Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 25 March 1935, Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic; d 15 February 2021)) Bandleader, flautist, percussionist, chorus singer, composer, arranger, label boss, producer etc; also reeds, accordion. Son of prominent clarinettist Rafael Azarias Pacheco, who directed the popular Orquesta Santa Cecilia; Johnny used to sit with clarinet section handing out charts; by age seven he was proficient on harmonica (a present from Dad); heard Arcaño y sus Maravillas, Arsenio Rodriguez, etc on Cuban radio. To NYC at age eleven, grew up in the Bronx, learned sax and clarinet at school; played tambora (a double-headed Dominican drum, basic to merengue) in bands at weekends, one group with singer Dioris Valladares. He studied electrical technology at Bronx Vocational High School and Brooklyn Tech; at the former he organized the Chuchulecos Boys with trombonist Barry Rogers (an auto mechanic student who turned pro, later worked with Eddie Palmieri, Libre, many others). Pacheco turned pro when he discovered he could earn nearly three times more for a weekend's work as a musician than the weekly pay of an electrical engineer; beginning as a percussionist, he worked with Tito Puente, Pérez Prado, Stan Kenton, George Benson; played flute and sang with Xavier Cugat.

He was hired as conguero/bongosero with the Latin jazz-oriented Charlie Palmieri Quartet late '50s and played on their album Easy Does It '58 on Gone; then switched to flute for Palmieri's Charanga 'La Duboney', formed after they saw the impact of José Fajardo's charanga on NYC's Palladium Ballroom crowd: he played on La Duboney's debut album Let's Dance The Charanga! '60 on UA (reissued as Echoes Of An Era on West Side Latino): 'We completely changed the sound of NY music,' he said '93, 'because the charanga is played with flute and violins, two voices in unison, and the rhythm section: timbales, güiro and conga. That's the typical Cuban sound' (quoted by Mary Kent in Latin Beat).

Palmieri wanted to emphasize melody and orchestration, while Pacheco wanted to accentuate rhythmic figures with less orchestration, so he left '60 to form Pacheco y su Charanga with a younger, brasher sound (meanwhile made an album with the Machito band and its pianist/arranger René Hernández '60 reissued under Pacheco's name '81 as Early Rhythms). Pacheco y su Charanga played clubs, hotels, ballrooms and became the most popular charanga during the charanga/pachanga craze of '60-64. He initially had difficulty getting a record deal until producer/label boss Al Santiago saw the band at the Tritons social club in the Bronx and signed Pacheco to his Alegre label; best-selling debut Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. I '60 including chart-topper 'El Güiro De Macorina' (co-written and arranged by Louie Ramirez) was followed by Vol. II '61, Vol. III: Que Suene La Flauta '62, Vol. IV 'Suav'ito' c.1963, Vol. V: Spotlight On Pacheco '64; the personnel included singers Rudy Calzado and Elliot Romero (the latter later sang with Sonora Matancera, but d 1990), percussionist Manny Oquendo (see Libre), bassist Dave Pérez (see Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto and Tipica 73) and José 'Chombo' Silva (b 1911, Baracoa, Oriente Province, Cuba; d 21 July 1995, NYC) on violin. Silva had toured Europe '50 with James Moody, played on legendary Cuban Jam Session vols 1 and 2 '56 (see López, Israel 'Cachao'), recorded with Cal Tjader, also with Machito, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Charlie Palmieri, Alegre All-Stars, etc. Vol. IV included the black Puerto Rican lead singer Pete 'El Conde' Rodriguez, who became Pacheco's main lead singer until '73. Pacheco also contributed tracks to album Las Charangas -- Pacheco, Palmieri, Fajardo '61 on Alegre and played on first Alegre All-Stars jam session album '61; Habia Una Vez/Once Upon A Time '73 and Lo Mejor de/The Best Of Pacheco '74 were Pacheco y su Charanga compilations on Alegre.

