The club had been open for about six months and I was playing with the original members of Orchestra Harlow. This was my first time as a bandleader, playing my new sound which combined trumpets and trombones. There had never been arrangements of this type in tropical music. Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez used trumpets and saxes, Eddie Palmieri had two trombones and a flute, Charlie Palmieri preferred two trumpets and a sax, whereas Mon Rivera used four trombones. I was excited to have written new songs with composer Heny Alvarez. After six months of performing at Chez José every Friday night, we were ready to branch out. ...MORE >
The club had been open for about six months and I was playing with the original members of Orchestra Harlow. This was my first time as a bandleader, playing my new sound which combined trumpets and trombones. There had never been arrangements of this type in tropical music. Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez used trumpets and saxes, Eddie Palmieri had two trombones and a flute, Charlie Palmieri preferred two trumpets and a sax, whereas Mon Rivera used four trombones. I was excited to have written new songs with composer Heny Alvarez. After six months of performing at Chez José every Friday night, we were ready to branch out.
When we finished our first set of the evening, a man introduced himself as Jerry Masucci, an attorney from New York City. He said he was starting a new Latin record company and wanted to sign me on. I was thrilled and agreed to have his recording director come and hear the band the following week. It was another rainy night and we were playing an empty club when the recording director entered the room. He was none other than the great Johnny Pacheco. I knew Johnny from the clubs and from playing some dates with his band at the 1964 World's Fair Caribbean Pavilion, so I was at ease when we started to play our songs for him. That night changed my life, since it signified the start of my career as a Latin artist and the beginning of an unbelievable adventure: a white, Jewish-American bandleader tasting success in the Latin music business.
I formed Orchestra Harlow by picking the musicians that I loved to play with. I was a Cuban music fanatic and tried to incorporate Cuban songs (as well as the clave) into my music. I chose Felo Brito, a dancer from José Fajardo’s band from the time when he lived in Cuba; Chocolate Armenteros, one of the world's greatest trumpet players and alumni of the Arsenio Rodríguez conjunto; Lydio Fuentes, a wonderful bassist from Puerto Rico; Monguito, a vocalist from Pacheco’s band, on maracas; Chivirico Dávila and Henry Alvarez on coros; Julian Priester, a superb jazz trombonist; Mark Weinstein on trombone; 17 year-old Louie Bonilla on congas; Ralph Castrello on coro and trumpet; and my best buddy Phil Newsum, on bongo and timbales. What a group! We all brought something different to the bandstand.
My father Buddy came with me to sign my first recording contract, which paid me $500 and a small royalty percentage. I just wanted to record. Little did I know that I was the first artist to sign with the newly created Fania label. Little did I know how popular this sound would become. Little did I know that the Latino public would eventually adore the Fania artists and their music. We became part of New York Latin history and opened the doors to salsa music worldwide. The name of the first album was to be "Heavy Smokin’."
We recorded at Belltone Studios on West 31st in Manhattan. It was there that I met Irv Greenbaum, a Jewish audio engineer who became one of my mentors. I learned a lot about the recording process from him and he recorded many of my albums throughout the years. We recorded in a new format that The Beatles and George Martin had invented called four-track recording. Not only the recording process, but the format of some of the original songs was based on The Beatles' chord progressions. We put the entire orchestra in the one big room with gobo separating the trumpets, trombones and rhythm section and laid it down on three tape recorders.
The tracks were set up as follows:
Track 1: Trumpet 1, trumpet 2, bongo/bell and conga
Track 2: Trombone 1, trombone 2, timbales and maracas
Track 3: Bass, piano and coro
Track 4: Lead vocals
When we mixed the record, the piano, bass, coro and lead vocals were spread across both the left and right sides, creating what Masucci called ‘dual dimensional sound,’ which was, in effect... stereo.
I was so happy with the performance that when the first acetate pressing came out of the machine, I drove to Brooklyn to play it for my father, family and friends. I was so excited that I left the acetate on top of my car and drove away, losing my first recording as a bandleader to the streets of Brooklyn, where I was born.
It was never found.
That's how Orchestra Harlow got started.
Larry Harlow – Piano, Leader
Lydio Fuentes – Bass
Phil Newsum – Bongo, Timbales
Luis Bonilla – Conga
Marc Weinstein – Trombone
Julian Priester – Trombone
Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros – Trumpet
Ralph Castrello – Trumpet
Monguito – Maracas
Musical Director - Johnny Pacheco
Recording Director - Jerry Masucci
Recorded at - Belltone Studios NYC
Audio Director - Irv Greenbaum
Arrangements – Larry Harlow, Marc Weinstein
Original Album Photography - Lee Kraft
Original Album Art Director - Izzy Sanabria