The Cuban-born, West Coast-based hard-hitting percussionist Armando Peraza is best known for his work with the Santana band, George Shearing and Cal Tjader. He played congas, bongos and timbales, was a songwriter and dancer and made a killer album under his own name for Skye Records.
Born in Havana, he was orphaned and took to boxing and baseball. After some time as a boxing coach he became a musician at 17, joining the band of Albert Ruiz and other Cuban groups. It may have been just another hustle at first, but it set him off onto a globe-trotting career! He took off to Mexico in '48 and found himself in NYC in '49. He quickly found work with Charlie Parker, Machito, Buddy Rich and Slim Gaillard, with whom he toured to San Francisco with.
He went to Mexico to play with Perez Prado and cut film soundtracks. A return to San Francisco became a permanent home for him. He did some coastal touring, playing for farm workers and also toured with Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and others. He ran a popular night at the Cable Car Village club, which attracted many celebrities, including that freak for Cuban music, Marlon Brando.
During the mambo era he started a longtime gig with George Shearing, including composing much of the band's book. In 1959 he teamed up with his good friends Mongo Santamaría and Francisco Aguabella to record some heavy Afro-Cuban roots records, specifically the album Mongo and the tune "Afro-Blue", which became a jazz standard. He joined Cal Tjader's group in the late '50s/early '60s. During this time he also played with Stan Kenton and worked on Judy Garland's TV show.
In '68 he recorded his sole classic album as a leader, Wild Thing, featuring Johnny Pacheco, Chick Corea, Sadao Watanabe, Tjader and others. In '72 he joined Santana and stayed twenty years, composing 16 tunes, including one of my personal favorites, "Gitano". He also recorded with Eric Clapton, Harvey Mandel, Randy Weston, Wes Montgomery, Peggy Lee, Gato Barbieri, John Santos and Rebecca Mauleon. He had been in semi-retirement for the last twenty years, occasionally making appearances. He also had returned to Cuba after many decades.