By Adrian Montanez
Photo Credit: Joyce Michel, Tito Rodriguez Jr., & Cindy Rodriguez
The sounds of Cha Cha, Mambo, and Guaguanco are heard and performed to more than ever today at dance socials, events, congresses, and salsa classes around the world! The incredible big band arrangements of the 1950's and 60’s was packed with nothing but pure flavor and for Mambo dancers of that era, it inspired them to create signature open shines, turn patterns, and unique forms of expression. It taught them how to feel and to dance.
To this day the music of one of the most well known musicians of that time, Tito Rodriguez, still holds up on dance floors around the world. His music makes us do two things, one, look for a partner, and, two, dance our asses off, not to mention, his romantic ballads that brought together our abuelos y abuelitas back in the day! His timeless melody, smooth voice and dapper style have kept Tito Rodriguez noted as "The Man" for decades, with classics like Buscando La Melodia, El Agua De Belen, Yambu, Mango Del Monte, and Vuela La Pamloa.
SALSEEK caught up with the only son of the legendary bandleader, Tito Rodriguez Jr, to find how his father’s music influenced him to follow and what it was like growing up with a father who was known as “El Inolvidable,” sold successful records, owned a music label, and had a television show.
SALSEEK: What were some of your earliest memories growing up with your Dad at home? When did you realize he was famous?
TRJ: Growing up my Dad was like any other ordinary Dad. He would always cook when he was home, watch movies with us, and take us to shows and baseball games. During the summers when we didn’t have school, we got to travel with him. It was awesome!
Tito Rodriguez Jr. was born on February 20, 1955 in New York. His mother is Japanese and his father was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico.
SALSEEK: Why has the music of Tito Rodriguez lasted for so many years? How do you feel about Tito Rodriguez being inducted into the Latin Music Hall Of Fame?
TRJ: Because of his voice and his musical arrangements, my dad was way ahead of his time. I am very proud of his induction.
SALSEEK: What was it like being around Tito Puente?
TRJ: Being around Tito Puente was cool. I did a television show with him. He always had nice things to say about my Dad. I always respected Tito Puente because he was a finished musician and a true legend.
Years later, Tito Rodriguez Jr attended Berkley College School of Music and The University of Miami where he mastered his talents in arranging, composing and producing. "I have been a band leader for 38 years,” says Tito Jr. “It's been an amazing experience, but takes a lot of planning, rehearsing and coordination to make everyone comfortable so that we can all play with ease." In 1994, Tito Rodriguez Jr. recorded and produced the album “Eclipse” with Sammy Gonzalez on vocals to include legendary hits such Mujer Erotica and Sun Sun Babae.
SALSEEK: Which is your favorite Tito Rodriguez album?
TRJ: My favorite album is “Estoy Como Nunca” and the ballad album "Inolvidable" that was recorded in London. I love Modulando as well but it’s hard to choose, I like them all!
SALSEEK: Is that a young Jose Alberto "El Canario" singing on your 1st album?
TRJ: Yes, he sang for my album “Curious” in 1974. It was Jose’s first recording in the United States and was produced under my father’s record label, TR. Ruben Blades and Alberto Santigo were also on chorus for this recording.
SALSEEK: What do you think of today's Salsa dancers and the support of Latin music?
TRJ: I am really impressed with all of the young dancers that I have seen and met at different Salsa Congresses around the world. It’s pretty amazing that they are still keeping the art form of dancing On2 alive and that they have never forgotten the music of Tito Rodriguez.
Popular salsa socials like LVG in New York City cater to music of yester year. DJ Antonio "La Conga" says, “I like Tito Rodriguez. To me it's important to play the mambo of the Palladium. His music is incredible from pachanga, cha-cha's and Mambo. It’s perfect for the On2 dancer, whether beginner or professional.” Antonio adds, “My favorite album is "El Doctor," but then again there are so many!”
Tito Rodriguez Jr. continues to keep the legend of his father and the music alive. Currently, he is touring on his own and with the Big 3 Palladium Orchestra, a band he formed in 2002 with Mario Grillo, the son of Machito. They recorded The Big 3 Palladium Orchestra "Live at The Blue Note" in New York City.
For more information about Tito Rodriguez Jr and his Orchestra, please visit www.TitoRodriguezjr.com