‘Hit The Bongo! The Latin Soul of Tico Records’ Album Preview

Craft Latino celebrates Tico Records’ 75th anniversary by examining one of its most prolific and diverse eras with Hit the Bongo! The Latin Soul of Tico Records. 

This press release was provided to Vivascene by Craft Recordings

Los Angeles, CA (August 31, 2023) – Craft Latino celebrates Tico Records’ 75th anniversary by examining one of its most prolific and diverse eras with Hit the Bongo! The Latin Soul of Tico Records. Spanning 1962–1972, this brand-new vinyl and digital collection surveys the rise of Latin soul through 26 rarities and classics by pioneering figures such as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz and Ray Barretto, as well as by the Joe Cuba Sextet, La Lupe, Willie Bobo and many more. Arriving October 27 and available to pre-order today, Hit the Bongo! features newly remastered audio by Joe Tarantino, a 2-LP set housed in a gatefold jacket with new liner notes by DJ Dean Rudland, with lacquers cut by Phillip S. Rodriguez at Elysian Masters. In addition, an exciting exclusive bundle option including a commemorative Tico Records T-shirt is available at Fania.com.

In 1948, Tico Records opened in New York City, becoming one of the first US labels to focus solely on Latin music. Home to such pioneering figures as Ray BarrettoTito PuenteJoe Cuba, Jimmy Sabater, La LupeEddie Palmieri and Celia Cruz, Tico was at the forefront of every Latin musical trend during its three-decade-long reign: from mambo and cha-cha-chá to Pachanga and boogaloo.

The story of Tico Records begins in the late 1940s when mambo swept dance clubs across the East Coast. Its epicenter was New York City’s Palladium Ballroom, where bandleaders like Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodríguez (aka the “Mambo Kings”) played the Cuban-influenced music all night long. Despite its popularity, however, there was little mambo on record. In 1948, New York club owner George Goldner sought to change that. While Goldner would establish a multitude of labels during his career (including Roulette, Gone and Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird), his first endeavor, Tico Records, would hold a significant place in Latin music history. 

One of his first signings was bandleader, percussionist and composer Tito Puente. A defining figure in Latin jazz, the “King of Timbales” began his prolific recording career at Tico with albums like Mamborama (1955) and Puente in Percussion (1956)It would be Puente’s second stint with the label, however, that cemented his status as an international star—most notably with 1962’s “Oye Como Va,” a popular cha-cha-chá number that Santana transformed into a Latin rock hit eight years later.

While the label signed other big players in the mambo and cha-cha-chá scenes—including Tito Rodríguez, Joe Loco and Arsenio Rodríguez—Tico could not survive Goldner’s gambling habit. By the end of the ’50s, music impresario Morris Levy had taken control of the company. Under Levy, Tico became a powerful player in the Latin music scene. The savvy record executive explained to Dean Rudland that he “employ[ed] A&R men and producers, such as Ralph Seijo, Miguel Estivill, and Joe Cain, who understood not just the fundamentals of Latin music, but also how it was changing and developing as it moved into the 1960s.” Those at the label also sought to reach a new audience—specifically second-generation Latin communities, who were coming of age in an exciting new era.

With the changing times came new musical trends, including Pachanga. Born in Cuba and developed in the Bronx, Pachanga soon replaced mambo and the cha-cha-chá as the hottest dance craze. In 1963, Tico released one of the genre’s most iconic tracks, “El Watusi,” from conguero and bandleader Ray Barretto. Straddling the line between Latin music’s old and new guards, Barretto was primarily a sideman at the time, playing with the biggest names in jazz. While his tenure at Tico was brief, the success of “El Watusi” (a Top 20 hit on Billboard’s R&B and pop charts) ignited Barretto’s prolific solo career—which included the seminal boogaloo album Acid and the role of musical director for the legendary Fania All-Stars.

That same year, Tico released Willie Bobo’s debut as a leader, Do That Thing/Guajira. A protégé of Mongo Santamaría and frequent sideman for Tito Puente and Cal Tjader, the rising Puerto Rican percussionist blended soulful jazz with a twist of Afro-Cuban rhythms, resulting in such delicious grooves as “Bobo! Do That Thing and He’s That Way.”While Bobo was still several years away from the height of his fame, his debut album served as a precursor to the Latin soul that exploded later in the decade. 

