Salsa music lost one of its most legendary chorus voices with the passing of Sammy Ayala this week.
Sammy Ayala was founder-member of Cortijo y Su Combo, making a great 2nd voice to its charismatic singer, Ismael Rivera. He was a steady voice in the chorus, besides being the “bolero” singer, and played the “guiro”.
Sammy Ayala’s Career Summary
Ayala was born in the Santurce sector of San Juan, which is where Rafael Cortijo and many of his “combo” members were from, including Rafael Ithier and Ismael Rivera. Sammy stayed with Cortijo until 1966. He later moved to New York in 1969 where he became a merchant marine, and also joined Gilberto Colon’s Sextet.
While in New York it wasn’t long before he teamed up again with Ismael Rivera in “El Sonero Mayor” band “Los Cachimbos” in 1972. With Ismael he recorded in several of the main hits of “Los Cachimbos”.
In 1978 Sammy Ayala returned to Puerto Rico where he worked in the Puerto Rico Lottery offices. Musically, Sammy reappeared with Rafael Cortijo in his last production recording “El Sueño del Maestro” (The Dream of the Master). This album featured Cortijo’s nephew Fe Cortijo and his God son, Ismael Rivera Jr. From there, Sammy later joined Jesus Cepeda and his “Bomba” folk group “Grupo ABC”.
Sammy Ayala always preferred to stay close to the Puerto Rican folkloric music of “Bomba” and “Plena”. Those were Cortijo’s combo mainstream, and after his work with Jesus Cepeda, Sammy formed the group “Plenarium”, with which he recorded a couple of albums.
Sammy Ayala’s Contributions to Puerto Rican Music
As a “corista”, Sammy Ayala left his mark with a very particular sound he added to Cortijo y Su Combo songs. Somewhere in the middle of the songs, Sammy would use introduce a high-pitch scream of “ah…..ah…ah-ah” which became a trademark of Cortijo’s songs and was widely imitated through Salsa music.
Sammy wasn’t a prolific composer, but penned songs like “Lo Deje Llorando”,
“Lo mucho que te quiero”, “Dios los cría y ellos se juntan”, “Pónganse duro”, “Lo sabía” and “El que lo hereda no lo hurta”.
His support for Puerto Rican folk music, especially of “bomba” and “plena” made Sammy Ayala one of the icons of Puerto Rican music.
Because he was mostly the 2nd voice of the groups in which he participated as a steady chorus singer, Sammy rarely enjoyed direct recognition of the high popularity lead singers enjoy. However, he was one of the most respected and humble musicians in Puerto Rico.