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3/19/00

A discographic profile of the popular Puerto Rican-born sonero and bolero singer, bandleader, percussionist, composer, producer, label boss.


Profile: Tito Rodríguez by John Child (John_Child@descarga.com)

RODRIGUEZ, Tito

(b 4 Jan. '23, Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, of Cuban and Dominican parentage; d 28 Feb. '73, NYC) Sonero (improvising Latin singer) and bolero singer, bandleader, percussionist, composer, producer, label boss. Sang and played maracas in Puerto Rico with guitar group Cuarteto Mayarí for three months; went to live with his brother Johnny (b 10 Oct. '12, Camuy, P.R.; d 3 Feb. '97, P.R.) in East Harlem, NYC. (Popular vocalist/composer Johnny sang with many bands; relocated to NYC '35; founded own trio '40, toured Latin America with them; moved back to P.R. '67.)

Tito worked with Cuarteto Caney for a few months c '40, Enric Madriguera '41 (anthology Enric Madriguera 1920-1941 '94 on Harlequin incl. Tito singing on two '41 sides), Xavier Cugat (replacing Miguelito Valdés Mar. '42 as a singer/percussionist; CD Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra 1940-42 '91 on Tumbao incl. "Bim Bam Bum," Tito's first recording with Cugat in July '42); then a spell in US Army was followed by work with Noro Morales (three tracks Tito made for Seeco with Morales '45 incl. in CD collection Rhumbas and Mambo '93 on Tumbao) and Eddie LaBarron; recruited '46 by José Curbelo (b '28, Havana, Cuba; RCA tracks Tito made with Curbelo '46-7 compiled on Tumbao CD Rumba Gallega '94; Curbelo collections Live At The China Doll '95 and Live At The China Doll Vol. 2 '97 on Tumbao incl. Tito singing on 15 tracks recorded live in NYC, Oct. '46). While still with Curbelo, Tito sessioned with Chano Pozo, Arsenio Rodríguez and Machito's Orchestra for Gabriel Oller's Coda label Feb. '47, recordings incl. in Tumbao CD Legendary Sessions '92.

Fired by Curbelo due to a misunderstanding '47; Tito briefly led a quintet, then formed own trumpet-led Mambo Devils mid-'48 (one of NYC's first conjuntos) and made eight numbers for Oller's SMC label; signed with Tico '49, Oller protested against continued use of the name Mambo Devils, so group briefly named Los Lobos del Mambo (Mambo Wolves) before saxes and trombones added to create a big band (simply called "his Orchestra"), which he led until '65. Tracks rec'd '49-51 from Vol's. One, Two, Four, Five and Six of his Mambos series of 10 inch LPs on Tico later compiled on Tumbao CDs Mambo Mona and Mambo Gee Gee, both '92. Switched to RCA '53-6, rec'd with big band, conjunto and charanga line-ups (three CD compilations The Best Of Tito Rodríguez & His Orchestra, Vol. 1, The Best Of Tito Rodríguez & His Orchestra, Vol. 2, The Best Of Tito Rodríguez & His Orchestra, Vol. 3 reissued '92-4 in RCA Tropical Series); returned to Tico '56-8, LPs incl. Wa-Pa-Cha '56, Latin Jewels c '57 and Señor Tito Rodríguez '58.

He signed with United Artists '60, initial release Live At The Palladium (incl. Eddie Palmieri on piano) made at famed NYC ballroom, where he was regular resident '49-64 (Returns To The Palladium - Live! '61, his third UA album, was even better). One of the best-loved leaders on Latin scene, with Tito Puente and Machito one of the kings of the mambo in the '50s. Other UA LPs incl. West Side Beat , Back Home In Puerto Rico (made in P.R., his visit marked by government receptions and media buzz) and Tito Rodríguez' Hits, all '62, respectively yielded his monster trademark hits "Vuela La Paloma," "Cuando, Cuando" and "Cara De Payaso"; also Live At Birdland '63 (featuring Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Bobby Brookmeyer, Clark Terry etc); also smoochy bolero LPs with strings incl. From Tito Rodríguez With Love '63 on UA, incl. his hit "Inolvidable" (penned by Cuban bandleader/pianist Julio Gutiérrez, 1919-1990), and En Escenario '67 on Musicor.

The band was usually anonymous on the record sleeves of the time; on lead track on Big Band Latino '68 (prod. by Al Santiago) on Musicor, "Esta Es Mi Orquesta" he introduced band incl. Israel "Cachao" López, percussionist Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez, pianist/arr. René Hernández, saxist/arr. Ray Santos, saxist Mario Rivera, trumpeter Victor Paz; Cachao's Latin jam session (descarga) infl. was reflected on "Descarga Cachao" on Tito Tito Tito '64 on UA; Charlie and Eddie Palmieri also passed through.

Bad deals and financial friction with musicians caused him to disband; he returned to P.R. '66; starred in TV series there, featuring guests like Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett; relocated to Miami late '60s, his albums of that period incl. swinging Estoy Como Nunca '68 on UA Latino with big band line-up of four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds and five-piece rhythm section incl. future Libre leader Manny Oquendo, superb arrs. of title track and Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe classic "Bilongo" by Rene Hernández.

He founded TR Records '71, second release on that label Palladium Memories a best seller; collaborated with Louie Ramírez on follow-up Algo Nuevo '72. 25th Anniversary Performance , made in a Peruvian nightclub, was released a month before his death, sparking conjecture that he'd meant it as a farewell. Last performance at Madison Square Garden with Machito, 26 days before he died of leukaemia.

He also backed others, e.g. Tito Rodríguez presenta Vitín Avilés '64 on Musicor (reissued on WS Latino '98), prod./cond. A Latin In America mid'60s on Musicor for Colombian singer Nelson Pinedo; he sang with La Playa Sextet (led by electric guitarist Payo Alicea, b 25 Jan. '20, San Juan P.R.; d Mar. '95), tracks compiled on Tito Dice ... Separala Tambien! c '71. Made about 50 LPs for Tico, RCA, Decca, UA, Musicor, TR, mostly on UA and Musicor.


-This is a revised version of one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child (John_Child@descarga.com) for The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2nd Edition, edit. Donald Clarke; Penguin Books; 1998; 1524 pages; US$22.95, UK£16.99.

They are published on the Descarga website by kind permission of Mr. Donald Clarke.



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