Joe Bataan is one of the legends of Latin music, with one of the most distinctive voices and a stream of great recordings beginning with his 1967 debut for Fania Records, a beautiful take on the Impressions’ ‘Gypsy Woman’. Growing up in Spanish Harlem, Joe converted from a gang leader to a singer, after a spell in prison where he decided that the former route could only end badly. At Fania he developed a very distinctive strain of Latin soul where he took in the street corner harmony sounds, mixed them with boogaloo rythms and the soul that was blasting from the radio. This spectacular blend took him through a series of releases that included the gold record ‘Riot’, and the sublime ‘Singin’ Some Soul’ before he fell out with label boss Jerry Massuci during the recording of his album “Live From San Frantasia”, in 1973. He took his music to a new label called Mericana, where he made his debut album for them called “Salsoul” – which would eventually be the name that the Mericana took for its label – and followed it with the splendid “Afrofilipino” which contained the club hit ‘The Bottle (La Botella)’a latin-funk version of Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Bottle’.
It was at this time that Joe left Mericana and placed his next recording at the Rifkind brothers Spring label. Unfortunately no contract was signed and the LP languished in the vaults, apart from a limited run Japanese release in the early 90s, until now. It’s a shame because it is the missing link between “Afrofilipino” and his later recordings back at Salsoul. Certainly his vibrant version of Isaac Hayes ‘Theme From The Men’ is a sure fire follow up to ‘The Bottle (La Botella)’ and as he had previously updated some of his Fania recordings he does so again here with the wonderful ‘My Cloud’ and ‘My Opera’. The whole album is underpinned with the nascent sound of disco that was in the air in the New York of 1976; the version of ‘Sadie’ is a disco update of Joe’s version of ‘Gypsy Woman’. His voice sounds amazing throughout the album particularly on the closing number, a cover of Billy Stewart’s ‘I Do Love You’.
Joe’s next release was the album “Mestizo” which included one of the earliest rap hits, ‘Ra-O Clap-O’. It was his penultimate release. After “Bataan II” he retired from music and settled into a suburban life. In recent years the great interest in his music has propelled him back out on the road, and he has recorded two albums of new material. Joe is performing brilliantly with rapt audience attention. He is intending to play a headline slot at the Goodwood Vintage Festival in August. Try to make sure you catch him.
By Dean Rudland