Joe Cuba and The Joe Cuba Sextet “Wanted Dead or Alive” Tico Records (1966) Listen up:
New York’s Latin music giant Joe Cuba died last week at age 78, after a long illness. As prolific as he was influential, Cuba was one of the main pioneers of the Latin soul movement in the 1960s and then became an elder in the salsa scene during the 1970s and beyond.
Born Gilberto Calderon in New York in 1931, and originally a conguerro, Cuba and his band were part of a pivotal generation of NY-raised Puerto Rican Americans (Nuyoricans) who helped define the city’s Latin music styles following the mambo-era of the 1960s. Cuba gets an asterisk in popular music history for being the first salsa bandleader to record songs in English.
“Bang Bang” wasn’t the first Latin boogaloo song, but its success in 1966 all but officially inaugurated the boogaloo era — first in New York, then across the greater Afro-Cuban music world. The words to “Bang Bang” are largely nonsensical, a mix of Nuyorican food items (“lechon! lechon!”) and the shouts on the chorus (“beep beep! aaaaaah!”), but the whole package proved irresistible. Latin, black and white audiences across America bought more than a million copies of the single, and the song became a standard.