot in Miami since the '70s. There are very few clubs with live bands. Most have one or two pieces with computers or just deejays. The population has changed: more non-Cuban Latinos now. A lot of South Americans. There are a few big salsa bands around, but not much work. There's one charanga, a few timba bands, a few tres players. The club date scene has changed also, like I said. The corporate / convention hotel work is mostly gone. And let's face it, I'm not getting any younger and the younger guys and bands are taking over. That's the natural order of things. The South Beach clubs don't want old farts like me. But that's OK, the Beatles said it quite well: "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on...hey" (Ha-ha, ha-ha!!) All in all, I love Miami - it's so close to the United States!!
Last March at the Latin Legends Concert in Atlanta, a beautiful girl came up to me and asked for my autograph. She said: "You're Andy Harlow, my grandma has all your albums." I rest my case.
JIC: Tell me about your involvement with the Bobby Matos project Acknowledgement released in 2005 on Lifeforce Jazz?
AH: I've known Bobby since my teens. His band was one of the first I played with in the '60s. I used to shlep my vibes in the back seat of my VW Beetle. We had a Latin jazz quintet. Bobby had a record out then called "The Highjack". It was a boogaloo cha cha with an English coro that went: "At this time manaña, we're gonna be in Havana." Not too politically correct these days, but cute then. The song was about a guy hijacking a plane to Cuba.
Besides being friends all these years, I really respect Bobby. He's a guy who has always stuck to his guns. He wanted to play and record Latin jazz and did. He moved to L.A. and made a go of it. I like all of his records. They all have an energy to them, and Bobby always used great players and picked good tunes. He's a good Latin jazz producer, as well. His records may be a little sloppy, but they always swing - like live recordings.
Anyway, I had told Bobby that I was gonna be in L.A. on vacation visiting my wife's daughter and grandchildren, so he asked me if a wanted to do a live gig in L.A. on a Monday night at Floridita's as a "guest star". Then, the night of the gig he asked if wanted to go into the studio the next day and do a few flute overdubs. So I did. Basically, the rhythm tracks were down and he asked just to improvise over the tracks. No coro on the tracks yet. It was fun and it came out pretty good. The violin wasn't recorded yet either. Did you know that Bobby is half Jewish? Bobby is a real straight-ahead guy. I've never heard anyone talk bad about him, either personally or professionally.
JIC: I understand you are still active as a leader and sideman. Tell me more?
AH: First let me say, thank God, financially, I'm cool and I'm not scrounging around for gigs to make a living. I'm still doing a few gigs a month as a leader of a small group, and a few as a sideman. My music business is a "virtual" office that I run from my home now. Lately, I've been a little more selective when they call me for sideman gigs. It's not the money. If it sounds like it's gonna be a fun / happening gig, I'll do it. I've even done a few Jewish klezmer gigs recently. The bread is secondary. At this stage of my career, I wanna be a male Cyndi Lauper: just wanna have fun. That's why I love doing those all-star gigs with Larry. I get to travel, see all the guys from New York, and play great music with great players and party a little. (Plus Larry pays real good also, which can't hurt.) In the past six months, I've been to Venezuela with Larry and then we did a carnival cruise from San Juan for a week, plus gigs in Atlanta and Florida. At this point in my life, I don't have much to prove anymore.
I've been playing occasionally with a friend of mine, Cha Evans, a timbalero, who promotes a Latin jazz jam in a few different clubs around town. They're fun gigs with some good players. Lousy bread, but fun and good music. The personnel varies from gig to gig.
JIC: Tell me about your present day broadcasting and journalistic activities?
AH: I started doing a radio show on WDNA-FM back in the early '80s, then stopped around 1992. I was too busy with other stuff. Then a few years ago Juan Esteban from Lamusica.com asked to do an internet radio show for them. I did that for about a year or so until Juan left Lamusica and I moved the internet show to my own website, andyharlow.com. Around the same time WDNA asked me if I wanted to come back, so I did. I also did a few interviews and CD reviews for Lamusica.com, Salsaweb.com and the Miami New Times. All for little or no money. I don't have to tell you about that.
Radio is my music therapy. I don't get a chance to listen to a lot of music at home. I listen mainly in my car, at my day gig and at the station. WDNA is a non-profit community radio station and everyone volunteers their time. Hopefully, after I retire in two years, I can do the radio thing a little more and maybe make some money at it. I also like writing. I don't really know how good I am at it, but the few things I did have published came out pretty good.
