Johnny Colón

by Mathew R. Warren

Still, the lyrics were controversial enough that Cotique had a hard time getting the record played at first. This was combined, Colón says, with the disdain many of the popular DJs had for Goldner was involved in the payola scandal that sent legendary DJ Alan Freed to jail. “George was out of the scene for a while, and they felt they were big enough, you know; they don’t have to depend on George anymore,” Colón says of the DJs who refused to play the record. “Maybe George pushed them around a little bit before, and here’s their turn to say, ‘Screw you, George.” [So] George says, ‘We’re gonna go see Sid.’”

“Symphony” Sid Torin was an influential jazz DJ who in the 1960s became a champion for Latin music. He was also a friend of Goldner’s and the DJ to break “Boogaloo Blues.” According to Colón, Goldner asked Torin to play the single grown a little earlier each night on his show—until reaction had grown after a few nights to the point that requests for the start the show, and the phone’s going off hook asking for “start the show, and the phone’s going off the hook asking for “Boogaloo Blues.’’’ It became a monster hit,” says Colón. “He had to open the show with “Boogaloo Blues,” and sometimes play ‘Boogaloo Blues’ again in the middle.”

From what Colón gathered by talking to distribution and record dealers, he believes the album sold three million copies in New York alone that year. He and his band members became instant celebrities in New York, and their performance were in demand, something Colón had trouble grasping the first time he played the Village Gate and shard the bill with Joe Quijano. “The Village Gate is the place to play,” Colón explains. “So we get to the gate on the night of the appearance, with my homemade bass amp and my homemade system that I had put together and our uniform [blue jackets and tuxedo pants]. There’s a line going all the way around from Bleecker on the corner to Thompson and Houston. I said holy shit, wow! Man, this guy Joe Quijano really pulls them in.’ I did not know it was us. So we get on and we start playing, and everybody starts yelling and I’m going crazy because here I am at the Gate, the place is jam-packed, and people are yelling. So I’m thanking Joe Quijano in my head, and it takes me a few performances to realize that it was me.”

Colón’s band was the first Latin group to launch itself with a boogaloo hit. The Latin boogaloo was a dance and a style of music that often had lyrics in English and Spanish and mixed Latin rhythms and chords with the jazzy, mod sound, popular at the time. After, “Boogaloo Blues”, many other young Latin bands followed suit and recorded boogaloos, along with most of the established stars. But despite its popularity, there were people in the world of Latin music who felt threatened by the boogaloo. Tito Puente, who would eventually record his own, was known to have said he thought “Boogaloo Blues” sounded like a Coca-Cola commercial. While Colón is adamant that his band was more than just a boogaloo band because of many styles of Latin music they played, he is proud of their role in launching the boogaloo craze of the late 1960s. “A lot of those kids that came back to Latin music,” Colón says, “came back because of ‘Boogaloo Blues.’ Once of the guys that sings coro [chorus] in my band today first heard ‘Boogaloo Blues’ while he was fighting in the trenches in Vietnam, and that turned him around. That’s what that record did. That’s what the boogaloo did. That’s what was the boogaloo did. That’s what was happening in that era. That’s what was bringing in the young kids and the young men and the young women on the scene.”

 

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Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies