Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers were the most underrated of the Latin-jazz greats, blending jazz, Latin rhythms, soul, and funk in roughly equal measures, especially on their 1960s albums for Prestige. Playing originals and unpredictable covers of tunes by Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, the Temptations, and even John Barry, there was always a solid Latin undercurrent in the percussion of conga, bongos, and Pucho's timbales. More danceable and soulful than his rivals, Pucho's made a comeback after disappearing into Catskills resorts for much of the 1970s and 1980s, finding a new audience among young acid-jazz fans in Britain.

Fans are often surprised to learn that Pucho, born Henry Brown, is not Hispanic, but African-American. After playing in the band of pianist Joe Panama in the 1950s, Pucho formed his own outfit, from which rivals Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria would pinch musicians for their own bands (Santamaria, for instance, took a young Chick Corea).

How did the boogaloo sound originate?

Basically, Latin boogaloo was the name of a music that they come up with. Basically, my music is Latin, jazz, funk. I guess you could tie the funk in with the boogaloo. At a particular time, I think this was in the sixties, the black people, they had the music in the dance of the boogaloo. The Latins got a hold of the boogaloo, and they called it the Latin boogaloo. So I guess I got tagged with the Latin boogaloo, but cats like Joe Cuba was really responsible for the Latin boogaloo.

I would think the Soul Brothers--#1, we were all black. So we understood the music, but we didn't really play authentic Latin music. Our rhythms was basically Latin, and the melodic section was basically jazzy or funk. So that made us a little different. Joe Panama was basically a Latin band. Like I said, he had Latin musicians in the band. My band, we only had one Latin musician and that was a gentlemen who was part of the Joe Panama group. He became a Soul Brother, because I took the band over. That's, I would say, one of the reasons that we really didn't play Latin Latin music.

You were at the forefront, along with Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria, at integrating jazz with Latin music and R&B.

The three of us. What happened--mentally, Willie Bobo as a musician, he was always like a hip black cat. Instead of being a hip Spanish cat, he was more like a hip black cat. And when they left Tito Puente's band and they joined Cal Tjader's band, Cal Tjader opened their eyes up a little bit more with the jazz-latin type of thing, which they picked up. Bobo was always hip, but Mongo was not as hip as Bobo. So Mongo basically had to learn--he didn't really have to learn, but there's certain things he learned in Cal Tjader's band that he didn't learn in the Tito Puente band. When they broke up their bands, Mongo formed the Tarango (?) band. Willie Bobo was with him, and then Willie Bobo left Mongo's band and formed his own band. And then Willie Bobo formed his own band, it was like I say, he wanted to be like a hip black guy and it showed in his music, because he hired black musicians in his bands. Then Mongo Santamaria also did a crossover thing. Then he had a hit with "The Watermelon Man." That was basically when the Latin music, I would say, really fused with the funk.

Was it a source of aggravation when other acts used to pinch members from your bands?

Oh yeah! They turned my hair grey. That's why it's white today. I say half of it is from Willie Bobo, and half of it is from mambo. And a third is from my vibes player, Willie Bivens. Because they used to raid my band, because we had the same concept of music. In order to certain musicians, piano players and bass players especially, it was very hard. You had to play three types of music. You had to play jazz, you had to play funk, and you had to play Latin. And to find piano players and bass players that [could] do all three, was very hard in those days. I imagine it's still hard today. So guys really don't have the knowledge of all three. Some have the knowledge of one, some have the knowledge of two, but they don't have all three. So that's what our bands were about. So they used to raid my band, because I wasn't a big star or nothing like that. They was making more money than I was, so a lot of musicians came out of my band that went to Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria.

What set you aside from Bobo and Santamaria?

We played a lot of Latin, like more Latin-jazz, because the cats in my band, they was very jazz-oriented. When the Latin boogaloo came out, I was more on the cutting ground than the other cats was. Because by being black, I understood what the boogaloo was really about. So all we did was took the cover songs, like "Mustang Sally," "In the Midnight Hour," and we just put the Latin beat behind it, that's all.

I had, by doing those, I had the say of the LPs, the tunes. On that 1969 album, which we did those tunes, the producer picked the tunes out. I really didn't like 'em, 'cause it was really--certain things I liked, like "Cloud Nine," and matter of fact the tune that is really a big hit off the album is a thing called "I Got Myself a Good Man." It's been a big hit in England for a number of years, and it's still a big hit. Every time I go there, I gotta play that song.

