The Descarga Review • December 20, 2007
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John Child (JIC): On Friday, October 20, 2006, you performed with Johnny Pacheco and the Fania All-Stars at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Pacheco's 50th year as a bandleader. Please tell us about this gig and its significance, both to you and historically?
Nicky Marrero (NM): I was called and told they were doing a tribute to him, that it was important to share this with him because we have a longstanding friendship. It was sold out. The band was super. Everyone enjoyed giving him this tribute. You know, sometimes you'll get a tribute when you pass away. At least he's alive. The band was good. He was in good spirits. It was a family atmosphere.
JIC: Take us back to your personal roots as the son of Puerto Rican parents born and raised in the Bronx?
NM: I was born June 17th 1950 at St. Francis Hospital in the South Bronx and raised in this very apartment that opened up in 1952. My parents kept this apartment while I moved around.
JIC: Tell us about your early musical experiences and education?
NM: I started with doo-wop, singing in the halls. The first time I performed in public was at a talent show at my elementary school. At the community centre they were some guys who had timbales, congas and stuff and we used to practice there. Guys used to come from other neighbourhoods and we had jam sessions behind Public School 98.
JIC: What was the story behind you opting to be a percussionist?
NM: It was all around me. Why timbales? I used to go to Chuíto Vélez's rehearsals. I thought the timbales looked cool. The bongos just had skins. The timbales had bells, a cymbal and two sticks.
Ray Rosado (RR): One time, while looking at the cover of Ray Barretto's Viva Watusi! (United Artists, 1965), Willie Colón pointed to a young Orestes Vilató and exclaimed: "That's Nicky's idol." Was that true at the time and who were and are your key influences?
NM: I don't know where Willie got that. He said that to you? If I idolised anyone, it was Puente. I didn't idolise Orestes. I enjoyed his playing, especially his soloing. He was showcased more later on. I guess that was just Willie's opinion.
JIC: Who were the very earliest bands you played with before you worked with "name" bands?
NM: I played with Orquesta Caribe, led by Willie Cintron, who plays bass now. He played saxophone at that time. Then I went with Willie Colón.
RR: It is on record that you joined Willie Colón's band in 1967. However, knowledgeable sources say you were a member of Willie's band in 1966 when they recorded for Al Santiago's Futura label, which released the single "Fuego al Barrio" with "Se Baila Mejor" on the B-side (which Willie later reprised on Guisando - Doing A Job c.'69 on Fania) with vocalist Tony Vázquez. Then Willie made El Malo for Fania with Hector Lavoe joining in 1967, using some of the material from the Futura sessions. Is this correct?
NM: Yes. We did a 45. Before that we played a lot of small clubs.
RR: The same informed sources say that contrary to the record, which cites you as joining Eddie Palmieri's band in 1969, you actually replaced Manny Oquendo in Eddie's band in late 1967 and recorded half of Champagne, which was released on Tico in March 1968. Is this accurate?
NM: Right. That's accurate.
JIC: So that by the time that Willie's The Hustler was released on Fania in 1968, you were already with Eddie Palmieri?
JIC: Were you gigging with Eddie while still with Willie?
NM: I'm not sure. I might have been. The first time I played with Eddie was at the Village Gate.
JIC: Can you report how Willie felt about you defecting to Eddie?
NM: He didn't like it. He said: "In 10 years we'll be bigger than Eddie Palmieri." Eddie Palmieri was big at the time. He felt I was betraying him. He was hurt. I had become a stamp in the band. I pulled a lot of attention to the group.
(Postscript by Ray Rosado: I remember Willie considered doing a cover of the Tito Rodríguez classic "El Que Se Fue" (originally from Returns To The Palladium - Live! '61 on United Artists) with licks from some of Eddie's tunes in the arrangement. I guess he thought better of the idea because it never materialised.)
RR: While you were with Willie Colón I caught you at the old Carlos Ortiz' Club Tropicoro, on Longwood Avenue in the Bronx (there is a police precinct there now) where Federico Pagani used to have Sunday matinees. I noticed you using only a cha-cha bell, Oquendo style, even though there was a bongo and hand bell player. I saw you do this again at the Corso in Manhattan with Eddie Palmieri (Jerry González was on conga and Chucky López on bongos) in 1973. It used to annoy Chucky who made his displeasure obvious. I was puzzled when I first heard you do this with Willie. However, when you did it with Eddie, it seemed a little more logical, Chucky's annoyance notwithstanding. It didn't catch on. What was that all about?
NM: I was influenced a lot by Manny Oquendo, and charangas. A lot of timbaleros at that time were playing charanga style. In Joe Quijano's band, Chicky Pérez. They played with just the cha-cha bell. That was a responsible way of playing, 'cause you're not using the big bell. You had to cover a lot of territory with that little bell it was a sensitive issue. There was a time when I played both bongos and timbales with Willie, the Eddie Palmieri influence.
RR: I also noticed you playing the cha-cha bell on son montunos, again at the Tropicoro, where instead of the usual one hit per beat, you did two-two on top and two on the bottom: ko-ko / ti-ti / ko-ko / ti-ti. You did this again on "Guajiron" from The Hustler. I had never heard anyone do this before or since, though I liked and understood it. Any comments?
NM: Melodias del 40. Montero (Timbalero).
RR: All this talk about the cha-cha bell reminds me of my partner Victor Maldonado's story about you noticing the sound of his cha-cha bell while you were walking up the stairs of the old Casino 14 during the late '70s, and inquiring about it. Do you remember that? And, if so, what was it about the bell that attracted you?
