Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


RIVERA, Héctor

(b 26 January 1933 in Manhattan, NYC) Talented and highly respected Latin pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer. He started his pro career with the rumba band of José Rodriguez; studied at NYC's Lecompte Academy of Music, as well as under pianist Luis Varona and Eddie Forestier '48, and the latter hired him to play with his band. He joined Elmo Garcia's orchestra '51 but departed '52 to organize his own band, Los Tubos del Mambo, which debuted at Hunts Point Palace in the Bronx on same bill as Orlando Marin's recently formed group including pianist Eddie Palmieri. He was drafted into the U.S. Army '53-5, did a tour of duty in Korea; after his discharge he studied arranging and composing with Gil Fuller, played with bands of Alfredito Levy (six months) and Moncho Leña; his 1950s recordings with the latter were collected on A Night At The Palladium With Moncho Leña, Dance and Mas Exitos Inolvidables Vol. 3 ('55-6 recordings) on Ansonia featuring singer Mon Rivera.

During the cha cha chá era, Rivera secured a recording date from Fuller (in his capacity as A&R man) earmarked for an aggrieved Garcia, whose other arranger had let him down; the outcome was Rivera's LP debut Let's Cha Cha Chá '57 on Mercury; he composed and arranged the entire album accompanied by Machito's band minus saxes. After this he led a quintet, did a one year stint with Arsenio Rodriguez and replaced Palmieri in the Vicentico Valdés orchestra '58-64. The '60-4 charanga/pachanga craze was well under way when Ray Barretto invited Rivera to write and arrange his first album as a leader, Pachanga With Barretto '61 on Riverside. While still with Valdés, he made two classic early 1960s LPs for Epic: Charanga And Pachanga!, including Manny Oquendo on bongo and Santos Colon, Rudy Calzado and Valdés contributing vocals, and Viva Rivera! '61. Following Valdés, he played and recorded with Johnny Pacheco's band Nuevo Tumbao '64-6, as well as on Tributo A Noro '65 on Alegre by Kako's After Hour Orchestra (effectively the Alegre All-Stars). He had a top 40 hit with the boogaloo/Latin soul single 'At The Party' '67, included on the Latin soul set At The Party With Héctor Riveraéctor Mania '67 on Barry, followed by a further Latin-soul oriented LP Héctor Mania '69 on 4 Points, including Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz singing chorus and the late Tony Diaz on lead vocals. Meanwhile he played and arranged on the Joe Cuba Sextet ballad album Joe Cuba Sextet Presents The Velvet Voice Of Jimmy Sabater '67 and arranged and conducted one side of La Lupe's La Lupe Es La Reina/La Lupe The Queen '69, both on Tico.

He returned to 'down home typical music ... his true love', to quote the liner notes, on Y Vuelve c.'71 on UA Latino, leading a conjunto of four trumpets, rhythm section (timbales, conga, bongo, bass, piano), lead and chorus voices; he handled production, arranging and keyboard chores and the lead vocals were shared by Luis 'El Tirano' Rodriguez (who's also sung with Dominican trumpeter, bandleader and composer Bobby Quesada, pianist, composer and leader Louie Cruz, Conjunto Candela and Johnny Pacheco) and Julian Llanos (later with pianist, composer and leader Ray Santiago). He employed the same conjunto lineup on two definitive Tico LPs: Para Mi Gente '73 and Lo Maximo '74; Llanos sang lead on the first and Tony Molina on the latter; Héctor Lavoe was a prominent member of the chorus on both. His innovative arrangements on these Tico albums, particularly the elaborate interweaving trumpet lines, are regarded by some as the precursor of Papo Lucca's post-'78 Sonora Ponceña four-trumpet sound. He played on Tico-Alegre All-Stars Live At Carnegie Hall '74 on Tico. Rivera was among those bandleaders 'locked-out' from NYC's monopolistically controlled salsa gig circuit during the '70s, and eventually retired from the frontline salsa scene.