You always listen to James Brown, every black person listens to James Brown. So like on the new stuff, when we did "Rip-A-Dip," we did "Sex Machine." So that's basically James Brown.

Some of your 1960s sides have really gritty soul vocals by Jackie Soul.

That was the black boogaloo, when we had him, like I said. I met Jackie Soul, and I asked him to join the band, and the rest was history. That's what we did. He was the soul, I was the Latin. That's what the Latin Soul Brothers was all about.

Do you feel that you under-recognized, and that other people in the boogaloo style got more credit than you did, undeservedly?

I never really feel that way. I just got a style of music that I play, that's all. Every bandleader's got their style. That's what I play, and that's what I'm playing today. On my latest record, I've got a little hip-hop going on in it. That's on Cannonball Records, and that's called Groovin' High. The record that we did, we did our old Latin boogaloo song called "I Like It Like That," and it featured MC Baby Powell. Mine is like old Latin boogaloo, but with the rap on it.

Was it frustrating when you stopped making albums after the early 1970s and went into the hotel circuit and the Catskills for a long time?

No. Everybody enjoyed us. As a matter of fact, I did a wedding reception in New York, that's Bobby Short's house. The musicians came from downstairs upstairs to listen to my band. The maitre d said that he's been at that hotel for close to 20 years, and he has never seen Bobby Short's musicians come upstairs to listen to another band. I felt very honored. I was on a job at one of the hotels I was playing, I had my singer, Amanda, singing with me, and Lionel Hampton was appearing on the show that night. He went on to rehearse just before we went on. And after his rehearsal, we start playing. And he was in the wings of the stage, and he stayed there for half an hour--didn't move, just listening. So with greats like that, that makes me feel very honored that they listen to my music.

No, it was a nice change in pace. At that time, Latin music, I was not into it, because it changed, music changed. I had a very nice trio which I had two of the regular Soul Brothers, and myself, I was playing kid drums, and I had my sister-in-law, Amanda, singing with me. And we had a very nice group. It worked very well, and we was in the mountains from 1974 to 1993.

Was it a surprise to you to find out that your old stuff was undergoing a revival in the 1990s, especially in England?

I couldn't believe it. What happened, I left the hotel--well, I didn't leave. They fired me over something stupid. Somebody said something about me, and you know when you work at jobs, we was at the hotel for 15 years, there's a lot of jealousy in the hotel business. Everybody wanted to be chiefs, nobody wanted to be Indians. So they say things about you, try to make points for themselves. So we had  a falling out, so I left the hotel and I was kind of devastated, due to the fact that you work at one place for 15 years. You've met a lot of people, the people that you work with up in the hotels, your friends, it was a way of life. I says, let me see what's happening, because Latin jazz at that time was coming back on the scene. So I says, I'm listening to that Latin jazz stuff, I says, this ain't nothing that I haven't done. So I came back and I called up Mr. Bob Porter, who I think he was the program director and he was a DJ on the jazz station in New York, WBGO. I told him, Bob, what's happening, cause I was getting some record played on, there was a Latin show called the Latin Jazz Cruise. They was playing everybody's music on there, but they wasn't playing mine. When he mentioned my name to the DJ at that time, who was hosting the show, the guy said, he'd never heard of me.

I left for close to 20 years. My crowd was in jail or dead or someplace else. So he said, well, I tell you what. He says, I told a guy about you, and he says nothing is happening. Well, I felt very bad. He said, but I just got back from England, and I see all the Prestige stuff over there. So I got in touch with the record company over in England, and then I got a phone call a week later that they wanted me come out to England. And the rest of the history. That was Ace Records. Basically, all the Prestige stuff was reissued on Ace Records. And they were selling over there, and I didn't know it.

And then another group took another one of my records, and rapped on top of the whole record. He sampled the whole record. So I was happening over there, and I didn't know it. Then things became great, because they had this movement called the acid-jazz movement. Acid-jazz basically was a marketing name for the music that we recorded back in the sixties. It was jazz-funk. And the kids picked it up, and the rappers picked it up, so a whole new movement. So over there I'm known as the godfather of latin jazz-funk.

Do you see your influence on the acid jazz scene and other contemporary styles of music?

I really don't know. I can't--'cause they got their own things going on. I know I'm just part of it. My audience is like very good, 19, 18, and early twenties. So I've got a very young audience. So they understand my music. As far as me inspiring somebody else, that I can't tell you.

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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