Willie Bobo

Biography

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Perhaps the best-known--certainly now the best-remembered--Latin jazz percussionist of the 1960s, Bobo was one of the key players who fused influences from Latin soul, rock, and jazz in the late 1960s and 1970s. Raised in New York City, he studied the conga and timbales with Mongo Santamaria and Armando Peraza (who can to fame in George Shearing's group), and began working professionally as a band bay for Machito in the early 1950s.

Peraza introduced him to George Shearing and Bobo played on Shearing's first album for Capitol, The Shearing Spell. Throughout the 1950s, he accompanied numerous jazz artists such as Stan Getz, particularly on studio sessions--especially when everone had to record a mambo or cha-cha somewhere in the course of their contract. Another jazz pianist, Mary Lou Williams, is said to have given him the nickname "Bobo" around this time.

He and his former teacher Santamaria reunited in 1960 to record Sabroso! for Fantasy. Soon after that, he picked up a contract as a solo artist for Roulette Records, which was looking for another artist to ride on the coattails of Ray Barretto's hit instrumental, "El Watusi."

Bobo's career with Roulette ended about as quickly as the Watusi craze. He did one album for Latin label Tico, but his big break came in 1965, when he played with Cal Tjader on Tjader's highly successful Latin jazz album, Soul Sauce. Verve signed Bobo and quickly released his album, Spanish Grease, soon thereafter.

Like many of Verve's jazz artists, Bobo covered current pop hits as often as more serious Latin and jazz material. At the time, this choice was pretty much a sure-fire way to get panned by jazz critics, but in recent years, Bobo's albums have been reissued to new acclaim and provided a rich sampling source for breakbeat artists.

In the late 1960s, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a session musician with Carlos Santana and others after his Verve contract expired. He played with the studio band on "The Cosby Show" before falling ill and dying in 1983