Vocalist Joe Quijano’s career took flight at Junior High School PS 52 in the Bronx in 1950 when he joined a group of amateur musicians featuring Orlando Marin (Timbales), Eddie Palmieri (Piano), Larry Acevedo (Congas), and Albert Ramirez (Bongos).
When the group played their first gig at the Hunt’s Point Palace in the Bronx, the repertoire consisted of three tunes, “Abaniquito,” “La Toalla,” and Rafael Hernandez’s “El Cumbanchero,” which they played ad nauseam. One year later, the group added three trumpets, which evolved into The Orlando Marin Conjunto. When Marin was inducted into the Army, Quijano took Marin’s place.
While studying commercial art at Manhattan’s High School of Industrial Arts, Quijano worked part-time for the Translux Corporation near the original Palladium Ballroom. Quijano’s boss and dear friend, Douglas Sterling Paddock, allowed him to take his lunch hour whenever an orchestra was rehearsing around the corner.
During a working vacation in 1956, Quijano went to Cuba, where he met some of his favorite bands and musicians, such as Beny More, Roberto Faz, Miguelito Cuni, Jose Fajardo, and Celia Cruz. He was particularly enamored with the sound of The Senen Suarez Group and made a few sales while he was there. Quijano returned to New York with stock arrangements, instruments, and a concept that combined two trumpets, a flute, and a rhythm section with a Charanga feel. After a few months, Charlie Palmieri developed an instrumental version of the “Amor” tune, and The Conjunto Cachana was conceived.
After a stint with Tico Records, Quijano went to work for Good One Stop, a wholesaler distributor servicing retail stores and jukeboxes. He convinced his bosses, Al Deutsch and Artie Schrift, to finance two (45 RPM) tunes on the AQA label titled “Rumba En Navidad” and “Descarga Charanga.” Thanks to Paramount Vending, the records were in every jukebox in New York.
Afterward, Quijano was approached by Jack Goodman of Panoramic Records, and the LPs “A Catano” and “Volvi a Catano” were recorded. Both were massive hits in South America, but Quijano roamed the halls of CBS seeking a recording contract. The “someone” was Ernie Altshuler, who interviewed Quijano, Johnny Mathis, and Tony Bennett on the same day. In the summer of 1960, Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto performed at the Spring Rock Country Club with Altshuler and his wife in attendance, and Quijano was offered a contract.
Afterward, he recorded three LPs with Columbia: “La Pachanga Se Baila Asi,” whose lyrics, according to Max Salazar, “cleared up the confusion between Charanga vs. Pachanga.” Also, “Everything Latin,” “Yeah Yeah,” and “Latin Jo.” Also, Quijano’s three LPs featuring his rhythm section backing Eydie Gorme and Trio Los Ponchos were international hits.
In the early 60s, Quijano started his own company. Being an amateur Jai-Alai player, he called the company Cesta Records (a Cesta is a basket used in the game) and recorded the album “The Fiddler On The Roof Goes Latin.”
From the 60s to the 80s Quijano released a string of albums on Cesta, including “Joe Quijano y Su Fantástico Conjunto Cachana,” “Swings Uptown And Downtown,” “Joe Quijano Shingalings,” “The Joe Quijano Party Album,” “Joe Quijano With Strings,” “Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto Cachana Do Their Own Thing,” “Joe Quijano Christmas Album,” “El Nuevo Joe Quijano,” “Joe Quijano En Puerto Rico,” “Joe Quijano Christmas LP ‘Para Las Parejas,'” “Cositas Sueltas Joe Quijano: Nosotros 2,” and “Joe Quijano: El Conjunto Cachana, The World’s Most Exciting Latin Orchestra & Review.”
Also, Quijano participated in two notable albums by the Cesta All-Stars:” “Live Jam Session” (the 1960s) and “Salsa Festival” (the 1970s), which was a 1967 recording by the Alegre All-Stars under the direction of Charlie Palmieri made while Santiago was working as a staff producer at Musicor. Al Santiago (founder of the Alegre All-Stars) was overextended and couldn’t afford to release the material, so he sold the tapes to Quijano.
Quijano is the first artist to record a composition by the great Puerto Rican composer Tite Curet Alonso titled “Efectivamente.”
Over the years, he quietly organized tributes and fundraisers for needy musicians. Also, in 1979, he produced and promoted The Tito Puente Roast, which exposed the Mambo King to a broader audience. Moreover, he served as the Director of Public Relations for the Agency for Drug Addiction Rehabilitation (LUCHA) in New York in the 1970s and 80s.
In 1992, Quijano was involved in a motorcycle accident in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. The accident damaged his spine and led to six surgeries from which he never fully recovered. Afterward, Quijano walked with a cane. After the accident, he devoted much of his time to promoting events and reissuing his records in a compact disc format.
Max Salazar says, “Despite all his accomplishments, his Puerto Rican heritage made him proudest. Quijano, like his hero Noro Morales, recorded tunes whose titles are a tribute to the Puerto Rican culture, such as “Mayaguez,” “Catano,” “Barrio Obrero,” Bayamon,” “En Mi Viejo San Juan,” “Puerta de Tierra” and a Christmas album that contains the tune, “Un Jibaro en Nueva York.”
Quijano credits much of his success to the late great Charlie Palmieri, whose melodic arrangements sold his recordings.
Quijano has recorded and shared the stage with Alex Israel, Benny Bonilla, Doc Severinsen, Eddie Rivera, Mel Davis, Charlie Palmieri, Hector Rivera, Artie Arzenser, Macuchito, Jimmy Loro, Dave Tucker, Louis Goicoechea, Chicky Perez, Mike Collazo, Ray Mantilla, Joe Grajales, Charlie Fox, Manny Oquendo, Bobby Valentin, Herman Gonzales, Rod Sanchez, Bobby Nelson, Willie Pastrana, Benjamin Rosario, Joe Rosa, and Manny Corchado, with singers that included Chaguito Montalvo Jr., Paquito Guzman, Willie Torres, Chivirico Davila, Adalberto Santiago, Yayo El Indio, Ray Cruz among others.
In 2018, Joe Quijano and Conjunto Cachana performed at Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing. Also, in 2000, he presented the group at The Hotel Normandie in San Juan.
Joe Quijano, “El Rey de La Pachanga” died in San Juan on April 4, 2019.
Salazar, Max – Mambo Kingdom, Latin Music in New York (Schirmer Trade Books, 2002)
Serrano, Basilio – Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz, 1900-1939, Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse 2015)