Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


LUCCA, Papo (and Sonora Poncea)

(b Enrique Arsenio Lucca Jr, 1946, Ponce, Puerto Rico) Exceptional pianist (also vibes, tres, synthesizer, flugelhorn, percussion), one of salsa's most ingenious arrangers and producers, composer, music director of Sonora Ponceña (Son Orchestra of Ponce) since '68. His father Enrique 'Quique' Lucca organized the two trumpet-led Orquesta Internacional '44, renamed Sonora Ponceña '54 for its first recording; Puerto Rico's longest-running musical institution has never ossified, adding a third trumpet '50s and a fourth '60s; Quique still led the band in the '90s. Papo began playing conga at age four, attended Ponce's Free School of Music age six, studied piano, reeds and theory. He made his debut with Ponceña '54; appeared on Ponce-born singer Ruth Fernández's TV show mid-'50s; made recording debut '57 with Ponceña backing bolero stars Felipe Rodríguez and Davilita (Pedro Ortiz Dávila) on Al Compás de Las Sonoras on Marvela; wrote his first arrangement for the band c.'61; attended the U. of PR and PR's Conservatory of Music. Albums (all on the Inca label) included Hachero Pa' Un Palo and Fuego En El 23! (both title tracks were hit covers of Arsenio Rodríguez classics), Algo De Locura and Navidad Criolla (Xmas LP reissued '78), Desde Puerto Rico a Nueva York (with Ponceña sporting a three-trumpet section on latter two) c.'69-72; their '70s LPs were made in NYC, produced by Larry Harlow c.'71-5; lead singers were Luigi Texidor (b Guillermo Texidor, 1940, PR; joined band '63) and Tito Gómez (b Humberto Luis Gómez, 1948, Juana Díaz, PR; joined '68) through Sonora Ponceña '72.

