Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


FIOL, Henry

(b 16 January 1947, NYC) Singer, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer, label boss; also painter. His father was born in Puerto Rico, mother Italian-American; he converted to salsa from rock'n'roll at about age 13 after hearing Rafael Cortijo y su Combo with singer Ismael Rivera on a visit to Puerto Rico. He says his conservatory was the street: he played congas and sang in rumbones (social gatherings around rumba percussion and vocal jam sessions). He played and sang in the chorus of various Latin bands '69-74 including Orquesta Capri, Orquesta Broadway and Orquesta Típica New York, with whom he made a recording debut on Mike Pérez y su Orq. Típica New York singing lead vocals on the self-penned 'Cundy Macundy'. Then he formed the NYC band Saoco, with mostly members of Puerto Rican descent, playing típico (typical) Cuban music in a progressive style with an urban influence but an earthy feel, with a conjunto lineup of two trumpets, tres, piano, conga, bongo, timbales, maracas, güiro, bass, lead vocal and chorus; Fiol co-led with William Millán (tres, bass, music director, co-arranger); the first LP was a hit, Siempre Seré Guajiro '76 on Mericana (reissued on Salsoul), co-produced by Fiol, Millán and Al Santiago, with five Fiol songs in his effortless, hypnotic baritone (he gives legendary Cuban singers Abelardo Barroso, Cheo Marquetti, Beny Moré, Joseíto Fernández and Miguelito Cuní as his influences). On Macho Mumba '77 he shared lead vocals with Ray Ramos, who sang 'Ada', 'Que Tenga Sabor' and 'Viejo Canuto', though the album cover had already been designed and Ramos was not credited.
A bitter split occurred between Fiol and Saoco over ownership of the band's name, Fiol retiring for a couple of years until the litigation was resolved; the band renamed William Millán y su Saoco Original had lead vocals by Ramos and Luis Ayala on Curare '78; the 'Original' was dropped for Papa Montero '79 and El Quinto '81. After Saoco disbanded Ramos made a series of solo albums: Ray Ramos y su Sonora, Salsa Tracks, Yo Soy El Son, Fiesta De Besos and En Colores '83-93. Fiol's successful first solo LP Fe, Esperanza y Caridad ('Faith, Hope And Charity') '80 was produced by Roberto Torres on his SAR label, with an impressive band inclucing Cubans Alfredo Valdés Jr on piano and Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros on trumpet, plus Puerto Rican tres player Charlie Rodríguez; Fiol sang lead, Torres played maracas, güiro and clave and sang in the chorus; bassist/arranger Russell 'Skee' Farnsworth arranged the extended tracks: he'd worked with Ricardo Ray in '60s and arranged Fiol's next LP, El Secreto '81, on which Fiol also played quinto (small conga drum) and wrote three songs including the title track. He sang Beny Moré's classic 'Maracaibo Oriental' on SAR All Stars Recorded Live In Club Ochentas Album 2 '81, lineup including violins, trumpets, trombone, tres and flute. His first self-produced album La Ley De La Jungla ('The Law Of The Jungle') '83 used a new front line, influenced by years of listening to jazz, replacing one trumpet with a tenor sax to add another colour: 'I wanted to do something that was a sort of a signature instrumentation,' explained Fiol. He'd painted sleeve illustrations for the Saoco LPs on which he appeared and many of his own (also Cachao's Dos '77); Corazón '83 (first on his own label of that name) had a lugubrious self-portrait with Caribbean background, as well as Skee's bass and arrangements and the return of Ray Santiago (on piano) from Saoco. Colorao y Negro '85 had a raw, 'live' sound; Juega Billar! '86 concluded his confident Corazón productions (material from these Corazón releases were compiled on Sonero '90 on UK Earthworks label and Lo Maximo '95 on Exclusivo).
He disbanded '88 due to a a contracting NYC salsa scene; Santiago turned bandleader for Lluvia Con Salsa '88 on El Abuelo (belatedly followed-up by Pa' Que Nadie Me Olvide in '95); Fiol also signed with El Abuelo and issued Renacimiento ('Rebirth') with a second trumpet and continued to use a two-trumpet/tenor combination on his subsequent recordings; besides the horns, the rest of the album was performed, arranged and produced by Fiol and his blind 16-year-old son Orlando (winner of the Itzak Perlman Award '88 for his excellence on classical piano). Creativo '91 was made with his re-formed band, arranged, directed and co-produced by Orlando. El Don Del Son '94 was made in Colombia using key musicians from his group and local musicians; he produced and wrote the album, Orlando directed and arranged, played keyboards, conga and sang coro. As with many other artists (Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, etc), his feelings for art and tonal colour go together: he graduated from Hunter College, taught art in Catholic schools of NY '68-73 and was an adviser to NYC public schools '73-82; similarly, 'I have always been deeply involved in my arrangements. Using my voice or one finger on the piano, I give the ''arranger'' the licks.' Album The Montuno Sessions -- Live From Studio 'A' '95 on Mr Bongo included two '89 radio sessions with Orlando; Fiol completed his first novel in '96.