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The Salsa Revolution

Chapter 2: Willie Colón, Hector Lavoe & Fania Records

[FOOTAGE: BW New York City b-roll]

[STILL: Willie Colon]

Latin Boogaloo open the doors for a bandleader from the South Bronx who would stand at the center of the Salsa revolution of the seventies, trombonist Willie Colon.

WILLIE COLON, TROMBONIST & MUSIC PRODUCER: We really sounded awful, just noisy awful bands but the kids loved it.

[FOOTAGE: BW kids at a soda shop. MUSIC: 'Willie Whopper']

W. COLON: (VO) We had a fan club. They would dance at the rehearsals, they would show up at the dances. So they were always there. So we started getting gigs just because we had this giant entourage that would show up all the time.

[FOOTAGE: BW kids at a soda shop. MUSIC: 'Willie Whopper']

W. COLON: When I started doing my first gigs I was fourteen years old and I wasn't the tall kid either so, it was really hard.

I used to buy my suits in second hand store and put on these old man suits.

Sometimes I'd take a cigar and you know, I'm fourteen years old. I probably looked like a lesbian.

[STILL: LP "The Hustler" cu Willie Colon]

By 1967, Colon had a record deal with a local label.

W. COLON: When we signed the contract, my lawyer was my mother. I was sixteen, I couldn't sign the contract, she signed them for me. I think she was what, all of thirty years old and a high school grad, so I had the best representation.

[STILL: Back side LP. Images of Young Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe]

But there was a catch. Colon would have to take on a new lead singer, a Puerto Rican that had moved to New York only a few years earlier, Hector Lavoe.

W. COLON: So we talked to Hector; Hector decided he was gonna sing just this one album with us because the band, he said the band stunk.

[STILL: Young Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe]

W. COLON: We worked together for eight years. I never officially hired him. I said, Hey what are you doing Saturday? He'd show up.

[ALBUM COVER: Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe]

Willie Colon's debut album, 'El Malo,' was a hit in El Barrio... and a boost to a young record label started in the city just a few years earlier, Fania Records.

[STILL: Johnny Pacheco]

Fania's co-founder and musical director was Dominican Johnny Pacheco. He was making money off boogaloo... but as a musician, didn't think much of the trend.

JOHNNY PACHECO, CO-FOUNDER & MUSICAL DIRECTOR FANIA RECORDS: I use to hate it because the trombone players, all they played was three notes and the back beat, and to me that wasn't music. And they all sound the same. It was horrendous.

[STILL: Johnny Pacheco]

Pacheco had cut his teeth playing in New York's Latin orchestras in the 50s.

[FOOTAGE: Reconstruction of Pacheco's Mercedes]

In the early sixties, inspired by Cuban music, he led his own group featuring flute and violins.

Though he had some hit LPs, he didn't think he was getting his fair share of the royalties, and decided to start his own label, delivering the records himself.

PACHECO: I had a 180 Mercedes, the back was already hitting the floor, I was hitting the streets and I used to put — to load the trunk with records and then we used to go in to New York and part of the Bronx.

To help finance the label, Pacheco joined forces with a young Italian American lawyer, and ex-New York cop, Jerry Masucci.

[STILL: Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci]

JERRY MASUCCI, CO-FOUNDER FANIA RECORDS: (Archive interview) He was having trouble with his first wife. He was paying a lot of money, alimony, he was very unhappy and uh, he gave me the case.

PACHECO: We hit it off and I told him I wanted to start a company.

ALEX MASUCCI, BROTHER: Without the two of them it never would have happened. Jerry couldn't have done it without Johnny, Johnny couldn't have done it without Jerry. It wouldn't have happened.

[FOOTAGE: Reconstruction of Mercedes]

Pacheco and Masucci would combine the raw energy of Boogaloo with the skills and rhythms of older Cuban dance bands.

[FOOTAGE: Johnny Pacheco playing in a band]

[FOOTAGE: Johnny Pacheco playing in a band]

[FOOTAGE: New York streets filmed from car window]

Fania planned to attract a new generation of Latinos, in search of a new identity.


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