Sitting on the stage of Le Poisson Rouge in the Village on a recent balmy Spring day, music legend Johnny Colon takes a trip down Memory Lane.
His nostalgic trip takes him back about 40 years.
Those were the days, such special days, he recalls – when he filled Le Poisson Rouge, known then as the Village Gate, with revelers who listened raptly while he played Latino Boogaloo, a blend of percussion, blues, jazz, Afro-American music and, as he puts it, a little bit of “Latin feel.”
The combination created “this feeling,” said DJ Turmix, who specializes in Boogaloo & Latin Soul from the 60s.
On April 25, Colon will be back at Le Poisson Rouge to perform Boogaloo, a musical form he greatly influenced. With him will be Boogaloo specialist DJ Turmix, spinning vinyl-only sets.
The performance at the venue, on 158 Bleeker Street, will be Colon’s first at the venue since 1971.
The gig will be followed by a July performance at Lincoln Center, which attracted 7,000 people last year.
“This is going to be the year of the Boogaloo,” proclaimed Turmix.
LePoissonRouge.com notes: “Johnny Colon was at the forefront of the ‘Boogaloo’ movement. His work, ‘Boogaloo Blues,’ for example, set the tone for this era and survives today as the anthem for this period in Latino music history.”
In many ways, the Le Poisson Rouge performance will mark a special homecoming for the music icon, who was born in New York City's El Barrio into a Puerto Rican musical family.
New York helped shape Colon -- who started singing and playing the guitar at the age of three -- as a musician.
“Growing up in New York, you could listen to anything,” said Colon, describing days that predated the Internet and all the techno-gizmos that clutter people’s time and attention.
Kids today, Colon lamented, don’t listen to the variety of music that influenced him as an artist.
Boogaloo took hold in New York City in the early 60’s among Latinos such as teenage Cubans and Puerto Ricans.
Boogalu.com says that in 1963, “two Top 20 breakout hits – ‘Watermelon Man’ by Mongo Santamaria and ‘El Watusi’ by Ray Barretto -- helped birth the style.”
“Soon, dozens of groups were playing the same infectious rhythms,” the website said, “usually featuring novelty songs in English, group vocals, and fierce conga playing.”
In 1966, Cotique records released Colon’s "Boogaloo Blues," which became a classic in the Latin field, selling over 3,000,000 copies worldwide.
Colon went on to record other albums over the next decade, including: Boogaloo '67, Move Over, Portrait of Johnny, Caliente de Vicio - Hot, Hot, Hot, and Terra Va a Temblar (Earthquake.)
He also created what is described as the first music school in the United States focused on teaching Salsa.
His students have included many musicians who have gone on to become stars in their own right, including Marc Anthony.
Boogaloo had a resurgence with the mushrooming of the Internet in the ‘90s.
Music lovers began to re-edit the music that flourished in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and revived the classic form.
The revival helped inspire Turmix to come to the United States from his native Barcelona.
Three years ago, Turmix moved to New York – but it wasn’t music along that lured him to the Big Apple.
“I came for love,” he said, speaking of his then-girlfriend, who is now his wife, who wanted to make the move and encouraged him to come with her.
The winters seemed to go on forever, but Turmix said the culture was similar to that of his homeland – both had a cosmopolitan feel, with people who are “open,” he said.
Today, Turmix plays at various venues throughout New York City, varying in location from Brooklyn to Manhattan
For his part, Colon concedes he is somewhat picky when it comes to performing gigs.
“I play when and where I want,” he said, noting that money is not as important as the music.
“I won’t change to ruin the integrity of my music,” he said, complaining that often, proposed performances try to get him to scale down his band.
That would be compromising the “integrity to my sound.”
Colon lauds Turmix, saying Boogaloo’s “big renaissance is because of guys like DJ Turmix,” who “sacrifice a lot to continue to push the music.”
Colon and Turmix can barely contain their excitement over their joint performances in April and July. They expect big crowds, and know that for them, personally, the gigs will be a great time full of memories, yet also expectations for big things to come.
They’re betting a major comeback for Boogaloo in the next two to three years.
E.J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance journalist living in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter at: @ejaguado