Willie Bobo Biography

William Correa, 28 February 1934, New York City, New York, USA, of Puerto Rican parentage, d. 15 September 1983, Los Angeles, California, USA. Growing up in New York’s El Barrio, Bobo was exposed to substantial doses of Latin music, jazz and R&B. These genres later jostled together in his work as a band leader. He started playing Latin percussion at the age of 14 (the timbales became his preferred instrument) and managed to get hired as Machito’s bandboy. Bobo befriended Mongo Santamaría shortly after the conga player’s arrival in New York. Santamaría gave him percussion lessons and Bobo acted as his translator. He was dubbed ‘Bobo’ by jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams during an early 50s recording session. Bobo received his first major exposure as a sideman in 1955 with The Shearing Spell by George Shearing. After stints with Tito Puente (1954-57), Cal Tjader (1958 -61), Santamaría’s charanga (1961-62), René Bloch and René Touzet, Bobo formed his own group and recorded for Tico and Roulette Records between 1963 and 1964.

At that stage Bobo’s attempts to ‘build a bridge between Latin music and jazz’ did not prove to be very popular, and gigs were few and far between. However, he was determined to fight against the stereotype that expected Latino musicians to play only typical Latin music. The smash hit success of Cal Tjader’s 1965 bestseller Soul Sauce, on which he performed, inspired Bobo to organize another Latin fusion group. The title track of his 1965 debut on Verve Records, Spanish Grease, became a popular R&B hit. This and a string of other albums on the label kept him in steady work.

In 1969 Bobbo returned to the west coast of America (he had been based there in the late 50s and early 60s while with Tjader and Santamaría’s charanga), where he continued to work regularly, including weekly appearances on Bill Cosby’s national television show. In the 70s, Bobo issued albums on Sussex, Blue Note Records and CBS Records. During his career, he sessioned with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, Herbie Mann and Terry Gibbs, among others. In 2006, over 20 years after his death, the Concord label released a collection of oddities discovered by his son.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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