I have to say that I was both fascinated and disappointed with Eddie “La Bala” Perez’s book “1 Bala, 2 Combos, y 1 Vida”.
The disappointment comes from reading a book of under 200 pages written by a Puerto Rican musician that was part of two of the greatest Latin music band of all-time; Cortijo y su Combo and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. How can you tell the story of being part of these two legendary bands in less than 200 pages? The result was what I thought it would be.
“1 Bala, 2 Combos, y 1 Vida” is 100 Miles Wide, 1 Inch Deep
The part or Eddie Perez’s early musical career, particularly how he started playing saxophone, how he entered Cortijo y su Combo, and his time with Cortijo were great. I wish he would’ve talked a bit more about Ismael Rivera. It was interesting to learn that Ismael Rivera and him got into a buff that lasted a few years, but was forgotten by the time they re-united in the late 70’s to record the reunion album and concert “Dios Los Cria, Ellos se Juntan”.
The most interesting piece of his long years with El Gran Combo was probably the beginning, when he told the story of how they (El Gran Combo) were seen by the public as having betrayed Cortijo.
Nobody would give them a place to rehearse and in one of their first gigs, they alternated with Cortijo (there weren’t all that many bands at that time) and the public would dance with Cortijo but would sit and not dance a single song of El Gran Combo in protest of them abandoning Cortijo. Wow, can you imagine starting a band and the public almost hating you?
Eddie “La Bala” Perez On Rafael Ithier
Eddie Perez told stories of his role in El Gran Combo and how much he enjoyed his time there. Although the book was published early this year, Eddie did not write, and it almost seems that he removed, the part of his problems with Rafael Ithier which lead to his current lawsuit against El Gran Combo. To the contrary, in various passages of the book he praised Rafael Ithier for his leadership and courage.
One of those times was when he wrote about how hotels would make El Gran Combo enter a luxurious hotel in Puerto Rico through the kitchen – yes, there still was racism in the 60’s and into the 70’s. Rafael Ithier refused to do that, and the hotel reluctantly let them come in through the front door.
Superficial Information in “1 Bala, 2 Combos, y 1 Vida”
My biggest issue with the book is that Eddie Perez spend half of it talking about who left and who came in, and also on the many trips and albums recorded. Regarding personnel changes, he would only mention them, but barely touched on why someone left or came.
Well, that was not telling me much more than what I already knew! His stories about trips were more personal than about the band, and the albums, well, we all have them. He mostly wrote about which albums came out which year and the most listened songs. Again, I already know that! Eddie could have elaborated so much more in all these topics…but he didn’t.
“1 Bala, 2 Combos, y 1 Vida” is a Barely Passable Book
This could have been one of the most interesting books regarding Latin music. However, “1 Bala, 2 Combos, y 1 Vida” was just a passable 191 page book. Yes, Eddie Perez says many times he is not a writer, but that is no excuse for him not taking the time to share some behind-the-scene details of what went on with Cortijo y su Combo and with El Gran Combo.
I would have love to know what the band felt when Andy Montañez left to join the Dimension Latina in Venezuela. And also how that animosity eventually healed to the point that Andy Montañez started doing guest appearances with El Gran Combo.
I’m not seeking gossip, but I hope that the next book someone writes about his memoirs being part of one of the best Latin music bands contains a lot more behind-the-scene information than what Eddie shared in his “1 Bala, 2 Combos, y 1 Vida”.