Remember this moment. It’s one of the very few times you’ll ever witness me addressing the “Salsa Romantica” era in a positive light. It’s not because it isn’t any good. To me, it’s an era in which salsa became a little too synthesized for my liking. It took a turn towards becoming too much like pop music. They made it too sensual, too gushy. Many of you may not agree, and that’s ok. “Para cada cual los colores” my mom always says.
When you’re accustomed to a pure and raw sound from the likes of La Fania and El Gran Combo, everything else just doesn’t match up. There is one artist, however, that I will make an exception for. An artist who I will even throw in my “favorites” list. Someone who clung on to that old school flavor like our lives depended on it. He was known as “El Papa de La Salsa”, his name was Frankie Ruiz.
Born and raised in Patterson, New Jersey, Frankie grew up listening to salsa with his parents. In his teens, he even joined a local band called The Charlie Lopez Orchestra. Soon after his parents’ divorce when he was 17, Frankie left Jersey with his mother to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, where his love of salsa and his life as a salsero would soon take off.
Frankie quickly became a fan of La Orquesta Solucion, such a big fan that he would attend all their shows, and learned all their songs. At one point, his mother would ask band director Roberto Rivera for a chance to sing with them, but was turned down. Opportunity came knocking one day in 1977 when at one of La Solucion’s concerts, their lead singer was a no show, of course Frankie was present and the band had no choice but to give Frankie a shot.
I think it’s pretty obvious where I’m going right now, don’t you think? Frankie soon became the lead singer for La Solucion, with whom he would go on to record a few hits, most notably “La Rueda”, a song that you can find on rotation at many Latino radio stations around the country. I’m sure there’s a lesson or two somewhere in this story.
After three years with La Solucion, Frankie would go on to join Tommy Oliviencia and his band La Primerisima, with whom he’d also spend the next three years. However, this time, he would blaze a trail for a new breed of salseros to follow in a sub genre unofficially known as Sensual Salsa. A style of salsa whose lyrics leaned on heavily sexualized topics. With La Primerisima, he’d go on to record classics like “Lo Dudo”, “Bailando”, “La Cura”, “Tu Con El”, “Desnudate Mujer”, “Deseandote”, and my favorite, “Puerto Rico”, which also happens to be today’s Flashback video.
Sadly, as with many other people who manage to reach a certain level of fame and fortune, Frankie fell to the temptation of drugs and alcohol. One day, while under the influence, he attacked a flight attendant during a flight home from one of his concerts. Because of this altercation, he was sentenced to three years in a federal prison in Jacksonville, Texas.
Soon after his release, Frankie would go on to release what would become his final single, “Vuelvo a Nacer” (Born Again), where he goes on to admit the wrong choices he had made in life and the fact that he was born again after his last ordeal. After performing in a concert at NYC’s Madison Square Garden in July of 1998, Frankie Ruiz was hospitalized due to complications from his years of drug abuse. He would pass on a month later leaving behind his wife, son, Frankie Jr, and his two brothers.
The song I chose today is one of my personal favorites. Not for its patriotic content, but for the way Frankie describes growing up on the island, surrounded by such natural beauty. The lyrics put Frankie’s love of his island on display leaving the listener with a great sense of nostalgia. If this song doesn’t make you want to visit your homeland, nothing will. I hope you enjoy this song as well as this edition of Flashback Fridays.