Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


D'LEÓN, Oscar

(b Oscar Emilio León Samoza, 11 July 1943, Antímano, Caracas, Venezuela) Sonero (extemporizing salsa singer), bassist, bandleader, composer, arranger; exceptional live performer. Influenced by classic '40s and '50s Cuban music and late' '60s/early '70s NYC salsa, he transcends them with mastery of dynamics and interplay between his lithe, lusty tenor and his trademark (typically Cuban) voz de vieja (old woman's voice) a nasal chorus (supplied by Humberto 'Tigre' Becerra and Victor Mendoza on most of his albums between '78-91), this interplay directly paralleling the vivaciously harmonic trombone-rich horn arrangements. The son of a music-loving bricklayer, he taught himself bass and played clubs at night while driving a school bus and taxi by day. He was a founder member of Venezuela's top salsa band Dimensión Latina, a trombone-led outfit whose music director was trombonist/ arranger/ composer/ coro singer César Monge 'Albóndiga' (Meatball); the band also included vocalist Wladimir Lozano (b 2 March '50, Venezuela; sang with them '74 to '78, briefly led his own band La Constelación '79 and recorded with La Crítica '80, returned mid-'80s). D'León made six albums with Dimensión Latina c'72 to '76 on Top Hits (later TH-Rodven, D'León's label until '91), hits compiled on Una Dimensión de Exitos and Inolvidable '94. (A lucrative contract enticed Puerto Rican vocalist Andy Montañez away from El Gran Combo to Dimensión Latina '77, singing co-lead vocals with Lozano and ex-Los Satélites member Rodrigo Mendoza; Mendoza and pianist Jesús 'Chuíto' Narváez departed to co-lead La Amistad, made two albums with them on Velvet '79 and '80, later sang with La Gran Banda De Venezuela, including LP Sabrosito '84 on Faisán; returned to regrouped Dimensión Latina late '80s; shared lead vocals on Tu Amor Como El Agua '96 by El Klan de la Salsa.) D'León formed his own band Salsa Mayor '76 with two trombones (including William Puchi), two trumpets (including Cesar Pinto) and notable pianist/ arranger Enrique 'Culebra' Iriarte (formerly a member of pioneering Venezuelan salsa group Federico y su Combo Latino); first album by Oscar D'León y su Salsa Mayor was Con Bajo y Todo '76, with additional arranger by Colombian pianist Samuel Del Real, who had relocated to Venezuela '75, later joined Dimensión Latina '79 to '81, played on noteworthy Salsa '84 by singer Joe Ruiz (b 19 July '48, Pariaguán, Venezuela); Del Real made two albums with his own band in Venezuela mid-'80s, then moved to USA and formed another band for albums '87 and '93. Alfredo Padilla on timbales and vocalist Leo Pacheco joined Salsa Mayor for live album 2 Sets con Oscar '77; El 'Oscar' de la Salsa '77 incl. revitalized versions of Cuban classics written by Ignacio Piñeiro (led Septeto Nacional) and Miguel Matamoros (Trio Matamoros). D'León parted with Salsa Mayor '78, releasing two-disc set Oscar D'León y su Salsa Mayor con Wladimir, adding a third trumpet; reunion with Lozano incl. only Pinto and Culebra from the original Salsa Mayor lineup, which continued with Padilla leading, Puchi as co-director (and playing violin, tres as well as trombone), and Pacheco with ex-El Gran Combo member Pellín Rodríguez and Panamanian Carlos 'El Grande' Ferrer sharing lead vocals (De Frente y Luchando! La Salsa Mayor 'Nuestra Orquesta' '78 and La Salsa Mayor '79 on Velvet, with Freddy Nieto replacing Rodríguez on the latter); Puchi later played violin and trombone with the Venezuelan septet Grupo Lacalle on their eponymous '85 album on Sonotone, their smooth vibes-dominated sound got considerable airplay on the US public FM salsa circuit. D'León started working with the trumpet-led La Crítica, co-directed on their first LP Oscar D'León Presenta La Crítica '78, and provided lead vocals to four out of five of the group's subsequent albums '78-85. Teo Hernández, formerly of the gritty Los Dementes (led by pianist, arranger and composer Ray Pérez: b 25 Dec. '38, Barcelona, Venezuela), was the principal lead vocalist on La Crítica's '78 to '80 albums.