With Jerry Masucci (a lawyer who'd handled his divorce) he formed Fania label '64, which dominated the Latin record scene for two decades by bringing along promising young artists rather than poaching acts from other labels: Larry Harlow, Bobby Valentin, Joe Bataan, many others became stars on Fania, with Pacheco as recording director on early releases. In '64 he was one of the first NY bandleaders to drop the violins/flute charanga format and adopt the pure Cuban conjunto of vocals, trumpets and rhythm section, naming his band Nuevo Tumbao (New Rhythm); some said his purist sound was imitative, but it reflected the joy of Cuban roots. Conjunto albums launched Fania with Cañonazo '64 (its catalogue number 325 derived from Pacheco's date of birth), Pacheco At The New World's Fair '64 and Pacheco te Invita a Bailar c.1965; the last had lead singers Monguito 'El Unico' and Chivirico Dávila (1924-94) instead of El Conde; they took part in Viva Africa c.1966, celebrating Pacheco's popularity in West Africa; Monguito went on to pursue a solo career (see his entry). Pacheco His Flute And Latin Jam '65 on Fania was a studio charanga jazz jam session with Silva on sax, Pupi Legarreta, Rogers, Valentin, singer Carlos 'Caito' Diaz from Sonora Matancera, Orestes Vilato on timbales, Osvaldo 'Chi Hua Hua' Martinez on güiro. Monguito and Pacheco (on flute) appeared on the Tico All-Stars albums made at NY's Village Gate '66. Pacheco returned to his charanga sound for Pacheco y su Charanga -- By Popular Demand '66, with Romero and El Conde on vocals, then back to conjunto for Sabor Tipico '67, Latin Piper '68 (an excruciating crossover attempt), Volando Bajito '68 and La Perfecta Combinacion c.1970, the 'perfect combination' being Pacheco and El Conde: this album introduced the tres (nine-string Cuban guitar) into his conjunto, including 'La Esencia Del Guaguanco' (written by C. Curet Alonso and one of Pacheco's all-time best tracks). Los Compadres '71 (Pacheco and El Conde) was followed by Los Dinamicos '71, a collaboration with rising salsa star vocalist Justo Betancourt; 10 Great Years '71 was a Pacheco compilation; after Tres de Café y Dos de Azúcar '73 El Conde left to go solo (see his entry).

Pacheco's Grammy- nominated El Maestro '75 and The Artist '77 featured Afro-Cuban lead singer Héctor Casanova; Los Dos Mosqueteros -- The Two Musketeers '77 with Legarreta; Llego Melon '77 included Mexican singer Angel Luis Silva 'Melon'; Los Amigos '79 had Casanova again, then he too went solo with tipico trumpets and tres conjunto: albums Casanova '80 and Montuno y las Muchachas '83 on Fania, and Solido '86 on Curramba, Pacheco as music director and playing güiro; Casanova also recorded with Monguito Santamaria (on the outstanding album En Una Nota! '74 on Inca), Puente, Cruz, etc.

Pacheco went on with Los Distinguidos '79 (with veteran former heart-throb Daniel Santos, vocals); La Crema, Sabrosura (both with Monguito) and The Champ (all '80) were compilations; El Zorro De Plata Presenta Al Flaco De Oro '81 featured Celio González, vocals; Pacheco y Fajardo '82 had both Pacheco and José Fajardo on flutes with a large charanga; De Pelicula '82 with veteran Afro-Cuban singer Rolando La Serie; De Nuevo Los Compadres '83 was a reunion with El Conde, Flying High '84 with Melon, Jicamo '85 with Conde again. The Pacheco/El Conde album Salsobita '87 was nominated for a Grammy; the two 'compadres' marked their 25th anniversary with Celebracion '89; Sima! '93 was a disappointing comeback with lacklustre lead vocals by Cheito Quiñonez; Casanova guested on one track. (Puerto Rican singer/multi-instrumentalist Quiñonez played trumpet with Raphy Leavitt y La Selecta and Conjunto Canayon; sessioned prolifically as a chorus singer in the '80s; made solo album Cheo Quiñonez con la salsa por dentro '82 on TH; relocated to Miami, worked there with Willie Chirino for five years, and hit '94 with heavily promoted solo album Cheito on Epic's Crescent Moon label.) Pacheco was music director of the Fania All Stars since their inception and appeared with them in London '76. The Fania empire declined during the '80s, losing the leading artists it had created, such as Colon and Rubén Blades; Pacheco started working for other labels including albums by Santiago Ceron, Israel 'Kantor' Sardiñas, Los Guaracheros de Oriente, Casanova, Lefty Pérez, Melcochita, Rey Reyes and Van Lester. Pacheco had also collaborated with Celia Cruz on Vaya (from the Fania stable): successful albums Celia And Johnny '74, Tremendo Caché '75, Celia, Johnny, Justo And Papo: Recordando El Ayer '76, Grammy-nominated Eternos '78, Celia, Johnny And Pete '80 (with El Conde), Grammy-nominated De Nuevo '85.