Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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COLÓN, Willie

(b William Anthony Colón, 28 April 1950, Bronx, NYC) Trombonist, bandleader, singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, actor, would-be politician from Puerto Rican family. Played trumpet age twelve, switched to trombone at 14, formed twelve-piece Latin Jazz All-Stars. First pro band had two trombones, imitating Eddie Palmieri's band; first recording was self-produced single 'Como Se Goza En El Barrio' c'66 on Al Santiago's Futura label. Signed to Fania at 17; debut LP El Malo '67, then The Hustler c'68 and Guisando -- Doing A Job c'69 established clichéd image as Hispanic street punk, maintained for some years. Puerto Rican lead singer Héctor Lavoe was with Colón from the first LP until '74. He introduced non-Cuban musical ideas including Panamanian rhythm, used Puerto Rican Yomo Toro on cuatro (ten-stringed guitar, e.g. on hit 'La Murga' from Xmas LP Asalto Navideño '71). Cosa Nuestra '70 was first of nine gold albums (five went platinum), including the hit 'Che Che Colé', adapted Ghanaian children's song. The Big Break -- La Gran Fuga '71 included Panamanian and Brazilian songs, hit 'Ghana'e' (another West African-inspired song); El Juicio ('The Trial') '72 mixed santeria (Cuban religious cult music) with Brazilian influences, jazz and Cuban rhythms; Lo Mato '73 including the controversial hit 'Calle Luna, Calle Sol' about street crime, also 'El Dia De Suerte' (a bomba about aspirations of an urban Latin), and the jazz-influenced 'Junio '73'. Another hit was 'La Banda' '73, from Asalto Navideño Vol. 2. In mid-'74 he handed band over to Lavoe; for Lavoe's debut solo LP La Voz '75 he expanded horn section, combined Christian themes (in 'El Todopoderoso' -- 'The Almighty') with Afro-Cuban cult references. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly '75 brought Rubén Blades into band with Lavoe, as well as Brazilian, Cuban, Puerto Rican rhythms, Spanish pasodoble and rock, with Sha Na Na guitarist Elliott Randall on 'MC2'. Colón founded WAC Productions Inc. and collaborated with veteran Puerto Rican singer/bandleader/composer/arranger/ex-baseball pro Mon Rivera (see his entry), a pioneer of the trombone front line, on There Goes The Neighborhood/Se Chavó El Vecindario '75 on Vaya; the album gained Rivera new younger fans. Under auspices of WAC Productions he produced Afecto y Cariño '76 and Ernie's Journey '79 by trumpeter, composer, arranger, singer, percussionist Ernie Agosto (he'd produced Agosto's earlier La Conspiración '71, Ernie's Conspiracy '72 and Cada Loco Con Su Tema/Different Strokes '74). He moved further into production with Lavoe's De Ti Depende '76 with violins; he wrote and produced Channel 13 TV salsa ballet El Baquiné de Angelitos Negros '77. His first collaboration with Celia Cruz was Only They Could Have Made This Album '77, incl. samba/salsa hit 'Usted Abuso' and merengue 'Pun Pun Catalu'.

Colón's first production with Rubén Blades was Metiendo Mano! '77; their next joint LP Siembra '78 went gold with Blades's uncompromising lyrics. Voted Musician, Producer, Arranger, Trombonist of the Year by Latin NY readers '78. He produced Lavoe album Comedia '78 with heavy violin bias, inclincluding the biographical hit 'El Cantante' ('The Singer'; written by Blades). Colón's own wildly over-produced Solo '79 went gold, drawing on own NYC-Hispanic background, with female chorus, more electronics, spawning a wave of heavily orchestrated clones. Colón produced Blades's two-disc concept set Maestra Vida '80, which went gold; Doble Energia '80 with singer Ismael Miranda; solo platinum disc winner Fantasmas '81 was Latin NY Album of the Year: Musician of the Year again. He produced El Sabio ('The Teacher') '80 for Lavoe; Celia y Willie '81 with Cruz brought her fresh young fans; Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos '82 ('Songs From The Slums Of Boredom') featured Blades. LPs The Last Fight '82 with Blades and Vigilante '83 with Lavoe both shared titles with movie flops he appeared in; Corazón Guerrero ('Warring Heart') including songs by Jacques Brel, Carole King, Mark Knopfler as well as his own; also produced the three-hour TV concert/theatrical event Latinoamerica Una Sola Casa ('Latin America: One House') seen by an estimated 30 million in five countries via satellite. His Fania finale Tiempo Pa'Matar '84 included horns, flute, violin, percussion (he and Blades fought against Fania's non-payment of royalties and eventually received some of what was owed them); to RCA for wider distribution with Criollo '84, a Caribbean-flavoured LP using horns, female voices, soca and cadence rhythms, song by Brazilians Caetano Veloso and Wally Salomão, as well as his own increasingly political, satirical lyrics (he later said his politics got him thrown out of RCA). He had visited London with Fania All Stars '76 (he was a founder member '68); then after Especial No. 5 '86 on Sonotone he made his first visit with his own band as dance 12-inch single 'Set Fire To Me' was a US national hit and UK club hit '86, followed by 'She Don't Know I'm Alive' '87 on A&M: 'I can't go up there and lip-synch and do this phony baloney shit with tapes, so every time I went on a TV show and told them I wanted to play live, it was a big problem and I made a lot of enemies.' He produced Lavoe's final LP Strikes Back, Cruz's The Winners '87; appeared in BBC2 Arena film profile My Name Is Celia Cruz '88. Solo LP Top Secrets '89 (distributed by Fania) was a top ten hit in Billboard tropical/salsa chart, including 'El Gran Varon', controversial international hit about AIDS: 'They wanted to take it off the radio, but the deejays pushed it through and it was a tremendous success. After that, I received a humanitarian award from the Hispanic Designers Institute.' Signed long-term contract with CBS (now Sony Tropical) late '89 and released American Color '90, Honra y Cultura '91 and Hecho en Puerto Rico '93, the latter with guests Bobby Valentín and Papo Lucca. He ran for the US Congress '94 from the 17th District, getting 40 per cent of the vote in the Democratic primary. After a protracted gestation period, the long-awaited reunion with Blades Tras La Tormenta appeared early '95. His various albums and productions have had at least nine Grammy nominations.