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Héctor Rivera

by John Child (

Héctor Rivera, pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader and producer, sadly passed away on Saturday January 8th 2006. "Héctor was an unsung musician who was underrated and deserved more acclaim as one of the solid contributors to our music. I met him a few times and he was always gracious and a true gentleman. God bless him. Rest in peace," comments Oscar Hernández, leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, who covered Héctor's "Tambori" on their Grammy-nominated debut CD Un Gran Dia En El Barrio (2002 on Ryko / Ropeadope Records). In tribute, John Child offers a revised version of a discographic profile he originally prepared in the late 1990s. This is followed by reflections from José Madera, Louie Cruz and Ray Rosado.

Rivera, Héctor (b 26 Jan. '33 in Manhattan, NYC, of Puerto Rican parentage; d 8 Jan. '06, NYC) Talented and highly respected Latin pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer. Started pro career with rumba band of José Rodríguez; studied at NYC's Lecompte Academy of Music, as well as under pianist Luis Varona and Eddie Forestier '48; latter hired him to fill the piano chair with his band. Joined Elmo García's orchestra '51; departed '52 to organise his own band Los Tubos del Mambo, which debuted at Hunts Point Palace in the Bronx on same bill as Orlando Marín's recently formed group including pianist Eddie Palmieri. Drafted into the US Army '53-5, did a tour of duty in Korea; after his discharge he studied arranging and composing with Gil Fuller, played with bands of Alfredito Levy (a six month stint) and Moncho Leña; '50s recordings with the latter collected on A Night At The Palladium With Moncho Leña, Dance and Mas Exitos Inolvidables Vol. 3 ('55-6 recordings) on Ansonia featuring singer Mon Rivera.

During the cha cha chá era, Rivera secured a recording date from Fuller (in his capacity as A&R man) earmarked for an aggrieved García, whose other arranger had let him down; the outcome was Rivera's LP debut Let's Cha Cha Chá '57 on Mercury; he composed and arranged the entire album accompanied by Machito's band minus saxes. After this he led a quintet, did a one-year stint with Arsenio Rodríguez and replaced Palmieri in the Vicentico Valdés orchestra '58-64. He contributed to Rey Caney's El Rey Del Ritmo '60 on Seeco. The '60-4 charanga / pachanga craze was well underway when Ray Barretto invited Rivera to write and arrange his first LP as a leader Pachanga With Barretto '61 on Riverside. Joe Quijano employed his skills for his recordings, including the classic La Pachanga Se Baila Así c. '61 on Columbia.

While still with Valdés, he made two classic early '60s LPs for Epic: Charanga & Pachanga!, including Manny Oquendo on bongo and Santos Colón, Rudy Calzado and Valdés contributing vocals, and Viva Rivera! '61. Following Valdés, he played and recorded with Johnny Pacheco's band Nuevo Tumbao '64-6; he participated in the classic Tributo A Noro '65 on Alegre by Kako's After Hour Orchestra (effectively the Alegre All-Stars). Contributed his talents to a number of Joe Cuba's key '60s albums, including Steppin' Out '62 on Seeco and Vagabundeando! Hangin' Out c '64, El Alma Del Barrio / The Soul Of Spanish Harlem '64, Bailadores '65, Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien! / We Must Be Doing Something Right! '66 and Wanted Dead Or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push) '66 on Tico. Had top 40 hit with the boogaloo / Latin soul single "At The Party" '67, included on the Latin soul set At The Party With Héctor Rivera '67 on Barry (UK reissue '90s); followed-up by a further Latin soul oriented LP Hecto-Mania '69 on 4 Points, containing the hit "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" and featuring Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz singing chorus and Tony Díaz on lead vocals. Meanwhile he played and arranged on the Joe Cuba Sextet ballad album Joe Cuba Sextet Presents The Velvet Voice of Jimmy Sabater '67, Kako's Live It Up '67 on Musicor and arranged and conducted one side of La Lupe's La Lupe Es La Reina / La Lupe The Queen '69, both on Tico.

He returned to "down home typical music...his true love," to quote the liner notes, on ...Y Vuelve c. '71 on UA Latino, leading a conjunto of four trumpets, rhythm section (timbales, conga, bongo, bass, piano), lead and chorus voices; he handled producing, arranging and keyboard chores; lead vocals were shared by Luis "El Tirano" Rodríguez (who has also sung with Bobby Quesada, Louie Cruz, Conjunto Candela and Johnny Pacheco) and Julian Llanos (whose CV includes the likes of Arsenio Rodríguez, Kako, Johnny Pacheco, Rey Roig, Ray Santiago, Conjunto Mangual and Frank Bambara). He employed the same conjunto lineup on two definitive Tico LPs: Para Mi Gente '73 and Lo Maximo '74; Llanos sang lead on the first and Tony Molina on the latter; Héctor Lavoe was a prominent member of the chorus on both. His innovative arrangements on these Tico albums, particularly the elaborate interweaving trumpet lines, are regarded by some as the precursor of Papo Lucca's post-'78 Sonora Ponceña four trumpet sound. He played on Tico-Alegre All-Stars Live At Carnegie Hall '74 on Tico.