Trumpeter Joe Rodríguez took Gómez and percussionist Miguel 'Mikey' Ortiz with him '73 to form La Terrifica: the new band debuted with eponymous LP '74 produced by Harlow; Gómez departed, briefly joined Ray Barretto's band, made solo album Para Gozar Borinquen '77 produced by Harlow. Miguelito Ortiz replaced Gómez on Sabor Sureño '74; '75 saw best-of album Lo Mejor De Sonora Ponceña including hit 'Acere Ko', title tracks and other hits from several albums, and Tiene Pimienta (with another hit title track) arranged by Papo. On Musical Conquest '76 Papo arranged, conducted and co-produced with Louie Ramírez, with Luis 'Perico' Ortiz as music director (including hit 'El Pio Pio' written by Mexican duo Lobo y Melón); ex-La Terrifica lead singer Yolanda Rivera joined on El Gigante Del Sur '77, with Ramírez as producer, Papo as assistant producer and arranger (except disco-oriented 'Nocturnal', arranged by Perico, who also played trumpet on it); this LP was Texidor's last: he shared lead vocals on Bobby Valentín's Musical Seduction '78, appeared on Puerto Rico All Stars' LPs '76-7, Tito Puente albums Homenaje A Beny '78-9, made solo debut with El Negrito del Sabor '79. Though presaged earlier, Ponceña's current distinctive style began to crystallize: crisp, lucid, restrained yet swinging, with intricate trumpet textures, on Explorando '78, regarded as one of their best albums, all arranged by Papo, who now took over as producer with trumpets increased from three to four. The hit track 'Jubileo 20' marked the band's 20th anniversary, another hit was 'Moreno Soy' ('I Am Brown'), Papo's arrangement of 'Naci Moreno' ('Born Brown', performed by Texidor on Valentín's Musical Seduction): a testimony of PR's racially mixed identity. Gómez came back to sing lead, replacing Texidor on this album only; but he sang in the chorus on the next LP La Orquesta De Mi Tierra '78, before departing to work with Tito Valentín, La Amistad, Rubby Haddock, Grupo Niche; he went solo again '91. Ponceña joined Celia Cruz on her Le Ceiba on Vaya and performed with her in TV film Salsa '79, released hits compilation Energized '79; from '80 they recorded in PR: New Heights '80 included Dizzy Gillespie's 'Night In Tunisia' and Toñito Ledeé (b Salinas, PR; d 28 May 1986, PR in car crash) joined Yolanda and Ortiz as a lead singer, Papo co-arranged with Elias Lopés.
Unchained Force '80 was dedicated to long-serving band members, trumpeters Ramón A. Rodríguez 'El Cordobes' (Tony), Delfin Pérez 'El del Café', bassist Antonio Santaella (Tato). Papo arranged Night Raider '81, including a cover of 'Cuestiones De Amor' by composer, arranger, bandleader, pianist Adalberto Alvarez (b 1948, Havana, Cuba), who then led Son 14; Papo is a devotee of Alvarez, so that covers of his songs appear on seven of eight Ponceña albums 1981-92; his 'Soledad' was included on Determination '82 (both songs from Son 14's Son Como Son '81 on Areito), which also included 'Aunque Te Quiero' by Cuban Joseíto González, leader of Orquesta Rumbavana, from their eponymous LP on Areito. Yolanda was replaced by ex-La Terrifica singer Héctor 'Pichy' Pérez on Future '84, including two Alvarez tunes, and Papo played flugelhorn on Woody Shaw's 'Woody's Blue'. Yolanda moved to Miami, sang in the chorus of Gabino Pampini's band Fuerza Noble, shared lead vocals on Rubby Haddock's Otra Vez! '88 and Salsa Tropical '90, and fronted Hermanos Rivera Orchestra '90. They reworked and updated hits including 'Jubileo 20' to 'Jubileo 30' on Jubilee '85, on which Ortiz was replaced by Manuel 'Mannix' Martínez; the same year two compilations were also issued to mark the 30th anniversary. On The Right Track '88 included a tribute poem and song to the late Toñito Ledeé; the band embraced the salsa romántica sound on Into The 90's '90 (Papo uses Willie Rosario's disparaging term salsa monga, meaning 'flaccid salsa', to describe romantic salsa), the first made (partly) in their own Pianníssimo Studios in Ponce. Pérez departed '90 for a brief stint with Tommy Olivencia; Ponceña made their UK debut May '91 with Pérez replacement Luisito Carrión, an alumnus of Orquesta Kaffé, Julio 'Gunda' Merced's Salsa Fever, La Terrifica, Bobby Valentín and Don Perignon; Carrión sang on Merry Christmas '91, then made his solo debut with Y Ahora Voy Yo! '92 on Musical Productions; Pérez returned on Guerreando '92. Papo's solo project Latin-Jazz '93 had a poor critical reception.

The NY Salsa Festival at Madison Square Garden '93 celebrated Ponceña's 40th anniversary; they closed the show and were joined by Texidor and Yolanda for a retrospective of their classics. Their 40th anniversary album Birthday Party '93 was heralded as a return to the standard of their best albums of the '70s and '80s; Texidor and Yolanda rejoined the band on Apretando '95. Papo also played and/or arranged on LPs with Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Ismael Quintana, Cheo Feliciano, Justo Betancourt, Ernie Agosto, Adalberto Santiago, Nelson González y su Orquesta Revelación, Los Hermanos Moreno, Glen Vargas, others. Papo replaced Harlow '76 as pianist with the Fania All Stars and made his UK debut with them the same year, playing on many of their LPs including Habana Jam '79 (with live version of 'Naci Moreno' sung by Texidor, piano solo by Papo), as well as Puerto Rico All Stars '76. He participated in FAS reunion tour '94 to celebrate Fania's 30th anniversary; he joined an all-star line-up of Puerto Rican artists on De Aquí Pa'lla '94 and collaborated with Azuquita on Los Originales '96 on Tonga.