Music is human. And here, King of Bongo will show you the best music available on the internet. What you will find: a vibrant source of sounds and vibes, grooves and noise, some you will never have heard before. Are you ready to go on the journey?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Session 9: Johnny Pacheco

Johnny Pacheco
Sharp dresser Johnny Pacheco left sun-kissed poverty in the Dominican Republic for the seedy crime-ridden back-alleys of New York with his family in 1946, at the tender age of 11. His father, famed bandleader & clarinetist Rafael Azarias Pacheco, envisaged the move as a good thing for the Pachecos, but even he must have swallowed hard at his first view of the Bronx. Johnny joining a street gang couldn't have helped, but then again, integration is integration.

Music held the Pacheco family together. Johnny could play merengue songs on the harmonica by the age of 7, and, in his time out from gang activities, he continued his musical training at school, learning the sax and the clarinet.

Mambo was the thing in the early '50's. Johnny put together a band, featuring one Eddie Palmieri on piano, and played at weddings and functions. A key to their success was the tightness of their music - well it would be tight, seeing as the band rehearsed in a second-hand hearse...

Always versatile, Johhny was recruited by Luis Quintero as an accordionist, then by Willie Rodriguez as a percussionist. He played on the Johnny Carson Show, and became known as the only conga player who could read music. At this time he supplied beats for mambo king Perez Prado, and his musical instrument closet held a flute, cowbell, and several unidentifiable things accompanied by the sticks to hit them with.

By 1959, Cuba was left out in the cold by the US. Johnny, never slow on the uptake, saw the time was right to step into the newly-created Latin cultural and musical void, and created his charanga band with Charlie Palmieri. Things were on the up for Johnny Pacheco, ex-snotnose Dominican, now debonair musical maestro...

Skip forward now to the early '60s. Johnny Pacheco, freshly divorced, launches Fania Records with lawyer Jerry Masucci. It's here that he developed the typical Pacheco style - trumpets, tres guitar-style from Cuba, and tightly synchopated vocals, if possible sung as far up the nasal passage as possible. King of Bongo won't detail the hard slog over the years (maybe another time, eh?), but innovations like the Fania All-Star band (1968) are evidence for Pacheco's eye for an opportunity.

So the tape rolls on to the present. Still performing, Mr Pacheco has recorded with all the NY Latin greats, plus a few 'popular musicians' with more than a modicum of taste. A mantlepiece full of awards doesn't hurt either, and KoB would guess that he has more than a few suits.

For our tracks today, two personal KoB faves. Mariachi-style vocals are never far from King of Bongo's heart, and neither are slow canciones that build up to a stunning, brass-laden finale. So that's what you're gonna get.

First is "Son de Callejon" (Free KoB translation: "The Alley People"), 1985, featuring a tres intro, stabbing brass jabs, Pete 'El Conde' Rodriguez on vocals, and heartwarming Mariachi vocals, plus a sparkling piano refrain. Ace!
Johhny Pacheco: Son de Callejon [mp3 | 5:23 mins | 192 kbps | 7.40 MB] Buy "Jicamo" by Johnny Pacheco & Pete Rodriguez from Amazon
File under: Elegies to Alley Cats

Next is Pacheco's prize-winning collaboration with smooth vocalist Cheo Feliciano, "Canta," from 1976. Featured on a compilation called 'Perfect Combinations' (available from Amazon on import for a whopping $40! KoB paid £5 English for it in 1990...), this sad but uplifting song advises us to 'Sing if your love leaves you, Sing because another love will come.' Fine words, if a little cool on the sentiment. An epic track, clocking in at seven minutes, and beginning with a lush cha-cha, at the halfway point it kicks into high gear, with Johnny Pacheco on flute, backed with a deep-voiced Mariachi trio, strings and trumpets. KoB doesn't normally have favourites cast in stone, but "Canta" is always in the top 10.
Cheo Feliciano & Johnny Pacheco: Canta [mp3 | 7:10 mins | 192 kbps | 9.98 MB] Buy 'Perfect Combinations' (if you can afford it) from Amazon
File under: Sing to forget your pain

[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

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