Home - NewsletterEditor's PicksPower SearchCategory SearchArtist SearchJournal ArchivesGlossaryContributorsAbout Descarga



Tommy Olivencia 1938 - 2006

by John Child (

John Child offers this discographic profile of Tommy Olivencia, in tribute to the renowned Puerto Rican bandleader who passed away on September 22, 2006. This is followed by a selected discography.

Tommy Olivencia

(b. Ángel Tomás "Tommy" Olivencia Pagán, 15 May 1938, Villa Palmeras, Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico; d. 22 September 2006, San Juan, Puerto Rico)

For nearly half a century, Olivencia's band acted as an incubator for various notable salsa singers, including Chamaco Ramírez, Paquito Guzmán, Lalo Rodríguez, Marvin Santiago, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Frankie Ruiz and Héctor Tricoche. Olivencia began as a singer, but preferred the role of trumpeter and musical director. After recording with a frontline of three trumpets and two saxes (alto and tenor) in the mid-'60s, he opted for trumpets and trombones in the mid-'70s, and used a combination of three or four trumpets and two trombones on most of his albums after 1978.

Tommy released his early recordings on his own Tioly label. He signed with Pedro Pai and Jorge Valdés' Inca Records label in the mid-'60s and remained with them until 1978. He switched to TH (Top Hits) Records (which became TH-Rodven in 1987, then dropped TH in 1993) and released eight albums on the label between 1978 and 1988. In 1990 Olivencia's band was one of a number of popular Puerto Rican salsa acts lured to the major record company Capitol / EMI Latin. He debuted with them the following year, but only made one album for the company. After a seven year hiatus he made one more album for Rodven in 1998 before celebrating his 40th anniversary with a live 2-CD set in 2001 on AJ Records.

He organised his own group, Tommy Olivencia y su Combo, with singer Luis Lebrón in 1957. The following year (though some accounts say 1960), he created his first band with Lebrón and Rafaelito Sánchez as vocalists. Around this time Olivencia recruited the revered sonero Chamaco Ramírez (1941-1983) and later replaced Lebrón with ex-Joe Quijano band member Paquito Guzmán. Chamaco did two stints with Tommy (1957-1971 and 1974-1976), his last recording with the band being 1975's Planté Bandera (Inca). Heavy drug addiction destroyed his health and Chamaco died shortly after releasing the 1979 solo set Alive and Kicking (Inca), which contained material that its producer and arranger Javier Vázquez had originally prepared for Ismael Rivera to record.

Apart from Olivencia's 1975 and 1976 releases, Guzmán was co-lead singer on 12 of the bandleader's albums between 1962 and 1979. During the same period, Guzmán issued several solo LPs on Inca Records, including Paquito Guzmán (1972), Escucha Mi Canción (1975), Mintiendo Se Gana Mas (1977) and the compilation Peligro in 1980. He signed as a solo performer with TH Records and after releasing El Caballero de la Salsa (1983) and Paquito Guzmán Con Trio (1985), Paquito became one of the earliest artists to record in the salsa romántica style on his major 1986 hit Las Mejores Baladas En Salsa. So-called sexy salsa boosted the ageing singer's career and he continued in the same vein with Tu Amante Romántico (1987) and Aquí Conmigo (1989). In 1990 Guzmán defected to Capitol / EMI Latin for more of the same on El Mismo Romántico. Additionally, Guzmán recorded with the Puerto Rico All Stars in the '70s and has sessioned extensively as a coro singer. He returned to Tommy's band for recording dates in 1998 and 2001.

Olivencia made his first recordings in 1960 for the USA Records label with singers Luis Lebrón and Rafaelito Sánchez. The material was included in the album Lo Mejor De Quito Vélez, Los Montemar Y Tommy Olivencia. His first full album, Trucu-Tú, was released in 1962 on his own Tioly imprint with Chamaco Ramírez and Paquito Guzmán singing lead vocals. He made one more outing on Tioly Records in the mid-'60s with Jala Jala Y Guaguancó before signing with Inca Records. His 1965 debut for Inca, La Nueva Sensación Musical De Puerto Rico, remade a number of the songs featured on Trucu-Tú, including Chamaco's hit composition "Trucutú." The title track of his Inca follow-up Fire-Fire / Fuego Fuego was a cover of the jumpy calypso "Fire, Fire," a major hit for its composer Calypso Rose (McCartha Sandy Lewis) at 1967 Trinidad Carnival. The album also included the hit "Verdad Amarga."