Another foundational player in the scene was Joe Cuba, who was already a well-known bandleader when he joined Tico in 1965. The New York–born conguero frequently integrated bilingual lyrics into his songs (as performed by singers Cheo Feliciano andJimmy Sabater). That seamless blend of English and Spanish would soon become a hallmark of the boogaloo sound. At Tico, Cuba scored a string of pop and R&B hits, beginning with 1966’s “El Pito (Never Go Back to Georgia),” Bang Bang and Oh Yeah.” He continued that momentum through the next decade, maintaining his position as a Latin soul icon with tracks like 1968’s Psychedelic Baby” and 1972’s “Do You Feel It?,”which served as an ode to his Spanish Harlem roots. 

Cuba’s bandmate, Jimmy Sabater, also found success at Tico, breaking out on his own and releasing two albums, including 1969’s Solo. Featuring the single “Times Are Changing,” the LP was produced by none other than George Goldner and featured an all-star lineup of musicians, including Ray Barretto, Sonny Bravo, Johnny Colon, Bobby Rodriguez andBarry Rodgers.

When Tito Puente returned to Tico in the early ’60s, he, too, embraced the era’s groovy new sounds, even if his feelings were mixed. Rudland writes, “When the Latin soul thing got into full swing, some of the older guard were unhappy, while others embraced what was going on. By all reports, for Tito Puente it was a bit of both, although it was difficult to tell as he threw himself into the records he made in the soul style with gusto.” Puente’s highlights from this era include “Fat Mama” (1966), “TP’s Shing-A-Ling” (1967) and the supremely groovy percussion-fueled jam “Hit the Bongo! (1970).

Puente also collaborated with two legendary Cuban artists at Tico: La Lupe and Celia Cruz. Prior to the Cuban Revolution, Cruz was a major star in her home country with the vocal group Sonora Matancera. While she would soar to new heights as the “Queen of Salsa” in the ’70s, Cruz spent several years finding her niche in the US. It was during this transitional period that she recorded with Tico. One of the highlights of this era was a 1969 collaboration with Puente, in which they delivered a swinging rendition of “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” from the musical Hair.

La Lupe, meanwhile, was at the apex of her career under Tico. Known as the “Queen of Latin Soul,” the singer arrived in New York in the early ’60s, where she built a following through passionate club performances and regular gigs with Puente and Mongo Santamaría. Before long, La Lupe was one of the era’s most popular Latin vocalists. At Tico, she recorded frequently with Puente (including their 1967 boogaloo classic “Steak-O-Lean”) but also released a steady stream of solo albums, including Reina de la Cancion Latina (Queen of Latin Soul). Among other highlights, the 1968 LP featured a spirited rendition of Little Willie John’s “Fever,” which La Lupe performed and recorded throughout her career.

Another notable Cuban artist on Tico’s roster was conguero and bongosero Cándido Camero (aka the “Thousand Finger Man”). Long regarded as an Afro-Cuban jazz pioneer, Camero settled in New York in the mid-40s, joining Dizzy Gillespie’s band before going solo in the ’50s. While the innovative percussionist only recorded one album with Tico during his marathon career, 1966’s Latin McGuffa’s Dust featured several memorable tracks, including the fiery single “Madrid.” 

Making an even briefer appearance on Tico was veteran bandleader Joe Panama, who released the funky “My People” as a one-off single in 1972. Another rarity came from Colombian bandleader Al Escobar, who released El Sonido Moderno de Al Escobar / The Modern Sounds of Al Escobar in 1969. The collection of covers and originals included highly danceable renditions of Archie Bell’s “Tighten Up and Jesse James’ The Horse.”

As Latin soul evolved over the late ’60s and early ’70s, it often mirrored broader musical trends. Examples of this at Tico include two English-language tracks: 1970’s “Yes I Will (Part 1) from the Gilberto Sextet, which offers a soulful message of positivity, and Eddie Palmieri’s “The African Twist (1967), which evokes the era’s girl groups, thanks to a joyful vocal performance by the song’s writer, Cynthia Ellis. Palmieri, a celebrated bandleader, pianist and composer who has long been regarded as an innovator in his field (and won the first-ever GRAMMY® in a Latin category in 1975), can also be heard here in a more traditional jazz setting, alongside vibraphonist Cal Tjader, on 1967’s “Come and Get It.” 

