El Gran Combo A Puerto Rican Musical Institution


Why did El Gran Combo earn the nickname of “the musical institution of Puerto Rico”, when there were so many other music groups? On their 50th anniversary I want to highlight the impact they’ve had in Latin music and Puerto Rico’s musical landscape.

I believe El Gran Combo has lasted 50 years as a top Salsa music band due to a combination of discipline, vision, and talent. And perhaps a bit of luck. But as you know, luck is really preparation meeting opportunity.

Catchy Funny Songs

But how did El Gran Combo earn the distinguished nickname of “the musical institution of Puerto Rico”? For one thing, there were other great Latin music bands in Puerto Rico. These included the Orquesta Panamericana, Orquesta de Cesar Concepcion, La Sonora Ponceña (which preceded them), Cortijo y su Combo, and many others.

I believe they earned this nickname due to 2 main factors: 1) catchy songs, and 2) TV exposure.

The catchy funny songs, which had been part of the Cortijo repertoire, suited even better the style of El Gran Combo. “El Combo” had a more loose stage presence than Cortijo’s and most other bands. Additionally, Pellin Rodriguez and Andy Montañez were able to portray your next door neighbor even better than Ismael Rivera. This created a great connection with the public.

The Impact of TV and “El Show de las 12”

The other major factor that in my opinion made El Gran Combo Puerto Rico’s the musical institution was TV exposure. Timing was on their side. The early 60’s marked the big expansion of TV units and its market in Puerto Rico. In the mid 60’s, “El Show de las 12” had become a prime daytime noon show. Telemundo (channel 2) decided to bring in the young group to have a daily appearance on the show. This instantly made El Gran Combo a household name.

One thing was to listen their songs on the radio, which was the most popular mass media mean of the time. But it was quite another to watch them perform “live” in TV. You could enjoy Roberto Roena’s spectacular choreographs with Andy and Pellin, and the camera close-ups of conga player Martin Quiñonez making funny faces.

El Gran Combo is the Musical Institution of Puerto Rico
El Gran Combo in a typical scene with a Puerto Rican flag.

Their discipline, good song selection, good promotion from Cuban promoter and record label owner Guillermo Alvarez Guedez, TV exposure, and international tours, kept them in top of the music charts for many years. El Gran Combo became synonym of the ambassadors of the popular music of Puerto Rico. Eventually, radio and TV personality Mariano Artau nicknamed El Gran Combo “the musical institution of Puerto Rico”. The nickname has stuck to this day.

El Gran Combo Durability as Musical Institution

Anything in excess is bad, and the overexposure of TV began to impact their commercial performance. Alvarez Guedez decided not to renew their recording contract around 1970. Rafael Ithier decided to decline other label offers and produce “El Combo” recordings under their own label, EGC. This was one of many adjustments El Gran Combo made during their musical journey to remain a top group for 50 years.

Looking back at their 50 years, there are many practices of this musical institution that are worth examining in other blogs.

Happy 50th Anniversary to “Los Mulatos del Sabor”!!!

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