Johnny Pacheco: 50 years making Latin Music History

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Johnny Pacheco is celebrating 50 years in the music business, and I want to share with you my favorite songs from this great Dominican artist.

Pacheco arrived in New York in the 1940s and since then became an influential part of the development of Latin music in New York. I will not attempt to write another Pacheco biography, as you can find good bios and interviews on the internet. For me, Pacheco’s influence came through his Conjunto and through his work with the Fania All-Stars.

My Favorites Pacheco Music:

Pete "El Conde" and Johnny Pacheco in cover of "Tres de Café y Dos de Azucar"
Fania’s Johnny Pacheco had great hit with Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez in the album “Tres de Café Dos de Azucar”.

The 1st big musical hit I remember from Pacheco was “La Escencia del Guaguanco” with Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez. It was included in his 1971 album “La Perfecta Combinación“. This song was played extensively in Puerto Rico, but after that point, I lost track of Pacheco and El Conde. I completely missed their album “Los Compadres” and had only heard the merengue “Los Diablitos” from their 1973 album “Tres de Café y Dos de Azucar” when I decided to find out more about their music.

After the huge impact of the “Fania All Stars Live at the Cheetah” albums I was so impressed with El Conde’s performance that I set out to find out more about his music. That’s when a friend lent me the “Tres de Café y Dos de Azucar” LP. After listening to it I was hooked. That album had several hit songs, including “Primoroso Cantar” and “Ponle Punto“, but my favorite from this album was “El Piro de Farra“. I believe this album captured the Pacheco and Pete El Conde duo at their best!

I then went further back and got “Los Compadres” which is another great recording for the Pacheco-Conde duo. My favorite song from that album “De Que Te Vale“. This song would be later recorded by Tommy Olivencia with a great trumpet solo by Latin music maestro Luis “Perico” Ortiz.

Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco

"Celia & Johnny" Salsa music CD cover art.
“Celia & Johnny” established a new Salsa music collaboration that made history.

But is was Johnny Pacheco’s work with Celia Cruz which really got him to mainstream salseros. Those salsa fans who may or may not have followed Pacheco with El Conde, would not miss the Queen of Salsa. Their great 1974 debut album together titled “Celia y Johnny” was an instant Latin music success. The mega-hit rumba “Quimbara” carried the album.

And although the song was very popular and had a catchy tune, my favorites were the “santería” themed hit “Tengo El Idde” and the classic “Toro Mata“. For “Celia and Johnny“, Pacheco reinforced his recording musicians with Sonora Ponceña’s Papo Lucca at the piano, the maestro Luis “Perico” Ortiz in trumpet, and his inseparable recording friend Justo Betancourt in the chorus, among the most notable.

…and More Johnny Pacheco Favorites

Pacheco followed this recording with another favorite of mine, the 1975 album “Tremendo Caché“. It featured the old Cortijo and Ismael Rivera hit “Cúcala“. Like with other albums, I enjoyed the album’s hit single song, but preferred the Sonora Matancera classic “La Sopa en Botella” and “Tres Días de Carnaval”, along with the Puerto Rican bomba “De la Verdegue“.

La Sopa en Botella” really brings Pacheco’s conjunto sound out. It features guest Papo Lucca in a nice piano solo and Celia providing all the right notes and “soneos” in another of her extraordinary performances.

Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco recorded their 3rd collaboration in 1976 with the album “Recordando el Ayer“. In this album, they added Justo Betancourt to the front vocals with Celia Cruz. Its single, “Besito de Coco” became a huge hit. Pacheco and Celia also recorded “Celia, Johnny, and Pete” with El Conde. Additionally, they did their final collaboration in 1981 with “Eternos” which contained the sticky merengue “El Guabá” and my favorite song “Saludo Celestial“. This song is a tribute to Cuban Latin music greats Arsenio Rodriguez, Benny Moré, and Chano Pozo.

As radio stations continued to play Pacheco’s hit songs from the “Tremendo Caché” album, Pacheco began recording with whom became his steady conjunto singer, the Cuban Hector Casanova.

Hector Casanova Joins Johnny Pacheco

Casanova had a voice very similar to Pete El Conde’s, and Pete always referred to Casanova as the guy who imitated him. I’m not sure if the resemblance in singing voice was purposely or coincidental, but the fact is that Casanova proved a popular combination with Pacheco, immediately making the single of their debut album “El Maestro” an instant hit. The song “Guaguancó pa’l que Sabe” climbed the radio hit charts. The song had a mainstream soft-tempo son-montuno (in resemblance to Roberto Roena’s 1976 hit “Mi Desengaño) again featuring Papo Lucca on a piano solo and Casanova demonstrating his vocal range.