NM: No. I don't remember.
RR: Moving back to Eddie, do you remember who played on conga on Champagne and was he on both sessions?
NM: José Valiente.
RR: Justicia (Tico, 1969) is the first Eddie Palmieri album where your name appears. There are a variety of percussionists on the album. I can only assume that they didn't all play on every tune. Here's my take: Francisco Aguabella is on conga on the title tune, with Ray Romero backing him on the conga solo, and Chino Pozo on bongo. Manny Oquendo is on bongo on "Lindo Yambu" with Aguabella on conga. Ray Romero is on bongo on "Amor Ciego." How am I doing? On which tune does Eladio Pérez play? Some people think it's Eladio soloing on "Justicia." I say it's Aguabella. Can you settle these matters for once and for all please?
RR: Ray Romero on the bolero?
NM: I believe so.
RR: It's not Chino Pozo?
NM: I would have to listen to it. I can tell by the style.
RR: On which tune does Eladio play? Do you remember?
RR: The conga solo is Aguabella, right?
JIC: I understand that the rhythm section in Eddie's band you belonged to acquired the nickname "Los Diablitos." Tell us more?
NM: Ismael Quintana he would see us bickering a lot. We were always arguing about something. I had seniority 'cause I was in the band longer, so it always wound up the way I wanted it to go. We had a good combination of Puerto Rico, New York and experience. I was older than Chucky - where before I was the youngest. The combination was unique.
JIC: A number of your recorded performances with Eddie from this period are held in high esteem by percussion aficionados for their inventiveness, for instance on "Revolt / La Libertad Logica" and "Vamonos Pa'l Monte" (both from Vamonos Pa'l Monte 71' on Tico). We would be interested in your comments about these and any others you may want to highlight?
NM: "Vamonos Pa'l Monte." That was about the 23rd take. Every take was from the beginning to the end and I took a solo on every one of them. By the 23rd take, my speed was, like, it's not going to happen. So I tried to approach the solo in a more clever way, to place the beats in certain places. I got a spurt of energy in one place. Then I utilised the cowbell, to colour it up a little bit. My hands were like Barretto's. "Revolt" was interesting because we were kind of left wing, politically. During the solo I did a machine gun - revolution-like - with the snare drum.
RR: I know you weren't the first to use the bass drum, 'cause I hear it on Beny Moré's and other recordings. However, it seems to me you popularised it in the '70s. Do you agree?
NM: I was the first one to use it standing up. Everyone else used it sitting down. Then I started adding instruments, like the snare drum.
RR: I know that on "Puerto Rico" (Sentido '73 on Coco) you dubbed the timbales and bongos. It is amazing that a tune with such an intense swing was actually recorded with just Jerry González, on one conga, no less. Any comments?
NM: You have to be very disciplined to play one conga. The swing is more típico.
RR: When I first heard about you playing with Eddie I thought you could never replace Manny on bell, whom I consider the best bell player around. However, you held your own, and I even heard you hitting the bottom of the bell three times instead of the usual two, which made it sound like the timbal mambo bell and the hand bell playing at the same time. You stopped doing this after a while. Did Eddie object?
NM: No. They had a lot of confidence in me to do whatever I wanted. They liked the way I was performing. I always came out with something different. If I stopped doing one thing, I'd do something else.
RR: "My Spiritual Indian" (from Justicia '69 on Tico) also freaked me out. Was that intended to be a mozambique? Because what you did was very different, something I'd never heard before, or since.
NM: We were going into comparsa-mozambique. I think it was composed right there in the studio.
JIC: Presumably the profile you attained with Eddie's band at the time helped get you work in the jazz arena? For example, you sessioned on the albums Portrait of Jenny (Perception, 1970) by Dizzy Gillespie and Island Episode (Prestige, 1973) by Houston Person, which both featured Andy and Jerry González? Tell us about more about these projects and your work on the jazz scene at this time?
NM: Well, what happened was that I started doing jingles and Creed Taylor, one of the producers; he's the one who produced Portrait of Jenny, heard me. We did all these recordings at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey. He hired me as one of his main percussionists. I did a lot of albums with all of his artists. Also, I did a lot of work with Atlantic Records, with Jerry Wexler. So my name was getting around with the Caucasian producers.
JIC: You switched to Larry Harlow's band, with whom you made Oportunidad (Fania, 1972) and Live In Quad (Fania, 1974). Then in 1973 you, conguero Frankie Rodríguez, bassist Joe Santiago and lead singer Ismael Miranda split from Orchestra Harlow to become part of Miranda's newly formed Orquesta Revelación. After a highly successful period of about a year, Revelación disbanded and I understand that the band's notable album, Así Se Compone Un Son (Fania, 1973), did not hit the streets until after the break-up. Tell us about the whirlwind history of Revelación and how it all fell apart?
NM: That year we travelled a lot for a young band just starting out. The band had its own sound, sort of Sonora Matancera-ish. I was playing bongo and timbale and the bass drum. And I was using seven different bells, and each bell had a different sound. I was playing the charanga bell on the skin, and the mambo bell. Ismael, he was going to go to Puerto Rico, so the band was going to disband. That's what I recollect. If there was some particular situation about making the band a cooperative, I don't recall
RR: I remember reading in Latin NY that members wanted a cooperative and he refused. I remember you staying with Ismael, you and Frankie Rodríguez, until he left for Puerto Rico. Please tell us about the personnel of Miranda's band at this stage and who worked on his solo follow-up En Fa Menor (Fania, 1974), which lacks musician credits?