Singing coro on Fire-Fire was Sammy "El Rolo" González, who had recorded with El Combo Moderno. González replaced Chamaco Ramírez on 1968's A Todo Máquina and continued to partner Paquito Guzmán until 1972's Secuestro, which was produced in New York by Ray Barretto. Chamaco returned on the next album, Juntos De Nuevo (1974), also produced by Barretto and featuring trumpeter Elías Lopés in the three trumpet / three trombone frontline. Juntos De Nuevo was the last album by Olivencia's first trombonist, Reinaldo Jorge. He relocated to New York, where he worked with Los Kimbos, Fania All Stars, Libre, Frankie Morales, Rubén Blades' Son del Solar and many others. In 1981 Jorge made his debut as a bandleader on No Sufro on Barbaro. Another notable early band member who appeared on a number of Tommy's albums over the years was master timbalero Ender Dueño. Young trumpeter / arranger Luis "Perico" Ortiz produced, performed on, and contributed some first-rate arrangements to Tommy's albums between 1975 and 1979.

Chamaco Ramírez sang a new version of "Trucutú" arranged by Perico on Plante Bandera (1975), his swan song with the band. In 1976, 18-year-old singer / composer Lalo Rodríguez, who catapulted to fame on Eddie Palmieri's Grammy winning Sun Of Latin Music (1974, Coco), joined Simón Pérez as co-lead vocalist on Introducing Lalo Rodríguez & Simón Pérez. The same year, Tommy won awards for the best band in Puerto Rico and best foreign band in Panamá. Rodríguez departed, but Pérez stayed on for three more albums with the band. The title track of 1977's El Negro Chombo was based on the song of the same name by Colombian bandleader Fruko (Julio Ernesto Estrada), originally sung by Joe Arroyo. In 1978 Olivencia won a Puerto Rican music industry Diplo award. Cuban Bernardo Hevia, editor of the salsa magazine Farándula, which he founded in 1958, created the awards.

Tommy hired Marvin Santiago (1947-2004) to sing with his orchestra in 1978, but there were difficulties at the time about releasing the sonero's recordings with the band. Three numbers Santiago made with Olivencia, "Que Dichoso Es," "La Pela" and "Del Montón," later appeared on the compilation 15 Exitos De Marvin Santiago '84 on TH Records ("La Pela" was also collected on Marvin Santiago Oro Salsero: 20 Exitos '94 on Rodven / Universal). The same songs feature on Sweat Trumpet Hot "Salsa", Olivencia's 1978 debut on TH, with Simón Pérez singing "La Pela" and "Del Montón" and Paquito Guzmán performing "Que Dichoso Es." Pérez was replaced in 1979 by Gilberto Santa Rosa on the band's TH follow-up, Tommy Olivencia & His Orchestra, on which he provided lead vocals to the album's biggest hit "Como Sube La Gasolina." Santa Rosa subsequently departed to join Willie Rosario's band.

Tommy recruited two new young lead singers for 1981's Un Triángulo De Triunfo!: Frankie Ruiz (1958-1998) and Carlos Alexis. Ruiz hailed from Paterson, New Jersey, and formerly sang lead vocals with the Puerto Rican band La Solución. Ruiz's monster hit "Lo Dudo" ("I Doubt It"), arranged by guitarist / arranger Máximo Torres, from Celebrando Otro Aniversario (1984, TH), his third and last album with Olivencia, was a salsafied version of a ballad by the Mexican star José José, and is now regarded as a milestone in the development of the salsa romántica style. Having garnered Diplo awards for "Best Salsa Vocalist" in 1984 and 1985, Ruiz departed to pursue a successful but ultimately tragic solo career. Celebrando Otro Aniversario went gold and also marked the debut of Héctor Tricoche as a replacement for Alexis; Tricoche had sung previously with Mikey Cora's Orquesta Cabala and La Terrifica.

