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Timbalero Henry "Pucho" Brown was a pivotal figure in the Latin boogaloo movement that fused Latin, jazz and funk styles during the sixties. He released a staggering 8 albums between 1966 and 69 for the Prestige label. Adopting a dirtier street soul attitude, the "Yaina" and "Super Freak" albums reflected a change in musical tastes as the 60s became the 70s. Unfortunately for Pucho the 70s saw a drop in his popularity. He took to playing hotel gigs in the relative obscurity of the Catskill Mountains resorts. Returning to New York in 1992 Pucho found that he had been re-discovered by a younger crowd of music fans. The renewed interest in Pucho stemmed from the UK jazz dance scene which championed a cultural mix of sounds including boogaloo, street soul, Latin and Brazilian music. Since then Pucho has toured the world with his Latin Soul Brothers and recorded new albums that celebrate the unique Pucho blend. In 1999 Pucho and his Latin Soul Brothers recorded a new album for CuBop, the San Francisco label responsible for re-releasing many of Pucho's past projects.
Henry Brown was born on November 1, 1938. Drawn to jazz and rhythm & blues, he recalls his mother taking him to the Apollo Theatre to see Billie Holiday and the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Buddy Johnson and Lucky Millinder. He was also especially fond of the doo-wop sounds of Billy Ward and his Dominoes, Sonny Till and the Orioles, and two groups from the neighborhood: the Five Crowns and the Harptones. Brown's first exposure to Latin music came when he was 12. He overheard a classmate beating out a mambo rhythm on the side of a desk while singing a Cuban tune entitled "Anabacoa." Brown promptly bought the record (performed by Dominican pianist Frank Damiron and a group known as Chapuseaux.) Then he heard "Timbalero Numero Uno", Tito Puente's recording of "Babarabatiri". Brown was hooked and had bought his first set of timbales by the time he was 15.
It wasn't long before "Pucho", a nickname given to him by a friend, was playing around Harlem. After playing the neighborhood with a band called Los Lobos Diablos, he went on to spend several years as a member of pianist Joe Panamas band. When that band broke up in 1959, Pucho took some of the members with him and formed his own. Their first single, "Darin's Mambo" , was released on Epic but was not a hit. While the public were not taking notice of Puchos new band other musicians were. Two established band leaders began raiding Pucho's group for players.
Mongo Santamaria hired away Steve Barrios, Bobby Capers and Chick Corea while Willie Bobo took Jerry Jemmot and Bill Salters, amongst others. "They were making more money than me, so they used to take the musicians," Pucho says. "They wanted the black sound with the Latin sound." Pucho's requirements for sidemen, then and now, are specific. "A piano player and a bass player in my band has to play three types of music, " he says. "He has to play jazz, he has to play funk, and he has to play Latin, just as a good jazz musician, just as a good funk musician, just as a good Latin musician . . . those cats are hard to find!"
Pucho and band, renamed The Latin Soul Brothers by producer Cal Lampley, found their fortunes improved after signing with Prestige in 1966. They played at Carnegie Hall the following year and maintained a presence on what Pucho calls "the Chitlin Circuit" of New York City. Pucho's higher public profile enabled him to score gigs as a sideman for notable musicians like Gene Ammons, King Curtis and Roberta Flack.
After leaving Prestige and recording "Yaina" and "Super Freak" for the Right On! label the band split up. Reforming in the 90s, Pucho's heavy European touring schedule and a release for Milestone have ensured his popularity amongst soul jazz fans around the globe. CuBop re-released the two Right On! Records and a storming unreleased Latin funk version of "You Can't Alway Get What You Want", along with several tracks for the Latin Jazz Dance Classics compilations in connection with Fantasy. In 1999, at the ripe age of 60, Pucho recorded a new CuBop album. He played his first West Coast gigs in years and continues to make friends with his own blend of Latin, funk and soul jazz.