NM: Frankie and me. But I don't remember. That was so long ago, and I was recording almost everyday.
JIC: Tell us about the innovations you developed to your instrument while with Orquesta Revelación?
NM: I made my own bell stand so I could play like Papaíto (Mario Muñoz of La Sonora Matancera). I made my own sticks for that particular bell. I welded it in certain spots to get a distinct sound. That's the bell I used on "Puerto Rico." After that, it caught on like wildfire. The thing is, I played bongo and timbale almost simultaneously. I would play cascara (the side of the timbal) and play bongo with my left on certain beats. I would try to incorporate many sounds.
JIC: Meanwhile you were recruited to the Fania All Stars as the replacement for Orestes Vilató. Tell us how that happened?
NM: Well the nucleus of Barretto's band left to form Típica 73. So Ray didn't want to associate with Orestes. Since he was a Fania All Star, what he said was law. He wouldn't share the stage with Orestes.
RR: I caught you on The Mike Douglas Show with Típica 73 once, subbing for Orestes. The band played "Amalia Batista" (from Típica 73 '74 on Inca) and you even did the Eddie Cantor voice: "Yes sir, that's my baby " That was national television. Any comments?
NM: They told me what to do and I imitated it. I knew the song already.
JIC: The first Fania All Stars album your name appears on is Latin-Soul-Rock (Fania, 1974) with one side made up of material from the band's August 24, 1973 Yankee Stadium concert and a concert at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico. You take a solo on "Congo Bongo." What are your memories of these heady days in the band's history?
NM: "Congo Bongo," that was at Yankee Stadium with Mongo Santamaría and Billy Cobham, and me, and Ray Barretto.
JIC: You play on over 20 Fania All Stars albums, featuring acclaimed timbales solos from your good self, such as on "Hermandad Fania" (from Live At Yankee Stadium, Vol. 2 '75 on Fania) and "En Orbita" (from Rhythm Machine '77 on Columbia). We would be interested in your remarks about these and any others you may want to spotlight?
NM: I don't remember "Hermandad Fania". "En Orbita" I remember 'cause of Roberto Roena. We were soloing a lot, the three of us, Ray Barretto, Roberto and myself. I think Roberto also danced on that number. Usually the soloing, each one had to be different from the other. I was adding on instruments that allowed for different messages.
RR: You were also very visual. I remember seeing you in different costumes.
NM: That was a concept of mine, with my first wife. We would talk about current events or what would capture the audience's eye. When Muhammad Ali was champion I went as a boxer. After my trip to Mexico, I went as a Mexican. Once, I wore a space outfit. I always came up with something different. People would wonder about what I would do next. My wife was a seamstress. We did everything at the house. We would go to the Garment District, get material, shiny stuff. We'd take old shoes and put rhinestones on them. Very creative.
JIC: The highlights of your next phase with Eddie were the Grammy winners The Sun of Latin Music (1974) and Unfinished Masterpiece (1976), both on Coco. In particular, your timbale solos on "Un Puesto Vacante" and "Cobarde" from Unfinished Masterpiece are highly regarded by percussion pundits. Could you comment on these projects and this period in the history of Eddie's career?
NM: The music was so swinging. And I was now using the whole kit, the tom-tom, three cymbals; a full set of wheels.
JIC: Were you gigging with Eddie during The Sun of Latin Music era?
NM: I believe so. I did a lot of club gigs with different bands.
JIC: You became a member of the charanga Típica Novel and played on their three wonderful TR albums Super Típica (1974), Sabrosa Novel (1975) and With A Touch Of Brass (1975), which represented somewhat of a peak for the band. How did you hook-up with Novel and tell us about your stint with them in the mid-'70s?
NM: They approached me. I was freelancing at the time. They asked me to join the band. I said: "Sure!"
RR: I remember hearing the hand bell with a charanga for the first time on the tune "Que Viva El Son Montuno" (from Típica Novel's Super Típica) being performed live and was delighted. Any comments?
NM: Yeah, I just wanted to try something new.
RR: With A Touch Of Brass features Barry Rogers and is aptly titled, as that's what it includes, a touch of brass (trombones and Chocolate's trumpet). Although Barry's production of Pasaporte (Coco, 1976) for Orquesta Broadway was a milestone and a really wonderful album, I thought With A Touch Of Brass swung more, thanks in no small part to yourself and Barry's moñas, which gave it a "La Perfecta with strings" sound. Comments?
NM: Anytime Barry touched anything it was like gold. It was so swinging. It made so much sense. He was so conscious of what swing was all about.
RR: While you were still with Willie it was rumoured that you wanted to start a charanga, which seemed odd at the time since charanga / pachanga was long dead, with Orquesta Broadway being the only successful charanga at the time. I give you credit for helping revive charanga in the early '70s, but is there any truth to the rumour?
NM: All kinds of thoughts skipped through my mind, you know, starting a band, a charanga. It may be true.
JIC: Other charanga albums you worked on in the mid-70s were Típica Ideal's outstanding Fuera del Mundo / Out Of This World (Coco, 1978), produced by Luis "Perico" Ortiz, and Charanga America's debut George Maysonet and Charanga America (El Sonido, 1978). Tell us about Ideal and America and these productions?