While Tico’s Latin soul output was certainly impressive, its catalog wasn’t as vast as some of its competitors. But, as Rudland explains, this certainly wasn’t detrimental: “Tico’s involvement in Latin soul was a little tangential, the reasoning being that it was the establishment Latin label with the big established names on its roster. It didn’t need . . . scrappy young bands.” Despite the label’s status in the industry, it was sold to Latin music giant Fania Records in 1975. Under Fania, Tico remained a prized possession, with an active frontline roster until the end of the decade. Nearly half a century later, Tico Records’ legacy remains stronger than ever, while its impact continues to reverberate today.

Click here to pre-order Hit The Bongo! The Latin Soul Of Tico Records. Exclusive bundle option with commemorative Tico Records T-shirt available at Fania.com.

Hit The Bongo! The Latin Soul Of Tico Records Tracklist (Vinyl)

Side A

1. Ray Barretto Y Su Charanga Moderna – El Watusi

2. Willie Bobo – Bobo! Do That Thing

3. Willie Bobo – Be’s That Way

4. The Joe Cuba Sextet – El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia)

5. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Bang! Bang!

6. Candido – Madrid

7. Ray Barretto – Babalu

Side B

1. Eddie Palmieri And Cal Tjader – Come An’ Get It (Boogaloo)

2. Tito Puente Y Su Orquestra – Fat Mama

3. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Oh Yeah!

4. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Sock It To Me

5. Tito Puente/La Lupe – Steak-O-Lean

6. Tito Puente’s Orchestra – TP’s Shing-A-Ling

7. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Hey Joe, Hey Joe

Side C

1. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Psychedelic Baby

2. Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra – The African Twist

3. La Lupe – Fever

4. The Modern Sound Of Al Escobar – Tighten Up

5. The Modern Sound Of Al Escobar – The Horse

6. Celia Cruz/Tito Puente – Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In

Side D

1. Gilberto Sextet – Yes I Will (Part 1)

2. Tito Puente & His Orchestra – Hit The Bongo

3. Tito Puente & His Orchestra – Oye Como Va

4. Jimmy Sabater – Times Are Changin’

5. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Do You Feel It?

6. Joe Panama And Company – My People

Hit The Bongo! The Latin Soul Of Tico Records Tracklist (Digital)

1.   Ray Barretto Y Su Charanga Moderna – El Watusi

2.   Willie Bobo – Bobo! Do That Thing

3.   Willie Bobo – Be’s That Way

4.   The Joe Cuba Sextet – El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia)

5.   The Joe Cuba Sextet – Bang! Bang!

6.   Candido – Madrid

7.   Ray Barretto – Babalu

8.   Eddie Palmieri And Cal Tjader – Come An’ Get It (Boogaloo)

9.   Tito Puente Y Su Orquestra – Fat Mama

10.  The Joe Cuba Sextet – Oh Yeah!

11.  The Joe Cuba Sextet – Sock It To Me

12.  Tito Puente/La Lupe – Steak-O-Lean

13.  Tito Puente’s Orchestra – TP’s Shing-A-Ling

14.  The Joe Cuba Sextet – Hey Joe, Hey Joe

15.  The Joe Cuba Sextet – Psychedelic Baby

16.  Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra – The African Twist

17.  La Lupe – Fever

18.  The Modern Sound Of Al Escobar – Tighten Up

19.  The Modern Sound Of Al Escobar – The Horse

20.  Celia Cruz/Tito Puente – Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In

21.  Gilberto Sextet – Yes I Will (Part 1)

22.  Tito Puente & His Orchestra – Hit The Bongo

23.  Tito Puente & His Orchestra – Oye Como Va

24.  Jimmy Sabater – Times Are Changin’

25.  The Joe Cuba Sextet – Do You Feel It?

26.  Joe Panama And Company – My People

About Craft Latino:

Craft Latino is home to one of the largest and most prestigious collections of Latin music master recordings and compositions in the world. Its rich and storied repertoire includes legendary artists such as Antonio Aguilar, Joan Sebastian, Pepe Aguilar, Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, La Lupe, Rubén Blades and the Fania All Stars, to name just a few. Renowned imprints with catalogs issued under the Craft banner include Musart, Fania, TH, Panart, West Side Latino and Kubaney, among many others. Craft creates thoughtfully curated packages, with a meticulous devotion to quality and a commitment to preservation, ensuring that these recordings endure for new generations to discover.

Craft Latino is the Latin repertoire arm of Craft Recordings. The catalog label team for Concord. For more info, visit CraftRecordings.com.

Vivascene Staff

Vivascene Staff members work with media agencies, recording companies, and artists to present music news and press releases. Email: contact@vivascene.com

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