Cheo Feliciano: 40 years Since Return with “Cheo”

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Salsa music star Cheo Feliciano was able to successfully rebuild his career and more importantly his life, after falling deep in the grasp of drugs. The album “Cheo” marked his return more than 40 years ago.

Note: I originally wrote and published this blog back in 2011.

I like to cheer for people that can re-establish themselves after going through deep hardships. For Feliciano, it was a long and painful recovery and changeover, and when he came back, he released one of his best works with his comeback album simply titled “Cheo”.

Cheo’s Comeback Album

The 1971 Salsa album “Cheo” was an inflection point in Feliciano’s career. His comeback album was highly anticipated as Feliciano was already an established Salsa music star. He had come to fame with Joe Cuba’s Sextet, and afterward recorded other hits with Eddie Palmieri. Palmieri tried unsuccessfully to re-guide the down-spiraling life and career of Feliciano due to his drug use.

After spending about 3 years in Puerto Rico’s CREA rehab center, “Cheo” was a much anticipated album.

"Cheo" was released in 1971 by Cheo Feliciano
“Cheo” was released in 1971 after Cheo Feliciano’s 3-year absence from the music scene

As he recounts in an interview published in the Fania.com site…”I withdrew for a good three years and took stock of my life, ironing whatever needed to be ironed, and defining a new focus – both personally and professionally.  When I finally decided to return, composer Tite Curet Alonso acted as my artistic godfather. He told me: ‘In the desk of [Fania owner] Jerry Masucci there is an envelope titled ‘Cheo Feliciano Project’. When you’re ready to go, take a look and see what’s in there.’ ”

“Inside the envelope were amazing Tite Curet Alonso compositions like ‘Anacaona.’ I was instantly captivated,” continued Feliciano. 

…and Debut as Soloist

Besides being his comeback album, “Cheo” was Feliciano’s debut album as a solo artist. To make it happen he had more than a little help from his friends. As Tite Curet Alonso frequently did with his songs, he tailored his songs for Feliciano. Tite also co-produced the album along with Latin music Fania master Larry Harlow. Along with an all-star line-up of musicians, the album sound was made with vibes instead of with wind metals, a la Joe Cuba.

King of Boleros

…the 'Cheo' album marked a return to my music, my people and my own family.

Cheo Feliciano Late Salsa Singer

Cheo” also established Feliciano as one of the strongest “boleristas” of Latin music at the time. Yes, he had recorded some good “boleros”, but “Franqueza Cruel” and “Mi Triste Problema” along with “Pienso En Ti” established a new standard for “boleros” sang by Salsa artists.

Keep in mind that during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Salsa artists recorded albums that had more variety of genres, and normally included one or two “boleros”. Feliciano’s solo debut album had four “boleros”. Most “boleros” recorded at the time were meant as album “fillers” or to round up the project, but rarely became hits. Three of the “boleros” in in this album became hits. Feliciano loved boleros and this album gave him the exposure he needed to shine in this genre.

Cheo”, A New Road

Because it marked his return to music, was his first album as a solo artist, established his partnership and friendship with Tite Curet Alonso, and establishing him as a great singer of “boleros“, “Cheo” defined a new road in the personal and professional life of Cheo Feliciano.

Despite the great albums that followed it, I consider “Cheo” as one of the most precious musical jewels in Cheo Feliciano’s career, and in the discography of Salsa music.

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