Meanwhile D'León's new band had three trumpets (including Pinto) and two trombones, including Culebra, and vocalist Edgar 'El Abuelo' Rodríguez; albunms included El Mas Grande! and Llegó Actuo y Triunfó! '79 (latter made in NYC), Al Frente De Todos '80. The live album Dos Colosos En Concierto '81 was from a reunion concert between D'León and Dimensión Latina at the Poliedro stadium in Caracas '80. A Mí Sí Me Gusta Así! '81 was made in Puerto Rico with an extra trumpet, trombone and an unprecedented saxophone; D'León became sole lead singer, Pinto was gone and first trumpet was Alfredo 'Pollo' Gil; Culebra (who'd departed after the '80 album to undertake an unexceptional solo career) still shared arranging, joined by arrangers/ pianists Enrico Enriquez (who played on the LP) and José 'Flaco' Bermúdez (had worked with La Crítica and La Amistad). Bermúdez and Gil shared arranging on El Discóbola '82; Con Dulzura '83 featured a synthesizer; the next three LPs '84-5 were arranged by Bermúdez: El Sabor de Oscar had Daniel Silva (La Crítica's bassist '78-81) sharing bass chores as D'León concentrated more on singing; Silva took over bass on Con Cariño and Yo Soy; each album included a song by young Cuban pianist/leader Adalberto Alvarez. D'León produced La Crítica's '85 LP En Nueva Dimensión, this time with a trombone front line, as co-music director with César Monge (who played 'bone and arranged), sang with 'El Abuelo' Rodríguez; Gustavo Carmona replaced Silva on bass. For the tenth anniversary of his departure from Dimensión Latina, he stripped his own horns back to trombones for Oscar '86, arranged and co-produced by Monge, Riquiti! '87, a return to 'bones and trumpets, by Monge and José 'Flaco' Bermúdez, followed by more fresh material in the Grammy-nominated La Salsa Soy Yo '87. Monge started freelancing on the Colombian salsa scene late '80s with the likes of Grupo Niche, Los Niches, La Identidad and Kike Harvey, and made the solo album César 'Albóndiga' Monge y La Pandilla '90. D'León made UK debut June '88; Oscar D'León Live '89 on IVA was the first salsa video to be issued in the UK. TH-Rodven dispatched him to Puerto Rico to make the salsa romántica sets De Aquí Pa'lla '88 and En Puerto Rico '90 with the label's hit-making arrangers and session musicians; then it was back to business for his final album for the company: Autentico '91 with a Beny Moré trilogy including 'Que Bueno Baila Usted', a big hit in Spain; the album's lineup included saxes and Silva back on bass. Oscar D'León con Los Blanco '91 on Sonotone was made with popular Venezuelan group Los Blanco (brothers Bernardo, Ricardo, Cecilio and Leopoldo Blanco) whom he had first met in '72 while with Dimensión Latina. After debuting on his new label, Ralph Mercado's RMM Records, on Tito Puente's The Mambo King: 100th LP, he continued in robust form on the RMM subsidiary Sonero Records with El Rey de los Soneros '92 and Toitico y Tuyo '94. CD single Salsa Brasilera '94 was recorded in Brazil including Jorge Ben penned 'Que Pena (Ella Ya No Me Quiere Mas)', featuring a duet with Brazilian Elba Ramalho, and 'Soy Loco Por Ti America' co-written by Gilberto Gil. El Sonero Del Mundo '96 on RMM was prod. in Miami by Willie Chirino, nominated for a Grammy. He participated in RMM all-star sets '93-6; D'León chorus vocalist Jorge Luis made solo debut with Una Tercera Persona '96 on Copa/Sony.