Sadly, Rivera was among those bandleaders "locked-out" from NYC's monopolistically controlled salsa gig circuit during the '70s, and eventually retired from the frontline salsa scene. His dwindling amount of recording work in the remainder of the '70s included the Alegre All-Stars' 17th anniversary album Perdido '77 (composing and arranging "Bobby: Bajo Y Clarinete"), Caliente = Hot '77 on New World Records (his conjunto contributed "Yo Quisiera Ser"), Linda Leida's Aqui Esta Linda mid-'70s on TR Records (Héctor also added saxophone parts to the arrangements Leida sang with Tito Puente's band), Merengues! Yoyito Cabrera Y Su Super Combo Managua '77 on Salsoul and José Mangual Jr.'s Pa' Bailar y Gozar '79 on Velvet (arranging and composing "No Aguanto Mas" and arranging "Salta Perico").

In Feb. 2000, The Point Community Development Corporation, a Latino run organisation located in the Hunts Point Section of the Bronx, awarded Héctor and nine other individuals for their contributions to Latin music. He contracted Parkinson's disease and reportedly died of pneumonia.

- This is a revised version of one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child 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 website by kind permission of Donald Clarke.


José Madera
Tito Puente's former musical director and currently musical director of the Latin Giants of Jazz, who sessioned on Héctor's Lo Maximo (1974 on Tico):

I lived about five blocks away from Héctor Rivera at the time. My association with Héctor was two-fold. I was aware of the fact that he had in his record collection the entire Machito discography and I wanted to get copies of tunes that I didn't have for my own personal library. That's how I got to know Héctor. During the late '60s when Orquesta Son* had the hit on the radio, we would work opposite him at a few dances. I especially remember one at the Embassy Ballroom in the Bronx in 1968. (It is now a church.) Héctor had a four-trumpet conjunto that was very good. He had two hits at the time; one was "At The Party" and the other was "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." I would run into him quite often. In later years, I guess he saw me playing timbales with Machito and he hired me to play on that Lo Maximo recording. He is a very talented guy and was responsible for a lot of the arrangements for Orlando Marín, and of course the driving force behind a lot of those wonderful Joe Cuba Sextet records of the '60s.

I would also add that his favourite Latin arranger and the person on whom he based his trumpet writing and voicings was René Hernández. Later on he also became quite a fan of the trumpet writing and arrangements that I did for Willie Rosario, especially "Lluvia," "Negrita Linda," "Botaron La Pelota," "Duda," etc. His writing was quite an inspiration for a lot of the younger arrangers coming up at the time. His trumpet writing was a direct result of the influence that the Machito band had on him. That was his favourite orchestra.

(*NOTE: José played with La Orquesta Son around the New York City area. They had a hit in 1969 with "Tender Love" on the Ghetto Records label produced by Joe Bataan. The tune is compiled in the anthology Los Que Son '98 on Ghetto Records by Paul Ortiz y La Orquesta Son.)

Louie Cruz
pianist and one of the most highly sought after arrangers during the 1970s salsa boom:

We only saw each other either at recording studios or on gigs. At the gigs we would just talk idly about anything and at the studios we would talk about our charts. I used to ask him a lot of questions about music such as his styles and for advice and tips.

One night we were playing at the Corso, he with Pacheco and I with Ray Barretto, and he made a statement to me that I found strange for an arranger to make. He told me that he would sometimes write an arrangement that wasn't easy to play. That didn't make any sense to me because I don't write anything I can't play. But to each his own. My most sincere condolences to his family.

Ray Rosado
leader of Maña and long-time composer, arranger, chorus singer and hand percussionist with the Bronx-based pianist and bandleader Wayne Gorbea:

I first met Héctor in June 1969 where my first group played just before his band at a small club in the South Bronx. When he performed that night he had the four vocalists (a doo-wop group) who sang his hit "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" as an added attraction.

There were three bands that night. The first was a two-trombone band led by JR, bassist Julio Romero, and they were awful. Before we went on the promoter asked us to only play two songs, as he was anxious to put Héctor on. After our first number, "Lo Que Dice Justi," Héctor and a few members of his band applauded. When we were about to get off, after the second number, Héctor and the guys insisted we play another number. I guess after the first band they were happy to hear kids with a little taste. Anyway, I was on cloud nine after that. I'll never forget it.

Several years later, at a block party in the South Bronx, I approached him while he was on stage and asked him to play "Aunque Tu Mami No Quiera" (from Para Mi Gente '73 on Tico). He paused, looked at me for what seemed like a whole minute, removed the chart he had on the piano and called out my request to the rest of the band.

I caught Héctor on a non-commercial radio show around this time where Héctor brought stuff from his legendary record collection and heard "El Pescador" by La Playa Sextet for the first time, which I fell in love with. I was very impressed with his obvious love for the music.

Sometime in the mid 80's I ran into him at the Parkchester Train station in the Bronx (the legendary #6 train). After much trepidation I approached him and introduced myself. He was very warm. We talked the entire ride to mid-town. He did not remember the gig where he put me on cloud nine.

I remember telling him how much I liked the songs he wrote and arranged for Joe Cuba, including "Mi Lindo Son," my favourite, and "Tu Bombon" (both included in Bailadores '65 on Tico). Incidentally, those are Héctor's kids doing coro on "Bang Bang" (from Wanted Dead Or Alive(Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push) '66 on Tico). I believe I struck a sour note on that point. He turned a little bitter and said he would never compose and / or arrange for anyone again. He didn't elaborate, but my guess is he was cheated out of either credits, or money, or both.

Before we parted that day, he wished me luck and actually hugged me. I'll always have that picture of him in my mind, with his black beret and pea coat and warm smile. That was the last time I saw him. May he rest in peace.

© and John Child, producer and co-host of the the totallyradio show Aracataca , contributor to the Latin music website and MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

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