Salsa Music History, Part 2: Origins and Boom


The Salsa music boom in popularity took place in the late 1960s into the early 1970s. The Latin music from urban New York had taken shape.

This music combined Afro-Caribbean rhythms with jazzy brass and a contemporary urban storyline. The result was rhythmically similar to the Latin music of the ’40s and ’50s, but stylistically different.

Salsa Music Boom from Late ’60s through Early ’70s (New York)

Salsa music enjoyed a great boom coming out of the ’60s and into the ’70s. In New York, the charanga sound that had dominated the 60s was giving way to the more solid “salsa”. This occurred as bands started experimenting with their musical formats.

The Fania label, which had started in the mid-’60s began recording a good number of the proliferating band-sonero groups coming out in the mid to late 60s.

The Salsa boom included Harlow & Miranda "Abran Paso"
Orchestra Harlow and Ismael Miranda became one of the hottest teams in the Salsa boom and of Fania Records.

Willie Colon, then still a teenager, formed a band and was paired with Hector Perez. Fania decided to rename Perez to his artistic name of Hector LaVoe (French for “the voice”). Larry Harlow, the 2nd artist to record on Fania in 1965 after co-founder Johnny Pacheco, later on, teamed with a young charismatic singer Ismael Miranda in 1968.

Eddie Palmieri recorded “Justicia” (1969), and “Vamonos Pa’l Monte” (1971) with Ismael Quintana. His orchestra “La Perfecta” had been “cooking” this sound since 1962. Both these songs became huge hits.

Johnny Pacheco had gone steady with his premier singer Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez. “El Conde” had been part of the band on and off since 1964. However, they went on to record huge hits in the early ’70s.

Also during this time, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz team up starting with their 1969 hit “El Diferente”. Similarly, “conguero” Ray Barretto joined forces with Puerto Rican “sonero” Adalberto Santiago. They recorded 6 hit albums from 1966-1972. When Adalberto, timbalero Orestes Vilató, and other members of Barretto’s band left in 1973, they formed the Típica ’73.

Other Salsa Bands in New York

I’ve just scratched the surface of Salsa bands in New York. I didn’t mention “El Rey” Tito Puente because he did not believe in Salsa. Tito always argued that Salsa is nothing more than Afro-Cuban music. I think musically he’s not far from the truth, but there’s more to it than just that.

There were other lesser bands in New York that had a brief impact on Salsa music. Bands like Ernie Agosto y La Conspiracion, Angel Canales, The Lebron Brothers, Bobby Rodriguez y La Compañia, and Joe Cuba and his Sextet were classics. The maestro Charlie Palmieri continued to re-invent his music with the times. Charlie had been the king of the charanga with his La Duboney. He would continue to transform his sound through the ’60s and ’70s, becoming the master of the organ in Salsa music.

Most of these bands were out of the fiefdom of Fania Records. With other labels like Alegre and Tico (before Fania bought them), bands had other alternatives. However, it was the Fania powerhouse that did the best marketing for its artists. Therefore, with few exceptions like Puente and the Palmieri brothers, Fania artists enjoyed the most commercial success. Therefore, they rode at the top of the Salsa boom.

The term “Salsa” had been used sporadically during the ’60s to describe the Afro-Caribbean music being played. In 1970, the Lebron Brothers were still trying to get name recognition in their 3-year-old band. It was then that they recorded “Salsa y Control”. The song not only put the Lebron Brothers on the Salsa music map but also helped coin the name for the music.

Salsa Music Boom from Late ’60s through Early ’70s (Puerto Rico)

In Puerto Rico, there were changes happening as well. Cortijo y su Combo had dominated the 50s and early 60s with their unique mix of guarachas with orchestrated bombas and plenas. He even experimented with calypso. However, Rafael Cortijo’s combo dissolved in 1962 due to some legal issues involving singer Ismael Rivera after a tour in Panama. This created a series of events that impacted Salsa music in the following years.

El Gran Combo
El Gran Combo

Some of Cortijo’s ex-members gathered together and formed a new group. With the help of their new promoter, they called it El Gran Combo (1962). The band selected pianist Rafael Ithier as the leader of El Gran Combo. They went on to make music history.

[Note: you can read the blog series on the history of El Gran Combo, HERE.

By 1969, Roberto Roena left El Gran Combo to start his Apollo Sound. He teamed with singer Piro Mantilla to record several hits. The first one was their debut hit “Tu Loco Loco y Yo Tranquilo” from the pen of Tite Curet Alonso.

Willie Rosario, who had established his band in New York, returns to Puerto Rico and teams with singer Junior Toledo in the early 70’s to record some of his most popular music, including the smash hit “Juventud Siglo XX”.

Tommy Olivencia had a resurgence in popularity during this time, and Raphy Leavitt created the influential band “La Selecta”. Bobby Valentin returned to Puerto Rico in the late ’60s and had good hit records with singers Frankie Hernandez and Marvin Santiago.

La Sonora Ponceña, which was well established since 1954, came out with their first band solo recording  “Hacheros Pa’ un Palo” in 1968. They have continued to steadily record hits since then with Tito Gomez and Luigi Texidor at vocals.

Other Salsa Bands in Puerto Rico

There were many other bands, some more steady but less commercially popular. Among them was Mario Ortiz, and others more popular but lasting a shorter time, like Corporacion Latina and Orquesta Zodiac. These bands left a firm imprint on the Salsa music of this golden age.

More bands formed in Puerto Rico. Roberto Angleró, Roberto y Su Nuevo Montuno, Orquesta Mulenze, and the Puerto Rican Power are some that come to mind.

Here’s the mega-hit of Orquesta Zodiac, “Panteón de Amor” (1973). Check Paquito Guzman on chorus and 2nd voice.

…and Then Came The Fania All-Stars

Live at the Cheetah
Live at the Cheetah

This period of the late 60s and early 70s marked the renaissance of Salsa music. These established groups created a big fan following. It helped that bands had some stability in their personnel during this period, helping to grow a fan base very rapidly.

Another influential event was the formation of the Fania All-Stars. The Fania recording label co-owners Pacheco and Jerry Masucci decided to group the best lead artists of the label into an All-Star.

Take note that this was not an innovative concept. Other All-Stars had already been put together, like the Alegre All-Stars, which had recorded together since 1961, with Pacheco himself having participated in the 1st Alegre All-Star recording.

But the Fania All-Stars, with its star-filled lineup, became a sensation in the ’70s. The mega-success of their “Live at the Cheetah” recording, in the renowned Manhattan nightclub, of which video footage was used for the film “Our Latin Thing”, sparked a fire that would burn brightly for several years. The Fania All-Stars put on a magnificent show and traveled all over the world with it. The publicity this gave to Salsa worldwide was colossal. Below is a video of this event, with the performance of “Quitate Tu”, highlighting all singers and “cuatro” guitar player Yomo Toro.

La Salsa Dura

The salsa bands in this period started to expand into a fuller sound, adding or changing instruments as they transitioned from the charanga-boogaloo craze of the ’60s into the hard salsa of the ’70s. With a stronger sound, catchy lyrics, improved recording techniques, and a public relations machine running on all cylinders, the salsa boom exploded commercially.

What’s Next: the Fania All-Stars

In my next blog, I’ll take a short stop in the Salsa music journey to focus on the Fania All-Stars. They had such a huge impact on Salsa music that I want to dedicate a full blog to their legacy.


You might also like
  1. […] You can find a link to Part 2, HERE. […]

  2. […] finished Part 2 of this blog series with an explanation of the impact the Fania All-Stars had in making Salsa music […]

Leave a Comment or Reply