Three of Olivencia's hits performed by Ruiz: "Primero Fui Yo" (from Un Triángulo De Triunfo!), "Como Lo Hacen" (from Tommy Olivencia '83) and "Te Estoy Estudiando" (from Celebrando Otro Aniversario), were written by veteran former heart-throb singer / composer Raúl Marrero and arranged by Máximo Torres. Marrero recorded his own interpretation of the first two compositions as part of a medley on his 1988 release El Señor de la Salsa on TH-Rodven. In the latter part of the '80s, Torres became the director and arranger of the Salsa Selection band, which accompanied his son, singer Max Torres, on the bestsellers Sensualmente Tropical (1988, Globo) and Aprenderé! (1989, Capitol / EMI Latin). These were followed by the less successful Max Torres releases Peligroso Amor (1990) and From Puerto Rico (1991), both on Capitol / EMI Latin.

In 1984 Olivencia handled the production, and his band provided the accompaniment for, the veteran Colombian singer Nelson Pinedo on Desde Puerto Rico (Audiorama Records). Paquito (Junior) Acosta replaced Ruiz on Olivencia's Ayer, Hoy, Mañana Y Siempre…! in 1985. In 1987 Tommy celebrated three decades as a bandleader with the chart-topping 30 Aniversario. The album contained the smash hit "Lobo Domesticado," performed by Héctor Tricoche and arranged by Máximo Torres, and an anniversary medley of past hits. Olivencia mixed salsa romántica flavoured songs with his usual searing salsa on El Jeque, his 1988 parting shot on TH-Rodven. The highly recommended 2-CD compilation Oro Salsero: 20 Exitos (1994, Rodven) spotlights the band's swinging 1978-1988 TH and TH-Rodven period, although the 1981 Willie Rosario track "El Antifaz" creeps in by mistake!

Tricoche left to pursue a solo career with TH-Rodven, beginning in 1990 with the release Clase Aparte, which spawned the Máximo Torres arranged hit "Hacer El Amor." That year, Héctor appeared at the second part of the New York Salsa Festival at Madison Square Garden. His 1991 follow-up Motorízame contained the hit single "Macho Pérez." Tricoche continued with A Corazón Abierto (1993) Ese Soy Yo (1994), Aquí Estoy Yo (1995), Nuevo Amanecer (1997) and Salsa Por Todas Partes (1999). He returned in fine form in 2005 with Rumbero on DM Productions.

Tommy signed with Capitol / EMI Latin and released Enamorado…Y Que! in 1991 with lead singers Acosta and Pichy Pérez (the latter on a brief sabbatical from Sonora Ponceña). Acosta resurfaced in 2003 with the terrific solo project Implorando Tu Perdón on Envidia.

Olivencia served a prison sentence between June 1991 and January 1996 for drugs trafficking and made a major concert comeback at San Juan's Convention Centre in March 1996. The comeback CD Vive La Leyenda (1998, Rodven / PolyGram Latino) was also a reunion with Guzmán, Pérez and Perico. His 40th anniversary as a bandleader was marked by the 2-CD release 40 Aniversario (2001, AJ Records), a live celebration recorded in August 2000 at the Anfiteatro Tito Puente, San Juan, Puerto Rico, featuring former lead singers and special guests. His 66th birthday and the 45th anniversary of his band was celebrated by a concert at Coliseo Rubén Rodríguez, Bayamón, Puerto Rico, on May 15th 2004 with Gilberto Santa Rosa, Osvaldo Díaz, Simón Pérez, Marvin Santiago and Lalo Rodríguez.

On September 22nd 2006 Olivencia died from cardiac and renal failure due to complications associated with a drastic drop in his blood sugar level, reported El Nuevo Día newspaper. He was diabetic and had been waiting for a kidney transplant.

The band continues to work under the direction of timbalero Tommy Olivencia Jr. and trumpeter, arranger and composer Edgard Nevárez.

Selected albums:

Lo Mejor De Quito Vélez, Los Montemar Y Tommy Olivencia (1960) with singers Luis Lebrón y Rafaelito Sánchez; album includes tracks by Quito Vélez y su Conjunto and the group Los Montemar

Trucu-Tú (1962) with Chamaco Ramírez and Paquito Guzmán
Jala Jala Y Guaguancó (c. 1965/6) with Chamaco Ramírez and Paquito Guzmán

