Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 24 February 1938, NYC; d 7 June 1993) Played timbales, vibes, keyboards; bandleader, composer; one of NY salsa's most successful and imaginative arrangers and producers, rightly described as 'El Genio de la Salsa' ('The Genius of Salsa') and the Quincy Jones of salsa. He studied classical piano from age seven, later attended Juilliard and was inspired to become a Latin musician by seeing Noro Morales perform. He mde his pro debut '56 on vibes with the Joe Loco quintet (his wife's cousin); he stayed until '59, also played mid-'50s with the Vicentico Valdés band. He co-wrote (with Johnny Pacheco) and arranged the '61 Farándula chart-topper 'El Güiro De Macorina' contained on Pacheco's debut LP Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. I '60, the first album on Al Santiago's Alegre label; played timbales on Sabú Martínez's Jazz Espagnole '60 (the second Alegre LP), on LP Latin Jazz Quintet '61 on UA (reissued '90 on Palladium). His bandleading debut Introducing Louie Ramírez '64 on Remo was followed by Good News on the new Fania label and Latin Au Go Go on Atco, both '65; he led a group called Conjunto Chango and played vibes on Vibes Galore c.'66 on Alegre including singer Willie Torres; the disappointing In The Heart Of Spanish Harlem c.'67 on Mercury was meant to cash in on the boogaloo and Latin soul fad. Ali Baba '68 (back on Fania) mixed boogaloo, Latin soul and typical numbers, with singers Bobby Marín (English vocals) and Rudy Calzado (Spanish vocals). He played with Charlie Palmieri and Joe Cuba '65-8. He teamed up with ex-Ray Barretto singer Pete Bonet (b Santurce, PR; singer/composer/co-bandleader/promoter) late '68 to '70 and co-led a resident twelve-piece band at NYC's famed Corso club; the duo made LPs The Odds Are On c.'69 on Swinger and Pete And Louie/The Beautiful People c.'70 on Fania (recording director: Al Santiago).

In the early '70s Louie Ramírez y Tito Rodríguez: En Algo Nuevo featured the great singer and bandleader on his own TR label (Ramírez became the firm's vice-president); notable Típico '74 on UA featured ex-Charlie Palmieri singer Victor Velázquez, and conguero Papo Pepin (b 20 April 1948, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico), whose long-term association with Ramírez began in the mid-'60s. He became a staff producer with Fania '75 and president of the sister Alegre label from mid-'70s to early '80s. LPs on Cotique (also part of Fania family) were seminal experiments: innocuous crossover-oriented A Different Shade Of Black '76; Louie Ramírez y sus Amigos '78 included Latin-jazz 'Salsa Vibes', Beatles songs included 'Because' (arranged as a Cuban danzón by Sonny Bravo), major hit 'Paula C' composed and sung by Rubén Blades, other lead singers Azuquita, Adalberto Santiago; Salsa Progresiva '79 included 'Latin New York', Jimmy Sabater lead singer on Barry White's song 'Sha-La Means I Love You' (Angela Bofill singing backup), Tito Allen and Ismael Quintana singing lead on others; Salsero '80 included Santiago, pianist/arranger and producer Isidro Infante. Ramírez produced first in the successful Noche Caliente series '82 with vocalists Ray de la Paz and José Alberto (the latter became a major '80s/90s solo artist; see his entry), the LP regarded as the genesis of the salsa romántica trend. Super Cañonalos con Louie Ramírez '83 on Gigi was típico salsa with three trumpets, alto, baritone sax and flute, including Infante on piano, impressive voice of de la Paz (ex-member of Conjunto Melao, Guararé and Ray Barretto's band). Ramírez and Infante had sessioned together from the late '70s; Ramírez and de la Paz now co-led a band with horn section of four trumpets and featuring Infante and Pepin: Con Caché! '84 on the new Caimán label (founded '83 by Sergio Bofill and Humberto Corredor) was slickly produced salsa that charted high in Billboard's Latin list, including 'Solo Tu Y Yo', a salsa version of Bill Withers's 'Just The Two Of Us'; award-winning Alegres y Romanticos '85 and Sabor con Clase! '86 stayed in the successful groove; the duo joined Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, El Gran Combo, Héctor Lavoe and Rubén Blades on the bill of the tenth NY Salsa Festival, Madison Square Garden, Aug. '85.

Meanwhile Ramírez played on and/or contributed production and arrangements to LPs by scores of important Latin artists since the 1970s, including many of those named above plus Larry Harlow, Willie Colón, the Fania All Stars, Cheo Feliciano, many more. Ramírez's Caimán finale A Tribute To Cal Tjader '87 with his Latin Jazz Ensemble included Paquito D'Rivera on alto, Mario Rivera on flute, tenor and soprano saxes; José Fajardo on flute, all taking solos, and many musicians appearing on Ramírez-Ray de la Paz y su Orquesta LPs; Ramírez produced, played vibes, timbales, synthesizer; composed three tracks, co-arranged with pianist Infante. De la Paz unwisely split '87, fronted sessionmen on the lacklustre Estoy Como Nunca on BC Records with Infante, and reappeared '90 with Como Tu Quieras on Ralph Mercado's RMM label. Ramírez continued with Louie Ramírez y Super Banda on Faisán, with lead vocalists Tony Vega and Jorge Maldonado; then a couple of undistinguished LPs: El Genio '89 on L&T Records, including hit 'Salsa Romántica' (a wry remodelling of the Típico title track), and Louie Ramírez y sus Amigos '90 on new Cache label founded by Alex Masucci (brother of Fania boss Jerry Masucci); back to Latin jazz for award-winning The King Of Latin Vibes '91 on Sugar Records. Reunited with de la Paz on Otra Noche Caliente '92 on RMM, and managed to re-create most of their earlier magic. After two heart attacks and a cerebral haemorrhage, Ramírez ignored medical advice to quit performing '92; his third heart attack was fatal. The album he and de la Paz had been working on was released under de la Paz's name as Preparate Bailador late '93; Cheo Feliciano and de la Paz duetted on the tribute 'Recordando A Louie' in Familia RMM's Combinación Perfecta '93; de la Paz participated in Familia RMM en Vivo '94 and Gozando! '96 on Asefra by Mascara Salsera's Gold Stars.