of my tunes don't go through as many convolutions as La Gata
Loca did, but it did go through a lot of changes. It started
out life as a simple Latin jazz tune, similar in form to a lot of
the songs on the first Mamborama album. It was structured as a regular
type of tune where you play the melody, everybody solos, then the
melody is played again and then it ends. But I was getting bored
with this approach, and was getting much more influenced to the
Cuban tunes I was listening to. Most Cuban stuff is not cyclical
like our pop music. They usually never repeat the cuerpo
(literally, the body of the tune), but add coros, mambos, breaks,
and entirely different sections. They are more like a suite than
a typical pop tune, which deals with a lot (sometimes way too much)
However, La Gata Loca was originally a
simple 32-bar melody with a standard AABA structure. For non-musicians,
that's verse, verse, bridge, verse. Repeat, rinse, repeat again.
The day that I wrote the thing, I had a Latin Jazz gig that night,
so I scribbled out a lead sheet and test drove it on the gig. The
following completely embarrassing clip
is the first time it was played anywhere, the musicians sight-reading
in a dimly lit nightclub.
The first thing I added to it was the coro. Around
this time, my cat had been torturing me with kung fu exhibitions
at five in the morning, so that became the basis for the coro: Gata
loca, baila rumba.
Then I added in the breaks for the conga solo,
based on a slightly different harmonic pattern. Then, the final
coros were played over those chords rather than the changes from
the first coros.
But it was when I was in Havana, and asked El
Indio if he would consider singing on a Mamborama record if I could
manage to record there, that I realized that it had to become a
full-on vocal tune. I wrote a new melody that would become the cuerpo.
It retained the 32 bar form of the original. The lyrics came to
me as I was writing the melody. I didn't want to lose the bridge
melody of the original version, so I made that into a mambo that
follows the trumpet solo and sets up the coro.
Now I needed to prepare the tune for the musicos
in La Habana. I wrote out a score, and then made a demo for the
musicians to listen to. I got out my trusty Mac Plus, dusted it
off, and sequenced a cheezy demo with a synthesizer. Here's
a clip of that awful thing, proving once and for all that you
need real musicians to play this music. Drum machines and samplers
need not apply.
we got everything together in Havana, we were ready to cut the basic
tracks. We set up in an old theatre in Mariano where lots of bands
rehearse, including Klimax. Gracias a Maestro Piloto for donating
the use of the place. We recorded drums/timbales (Roicel Riverón),
congas (Evelio Ramos), bass (Eduardo Mora) and piano (me, using
Manolito Simonet's keyboard) live without a click track. Marcos
Crego of Klimax showed up to help, and wound up taking the score
and conducting the band, cueing in the mambos and various changes.
Thank God for that, because I was heavily distracted, playing, engineering,
producing and generally freaking out to be recording with the rhythm
section of El Trabuco. This is
what it sounded like when we finished.
A few days later, we overdubbed the rock-solid
guiro of Jorge Luis Guerra in one take, and then it was time
for the coros. El Indio took charge of the section, which consisted
of him, Ricardo Amaray and David Bencomo. We did two tracks to thicken
up the sound, and to be able to mix the coros in stereo. And they
sounded great! Here's a clip of
them just on their own, including the "meeoww"
bit that El Indio completely improvised that day.
Now normally I would have recorded the horns next,
so that Indio would have the whole arrangement to bounce off of
when he sang. But time was running out, and recording horns is real
time-consuming to do right, so I decided to get the lead vocals
done. I told everyone, "I have some great horn players in LA,
but I don't have El Indio in LA."
Indio got to the studio, I asked him what song he wanted to start
with. He said, "Gata Loca, because I don't know anything
about this song." Ay-yi-yi, I had forgotten to give him the
demo! I had the music there and the demo, and he learned it right
then and there. David Bencomo was with him, and when Indio was in
the studio, David sang the melody to him in solfege (non-musicians
note: that's the do re mi fa sol stuff).
We got the cuerpo and first coro done, and then
I told him that the next 32 bars were for his improvisations. He
said give me five minutes, and he sat down and scribbled out a few
ideas. What you hear is all first take. The guy is absolutely brilliant.
He more than brought that tune to life. Besides being a great singer,
he's dripping with personality, humor and charisma. And, he's a
great guy, to boot. I'm proud to have him as a friend.
While I didn't have time to record the whole horn
section, I did get time to record the trumpet solo by Julio Padrón,
and he played beautifully.
Back in LA, Luis Eric and Francisco Torres did
a great job on the horns. They each played two parts, two trumpets
and two trombones. Now it was my turn to replace the electronic
piano with an acoustic one, a Yamaha grand. Then mixing, mastering,
and before long, I was back in Havana giving finished copies of
the CD to the guys who helped me make it. The finished tune had
its debut at Casa de la musica in Miramar, just before Manolito
y su Trabuco were going on. El Indio and I stood there and watched,
and the dance floor filled up. That was one of the most satisfying
moments of my life.
OK, that's the story. If you haven't bought
the CD yet, what are you waiting for? You see how much work
goes into these things? If you have bought it, tell your
friend that you burned a copy for to go buy
the real thing, and give your mom
a copy for her birthday. Every copy sold
is your vote for another Mamborama CD, sooner, not later. And if
reading this put you in the mood to hear the finished version of
Gata Loca, just put a click here.