Home Profiles RIP HENRY “PUCHO” BROWN (1938-2022)

RIP HENRY “PUCHO” BROWN (1938-2022)

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“Ain’t too many cats can get into that funk like we can get into the funk. Latin and jazz groups can do jazz, and they can do the Latin, but they can’t do the funk like I can do it.” – Henry “Pucho” Brown
Henry “Pucho” Brown is an accomplished timbalero with a career that has reached its full circle. Born in Harlem, he was a pivotal figure in the Latin boogaloo movement of the 1960s as the frontman of Pucho and his Latin Soul Brothers. The band’s fusion of Latin, jazz, and funk styles resulted in the release of eight albums, including a “best of” collection, by Prestige Records between 1966 and 1969. However, as popular tastes shifted in the early 1970s, he disbanded the Latin Soul Brothers. He formed a trio that spent the next 19 years playing standards and what he calls “society Latin” music in Catskill Mountain resort hotels. If it hadn’t been for the emergence of “acid jazz,” a phenomenon that originated from the British club scene, he might still be playing the same songs today.
Henry “Pucho” Brown was born on November 1, 1938, in Harlem. Those born in New York City in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s grew up in a diverse and rich musical culture that is less prevalent today. The radio played various genres of music, including classical, country, Latin, and rock ‘n’ roll.
As a boy, Henry Brown was introduced to a new world of music. He got to listen to the big bands of Duke Ellington, Chick Webb (who was the first to employ Ella Fitzgerald), and Count Basie. Brown even got to accompany his mother to the world-famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where he witnessed these amazing musicians perform. The unforgettable experience left him mesmerized.
Upon hearing the fiery and swinging sounds of mambo, rumba, and guaguanco via his Latino friends, he became mesmerized by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Machito.
After dropping out of high school, Brown worked at a series of unfulfilling jobs while trying to emulate his Latin music heroes on a pair of timbales his aunt and uncle gifted to him. He eventually became skilled enough to form his group, Los Locos Diablos (The Crazy Devils). At 17, he started playing professionally with another musician from Harlem named Joe Panama. This eventually led to the creation of the Joe Cuba group after Panama dismissed all his band members, and Joe Cuba took them in. However, Brown didn’t stick with Cuba for long and returned to playing with Panama. But soon, he took over the band and renamed it Pucho and the Cha-Cha Boys.
By the 1960s, Latin music’s sounds started to change, from the pachanga to the blending of jazz, mambo, and R&B. Perfect examples of this were Mongo Santamaria’s 1963 hit “Watermelon Man” and Ray Barretto’s “El Watusi,” which were both nationwide hits and enjoyed great radio airplay.
This paved the way for a different type of Latin music called Latin Soul, with a funky flavor. With this new sound emerging, Epic Records signed Pucho’s group to its first record single deal, hoping it would piggyback on the success of Mongo’s version of “Watermelon Man.”
When the recording of a tune called “Darrin’s Mambo” failed to do this, Epic dropped Pucho and the Cha-Cha boys. They didn’t make another record until 1966. They signed up with Prestige Label and renamed themselves Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers. Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers hit their stride with the Prestige label and cut over half a dozen albums.
During this period, he helped to pioneer a Latin-style rhythm called boogaloo, which mixed Latin, jazz, and a New York style of music. They enjoyed moderate success with this new sound, having to share the limelight with the other stars of that period, such as Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon, King Nando, and Pete Rodriguez. Soon, a new form of music, salsa, was taking over. This was the music that other bands had been playing since the early 1940s. It was a great commercial success and still is today.
In the late 1970s, Pucho dissolved the Latin Soul Brothers and took a year off from music before relocating to the Catskills. He formed a trio that lasted almost two decades before he had a falling out with Raleigh Hotel management.
Upon his return to New York City, Pucho was convinced by a Tokyo-based record company to reform the Latin Soul Brothers. He recorded his first album in 20 years, “Jungle Strut.”
Pucho’s back record catalog has generated much interest in Britain, Europe, and Japan. On his last two CDs for Milestone, “Rip a Dip” (‘ 95) and “The Hideout” (2004), he plays tunes as an homage to one of his heroes, Tito Puente. Call it acid jazz or Latin boogaloo, their infectiously rhythmic, highly soulful music is as hip as ever- and a new generation of fans from around the globe has discovered it.
Pucho was the only remaining black band leader who continued to play Latin music with a funky groove. Brown was honored in 2003 by being inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, making him the second black American after Dizzy Gillespie to receive this prestigious recognition.”

SOURCE

Bio draws from an article by Joe Conzo, Times-Herald Record, NY. 
Tomas Peña
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you very much for writing this article on my father it’s great I know it’s greatly appreciated. You went into great depth and details that the family didn’t even know about would love to have you at his memorial service on November the 19th here in Middletown New York at Hoffman lodge

    • Thank you. So sorry for your loss. I’m a long-time fan of Pucho. Thanks for the compliment but I can’t take the credit. If you look at bottom of the piece you will see it says, “Bio from an Article by (author, educator) Joe Conzo Sr., Times-Herald Record, NY.” I tried to locate the full article but I was unable to find it. Meaning, there is probably more information about Pucho than you saw in the piece I presented. You can connect with Mr. Conzo Sr. on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Again, thanks for the compliment and the invite. Pucho’s music was a gift to the world. May he rest in eternal peace. Best, Tomas

  2. My family and I went to the Raleigh Hotel years ago. One of the highlights of our stay was listening to your dad and his band. We loved one of the numbers called Static. Every time we went into the lounge, we requested it. After a while, as soon as he saw us he would automatically start playing that song. Sorry for your loss. He was a great guy and a talented musician.

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