The Richie Ray Orchestra was a musical phenomenon that exploded onto the neo-Latin music scene with power, passion, and style in the mid-1970s. Like a tornado, the orchestra sought its place in the salsa market, earning the respect of salsa artists around the world.
The band flourished with the contributions of the Maldonado brothers: Ricardo, a young pianist who was versed in classical, jazz, and Afro-urban sounds; and Ray, a trumpet player. Alongside Bobby Cruz, a rock ‘n roll bassist who became one of the best singers in the history of the tropical genre, the Richie Ray Orchestra soon became a favorite among salsa lovers.
“Agúzate” is one of the albums that made this sensational band a favorite, with a number of hits that dominated the radio waves, in New York as well as in Puerto Rico and other Spanish-speaking countries.
The title track of the album, “Agúzate” is the original version of a song the band would later play consistently as a Christian number over the next three decades. This original, secular version was an enormous hit, and defined the unparalleled style of Richie, Ray, and Bobby Cruz – now known as the Richie Ray Orchestra. Richie Maldonado and Bobby Cruz penned the hit. With lyrics like, “pero yo no me escondo del Diablo porque yo soy buena gente” y “agáchate que te están tirando”, Cruz was responding to the pet phrase, “Agúzate que te están velando.”
“Amparo Arrebato,” also written by Richie and Bobby, is a tribute to the ballerina Amparo Ramos. This popular number also became a radio favorite, and gave the band their second big hit.
“Traigo De Todo,” written by Alice Lancia, is a Jala-Jala number that highlights the orchestra’s musical style. The song asserts that all you need for a party is rum, beer, and Richie Ray albums. “Vive Felíz” by Lancia, and “Guaguancó Raro” by the Cuban songwriter Justi Barreto were also radio hits, and became classics in the hearts of dancers during the 70s. There is little doubt that any Latin American adolescent who grew up during that time could sing or at least hum any of the songs I’ve mentioned up to this point. Just look at the success the album enjoyed with the limited broadcasting available to salsa at the time.
Finally, “My Way,” popularized by Frank Sinatra, received its Spanish baptism with lyrics by Bobby Cruz. “A Mi Manera” is a bolero number that paints a portrait of the times, with a style that has more than survived the passing of time.
“Agúzate” is definitely a classic album that represents the musical style of one of the best orchestras that carved out a path during the Golden Age of Salsa. Without a doubt, the 1970s belonged to salsa. If there was ever an orchestra to represent the syncopated rhythms that liberated the Latin world from the Boogaloo, it was the Richie Ray Orchestra. Although the band would soon evolve and move into the Christian music scene –where they would also be trendsetters– this album is a testament to the musical prowess the sensational group exhibited in the world of salsa.
Make no mistake: this is one of the most popular musical recordings of its time. You will soon find that out when you play it for the first time.
As exhilarating now as when it first hit the scene, “Agúzate” is a true salsa classic.
Written by Juan A. Moreno Velázquez
Agúzate - Ricardo Ray / Bobby Cruz
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