60s Music

Ray Barretto – Puerto Rico’s Musical Pride

Ray Barretto
Ray Barretto in concert in Deauville (Normandy, France) on July 15, 1991. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Introduction to Ray Baretto

Ray Barretto (born April 29, 1929, died February 17, 2006) was born in Brooklyn, New York to Puerto Rican parents.  From an early age Ray loved Latin music.  Before becoming a prominent Latin band leader he started as a conga playing studio session musician.  He joined the army at age 17 and started playing at a GI jazz club in Munich, Germany.  When he returned from the army he perfected his conga playing and joined Eddie Bonnermere’s Latin Jazz Combo, moving on the Jose Curbelo’s band and later replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente’s band.  In 1961 Barretto formed his own orchestra and began recording for Tico Records.  Soon after he recorded his biggest hit song “El Watusi” which peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.  He then recorded eight more rather unsuccessful albums for Tico and United Artist records before switching to Fania records in 1967 where his Latin jazz album “Acid” became a hit with Latin audiences.  He recorded nine albums on Fania, with the 1975 “Barretto” being his most successful; containing his Latin hit song “Guarare.” In 1975 he played his last live performance with his jazz salsa band and signed with Atlantic Records.  After an unsuccessful time with Atlantic Barretto went back to Fania Records and continued recording.  In 1989 he won a Grammy Award on his successful album teaming with Celia Cruz.  In the late ’90’s Barretto began recording with as Ray Barretto & the New World Spirit.  In 2006 Barretto passed away from deteriorating health after a quadruple bypass.  Barretto had a successful career as a Latin jazz conga player and band leader.  Other Ray Barretto Hit Songs:  “Fuerza Gigante,” “Quitate la Mascara,” “Nadie Se Salva de la Rumba,” “Amor Artificial,” “Guajira para Vieques,” “El Higo de Obatala,” “Testigo Fui,” “Indestructible,” “Ay No,” “Arrepientete,” “La Hipocrecia y la Falsedad,” “Que Viva la Musica,”  “The Soul Drummer,” “Night in Tunisia,” “Al Ver Sus Campos,” “Oye La Noticia,” “Hard Hands,” “La Cana y Plantacion,” “Acid,” “Adelante Siempre Voy,” “Arallue,” “Los Ejes de Mi Carretta,” “La Flor de Los Lindos Campos,” “Rhythm Of Life,” “Lo Tuyo y lo Mio,” “Granada,” “Los Mareados,” “Boogaloo Con Soul,” “Prestame Tu Mujer,” “Mirame de Frente,” “Llantto de Crocodrilo,” “Right On,” “Que Bonita Es Mi Tierra,” “Un Dia Sere Feliz,” “Piensa en Mi,” “Ya Vez,” “Mi Dedication,” “Soy Dichoso,” “Mi Dedicacion,” “Pa’ Todo el Ano,” “Triangle,” “Ancestral Messages,” “Work Song,” “Summertime,” “Bruca Manigua,” “Dance of Denial,” “Descarga Criolla,” “Despojate,” “El Bantu,” “Fiesta En El Barrio,” “Guaguanco Bonito” and “I Think About You.”

 

Who was Ray Baretto?

Legendary salsa and Latin jazz percussion extraordinaire Ray Baretto was born on April 29, 1929 in New York City, New York. He was known for his 60s music hit “El Watusi.” Though “Barretto” was his real surname, he chose to use “Baretto,” which was caused by a mistake in typing his birth certificate. From Puerto Rico, his parents relocated to New York in the 1920’s and he was raised in Spanish Harlem. Barretto inherited his musical inclination through his mother who was a jazz music fan, growing up listening to Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

 

Barretto entering music business

When he reached the age of 17, he was enlisted in the US Army in 1946. When Barretto heard the song “Manteca” by the jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, he considered it as a calling to enter the music business. After serving the army in 1949, he returned to his hometown and began performing at local clubs, helping him to hone his skills playing the conga. In one of his gigs, he was spotted by jazz saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker who eventually invited him to join his band. It was followed by invitations from Latin jazz musicians such as Jose Curbelo and Tito Puente for whom he played for four years.

 

 

In 1960, Barretto worked as a studio musician for Prestige, Blue Note and Riverside labels. On Columbia Records, he worked with Jazz flautist Herbie Mann. A year later, he released his first hit “El Watusi.” The single resulted in a big success on the US Billboard Top 40 at #17, also peaked at #17 also, on the Billboard R&B singles chart in 1963.

He continued recording numerous albums for the United Artists imprint which were less noticeable until he moved to Fania label in 1967. He recorded his first album Acid on that label; Acid also carried one of its singles “Deeper Shade of Soul.”  In 1990, the Dutch band Urban Dance Squad released a sample of “Deeper Shade of Soul” as their debut single. The following year, it became a hit climbing at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

 

Barretto’s other releases

In the 1970’s, Barretto issued several albums: Que Viva La Musica (1972), Indestructible (1973) and Barretto (1975). The carrier single in his 1972 release “Cocinando” was the opening song for Our Latin Thing, a film featuring all the Fania Records’ artists. In 1975, Barretto earned a Grammy nomination for the song “Barretto.” Between 1976 and 1978 he recorded three albums for Atlantic Records, one of them was Barretto Live… Tomorrow which earned him another Grammy nomination. During that time, he also worked with the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees, contributing percussion work in the recording studio. In 1979, Barretto recorded an album for CTI Records called La Cuna and also produced Ricanstruction, a salsa album recorded for Fania. Ricanstruction scored the “Best Album” title by Latin N.Y. Magazine in 1980. Barretto also bagged the Conga Player of the Year as well.

In 1990, Barretto finally scored his first Grammy award for the album Ritmo en el Corazon (“Rhythm in the Heart”). In 1999, he became an inductee into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. In his later years, he channeled his energy as a musical producer and a leading a touring band which tours mainly in the US, Israel, Latin America and Europe.

On February 17, 2006, Baretto died of heart failure the Hackensack University Medical Center. With his contributions in the music industry, he was given formal Honors by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

 

 

 

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