NM: The really cool part was that I was playing with Tommy López on Ideal's. That was like Whoa! You know, like when Manny played with him, all kinds of rhythms. Unique. The numbers were very típico. With Charanga America the numbers were very sweet. They had this funk.
JIC: From about 1972 until 1982, you sessioned on numerous dates for the Fania stable of labels, including albums by Justo Betancourt, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Ismael Quintana, Héctor Lavoe, Ralfi Pagán, Mark "Markolino" Dimond with Frankie Dante, Chivirico Dávila, Willie Colón and Rubén Blades, Vitín Avilés, Tito Puente, Junior González, Orquesta Novel, Johnny Pacheco, Pupi Legarreta, José Fajardo with Javier Vázquez y su Charanga, Jimmy Sabater and Charanga La Reina. Phew! Could you give us your recollections of what has been described as Fania's assembly line method of making albums?
NM: I was in the studio every day. It was work. Irv Greenbaum, the engineer, and Jon Fausty, they were very professional at their job. They would pamper me to get the best sound they could get. They would use special microphones so they could capture whatever, 'cause they knew of my talent and wanted to put that on vinyl. Engineers were very special and important in my success.
JIC: I must ask you about the life of the brilliantly gifted yet tragic pianist Mark Dimond, who you recorded with in Willie's band on The Hustler, and sessioned with on Ismael Quintana (Vaya, 1974), Héctor Lavoe's solo debut La Voz (Fania, 1975) and Markolino's own Beethoven's V (Cotique, 1975) with Frankie Dante and Chivirico Dávila?
NM: We hung out a lot. We were, like, buddies. We also played together with Johnny Zamot, at Atlantic City, before Atlantic City was anything. Mark and me were roommates. We would pitch pennies when we had nothing else to do, at the Lincoln Hotel. We became good friends. And since he liked Eddie's style so much, we fitted together real cool. We made the group swing. And swing wasn't the only thing, cause we played boleros, we played bombas, different types of rhythms. It wasn't all salsa like it is now.
JIC: Your bongo solo on the title track of Beethoven's V is another highly rated performance. Would you like to comment on this?
NM: (Slowly nods his head as he tries to remember.)
JIC: You were hired for another notable jazz date in 1976: Benson & Farrell by George Benson and Joe Farrell on CTI, also featuring pianist Sonny Bravo, José Madera on conga and Mike Collazo on timbales. Any memories about this project?
NM: No. Like I said, I was one of the main percussionists for Creed Taylor. CTI Records - Creed Taylor.
RR: Machito's Fireworks album (1977) seemed to be a thinly-veiled attempt by Harvey Averne to duplicate the success of The Sun of Latin Music and Unfinished Masterpiece after Eddie left the Coco label, using almost all of the same musicians, and even Lalo Rodríguez on vocals, which I thought bordered on insult to Machito. While it is an excellent album, it is not in any way representative of the Machito sound. Any comments?
NM: All I know is that when Eddie left Coco, he left Lalo still under contract with Harvey Averne. Lalo had to get out of that as soon as possible. He didn't want to be there by himself. So he had to do those albums for Harvey.
RR: Fair enough.
JIC: The largely forgotten Jorge Millet conducted and wrote charts for Fireworks. You soloed on his composition "Macho," on which he played electric piano. Can you tell us something about his life, career and passing?
NM: I remember he once told me that he started playing at age 25. We got close, as friends. He was very strict, with me especially. He wrote charts for me when he knew I would be playing. We would write every beat that he wanted me to do. Very strict.
JIC: You once again replaced Orestes Vilató when you became timbalero with Típica 73, making your album debut with the band on The Two Sides Of Típica 73 / Los Dos Lados De La Típica 73 (Inca, 1977) and taking fine solos on "Salsa Suite," "Yo Bailo De Todo" and "It's A Gay World." Tell us the story behind you becoming a member of Típica?
NM: I was playing at the Corso, I forget with whom, and Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez approached me and asked me to join the band.
JIC: You made a further four albums with Típica, Salsa Encendida (Inca, 1978), Típica 73 En Cuba: Intercambio Cultural (Fania, 1979) - the first album to be recorded by a US-based salsa orchestra Cuba under the Fidel Castro government - Charangueando Con La Típica 73 (Fania, recorded in 1978, but not released until 1980) and Into The 80's (Fania, 1981). Please share your reminiscences of life with Típica, the Cuban excursion and give us your take on the decline in the band's fortunes after the Cuba trip?
NM: The band was swinging. It could be a small band, a big band or a humongous band. Sometimes we just added another horn, another trumpet, another sax. We backed up a lot of singers. And every singer had his own format for the band to back up.
RR: Like whom, for instance?
NM: Azuquita, Adalberto, Tito Allen, José Alberto.
When we went to Cuba, the Cubans over here didn't go for it too much. They threatened some of us. I remember hearing it from the guys. They didn't threaten me cause I lived in the Bronx (laughs). There was also a change of managers, people who book you. There was too much changing around of the guard.
JIC: I have to confess that Charangueando Con La Típica 73 probably ranks as my favourite Típica album, having a wonderfully loose quality and packed with solos. Any comments?
NM: It was nice to do an album with that type of flavour.
