Salsa bad boy Willie Colón still has stories
Long before there was gangsta rap, there was Willie Colón.
The South Bronx musician was 17 when he recorded his first album “El Malo” (1967) on the legendary Fania Records label, selling more than 300,000 copies and launching his reputation as salsa’s bad boy. The album also propelled the career of a young singer who had recently arrived from Puerto Rico, Hector Lavoe. Together, Colón and Lavoe became rising stars on New York’s salsa scene.
“The combination of my street stuff from the Bronx and Hector’s island thing was really appealing,” says Colón, who will perform tonight at the Fillmore Miami Beach, as part of his “Rumba del Siglo” tour.
Colón also was portrayed as a “gangster” in his early albums. In Cosa Nuestra” (1970), he’s photographed pointing a black trombone case at a corpse bound and ready to be dumped in the Hudson River. In “La Gran Fuga” (“The Big Break,” 1971), his face appears on an FBI wanted poster. Other album titles include “The Hustler” (1968), “El Juicio” (“The Trial,” 1972) and “Crime Pays” (1972).
These recordings have become cult classics for younger urban musicians such as Diddy and Major Lazer, who call Colón the “Original Gangster.”
“That bad-boy thing appealed to young, rebellious kids, although we were always tongue-in-cheek,” says Colón, 68, who lives with his wife, Julia, in New Rochelle, N.Y. “We really didn’t mean it.”
“We had stories to tell — about life in the ghetto,” he continues. “But it was [about things] like ‘Vicente el carterista’ [Vicente the purse snatcher] hiding in the garbage can. It was strangely funny, like fireside theater.”
Over the years, Colón has evolved from gangster to cop. He serves as a lieutenant sheriff in Westchester County when he’s not touring. “It’s something I always wanted to do.”
Willie Colón will perform 8 p.m. tonight at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave. Tickets cost $58, $98, $128, plus fees, at FillmoreMB.com.