Tito Puente Jr. is a hard-rock drummer with a mambo legacy. The legacy being he’s the son of percussionist, songwriter and record producer Tito Puente.
The “King of Latin Music,” Puente Sr. was a regular at New York City jazz clubs post-World War II, and wrote “Oye Como Va,” a song that, thanks to Carlos Santana, became a classic rock staple.
The accolades for Puente Sr. are numerous, from sitting in with bands on late-night television to film scores, and even a memorable appearance in the “Who Shot Mr. Burns” cliffhanger episode of “The Simpsons.” It’s fitting that his son would follow in his swinging footsteps, but not before digging into hard rock and heavy metal. Kids will rebel against music of their parents, even if your father was a household name in the world of Latin music who brought mambo to the mainstream. For the younger Puente, it was the best of both worlds.
Tito Puente Jr. will perform Sunday at the Roots Rocks Equinox Harvest Festival in Hesperus. It’s a three-day festival that will also feature Zion I, Rocker-T, Indubious, and many more, including loads of local bands.
“I did drum choir in high school, I enjoyed percussion all the time. When you’re growing up, your parents tell you not to touch things. My father had a ton of drums and a trap kit in the garage, and he said, ‘Don’t touch my drums,’ and of course as a young child, I went in there and I played all the drums I could. That’s what I gravitated to,” Puente Jr. said. “But I’m originally a rock drummer; I love rock music, heavy metal music, and I’m a big fan of all the rock bands: Rush, Metallica, Slayer, I’m into all heavy metal. My father was, of course, into music, salsa, Latin jazz, so it was like a cross of two worlds.”
Backing Puente Jr will be numerous local musicians from the jazz and funk world, including Evan Suiter, Ryan McCurry and Easton Stuard, along with The Afrobeatniks. The local Afrobeat band is the perfect outfit to back Puente Jr., as percussion heavy, high-energy music that explores world-beat rhythms is right up the percussion heavy, high-energy alley of Puente Jr.
The whole package Puente Jr. provides is a sound and visually stimulating dose of rhythms. He’s center stage banging out the beat, an animated percussionist ripping through mambo and Latin jazz; but in addition to the show, it’s an education in the contribution his father, who’s been gone now for 19 years, has made to modern music.
“I love sharing my father’s music with fans,” Puente Jr. said. “I do educate them, and I tell you about the songs and I intro each tune. I take you to New York City and this old nightclub called the Palladium, where all this mambo and salsa music started from. It was a sound that was very unique to the New York brand and big band sound. So, I guess it is educational, and I even call it a religious experience when you hear the Afro-Cuban rhythms that come from the music.”
Why mambo music hasn’t been integrated into the Colorado festival world is a mystery. Festivals are overflowing with the dance-inducing sounds of jam-grass and jam-rock, but why not mambo? Its high energy, positive and upbeat vibe is a perfect addition to the festival soundtrack. Mambo is dance music; Tito Puente Sr. knew it, and Tito Puente Jr. knows it, and festival-goers should know it. If they don’t, they will.
“I have a lot of crowd participation, and please, by all means bring your dancing shoes,” Puente Jr. said. “This is an engaging and danceable type of concert.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.