Raymond Barretto Pagan was born to Puerto Rican parents in New York on April 29, 1929. When he was barely four years old, his father decided to leave home and return to Puerto Rico. His mother settled in the South Bronx and raised her three children by herself.
From an early age, Barretto was influenced by two styles of music: Latin and Jazz. During the day, his mother listened to the music of Daniel Santos, Bobby Capó, and the Los Panchos Trio. However, as Ray grew up, he fell in love with Machito Grillo, Marcelino Guerra, Arsenio Rodríguez, and the Jazz orchestra greats he heard on the radio; stars like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington.
When he turned 17, Barretto enlisted in the United States Army and was sent off to World War II. While stationed in Germany, he heard the song that changed his life: “Manteca” by Chano Pozo and the Dizzy Gillespie band. When he left the army, Barretto returned to New York and, influenced by the percussion instruments that his idol Chano Pozo dominated, he bought a bongo. But he wasn’t satisfied with the sound, so he went out and spent 50 dollars on some tumbadors he saw for sale in a local neighborhood bakery. And that’s how he took his first steps onto the nightclub music scene.
His first recording was in 1953, with Eddie Bonnemere’s Latin Jazz group at the Red Garter lounge in New York. In contrast to famous conga players of the time like Cándido Camero, Mongo Santamaría, and Patato Valdés –who started out with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and worked their their way up to Jazz– Barretto started out in the world of Jazz; it would be years before he would make a foray into other Latin rhythms.
On one occasion, percussionist Monchito Muñoz invited Barretto to an audition with the José Curbelo Orchestra. He stayed for four years. This experience helped him develop his talent for Latin dance music. He worked with the group on the album “Wine, Woman y Cha Cha Cha” in 1955. At the same time, his knowledge of Jazz allowed him to work with various bands of the time, such as Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Herbie Man, Dizzy Gillespie and Cal Tjader.
In late 1961, the opportunity presented itself to record an album with Riverside Records, owned by Orrin Keepnevo, who was trying to build a catalogue of Latin music. It was Keepnevo who suggested Barretto form a band to record with. Thus was born La Charanga Moderna.
With La Charanga Moderna, Barretto altered the instrumental format of traditional charangas in a radical move by incorporating trumpet and trombone. In 1962, he made his presence on the music scene known with the album “Pachanga with Barretto.” On the heels of this album’s success came “Latino” in 1963. He then joined Tico Records, where he recorded the album “Charanga Moderna,” which produced the hit “El Watusi.”
This number was the midas touch; his first album went gold, selling more than a million copies. It also earned him a place in the US market. “El Watusi” became the first Latin song to make the Billboard charts.
Barretto continued to record with Tico Records until he decided to join a new label, United Artist Records. There, he was able to achieve a new sound, a West Indian sound closer to the style of the bands of the time, one that combined violin with trumpet and trombone. His first album with the label was “El Ray Criollo” in 1966, followed by “Señor 007” in 1969. The latter did not meet the artist’s own expectations.
He followed these up with “Latino Con Soul” and “Viva Watusi,” collaborating with Adalberto Santiago on both.
Barretto’s future would change course in 1967, the year he would sign with Fania Records, creating at that very moment the sound of the Ray Barretto Orchestra. His first album on the label was “Acid,” with the collaboration of Adalberto Santiago and Pete Bonet. He then recorded “Hard Hands,” “Together,” “Power,” “The Message,” and “Que Viva La Música.”
Barretto was dealt a serious blow in 1972 when five of his best musicians left the orchestra to form the band Típica 73: Adalberto Santiago, Orestes Vilató, Johnny “Dandy” Rodríguez, René López, and Dave Pérez. On the spot, Barretto stopped making Salsa music to record the album “The Other Road,” which took him back to his Jazz roots.
It wasn’t long, however, before Barretto returned to Salsa, with the album “Indestructible” and the voice of Roberto Romero –better known as Tito Allen– who replaced Adalberto Santiago. Tito Allen worked only briefly with “The King with the Firm Hand,” and was then replaced by Tito Gómez, who later accompanied Rubén Blades on the album “Barretto” in 1975.
Immediately following this recording he made several Latin Jazz albums, and then reunited with Adalberto Santiago in 1979 to make the album “Rican/Struction.”
The album “Todo Se Va A Poder” was the next project for the salsa musician, with vocals by Cali Alemán and Ray Sabaá. Tite Curet Alonso contributed the composition “Aquí Se Puede,” and the Ray Barretto Orchestra kept churning out the hits.
In 1988, Barretto won a Grammy for the album “Ritmo En El Corazón,” with vocals by Celia Cruz. Storming onto the romantic salsa scene that dominated the late 80s, Barretto made the album “Irresistible” in 1989.
Later, with the production of the album “Soy Dichoso” in 1992, he ended his professional relationship with Fania Records. However, Barretto remained active on the music scene, hovering between Jazz and Salsa without ever losing his innovative spirit.
Written by Roberto Padilla
Que Viva La Musica / Ray Barretto
You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.
- Andy Harlow
- Celia Cruz
- Descarga Store
- Eddie Palmieri
- El Watusi Downloads
- Hard Salsa
- Hector Lavoe
- Herencia Latina
- Ismael Rivera
- Joe Bataan
- Johnny Colon
- Johnny Pacheco
- Larry Harlow
- Latin Vinyl Junkie
- Lavoe Club Oficial De Fans
- Lebron Brothers
- Papo Lucca
- Radio Gladys Palmera
- Ruben Blades
- Salsa Forum
- Sonora Poncena
- Willie Colon