RR: Moving to Tito Puente's Grammy winning Homenaje a Beny More (Tico, 1978) that you played on. I was once asked who my favourite timbalero was. I was about to respond Tito Puente, but after some thought I had to say Nicky Marrero. I'm not saying you're a better timbalero, let's be clear on that, but simply my favourite because Tito Puente was always Tito Puente with the Tito Puente orchestra or ensemble. You, however, are like a chameleon, adapting and contributing to whatever style is required. What are your comments about this statement?
NM: I was always looking forward to doing something different at all times, changing the styles. Experience matters, too. The way to Carnegie Hall is practice, to practice all styles and to get as authentic as possible. So you have to do a lot of practicing, a lot of listening to records, asking questions, socialising with the experienced and mature.
JIC: You performed on three marvelous productions by Típica 73 sidekick Alfredo de la Fé: Para Africa Con Amor (Sacodis, 1979), La Charanga 1980: Orchestra Rytmo Africa - Cubana Vol. 1 (TKIOS Musique, 1979) and Alfredo (Criollo / Latin Percussion Ventures, 1979). Please share your recollections of these projects?
NM: They were all interesting, I would say. We also did the Budda All Stars (issued under the title of Mambo Show '90 on Tropical Budda by the Ensemble of Latin Music Legends). That was very good. Henry Montalvo was the producer.
JIC: Típica 73 personnel participated in A Latin Affair (Latin Percussion Ventures, 1979) under the name Dandy's Dandy and in the New York recording Salsa Dans Le Bronx (RCA, 1980) by the French Caribbean percussionist Henri Güedon (the track "Faut Pas Pousser" is collected on the Güedon anthology Early Latin And Boogaloo Recordings By The Drum Master '04 on Comet Records). What are your memories of these sessions?
NM: They were done at Marty Cohen's house, his studio. It was pretty interesting, family oriented, very loose.
JIC: After Típica disbanded you hooked-up with Jorge Dalto and played on his albums Rendez-vous (Cheetah, recorded 1983, released 1989) and Urban Oasis (Concord Picante, 1985). Give us the background to this stage in your career?
NM: That's when I started using brushes with the timbales, and played with the whole kit. It was very interesting because the rhythm section consisted of Cuban, Brazilian and Puerto Rican percussionists. And there were different Brazilian drummers. The thing is we had to be very careful not to clash. It was very interesting 'cause we hit it off real quick.
JIC: Tell us the story behind Carlos "Patato" Valdez and Jorge Dalto's co-production Masterpiece (Messidor), which was recorded in 1984-5 but not released until 1993?
NM: Patato used to live in Jorge's house. So naturally, they're kissing cousins. They were always collaborating. Those were excellent recordings.
JIC: On three tracks of Latin New York 1980-1983 / Live From Soundscape (DIW, 1997) you play bongos in a small group led by Tito Puente on timbales and marimba, Jorge Dalto, piano, Jerry González, percussion, Andy González, bass and Mario Rivera, sax and flute. The liner notes say you were on disability leave from Típica 73 at the time and crutched it up five flights of stairs not to miss the Tuesday night jams at Soundscape. Please share your recollections?
NM: Disability?! Latin New York? I don't remember that one. That's with Puente?
JIC: You were involved in the beginning of Jerry González' solo career and the early days of his Fort Apache Band, appearing on his solo debut Ya Yo Me Curé (American Clavé, 1980) and the first two Fort Apache albums: River Is Deep (1982) and Obatalá (1989), both on Enja. Tell us more?
NM: One of them - Ya Yo Me Curé - that was boss 'cause we all lived in the same house. We recorded it in this guy's house, the engineer. And it was unique. There was a river there and the guy took the mic to the stream. "Ya Yo Me Curé" is Frankie's (composer, lead singer and percussionist Frankie Rodríguez). It was fun watching Papo Vázquez and everybody trying to sing that tongue-twister, (sings): "nos vamos pa' la rumba, nos vamos pa' la rumba " We were the type that was going to live on a farm one day, all of us.
JIC: Your session work in the 1980s slowed down a bit, but you featured on some interesting projects such as Don Gonzalo Fernández' ¡Repicao! (Toboga, 1982), Conjunto Realidad's Asi Es Mi Tierra (Salsa International, 1982), Eddie Palmieri's Grammy winner Palo Pa' Rumba (ML, 1984), Rudy Calzado's Rica Charanga (Caimán, 1986) and Alfredo Valdés Jr.'s ¡Su Piano Y Su Sabor! (Palm, 1986)? Could you single out some of these albums for comment?
NM: Palo Pa' Rumba was the third Grammy winning album that I was on. Rudy and Alfredo's were very típico. It was a pleasure working with Rudy, knowing the veteran he was. And Alfredo, because of how típico he plays.
RR: I believe you appeared on an album by Héctor Ramos (aka El Galan de la Salsa). I don't remember the title, but it includes a Raúl Marrero tune called "Yaré," which Sonora Ponceña also covered. Ring any bells?
JIC: Unless my memory is playing tricks, I believe the first time I saw you live was with Machito's band at Ronnie Scott's in London in the early '80s and then in 1986 at the Village Gate in New York with Charlie Palmieri and Jimmy Sabater's Combo Gigante. Does this bring back any memories?
NM: Yeah, that I played with them! With Machito I was playing bongo.
JIC: Talking of Charlie, you worked with him, Mongo Santamaría, "Chombo," Barry Rogers, Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez, Ray Martínez and David "Piro" Rodríguez under the name of the Ensemble of Latin Music Legends for the album Mambo Show (Tropical Budda, 1990). Tell us the story behind this project and did the group perform live?
