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Willie Bobo

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William Correa (aka Willie Bobo, 1934-1983) was a proficient timbalero and drummer in the Latin and Jazz idioms. Also, a vocalist, and consummate showman.

Growing up in Spanish Harlem, he began on the bongos at 14. One year later he performed with Perez Prado. Also, he studied with and served as Mongo Santamaria’s translator and did a four-year stint with Tito Puente’s band.

Mary Lou Williams gave Correa the nickname Bobo when they recorded together in the early ’50s. After working with Cal Tjader, Herbie Mann and Santamaria with whom he recorded the Latin standard Afro-Blue Bobo debuted as a leader in 1963, with Clark Terry and Joe Farrell as sidemen.

Recording for Verve in the mid-’60s, Bobo achieved his highest solo visibility with albums that enlivened pop hits of the day with Latin rhythms, spelled by sauntering originals like “Spanish Grease” and “Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries.” Also, Bobo played on many sessions in New York, recording with artists like Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Chico Hamilton, and Sonny Stitt. In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles where he led jazz and Latin jazz combos, appeared on Bill Cosby’s first comedy series (1969-1971) and short-lived 1976 variety show, and recorded on his own for Sussex, Blue Note, and Columbia.

William Correa grew up in Spanish Harlem, New York City. He made his name in Latin Jazz, specifically Afro-Cuban jazz, in the 1960s and ’70s, with the timbales becoming his instrument of choice. He met Mongo Santamaría shortly after his arrival in New York and studied with him while acting as his translator. Later, at the age of 19, he joined Tito Puente for four years.

His first significant exposure occurred when he participated in George Shearing’s The Shearing Spell. After leaving Shearing, Cal Tjader asked Bobo and Santamaría to become join the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet, who released several albums as the mambo craze reached fever pitch during the late ’50s. Reuniting with his mentor Santamaría in 1960, the pair released the album Sabroso! Afterward, Bobo formed his own group and released Do That Thing/Guajira (Tico) Bobo’s Beat and Let’s Go Bobo (Roulette).

After the runaway success of Cal Tjader’s Soul Sauce, in which he participated, Bobo formed a group with the backing of Verve Records. Also, he released Spanish Grease, whose title track is perhaps his most well-known tune. In total, Bobo released six albums with Verve.

In the early 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles, where he met with his long-time friend Richard Sanchez Sr. and his son Richard Jr. and began recording. Also, Bobo worked as a session musician for Carlos Santana and was a regular in Bill Cosby’s variety show band. During the late ’70s, Bobo recorded albums for Blue Note and Columbia Records.

One of Bobo’s last appearances, only three months before his death from cancer, was at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival where he reunited with Santamaria for the first time in 15 years.

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, 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.

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