His parents were always supportive of whatever he wanted to do. He recounts a funny childhood story about one day telling his parents that he wanted to be a garbage man and his parents’ response being—“as long as you do it well, go for it”.
Tito Jr. always had a drum set and was always banging away at them. His parents gave him the tools to improve by arranging for private lessons as well. It came to him quite naturally and his father taught him Latin percussion, but even when he was 18 and felt that he was good enough to play with his father, he would not allow him play in his band. He told him that he needed to be formally educated. In retrospect, Tito Jr. is so glad that his father held his ground on this. His father was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and had only received a 6thgrade education.
His father’s parents had also passed away while he was very young and he was one of eight brothers and sisters being raised by the oldest sister. He taught himself how to read and write in Spanish. He was a self-taught, self-made man. His older brother Johnny had come to New York first and started a successful trio.
Tito Jr. says that the real story of how his father came to be involved in the American music industry is that his father was starting to hang around the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. His aunt (the oldest sister) told her brother, Johnny that he needed to take him to NY and try to keep him out of trouble. Once here, his father not only fell into the music scene, but also acquired a reputation for being impeccably dressed.
This stemmed from his childhood in Puerto Rico when he didn’t have much money or resources and supposedly owned one nice pair of pants and one nice shirt. One day at school in 80 degree weather, he wore a sweater to school because his shirt had a hole in it and he didn’t want anybody to know. Regardless, everyone found out and made fun of him—he never wanted to have that feeling again nor did he ever want to wear blue jeans. He wanted his wardrobe to be well refined and Tito Jr. says that he was known to be one of the ten best dressed men in Puerto Rico.
At 19, Tito Jr. attended Berklee College of Music for two years and then the University of Miami to finish up his schooling. Fresh out of school, he married at age 22, had a child two years later and then a second child.
Still trying to figure out his career path, he felt that he needed to find a job that could best support his family and provide benefits while still continuing to pursue music on the side. While living in Miami with his family from 1977 to 1986, he worked as a club date musician, drumming with many of the top bands in Miami.
Then the family moved to NY, and his marriage fell apart.
At this time, he was working for CBS as a video editor and was less involved in the music scene. But in 1992, the Mambo Kings movie was released and it reinvigorated the Latin music scene by high-lighting the golden era of mambo. With the momentum of the movie, he was approached by the label and told he was the missing link to building on the success of the movie. He was asked to put a band together and they would start booking him for performances.
He agreed to do it with the caveat that he be able to record another album. Previous to this, he had made his first album at age 20 on his father’s TR label in 1978. This album was titled “Curious” and was done with Ruben Blades playing on it and writing two of the songs. It was extremely successful, but Tito considered it a test to see if he could acquire a sizeable fan base after his father had passed away. He didn’t feel that he was ready to follow it up with a tour schedule.
His second album bolstered by the release of the Mambo Kings movie was titled “Eclipse” and released in 1994. With two big hits on the album and Tito touring to promote the album, it was a great success.
Tito feels that after the release of “Eclipse”, the bottom fell out of the music industry and things changed dramatically. He says “it was a monopoly where only the top people were getting signed deals, you had to put your own money into the deal and also shop your product around”. Tito was not willing to take this gamble and once again, he retreated out of the business. His only other recording would be the 2004 live recording at NYC’s Blue Note with Tito Puente Jr. and Machito Jr. for a tribute performance to the Big 3.
Since then another fourteen years has passed and Tito is ready to restart his career on his own terms. He feels so fortunate that his fans and followers have waited patiently supporting him and he is extremely excited about the release of “Transicion”, produced and arranged by Pablo Chino Nunez. Done with a modern approach to recording music as well as being in control of every aspect of the music’s creation and distribution, Tito is proud of this work.
Tito feels like today there is an even playing field to the music business. You can put your own product out, create your own distribution and you are in full control of it. Tito put his own money into his CD.
He says it’s just not necessary to sign a contract with a label anymore worrying that they may take advantage of the artist. This album took one and a half years for him to make and was created virtually. Musicians that played on this album were not even in the same room. Tito’s drums and the vocals were done in a studio in West Palm Beach. Everyone else’s recordings were done via music file sharing. Trumpets were in London and other parts were done from New York and Puerto Rico.
Tito had a song, “Volver”, written by Johnny Vega for this album signifying his return to the music scene and his producer felt like Tito’s good friend, Gilberto Santa Rosa, “El Caballero de la Salsa”, would be a great addition to the song, so he reached out to him in Puerto Rico sending him the tracks to lay vocals down on. Gilberto was able to do it one week before Hurricane Maria hit and devastated Puerto Rico.
Tito feels fortunate that everything aligned just perfectly for him to get his album made. Gilberto is such a huge Tito Rodriguez fan that he actually bought the house that Tito’s father built for his wife in Puerto Rico. The house was flooded during the hurricane but did survive and is being repaired. Tito jokes that the house was poured concrete—it wasn’t going anywhere! He is appreciative about Gilberto’s support of the album, and allowing him to use his name on the cover.
Tito says that this album’s music stays true to the rhythm and form of his father’s style but feels a bit more progressive. The goal of his album is for dancers to be pleased with the rhythm tailored specifically for their enjoyment.
Tito Jr.’s signature timbale sound is based on traditional Latin rhythms with a modern, contemporary twist.
Photo Credit: Joyce Michel
End of Part one during the interrim visit Tito Rodriguez Jr.
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