NM: Yeah, it did. We did television. We travelled to Puerto Rico. Was Mongo on it? Was that the Budda All Stars?
RR: Yes, it was for Tropical Budda, but it was called Mambo Show.
NM: Was Marty Sheller on it?
RR: Piro played trumpet. Marty Sheller was musical director and wrote three charts.
NM: Piro? OK, that could have been another project.
RR: But Mongo was on it, as well as Chombo, Barry and Dandy.
NM: That was the Budda All Stars?
RR: They changed the title.
JIC: What was the story behind your decision to relocate to Europe and when did you make the move?
NM: Love! I was in love with my current wife. I met her at Fat Tuesday's in New York and followed her to Europe. It took a while.
JIC: While you were in Europe you recorded with Nueva Manteca, Irazú (guesting along with Lou Donaldson, Alfredo Rodríguez and Chocolate on La Fiesta Del Timbalero [L+R, 1991]) and Conexion Latina, among others. Please share your reminiscences of this period?
NM: I did a lot of recordings with different bands, rock 'n' roll, hip-hop.
JIC: Why did you return to the US and when did you move back?
NM: My father was ill and I returned to take care of him, around eighty-something, late eighties.
JIC: Another Marrero timbal solo of note employs the use of brushes on the cut "Tumbao" from Chucho Valdés' 1998 album Live on RMM. Tell us about this?
NM: To play with Chucho was something else. So I wanted to apply the brushes on timbales, especially with him, because I'm pretty sure he never heard brushes on timbales, the way I play them. Nobody had done it.
RR: I've seen you do it at Willie's*.
(*NOTE: Willie's Steakhouse in the Bronx, where Nicky performs the first Wednesday of every month with the Willie Rodríguez Trio, which also features Andy González and a slew of guest artists who often drop by, mostly from the Bronx.)
NM: Right! I'm the only who does it. I took it as a unique opportunity to express myself on an album.
RR: Was that the first time, on an album.
NM: No. The first time was with Jorge Dalto.
JIC: In 1998 you again appeared in London, this time with Larry Harlow's Latin Legends. How much did you work with Larry at that point?
NM: Off and on.
JIC: You recorded again with Carlos "Patato" Valdez, this time in Germany for his album Unico y Diferente (Connector, 1999) produced by bassist Joe Santiago and featuring Alfredo Rodríguez. Tell us about this production?
NM: It was a good recording.
JIC: The noughties have seen you engaged in a diverse range of session and live work, including Grupo Caribe's Son De Melaza (CMS Records, 2000), Son Boricua's Mo - Jimmy Sabater Con Son Boricua (Cobo, 2001), Adela Dalto's La Créma Latina (Mujeres Latinas, 2002), Jimmy Delgado's Salsa Con Dulzura (JD Records, 2004), Dave Valentín's Grammy nominated World On A String (High Note, 2005) and Jimmy Bosch Allstar Band Live In Puerto Rico DVD (JRGR Records, 2006). Would you like to comment about any of these projects, for instance, "Los 4 Timbaleros" on Jimmy Delgado's CD gives a taste of the all-star timbalero events that used to be staged at S.O.B.'s?
NM: I think I did two with Dave. "Los 4 Timbaleros" was boss because we showed our own distinct styles. There was no animosity or competition. It was very family-oriented. It was very cool.
JIC: I note that you have gigged with your own Latin Jazz Quintet. After more than 40 years as a sideman, do you have any major ambitions to be a leader?
RR: I would love that. And you know what? It's a long time coming. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't do it 20 years ago.
JIC: You have played for bands with varying instrumentations and in various genres. Do you have any preferences?
NM: No. As long as it sounds good, I'm willing to go anywhere the music takes me.
JIC: Tell us about the work you have done as an educator over the years?
NM: It's to spread the message of what rhythm means, and what the concept of percussion is.
RR: Do you enjoy it?
NM: Yes, definitely.
JIC: Would you like to tell me what projects you have been working on recently and what you have in the pipeline?
NM: Nothing in the pipeline. I would like to use a banjo, a cuatro and guitar together, experiment. I have a knack for putting things together very quickly. Improvisation. I could put a band together, like, yesterday. Tomorrow. I have a "Kako" spirit.
JIC: Is there anything else that you would like to add that we have not talked about?
NM: No, just that I hope that all ages enjoy the music I've performed, and all cultures and people around.
JIC: What title would you choose for this interview?
NM: Rhythm travels a thousand ways with ample assumptions.
RR: Gotta admit, that's original!