La Nueva Sensación Musical De Puerto Rico (1965) with Chamaco Ramírez and Paquito Guzmán
Fire-Fire / Fuego Fuego (1967) with Paquito Guzmán and Chamaco Ramírez
A Todo Máquina (1968) with Paquito Guzmán and Sammy González
Cueros…Salsa Y Sentimiento (1971) with Paquito Guzmán and Sammy González
Secuestro (1972) with Paquito Guzmán and Sammy González
Juntos De Nuevo (1974) with Chamaco Ramírez and Paquito Guzmán
Planté Bandera (1975) with Chamaco Ramírez
Introducing Lalo Rodríguez & Simón Pérez (1976)
El Negro Chombo (1977) with Paquito Guzmán and Simón Pérez
La Primerísima (1978) with Paquito Guzmán and Simón Pérez

Sweat Trumpet Hot "Salsa" (1978) with Paquito Guzmán and Simón Pérez
Tommy Olivencia & His Orchestra (1979) with Paquito Guzmán and Gilberto Santa Rosa
Un Triángulo De Triunfo! (1981) with Frankie Ruiz and Carlos Alexis
Tommy Olivencia (1983) with Frankie Ruiz and Carlos Alexis
Celebrando Otro Aniversario (1984) with Frankie Ruiz and Héctor Tricoche

Desde Puerto Rico (1984) with Nelson Pinedo

Ayer, Hoy, Mañana Y Siempre…! (1985) with Héctor Tricoche and Paquito Acosta

30 Aniversario (1987) with Héctor Tricoche and Paquito Acosta
El Jeque (1988) with Héctor Tricoche and Paquito Acosta

Enamorado…Y Qué! (1991) with Paquito Acosta and Pichy Pérez

Vive La Leyenda (1998) with Paquito Guzmán, Simón Pérez and Melvin Martínez

Salsa Live Vol. 1 - Frankie Ruiz & Tommy Olivencia (2000); the Ruiz and Olivencia orchestra's recorded live at La Clave Club, Miami

40 Aniversario (2001) with Paquito Guzmán, Simón Pérez and Viti Ruiz; invited: Héctor Tricoche, Marvin Santiago, Sammy González and Melvin Martínez

Por Ti - Concierto Homenaje A Frankie Ruiz: En Vivo Desde Tenerife, Islas Canarias (2004); a various artists tribute concert recorded in September 2003 at the Recinto Ferial de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, featuring Tommy Olivencia, Paquito Guzmán, Lalo Rodríguez and others

Selected compilations:

Lo Mejor De / The Best of Tommy Olivencia (1975)
Fiesta De Soneros (1978) compiled by Al Santiago

Oro Salsero: 20 Exitos (1994)

just in:
La Herencia (2006)
New 16 track compilation.

Pa' Lante Otra Vez 5:49
Trucutú 2:17
Periquito Pin-Pin 4:25
Pancuco 4:22
Historia De Un Condenado 5:01
Atrevida 6:30
Sin Compromiso 3:19
Verdad Amarga 3:40
Lobo Domesticado 4:51
Cuero Na' Má 3:48
Tus Mejores Horas 2:59
Como Sube La Gasolina 5:05
Vengo Del Monte 7:04
El Negro Chombo 4:32
A Mi Pai Changó 4:41
La Fiesta De Soneros 3:51
Click here to Order La Herencia Now!

Check out these related pieces in The Descarga Journal Archives:

Profile: Frankie Ruiz: Another Salsa Casualty
by John Child 08/30/98
Obituary of Puerto Rican salsa star Frankie Ruiz. On August 9, 1998, a life-long struggle with addictive drugs ended tragically for this hit-maker who, at least on the surface, seemed to have everything going his way. This article originally appeared in the publication, Latin London. Continues here:

Profile: Marvin Santiago
by John Child January 10, 2005
John Child offers this discographic profile of Marvin Santiago in tribute to the Sonero of the People who passed away on October 6, 2004, after many years of ill health...Regarded as a son of the school of the grand soneros Ismael Rivera, Tito Rodríguez, Cheo Feliciano and Héctor Lavoe, he possessed a distinctive fiery style, punctuating his vocals with catchphrases like "O-fi-cial" and "Linda melodia". He is idolised in Colombia and Panamá... Continues here:

© and John Child, produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca , He is an editor and journalist for the Latin music website and a contributor to the MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

[Home] [Editor's Picks] [Power Search] [Category Search]
[Artist Search] [Journal Archives] [Glossary]
[Meet The Writers] [About Descarga]

© Copyright 2015, All rights reserved.
Use of any editorial content and/or images originating from this website
is strictly prohibited without the expressed permission of