Eddie “Guagua” was Bass Master of Latin Music

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I loved Eddie “Guagua” Rivera’s way of playing the bass. He was an exciting and visionary bassist of Salsa and Latin Jazz that made the ordinary extraordinary.

I always wanted to interview Eddie “Guagua”, as I admired the way he played. But I waited too long and missed the opportunity. I first “discovered” Eddie “Guagua” listening to Orchestra Harlow’s recordings, starting with ‘Salsa”, and then with “Live in Quad”. Eddie “Guagua” did many recordings before those. He even was in Willie Colon’s very 1st album “The Hustler”.

“Guagua” was an amazing bass soloist, which set him apart from the crowd. He was a true master of his craft, as he is the only bassist I remembered that carried both a baby bass and a guitar bass around. Most bass players can play both types of instruments, but would normally play just one or the other. “Guagua” carried both around, so he could use the most suitable instrument for the song. He loved playing bass and had pride in his craft. I have yet to enjoy a bass solo in Salsa music more than those of Eddie “Guagua” Rivera.

“…In the bass, the Monster, Eddie “Guagua” Rivera…”

Eddie "Guagua" Rivera set a standard in Salsa music bass solos with Orchestra Harlow.
Eddie “Guagua” Rivera set a standard in Salsa music bass solos with Orchestra Harlow.

Those were Paquito Navarro’s words to introduce Eddie “Guagua” in Harlow’s “Live in Quad” album. But it wasn’t just Guagua’s solos that were outstanding. Listen carefully to Eddie Palmieri’s Grammy Award winning album “The Sun of Latin Music” and you’ll hear a bass that can rift and play with the “clave” just in the right moment to give the music a timely extra push. Eddie “Guagua” style is easily recognizable when you listen to a recording.

I had the pleasure of seeing “Guagua” play live with Luis “Perico” Ortiz and with Batacumbele. I always admired his playing style, but I especially enjoyed when he played the baby bass. He leaned on it, placing his ear so close to the strings he could almost kiss them, as if asking the bass to provide the most exquisite musical note it had in it. And it seemed as if the bass granted his requests every time.

Eddie “Guagua” Rivera in Latin Jazz

Eddie "Guagua" was founding member of Batacumbele, a band that set a standard in Afro-Caribbean music.
Eddie “Guagua” was founding member of Batacumbele, a band that set a standard in Afro-Caribbean music.

Eddie played with so many artists that I’m afraid of mentioning names. But in Latin Jazz, I remember his contributions to the recordings of Gato Barbieri, when Gato was at his peak. His contributions as founding member of Afro Caribbean Jazz fusion group Batacumbele are well known through their recordings. He also participated in the first recording of my friend Johnny Conga titled “Breaking Skin”.

I’ll Miss Eddie “Guagua” Rivera

Eddie passed away on June 2014 at the age of 66, which seems way too early. The people that knew him, loved him dearly. His way of playing bass set a standard that I hope others will emulate. So far I have not seen any takers.

10 Comments
  1. Eric burgos says

    I want to his church en miami.he is the best in my book.r.i.p.

  2. Douglas Tejada says

    I did get to do several interviews with his while working on my DMA at the university of Miami. My doctoral Essay was a comparison between Eddie and Sal Cuevas. He was a great human and a mentor to me who profoundly influenced by bass playing. will miss him.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Douglas,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with Eddie “Guagua”. As I said in the blog, he was one of the best bassist in Latin music!

      Best,

      Hector

  3. Dario says

    I remember Gua Gua talking about CHarlie Palmieri saying “no one can get down like that cat”
    There may have been better composers, band leaders, etc. etc.
    But if you wanted a jam session… no one can get down like Gua Gua. No way no how. Ask Giovanni, ask Harlow, Ask anyone, he tore it up.
    RIP my second father, my teacher in life and music Eddie Gua Gua Rivera!!

  4. Michael Spencer says

    I had the pleasure of growing up around Eddie”Guagua”. I lived above him about five years in a private house owned by his parents in the Bronx on East 180th st., down the two blocks from the train station. I was twelve when i first met him. I absolutely loved him. He was my uncle, lawyer, (lol) confidant and one of several mentors I was blessed to have in my life. He was a special man. I remember one of the many memorable moments spent with him was when he improvised a song parody to the tune “Brasil” called “Brassier”. Me, my sister and other family members to this day, still sing the song. That was 1975. I was with him and his family in 2011 new years eve. He was the coolest cat I knew besides my dad, Fania all star Larry Spencer. They are back together jamming in “That Greatest Gig in the Sky”. Until…

  5. Hector L Gonzá lez says

    I congratulate you Guys that knew personally. You were blessed. Definitely one to be remembered for His outstanding talent and contribution to Latin music as it was called then..

  6. Eddie Rivera says

    Sitting here on my computer, viewing different music videos and hearing recordings that my father was a part of. I greatly appreciate the kind words of everyone who posted a comment. My father was a very humble man who spoke very little of his accomplishments in music. It wasn’t until this past year that we began looking for CDs that he recorded on as he never had them in the home growing up. I would greatly appreciate you sharing the names of any recordings that you enjoy, so that I too can listen and share them with the family.

    My dad had a very strong relationship with the Lord and he shared the importance of that with us. Though he was faced with tremendous adversity after the stroke this past year, his confidence in God never wavered. He taught us the importance of having God in our life and living with integrity and respect for others. That we are only here for a short time, and that we must give 100% in whatever we do. It brings me great joy to see that he touched people with his talent. God bless you all.

    Eddie Rivera

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Eddie,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights about your father. I think his work with Batacumbele was great, particularly the first 2 albums “Con Un Poco de Songo” and “En Aquellos Tiempos”. His work in Eddie Palmieri’s “The Sun of Latin Music” was classical. But he is best highlighted in Orchestra Harlow’s “Salsa”, and “Live in Quad”.

      RIP,

      Hector

  7. LoudGreg says

    Deeply saddened to hear of Eddies passing. I was actually looking him up and saw that he passed in 2014.

    I worked with Eddie, in the Richard “Marley” Booker Band for two weeks around 2002 (?) . We recorded the CD, and rehearsed daily for a one off show at the Bob Marley festival in Miami. Though the CD (Medicine Man) was released but never actually picked up, and the band never got to play the show we rehearsed for, it was a FANTASTIC musical experience for a regular guy like me. Eddies talent was undeniable. His “humanity” was even bigger.

    I loved hanging with him and listening to all his stories of playing with various people. He told me how he actually got the nick name “Gua Gua” which to this day still puts a smile on my face. When rehearsals were done, the best part was when we would all just JAM !!! Eddie was in his element and just on autopilot. He was the Best. One time he led us on a musical Gospel “Praise God” jam that he liked to do in his Church. Amazing stuff !!! He was an extremely nice person too, that you could not help but like him. When I was sitting with Larry Harlow and listening to demo’s of “Live at Birdland”, Larry referred to Eddie as a “Monster” and someone in the room replied “a Monster ???” and without hesitation, and very seriously, Larry just said “Oh he sure is a Monster musician”.

    RIP my friend.

    Greg

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Greg,
      Thanks for your comments and for sharing your experience with Eddie “Guagua”. For me he was one of the greats.

      Best,
      Hector

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