Johnny Colón

by Mathew R. Warren

Boogaloo revived Latin music, and young acts like Joey Pastrana, Chollo Rivera, and the Lebron Brothers were not the only ones to benefit. “In the ‘60s, there was nothing happening [in the Latin music],” Colón says. “The boogaloo comes along and, pow, everything starts working again. The boogaloo, I think, was something that bridged people, that bridged cultures, that transcended cultures. It was truly an American experience and a New York experience, a youth experience. Without a doubt, something that comes from the result of an environmental effect. It’s like graffiti.”

A year after Boogaloo Blues, Colón band released their second album, Boogaloo ’67. Though the album did not have another major hit, it sold decently, doing about half the sale of Boogaloo Blues, Colón says. It was the last record he recorded with Ramos and Rojas, who would go on to form the TnT Band.

Colón continued recording on Cotique and performing with his band, but by late 1967, Colón believes there was already a plot afoot to bring down the young bands made popular by boogaloo. “ The guys who were around before us, not all of them but many of them, resented the fact that all these young people came in and were playing,” says Colón, “but they didn’t stop to think that that’s what made it possible for the field to juice up again and offer jobs for them.” The plot to “assassinate the boogaloo, “ as Colón tells it, was orchestrated by two major players in the Latin music business, Morris Levy and José Curbelo. Levy, a reputed associated of the Genovese crime family, was rumored to have won Tico form Goldner on a bet and had absorbed it as subsidiary to his Roulette label. Curbelo was an ex-bandleader who became a powerful manager working with acts like Puente, Barretto, and Joe Cuba. Since signing with Cotique, Colón’s manager had been Jack Hook, a promoter at the Village Gate. In the end of 1967, Hook told Colón he needed to make Curbelo his manager, as a favor to Symphony Dis. “He insisted that I go over there because we had to save Symphony Sid,’ Colón recalls. “Allegedly, José Curbelo had something on Symphony Sid. All of the young bands were forced to go over to Curbelo.”

But Curbelo’s intention, once he had the young bands under his control, was to put an end to their success, not further it, Colón says. “All the promoters go together in Curbelo’s office, and Curbelo said, ‘We’re going to make a syndicate, we’re not going to fight each other, we’re going to put all these things together here and split everything, and the first thing we’re going to do is kick all this boogaloo junk out of here,’” Colón explains. “The guy who called the meeting was Morris levy Morris was mob—you didn’t say not to Morris or you’d find yourself without an eye or minus a leg. The result of that was that they would form this syndicate and push all the boogaloo band out. They would control the scene again, and all their guys would get top billing.”

Colón says he went from playing shows seven days a week to three days, if he was lucky. Colón approached Curbelo about the situation, and Curbelo let him know right away what kind of relationship they had. “The first thing that Curbelo let him know right away what kind of relationship they had. “The first thing that Curbelo said to me was, ‘Kid, you got to know that when you come over here, you’re in my stable,’” Colón recalls, “I said, ‘Your stable? I don’t get it.’ I knew I wasn’t a horse. He said, ‘Well, I become your pimp. ‘I said,  Holly shit, this guy’s crazy.’”

 

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Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies