Salsa bad boy Wil­lie Colón still has sto­ries

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - MUSIC COMING UP - By Deb­o­rah Ramirez

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.

Colón

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