Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b José Luís Angel Feliciano-Vega, 7 July 1935, Ponce, Puerto Rico; d 17 April 2014 in a car crash) Baritone salsa singer. He moved to NYC in 1952, worked as a percussionist and became a bandboy for Tito Rodríguez, who gave him a break on lead vocals and was so impressed that he later recommended Feliciano to Joe Cuba, whose sextet had lost its lead singer Willie Torres to the band of José Curbelo. He debuted with Cuba's sextet on his wedding day in 1957: after the ceremony he hurried to the gig, departed for his honeymoon the next morning. In eight years he made albums with the Cuba sextet for Mardi Gras, Seeco and Tico, notching up such notable hits as 'Como Rien' (co-written by Cheo and the group's pianist Nick Jiménez) and 'A Las Seis' from Steppin' Out '62; 'Ariñañará' and 'Aunque Tu' from Diggin' The Most '64; 'Ya No Tengo' and 'Chicon (Juan Ramón)' from Comin' At You '65; and his own 'El Raton' from Vagabundeando! Hangin' Out c.'64. He also moonlighted on three Al Santiago productions for Al's Alegre label: Que Chevere Vol. II '64 by Orlando Marín; The Alegre All-Stars Vol. 3 'Lost And Found' and The Alegre All-Stars Vol. 4 'Way Out' (mid-60s) by the Alegre All-Stars (under the pseudonym Juanchu 'Feliciano' Mercerón on Vol. 4 due to his Tico contract); and performed with the Tico All-Stars on Descargas At The Village Gate ('66, three live discs).

Idolized by Latin fans for his sweet resonant style and romantic stage persona, he went solo after Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien!/We Must Be Doing Something Right! '66. By this time he'd become a heroin and cocaine addict; he went into personal decline, becoming homeless; hearing of the Impacto Crea drug rehabilitation project in Puerto Rico from bandleader Tommy Olivencia, he admitted himself for four years' treatment; even so he participated in an 'Alegre All-Stars in disguise' '67 recording produced by Santiago, released on two albums Live Jam Session and Salsa Festival by the Cesta All-Stars on Joe Quijano's Cesta label; sang boogaloo 'Ay Que Rico' and 'Busca Lo Tuyo' on Champagne '68 by Eddie Palmieri and the hit bolero 'Soy Tu Ley' and guajira 'Guajirita' on Hey Sister c.'68 by Monguito Santamaría (b 1946, Havana: bandleader, pianist, composer, arranger, son of Mongo Santamaría).

Cheo signed with the Fania subsidiary Vaya and issued the immediate success Cheo '71, his first collaboration with the great composer Catalino 'Tite' Curet Alonso, who co-produced and wrote most of it: the album included hits 'Anacaona' (the story of a pre-Columbian Indian princess), 'Mi Triste Problema' (the single was a NYC no. 1 and a Puerto Rico top five hit in the Farándula charts). La Voz Sensual de Cheo '72 was lushly orchestrated by Jorge Calandrelli (b 31 December 1939, Buenos Aires, Argentina; composer, arranger, producer in various genres), indulging his fondness for boleros, recorded in Buenos Aires. Alonso contributed to all Cheo's LPs '73-88; With A Little Help From My Friend '73 (the friend being Alonso) included 'Nabori', 'Salome', 'Hace Furo'. He played El Padrino (the Godfather) in Hommy at Carnegie Hall (Larry Harlow's Latin version of Tommy; album '73). Appeared on '73 debut LP by Puerto Rican band Impacto Crea, developed out of the drug rehab programme; sang title track on same band's next LP Cobarde '74. LPs in '70s included Felicidades '73 (Xmas LP), Looking For Love (Buscando Amor) '74 (another bolero collection arranged by Calandrelli), The Singer '76 (included big hit 'Canta', subtly arranged by Louie Ramírez, and two songs by Rubén Blades). First self-produced was Mi Tierra y Yo '77; from Estampas '79, Sentimiento, tu '80 his LPs were made in Puerto Rico, where he now lived, as did Palmieri (whose eponymous LP '81 made in NYC featured three songs by Cheo). Profundo '82 had three songs by Alonso, Calandrelli arranged and played piano on two tracks; Cheo's Rainbow '76 and La Vida de Cheo Feliciano '84 were compilations; he formed his own Coche label '84 in PR, launched with live 25th anniversary set 25 Años de Sentimiento (En Vivo), mainly a greatest hits collection. Regresa el Amor '86 was another bolero collection; Sabor y Sentimiento '87 on Coche was full-blown salsa collection with two Alonso songs, co-produced by Cheo and arranger/ music director Louis García, followed late '87 by Xmas LP Te Regalo Mi Sabor Criollo, with former Joe Cuba sextet colleague, Jimmy Sabater sharing lead vocals on the Alonso-penned 'Controversia'. Cheo revived Cuba sextet format (augmented by tres, guitar and bongo) and united again with Sabater for his final Coche release Como Tu Lo Pediste '88.

He signed with RMM: label debut Los Feelings de Cheo '90 was made in PR and NYC with production/ music direction by Sergio George and Charlie Donato; Cantando '91 (made in PR) had guests Papo Lucca (a reunion after ten years: the virtuoso pianist/ arranger had worked on Cheo's '76 to '80 albums) and 'new crop' sonero Gilberto Santa Rosa, Donato as producer/ music director. Motivos '93 was a remarkable return to form, but did not receive the success it deserved; made in NYC and PR it reunited Cheo with ace producer/ music director/ arranger/ multi-instrumentalist Luis 'Perico' Ortiz, who'd worked on his '76-7 LPs. For the RMM all-star gathering Combinación Perfecta '93, he paired up with Ray de la Paz on a tribute to the late Louie Ramírez (1938-93) 'Recordando A Louie', and with Pete 'Conde' Rodríguez for 'Soneros de Bailadores'.

He appeared on the classic Fania All Stars albums of the '70s including Live At The Cheetah Vol. I '71, two-disc soundtrack Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa) '72, Latin-Soul-Rock '74 (including new version of 'El Raton'), two-disc Salsa (soundtrack of concert film '76), Tribute To Tito Rodríguez '76, Live '78 (incl. Cheo on 'Felicitaciones'), Latin Connection '81 ('Nina'), and participated in the FAS 30th anniversary reunion tour '94 (San Juan, Miami, NYC). Had major hit with cover of 'Yesterday' from RMM Tropical Tribute To The Beatles '96; collaboration Un Sólo Beso '96 on RMM interpreted boleros of Mexican composer Armando Manzanero.