From “El Maestro” I also liked the funny themes “Prestame los Guantes” and “Yo No Parlevu Frances“. It also included the classics “El Chivo“, “El Faisan“, and “Mango Mangue“. The duo of Pacheco-Casanova proved to be solid. They went on to record 2 more albums before the 1970s were over.  The 1977 “The Artist” and the 1979 “Los Amigos” proved to be very good recordings.

The Artist” was one of my favorite overall albums of those years, as it has a good number of hits. The album included the popular single “Esa Prieta” besides other good songs as “Yerba Brava“, “La Chiva“, “Dirindinde“, “Tu No Sabes Na’“, and “Ileana“. Pacheco’s “Tumbao Añejo” (as he nicknamed his conjunto, in reference to his old conjunto nickname of “Nuevo Tumbao” which he used in the 1960s) had Papa Lucca and “Perico” Ortiz as the usual highlights. It also featured a guy Pacheco brought in to substitute Justo Bentancourt in the chorus; Ramón Rodriguez. Rodriguez had written some of the songs, and later went on to work with Orquesta La Masacre and became a founding member of the popular Conjunto Clásico.

Hector Casanova and Johnny Pacheco in "Los Amigos"
“Los Amigos” proved a solid Salsa album for Pacheco and Casanova.

Los Amigos” had the hit single “Los Pollos no Tienen Dientes“, along with Pacheco’s 1960’s classic “Agua del Clavelito“. This last song highlights the Pacheco-Ramon Rodriguez chorus. Additionally, the album had the merengue “Me Llevaron La Cartera“.

Albums with Other Singers

After Casanova left, Pacheco didn’t keep a steady recording singer in the band. He recorded with several singers like Mexican “Melón”, Cuban ex-Sonora Matancera singer Celio Gonzalez, and Puerto Rican Daniel Santos. In the 1980’s he also went back to record 4 mostly forgettable albums with his “compadre” Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez. Later, with Fania’s decline, he semi-retired, and then went on to perform mostly locally in New York. He would not return to the recording studio until releasing  “Entre Amigos” in 2005 with a bunch of guest stars.

Johnny Pacheco’s Legacy was Fania Records:

As you read one of Johnny Pacheco’s biographies, you’ll see that he started the “Charanga” craze in New York. Pacheco worked alongside the late pianist Charlie Palmieri and participated in the first Alegre All-Star recording. He would later form his more typical Cuban sound conjunto to play at the 1964 World Fair in New York.

When he struggled in his partnership in Alegre Records with Al Santiago, Pacheco decided to split and form his own record label. He named the label after one of his songs, “Fania“. Because he lacked the legal know-how and capital, he joined forces with Jewish lawyer Jerry Masucci. Pacheco and Masucci went on to revolutionize the Latin music world with the Salsa movement.

Share with us which is your favorite Pacheco music by using the “Comments” section below. It’s free! 🙂

Link to Johnny Pacheco Interview:

Radio El Salsero interviews Johnny Pacheco (great interview)

7 Comments
  1. History Of Jazz Music says

    ? Seriously? I was searching Google for history of jazz music and found this… will have to think about it.

  2. Paul-Anthony Presendieu Cuesta says

    Lo mejor…..pacheco con sus hermanos de fania hizo un camino paran todos los cantantes de la salsa moderna…(Marc Anthony, Victor Manuelle, Luis Enrique y La India)

  3. LUIS MARCELO says

    FANIA LA MEJOR REPRESENTACION DE LA SALSA DEL MUNDO,DIRIJIDA MAJISTRALMENTE POR NUESTRO JHONNY PACHECO LO MEJOR DE TODOS LOS TIEMPOS GRACIAS

  4. […] Conde” made one of the most famous pairs in Salsa when he joined bandleader Johnny Pacheco. They joined forces just before the foundation of Fania Records. Their first recording together was […]

  5. […] Johnny Pacheco – the co-founder of Fania Records in the early ’60s, perhaps the most influential […]

  6. Juan Rosa III says

    Happy New Year, Mr. Aviles. Johnny Pacheco was one of my favorite bands while I was growing up in the Bronx. Tumbao Añejo was as tight as you could get. Here we have a Dominican bandleader in a Puerto Rican city playing Cuban music, and becoming a legend. Isn’t that incredible! Incidentally , when he first hit New York , he was musical director and arranger for Tito Rodriquez. When he left to form his charanga , Tito wrote “Avísale a Mi Contrario” about Pacheco, not Tito Puente like everyone believes. Anyway, keep up the great site you have. All the best to you.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Juan – thanks for your comments and Happy New Year. The “Tumbao Añejo”, which years earlier was the “Nuevo Tumbao” was one of my favorites for its simplicity and flavor.

      All the best,
      Hector

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