Selected Latin and jazz albums on which Nicky Marrero has performed:
Willie Colón, El Malo (Fania, 1967)
Eddie Palmieri, Champagne (Tico, 1968)
Willie Colón, The Hustler (Fania, 1968)
Eddie Palmieri, Justicia (Tico, 1969)
Eddie Palmieri, Superimposition (Tico, 1970)
Dizzy Gillespie, Portrait of Jenny (Perception, 1970)
Eddie Palmieri, Vamonos Pa'l Monte (Tico, 1971)
Eddie Palmieri and Harlem River Drive, Harlem River Drive (Roulette, 1971)
Larry Harlow with Ismael Miranda, Oportunidad (Fania, 1972)
Justo Betancourt, Pa Bravo Yo (Fania, 1972)
Eddie Palmieri with Harlem River Drive, Live At Sing Sing (Tico, 1972)
Houston Person, Island Episode (Prestige, 1973)
Ismael Miranda and Orquesta Revelación, Así Se Compone Un Son (Fania, 1973)
Eddie Palmieri, Sentido (Coco, 1973)
Eddie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri & Friends In Concert At The University of Puerto Rico (Coco, recorded 1971, released 1973)
Cheo Feliciano, Felicidades (Vaya, 1973)
Wuelfo, El Sonido de la 4 (Inca, 1974)
Eddie Palmieri, The Sun of Latin Music (Coco, 1974; Grammy Award winner)
Típica Novel, Super Típica (TR, 1974)
Eddie Palmieri with Harlem River Drive, Live At Sing Sing Vol. 2 (Tico, 1974)
Ismael Miranda, En Fa Menor (Fania, 1974)
Ismael Quintana, Ismael Quintana (Vaya, 1974)
Fania All Stars, Latin-Soul-Rock (Fania, 1974)
Larry Harlow, Live In Quad (Fania, 1974)
Lou Pérez, Lou Pérez y su Conjunto Típico (Seeco, 1974)
Típica Novel, Sabrosa Novel (TR, 1975)
Héctor Lavoe, La Voz (Fania, 1975)
Fania All Stars, Live At Yankee Stadium, Vol. 1 (Fania, 1975; Vol. 1 received a Grammy nomination)
Fania All Stars, Live At Yankee Stadium, Vol. 2 (Fania, 1975; Vol. 1 received a Grammy nomination)
Ismael Miranda, Este Es Ismael Miranda (Fania, 1975)
Justo Betancourt, Lo Sabemos (Fania, 1975)
Ralfi Pagán, I Can See (Fania, 1975)
Mark "Markolino" Dimond with Frankie Dante, Beethoven's V (Cotique, 1975)
Típica Novel, With A Touch Of Brass (TR, 1975)
Fania All Stars, Salsa soundtrack recording (Fania, 1976; nominated for a Grammy)
Fania All Stars, Tribute to Tito Rodríguez (Fania, 1976)
Fania All Stars, Delicate And Jumpy (Columbia, 1976)
George Benson and Joe Farrell, Benson & Farrell (CTI, 1976)
Eddie Palmieri, Unfinished Masterpiece (Coco, 1976; Grammy Award winner)
Ismael Quintana, Lo Que Estoy Viviendo (Vaya, 1976)
Cheo Feliciano, The Singer (Vaya, 1976)
Chivirico Dávila, Para Mi Gente (1976, Cotique)
Lebron Brothers, Distinto y Diferente (1976, Cotique)
Belmonte & His Afro Latin 7, Olé! (Lideres, 1976)
Fania All Stars, Rhythm Machine (Columbia, 1977)
Machito, Fireworks (Coco, 1977; nominated for a Grammy)
Willie Colón & Rubén Blades Metiendo Mano! (Fania, 1977)
Ismael Miranda, No Voy Al Festival (Fania, 1977)
Típica 73, The Two Sides Of Típica 73 / Los Dos Lados De La Típica 73 (Inca, 1977)
Ismael Quintana, Amor, Vida y Sentimiento / Love, Life And Feelings (Vaya, 1977)
Chivirico Dávila, Brindando Alegria (1977, Cotique)
Charanga 76, Encore (TR, 1977)
Cheo Feliciano, Mi Tierra Y Yo (Vaya, 1977)
Tito Gómez, Para Gozar Borinquen (Inca, 1977)
David Amram, Havana / New York (Flying Fish, 1978)
Fania All Stars, Spanish Fever (Columbia, 1978; track "Coro Miyare" was nominated for a Grammy)
Típica Ideal, Fuera del Mundo / Out Of This World (Coco, 1978)
Charanga America, George Maysonet and Charanga America (El Sonido, 1978)
Vitín Avilés, Con Mucha Salsa (Alegre, 1978)
Mon Rivera, Forever (Vaya, 1978)
Fania All Stars, Live (Fania, 1978)
Ismael Miranda, Sabor, Sentimiento y Pueblo (Fania, 1978)
Louie Ramírez, Louie Ramírez y sus Amigos (Cotique, 1978)
Típica 73, Salsa Encendida (Inca, 1978)
Tito Puente, Homenaje a Beny More (Tico, 1978; Grammy Award winner)
Fania All Stars, Crossover (Columbia, 1979; nominated for a Grammy)
Típica 73, Típica 73 En Cuba: Intercambio Cultural (Fania, 1979)
Junior González, Mi Estilo - My Style (Fania, 1979)
Alfredo de la Fé, Para Africa Con Amor (Sacodis, 1979)
Alfredo de la Fé, La Charanga 1980: Orchestra Rytmo Africa - Cubana Vol. 1 (TKIOS Musique, 1979) (aka Charanga Caliente, Envidia)
Dandy's Dandy (effectively Típica 73 personnel), A Latin Affair (Latin Percussion Ventures, 1979)
Alfredo de la Fé, Alfredo (Criollo / Latin Percussion Ventures, 1979)
Sophy, Salsa En New York (Disco Hit, late '70s, reissued 2003)
