Pablo “Tito” Rodríguez remains a towering figure whose influence over modern Latin music must never be underestimated. From his precocious musical beginnings in Puerto Rico, through his successful career in New York during the height of the mambo era, to his resettling in Puerto Rico and becoming an internationally known heartthrob for his universally appealing romantic ballad style, his work was always of the highest quality and diversity. In retrospect, it’s served as a musical blueprint for the salsa and Latin jazz of the 1970s and beyond. ...MORE >
Pablo “Tito” Rodríguez remains a towering figure whose influence over modern Latin music must never be underestimated. From his precocious musical beginnings in Puerto Rico, through his successful career in New York during the height of the mambo era, to his resettling in Puerto Rico and becoming an internationally known heartthrob for his universally appealing romantic ballad style, his work was always of the highest quality and diversity. In retrospect, it’s served as a musical blueprint for the salsa and Latin jazz of the 1970s and beyond. This compilation aims to demonstrate the multidimensional talents of this seminal performer, bringing together essential tracks from several labels, across two decades of magical music making.
What made Rodríguez unique was his special combination of talents: simultaneously being a versatile vocalist and a multitalented instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader. This is evident from the early part of his career with George Goldner’s Tico label, for which he recorded numerous sides as Tito Rodríguez and Los Lobos del Mambo in a relatively small eight-piece format featuring four trumpets exclusively as the brass section. No greatest hits collection would be complete without some version of the Rodríguez-penned anthem “Mambo Mona,” named for Goldner’s Puerto Rican wife Ramona, later recorded as “Mama Güela.”
In 1960, Rodríguez hoped the newly formed United Artists would prove to be greener pastures. He proved with his first release, Live at the Palladium, that he was a consummate showman in control of a modern, dynamic, and disciplined big band that was as powerful in a live context as it had been polished in the studio. The orchestra, which included the young Eddie Palmieri for the time, was able to execute the most awe-inspiring clockwork moves on the bandstand, with many band members improvising riffs. With the cowbell loud and up front, Tito’s surefire direction and magnetic presence whipped his audience and musicians into a wild frenzy. From this riveting Palladium session comes the huge international hit “El Sabio,” another Rodríguez original covered by everyone from Peret to the Fania All-Stars. No other Latin big band released a live recording from that storied dance venue; Tito recorded two brilliant albums there, proving his popularity with the multicultural milieu that frequented the club.
Rodríguez was adept at taking tunes popularized in one style and rearranging them in another, often choosing songs composed by others and making them his own to great success. Tito knew his audience and realized that with his stunning good looks and smoky tenor voice, he had great potential as a romantic crooner of boleros and ballads. So, despite the opposition of his label, he decided to record Tito Rodríguez with Love, an immensely popular album that opened up his market to a wider international audience. “Inolvidable” is perhaps his best-known recording in this vein and set the standard for modern Latin heartthrob idols to come. The posthumous collection of rarities Lo Inedito, shows his talent for taking a composition from another context—this time, an Italian-language hit for crooners like Connie Francis—and putting his own original stamp on it, retooling it as a gently lilting jazz-waltz bolero.
The collection also included the famous Arsenio Rodríguez composition “Llora Timbero,” which roughly translates as “cry for the rumba performer,” also covered by Libre. Rodríguez starts his 1969 version with a traditional opening for an all-percussion rumba, a bit of vocalese called the diana, and goes on to sing moving lyrics that praise the deceased dancer and percussionist Malanga, and, in a way, the recording serves as a fitting epitaph for Tito himself, because he was to die before his time just a few years later and was similarly mourned by all.