One of the key figures in bridging the Afro-Cuban/mambo worlds with pop & soul, Willie Bobo was a major player long before he made records under his own name. He played congas, timbales, drum kit and was a charming singer and born performer. His '50s success with the likes of George Shearing, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader led to visibility for his own groups in the '60s. Those bands often featured electric guitar instead of piano, a sound that could range from bang-heavy descargas to sweet schmaltz, ultimately creating the template for boogaloo and Latin jazz to come.
William Correa grew up in Spanish Harlem to Puerto Rican parents. As a teen in NYC he studied percussion with Armando Peraza. He was playing bongos in Perez Prado's band by 15, as well as with Machito. A gig in Puente's band followed from about '53-57. Around this time he befriended Cuban icon Mongo Santamaría, whom he would remain close to. He taught Mongo English and Mongo taught him deeper percussion secrets. The pair teamed up with Tito and then as key members of Tjader's Latin-jazz band in the late '50s, even recording together in Cuba in 1960.
His nickname "Bobo" was stuck to him by pianist Mary Lou Williams, with whom he played drum kit for in the mid-'50s. He also cut many a jazz session with the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Mann, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Chico Hamilton and others. He even played drumkit with Thelonious Monk at a San Francisco gig in '59. He also recorded with Tito Rodriguez.
He cut his first records as a leader for Tico and Roulette ('63/64) before working on Tjader's smash hit LP Soul Sauce (Verve Records). Riding off that success Verve signed him in the mid-'60s and the band cranked out a string of hits such as "Spanish Grease", "Fried Neckbones" and other gems. "Evil Ways" was later covered by Santana. In the '70s he was based out West and worked for several labels, such as Blue Note, Columbia, A&M and Sussex, with whom he released some funky tunes. He played off and on with the Santana band and worked in television as well.
His son, Eric Bobo, plays percussion with Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys. In 2006, Eric put together a collection of unearthed recordings (Lost & Found) that showed the range of Willie's music. Of course, there was some supreme funk on there too! All said, the man's music crossed a lot of genres: pop, jazz, mambo, disco, funk, samba, ballads, boogaloo, soul and rock. Beathead/acid jazz culture has treated him to a solid representation on re-discovery. The man's grooves are available and totally recommended.
Here's one of Bobo's big hits, the proto-boogaloo "Spanish Grease", with it's heavy reverb and scintillating guitar line. You can find it on 1965's Spanish Grease album. (Note: the album pictured in the video does not actually contain the song).:
In case you've never heard the OG version of "Evil Ways", here you are:
Here's a funky one from '71, off of Do What You Want To Do... (Sussex):
Here's one of my personal favorites:
And here Masters At Work stretch and tweak "Descarga del Bobo", smoothing it out a bit. Listen to that tasty sax by Bobby Brown! You can catch the OG on the '67 album Juicy, on Verve.