Orquesta Novel, Novel Experience (Fania, 1980)
Típica 73, Charangueando Con La Típica 73 (Fania, recorded 1978, released 1980)
Johnny Pacheco, Pupi Legarreta, José Fajardo and Javier Vázquez y su Charanga, Las Tres Flautas (Fania, 1980)
Fania All Stars, Commitment (Fania, 1980)
Jimmy Sabater, Gusto (Fania, 1980)
Fania All Stars, California Jam (Fania, 1980)
Larry Harlow & Junior González, Our Latin Feeling / Nuestro Sentimiento Latino (Fania, 1980)
Jerry González, Ya Yo Me Curé (American Clavé, 1980)
Charanga La Reina, Charanga La Reina (Barbaro, 1980)
Henri Güedon, Salsa Dans Le Bronx (RCA, 1980); the track "Faut Pas Pousser" is collected on the Güedon anthology Early Latin And Boogaloo Recordings By The Drum Master (Comet Records, 2004)
Kip Hanrahan, Coup De Tête (American Clavé, 1981)
Raúl Marrero, Quien Dijo Miedo (Salsa International, 1980)
Típica 73, Into The 80's (Fania, 1981)
Ismael Miranda, La Clave del Sabor (Fania, 1981)
Rafael de Jesús, Lo Que Fué No Será (New Generation Records, 1981)
Fania All Stars, Social Change (Fania, 1981)
Fania All Stars, Latin Connection (Fania, 1981)
Héctor Lavoe, Que Sentimiento! (Fania, 1981)
Justo Betancourt, Leguleya No (Fania, 1982)
Larry Harlow, Yo Soy Latino (Fania, 1982)
Don Gonzalo Fernández, ¡Repicao! (Toboga, 1982)
Jerry González & Fort Apache Band, River Is Deep (Enja, 1982)
Conjunto Realidad, Asi Es Mi Tierra (Salsa International, 1982)
Ismael Miranda, The Master (Fania, 1983)
Camilo Azuquita, Salsa Internacional 83 (Polydor, 1983)
Fania All Stars, Lo Que Pide La Gente (Fania, 1984)
Willie Colón, Tiempo Pa' Matar (Fania, 1984)
Eddie Palmieri, Palo Pa' Rumba (ML, 1984; Grammy Award winner)
Willie Colón, Criollo (RCA Internatinal, 1984)
Israel Kantor, La Verdad (Bacan Records, 1984)
Jorge Dalto, Urban Oasis (Concord Picante, 1985)
Fania All Stars, Viva La Charanga (Fania, 1986)
Rudy Calzado, Rica Charanga (Caimán, 1986)
Alfredo Valdés Jr., ¡Su Piano Y Su Sabor! (Palm, 1986)
Fania All Stars, Live In Africa (Fania, recorded 1974, released 1986)
Fania All Stars, Live In Japan 1976 (Fania, 1986)
Daniel Ponce, Arawé (Antilles, 1987)
Fania All Stars, Bamboleo (Fania, 1988)
Fania All Stars, Guasasa (Fania, 1989)
Jerry González & Fort Apache Band, Obatalá (Enja, 1989)
Jorge Dalto, Rendez-vous (Cheetah, recorded 1983, released 1989)
Ensemble of Latin Music Legends, Mambo Show (Tropical Budda, 1990)
Nueva Manteca, Varadero Blues (Timeless, 1990)
Nueva Manteca, Afrodisia (Timeless, 1991)
Irazú, guesting along with Lou Donaldson, Alfredo Rodríguez and Chocolate, La Fiesta Del Timbalero (L+R, 1991)
Nueva Manteca, Bluesongo (Lucho, 1992)
Conexion Latina, Mambo 2000 (Enja, 1992)
Carlos "Patato" Valdez, Masterpiece (Messidor, recorded 1984-5, released 1993; reissued on Universal / Pimienta in 2004)
Héctor Ramos, Para Todo El Mundo (Salson Records, 1993)
Fania All Stars, Live In Puerto Rico (Fania, 1995)
Fania All Stars, Viva Colombia: En Concierto 2-CD Set (Fania, 1995)
A. J. Diaz, Carnaval (Ventorillo Records, 1995; reissued as Blackjazz Afroantillano on A.J. Diaz Records in 2004)
Conexion Latina, La Conexión (Enja, 1996)
Various Artists, Latin New York 1980-1983 / Live From Soundscape (DIW, 1997)
Chucho Valdés, Live (RMM, 1998)
Carlos "Patato" Valdez, Unico y Diferente (Connector, 1999)
Grupo Caribe, Son De Melaza (CMS Records, 2000)
Son Boricua, Mo - Jimmy Sabater Con Son Boricua (Cobo, 2001)
Adela Dalto, La Créma Latina (Mujeres Latinas, 2002)
Sonora Ponceña, Back To The Road (Pianissimo, 2004)
Jimmy Delgado, Salsa Con Dulzura (JD Records, 2004)
Fania All Stars, Live In Cali, Colombia 2-DVD Set (FM, 2005)
Dave Valentín, World On A String (High Note, 2005; nominated for a Grammy)
Jimmy Bosch, Jimmy Bosch Allstar Band Live In Puerto Rico DVD (JRGR Records, 2006)
Larry Harlow's Latin Legends Of Fania, 40th Anniversary Live Concert CD (Image Entertainment, 2007)
Larry Harlow's Latin Legends Of Fania, 40th Anniversary Live Concert DVD (Image Entertainment, 2007)
© 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.
Ramón "Ray" Rosado, arranger, composer, percussionist, coro singer and pianist, is a longtime collaborator of Wayne Gorbea and leads his own band, Maña, co-founded in 2001 with timbalero Victor Maldonado.
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