Mongo Santamaria

Ramon Santamaria, the quintessential "one-hit wonder" forever in search of a follow-up hit, made his mark in Latin music both before and after the phenomenal success of "Watermelon Man." Chief among his accomplishments: his tune "Afro Blue" (there are many others); the Watermelon Man album, a classic of mod jazz (or jazz boogaloo); and his soul jazz albums with Neal Creque. But way back when he contributed to many of the most important and influential records featuring Latin percussion.

Mongo and Willie Bobo supplied the percussion on an incredible number of discs in the 1950s, working for many of the top stars in Latin and jazz as well as taking "first-call" sideman work on all kinds of albums. Emerging slowly as a leader, Mongo recorded an important body of Afro-Cuban music for Tico (at first under the baton of Tito Puente) and Fantasy (at first under the mallets of Cal Tjader). His "Cuban Fantasy" for Tjader's Concert on the Campus LP is legendary.

On the Riverside label Mongo produced some wonderful Latin jazz with musicians who would go on to become stars in their own right (Frank "El Pavo" Hernandez is one). It was Mongo's turn to develop new talent. But any hit tunes tended to become identified more with singers and other musicians who covered them. Then came a godsend from Herbie Hancock: a basic groove in search of a beat that the young piano star had stumbled on after hours. "Watermelon Man" quickly became Mongo's signature tune and the title of an entirely great, mod, uptempo, soul-jazz album.

Unfortunately the same spark never quite lit up his subsequent albums as brightly, although some of the players stayed with or returned to him, notably arranger Marty Sheller. The Sheller-Santamaria collaboration continued for the rest of Mongo's career, just as the teamwork with Willie Bobo had lasted before. Personnel was never the problem, but the drive for further commercial success distracted him and limited his creativity.

Following Watermelon Man, Mongo and friends moved to Columbia, which pumped out album after album of mostly soul covers to no avail. Great Latin jazz tunes were ignored as everyone hoped for another Latin-soul hit. ("Mongo's Boogaloo" and "We Got Latin Soul" are fairly memorable.) Eventually Latin soul gave way to soul jazz, and Mongo was picked up by Atlantic while, ironically, his son Monguito was enjoying some success on Fania with Latin soul. There, Neal Creque pumped fresh life into composition and arrangement, and the Sheller-Santamaria team hit their stride again.

From the soul-jazz years at Atlantic, Mongo went on to Vaya, where he indulged everything from pop ballads to Latin jazz to harder funk. Bass player William Allen contributed most of the funkier tunes. In the later Vaya years the band developed a slicker, keyboard-led style not unlike Eumir Deodato's work on CTI.

Buying: The best Columbia LPs tend to be those that do not rely on covers of soul hits. The rarities are fantastic, and the rest vary.

Mongo Santamaria LPs

8Mongo Santamaria's Afro-Cuban Drum Beaters: Afro Cuban Drums (Voodoo Rituals) 10"; SMC Pro-Arte SMC-535
8Mongo Santamaria & his Afro-Cubans, Featuring Vocalist Silvestre Mendez: Chango 10"; Tico LP-137 (w/Patato Valdez, Willie Bobo..;; on 12" as (1) Chango--Afro-Cuban Drums; Tico LP-1037;; (2) Drums & Chants; Tico LP-1149;; (3) Drums & Chants; Vaya JMVS-56; 1978)
6Mongo Santamaria y sus Ritmos Afro-Cubano: Yambu; Fantasy F-3267/FS-8012
8Mongo Santamaria y Amigos [Mongo]; Fantasy F-3291/FS-8032 (Afro-Cuban; w/Aguabella, Bobo, Duran, Peraza, Emil Richards, Carlos Vidal, Cal Tjader..)
7Our Man in Havana; Fantasy F-3302/FS-8045; 1960 (Yoruba/Santeria/rumba)
Bembe; Fantasy F-3311/FS-8055
6Sabrosa; Fantasy F-3314/FS-8058
5Arriba!; Fantasy F-3324/FS-8067
Mas Sabrosa; Fantasy F-3328/FS-8071
Viva Mongo; Fantasy F-3335/FS-8087
7Mighty Mongo; Fantasy F-3351/FS-8051 (w/Joao Donato)
8Mongo Santamaria & his Afro-Latin Group: Go, Mongo!; Fantasy/Riverside RLP-9423/RLP-423 (Latin/Latin jazz; w/Pat Patrick..)
7Mongo Introduces La Lupe; Fantasy/Riverside 3523
8Mongo Explodes; Fantasy/Riverside 93530
8Mongo Santamaria & his Orchestra: Watermelon Man; Fantasy/Riverside/Battle BS-96120/BM-6120
8Mongo at the Village Gate; Fantasy/Riverside RS-93529/RM-3529; 1963 (live; w/Frank Hernandez-El Pavo, Pat Patrick, Bobby Capers, Marty Sheller, Rodgers Grant, Victor Venegas, Chihuahua Martinez, Julian Cabrera; also as Battle BS-96129/BM-6129)
7El Pussy Cat; Columbia CS-9098
7La Bamba; Columbia CS-9175
7El Bravo!; Columbia CS-9211
7Hey! Let's Party; Columbia CS-9273
7Mongomania; Columbia CS-9412
8Explodes at the Village Gate; Columbia CS-9570
6Soul Bag; Columbia CS-9653
6Stone Soul; Columbia CS-9780
7Working On a Groovy Thing; Columbia CS-9937
5All Strung Out; Columbia CS-9988; 1970
8Mongo Santamaria's Greatest Hits; Columbia CS-1060 (compilation)
8Feelin' Alright; Atlantic SD-8252; 1970
9Mongo '70; Atlantic SD-1567; 1970
7Mongo's Way; Atlantic SD-1581; 1971
6Mongo at Montreux; Atlantic SD-1593; 1971
7Up from the Roots; Atlantic SD-1621; 1972
7Afro Roots; Fantasy/Prestige P-24018; 1972 (2-LP reissue of Mongo & Yambu)
6Fuego; Vaya VS-18; 1973
6Live at Yankee Stadium; Vaya XVS-26; 1974
8Afro-Indio; Vaya XVS-38; 1975
6Sofrito; Vaya JMVS-53; 1976
7Skins; Fantasy/Milestone M-47038; 1976 (2-LP reissue of Go Mongo & Mongo Explodes)
Soy Yo; Concord Picante CJP-327
Soca Me Nice; Concord Picante CJP-362
5Olé Ola; Concord Picante CJP-387; 1989
[Fania All-Stars LPs]
7Afro American Latin; Sony/CBS/Legacy; 2000/1969 (previously unreleased, except one from All Strung Out,: 9 studio, 5 live cuts)

Mongo Santamaria 45s

7Mongo Santamaria & his Afro-Latin Group: Tumba Le Le/The Cha-Cha Blues; Fantasy/Riverside R-4532 (A-side from RLP-9423/RLP-423, non-LP B-side)
6Sugar Cane Hombre/Bonita; Columbia 4-44452 (non-LP promo)
7Twenty-Five Miles/El Tres; Columbia 4-44886 (non-LP B-side features tres guitar!)
7Funny Man/There is a Mountain; Columbia 4-44886 (live, non-LP B-side)

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