I'm not sure what I'm gonna do once I'm a "retiree". My wife and I have spoken about relocating to Las Vegas. That's one possibility. We both like Vegas. I've been there twice this year alone. There's also a small but growing Latin music scene there. Javier Vázquez moved there, as did Johnny Rodríguez and a few others. I like L.A. also, but it's very expensive to live there. I wouldn't mind doing a few cruise ship gigs. I like cruising and have worked on ships in the past.
I was also thinking about doing some teaching or lecturing on the college level and maybe some serious private students or some salsa / Latin jazz workshops. That whole educational side of the biz is happening now and I have the credentials and more. I can also do some arranging, but I would definitely need a music computer for that. Who knows? I feel pretty good and hopefully I'll remain healthy and maybe I can have some fun for a few more years. My wife and I like to travel so I'm sure I'll be doing some of that. We have children and grandchildren in both Florida and California.
JIC: Now, my regular closing questions: Would you like to tell me what projects you have been working on recently and what you have in the pipeline?
AH: I've been working on a Latin jazz compilation for WDNA, the proceeds of which would benefit the station and also help promote various Latin jazz artists who have self-produced or indie CDs. We've also spoken about a live Latin jazz jam concert and recording to benefit the station. Hopefully, the Miami Sessions reissue will make some noise and I'll be "rediscovered". There's also a trip to Colombia in September 2006 with Larry and the Legends in the works and a festival in Calgary, Canada, for September 2006 as a guest artist for myself. Both should be fun.
JIC: Is there anything else that you would like to add that we have not talked about?
AH: There's something else I wanted to relate to you. It's about the "new" Fania (Emusica). Well, I first met Bobby Marín a few years ago when he was involved with Latin Cool and they were recording Larry (Larry Harlow's Latin Jazz Encounter: Live At Birdland '02 on Latin Cool). We had dinner a few times on Miami Beach with Larry and Dave Wasserman. Then around New Year's 2006 Bobby called me up and said he just moved to Miami to work for the new Fania.
Bobby came by my radio show one night and I put him on the air and we played some of the stuff he produced and talked about Louis Ramírez and boogaloo. Then he told me about the first 30 reissues from Fania and promised me a set for my shows. In March 2006, when I was in Atlanta playing a concert with Larry and the Legends, the new big boss of Fania, Giora Briel, came to hear the band. He was real nice to all of us, loved the band and the show we did. A few of us wound up having breakfast with him at 3:00am. He explained the direction he would like to take with Fania regarding both the catalogue of music they have and future new projects that are in the works. I was impressed with his knowledge of the business and his knowledge of the history of Fania Records and its artists and his respect for all the artists and music.
They have their work cut out for them at Emusica (the new corporate entity that owns Fania). There are literally thousands of boxes and tapes in the vault that have to be gone through and catalogued. Everything fell into complete disarray after Jerry Masucci's death. But, they seem to be getting it together slowly but surely. That vault is like the Smithsonian of Latin Music - priceless stuff in there.
The only other thing I want to add is to put a few things in perspective, mainly about the other parts of my life that we didn't speak of, for example, music. I grew up listening to rock 'n' roll and jazz, way before I began listening to Latin music. I was a child of the '60s, was at Woodstock, listened to Crosby, Stills and Nash, Dylan, Hendrix, Otis Redding, etc. I did my counter culture and anti-war protesting during my college days, etc.
Then there is my Brooklyn / Jewish heritage, which stays with you forever. I'm still very close with my friends from the old neighbourhood and high school. Even though we're spread out all over the country, we keep in touch and once a year we have a reunion in Las Vegas. These are all Americanos. Some of them like Latin music and others don't. My point being, I love Latin music - it's been a big part of my life - but I have other (non-Latin) interests as well, both musical and non-musical. I love rice and beans but pastrami on rye is better. In a lot of ways I'm your typical baby boomer. I grew up on TV, etc, and junk food and comic books and baseball and football.
I just want the readers to understand that I'm multi-dimensional. I don't eat, sleep and crap salsa. I love it and it's been a very important part of my life, but if for some reason I were physically unable to play or I wound up living someplace where there wasn't any Latin music, etc, I'd survive.
We kept the conversation to musically related subjects, as we agreed upon, but like everyone else I have a life beyond music: a wife, children, grandchildren and family and personal concerns that are quite important to me. It's the totality of you life experience that makes you what you are in the end.
As of now, all I can say is that I've had some great experiences in my life, been down some strange and winding roads, and I'm just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
JIC: Thank you for having devoted so much of your time to talking to me.
AH: I've enjoyed this; it's been fun. You've been like my therapist.
© Descarga.com and John Child. John Child produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca. He is an editor and journalist for the Descarga.com Latin music website, and a contributor to the
MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music, and has prepared compilations for the Union Square and Nascente labels.