Joseph Gonzalez has been one of the greatest Latin percussion icons of our time and it is worth talking about his past and current accomplishments. He was born on March 12, 1953 in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan and grew up in a mixture of cultures with Puerto Rican and Italian roots, which ensured that the young Joseph and the rest of his siblings were raised with the best of each.
According to the musician himself, his passion for music started in the 1950s when he listened to all kinds of genres and rhythms at home, which trained the young man almost without him realizing it. At home, his family used to enjoy the talent of Frank Santana, Machito, Jerry Vale, Tito Puente, Mario Lanza, among many other artists of the time. Upon hearing these names, one can already get an idea of what Gonzalez’s vocational training would be like in the future.
From a young age, he would liven up family parties by playing the conga. At the age of 15, the boy first became interested in music as something more than just a hobby to kill some time. The teenager gave signs that music would be a very important part of his life.
Already in the 1960s, Gonzalez had made his first long-playing record with Frankie Nieves, vocalist and neighbor of the artist who had set himself the goal of taking over the boogaloo world and become one of its greatest exponents. The album was called ”The Terrible Frankie Nieves”, was under the direction of producer Stan Lewis and contained all kinds of popular genres for those years such as R&B, guaracha, mambo and much more.
Something very striking about this music is that he never attended an institute or school of arts, but learned everything by himself through the experience he gained in San Juan Hill, where the best Latin music orchestras were always heard and whose musicians lived and some even resided in Amsterdam Houses.
In 1971, he became a member of the Ruben Betancourt’s orchestra, with whom he would play the group’s first LP entitled ”Orquesta Tentación” and published by the record label Mañana Records. A few years later, he married and soon he and his wife had their first daughter, to whom they gave the name Audrey Valentina. Around the same time, he separated from Rubénm stayed with ”Felix Morales & Orchestra Caprí” for two years and was part of ”Son De La Loma”, whose members were veteran musicians who taught Joe everything they knew.
Cover of the album ‘’62nd and 10th’’
During the 1980s, there was a dramatic decline in the Latin music scene, which caused Gonzalez to look for a regular job that could support his family and provide them with the the finaltial security they need. In those years, he partnered with jazzman Mario Bauzá and his orchestra, a group with which the percussionist finally achieved the level he was destined to get to.
He started making very important appearances in a lot of concerts with the Bauzá’s orchestra and recordings that would lead him to have access to many other opportunities on TV shows, film soundtracks, tours, awards, among many other things. This led him to be worthy of the Latin Grammy on several occasions and perform with stars such as Celia Cruz, Papo Vázquez, Arturo O’Farrill, Daniel Poce and many more.
His most recent album is entitled ”62nd to 10th”, which is absolutely dominated by Latin jazz and whose compositions are written by Gonzalez himself, except for one track. In this album, Joe Gonzalez once again demonstrates that he has not forgotten everything he has learned and is still as strong as ever.
By Johnny Cruz, ISM Correspondents, New York, New York City
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