Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b José Estevez Jr, 26 March 1921, NYC, of Puerto Rican parentage; d March 1988, Puerto Rico) Latin pianist, arranger, bandleader and composer; played a leading part in popularizing mambo and other Latin rhythms in the USA during '40s-50s with big bands and his own popular combo. He started dance and violin tuition at age eight, skipping school at 13 to dance in vaudeville; he was nabbed by a truant officer and made to attend Harlem High School '37, where he learned the basics of trombone and piano: he played trombone with a New York Amateur Symphony but settled on piano. He danced with Chick Webb's band (featuring Ella Fitzgerald) at the Apollo Theatre, and played piano with the bands of Ciro Rimac, the Happy Boys, Enric Madriguera, Xavier Cugat, Machito (replacing Luis Varona who'd left to lead the Second Afro-Cubans '43), others. He was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force '45-6; after discharge he studied at Juilliard under the G.I. bill.

He joined the Ramon Argueso orchestra, then Fernando Alvarez's resident band at the Copacabana club '47, which included Tito Puente, leaving in October to organize Jack Lopez's big band (Charlie Palmieri replaced Loco in Alvarez's band). During '48 he played, arranged and recorded with Pupi Campo's band (Puente had left Alvarez early '48 to become Campo's music director, drummer and business manager); the Campo collection Rumbas And Mambos '91 on Tumbao included dazzling sides featuring Puente and Loco recorded for Seeco in '48. By '49 he was writing charts for Tito Rodriguez, Machito, Marcelino Guerra, Noro Morales, Puente, among others; directed, played piano and wrote arrangements for a short-lived group led by Afro-Puerto Rican bassist Julio Andino '49-50 (Andino had left the Machito orchestra after eight years) including Pete Terrace on drums (b Pedro Gutiérrez, 26 February 1927, NYC; timbales, vibes, arranger, composer, bandleader; first played with Loco in Argueso's band); Andino's group became one of NYC's top ten Latin bands and made four sides (composed and arranged by Loco) for Gabriel Oller's SMC label '49. While still with Campo, Loco recorded for Tico as leader of a trio '51; given another chance to record for Tico mid-'51 as Tito Rodriguez's pianist, the session had to be abandoned when Tito lost his voice, and Tito persuaded label boss George Goldner to record Loco in a quintet instead (Tito played clave): the hit 'Tenderly' resulted.

Loco left Campo's band '52; his policy of giving pop standards and original tunes a Latin jazz makeover in a small piano and rhythm group context became a winning formula, securing dates in jazz clubs nationwide as well as Latino community gigs. Hit 10-inch albums on Tico included Mambos Vols 1-4, Mambo Dance Favorites Vol. 5 and Mambo USA '51-4 (compilation on CD Mambo Loco '94 on Tumbao); the personnel comprised Loco on piano, Terrace on vibes, timbales and percussion (Terrace joined '52 after graduating from Juilliard with a BA), Andino on bass and Bobby Flash playing bongo and percussion; 12-inch LPs on Tico mid-'50s included Mambo Moods, Mambo Caravan (with Machito and Puente), Make Mine Mambo And Cha Cha Chá, Mambo Fantasy and Viva Mambo. Two mid-'50s LPs Loco Motion and Vaya! on Columbia helped raise Loco's profile further; Goldner allowed this in exchange for a slice of the sales, but Loco left Tico when he discovered that Goldner was concealing sales figures, relocating to Los Angeles where he made three LPs on Fantasy under the name of the Pete Terrace Quintet (as he was still under contract to Tico): Going Loco '54 (reissued as half of the Fantasy CD Loco Motion '94), Invitation To The Mambo '55, The Pete Terrace Quintet Plays Joe Loco Arrangements '55.

Against Loco's advice, Terrace signed as a bandleader with Goldner; his quintet made it's Tico album debut with A Night In Mambo-Jazzland '56, including the hit 'Shangri-La', followed by The Nearness Of You, Basic Cha Cha Chá  (with Rodriguez and Puente), Cha Cha Chá  In New York, Pete With A Latin Beat, My One And Only Love, Cole Porter In Latin America and Baila La Pachanga c.1956-61; however Goldner's strategy to market Terrace as a smooth, romantic version of Loco didn't work, and Terrace switched to Colpix early '60s for the albums Sabroso y Caliente and Viejos Buenos/Oldies Goodies. After gaining a masters degree at Juilliard '64-6 Terrace's career enjoyed a brief upturn '66-8 during the boogaloo era; he released album PT on his own label Mio in the mid '60s, and also released Hawaiian music and other Latin titles, retiring from performing himself; then he moved to Puerto Rica where he practised medicine. Meanwhile his brother Ray Terrace made two albums for Jubilee: Baila, Baila and Oye El Cuchy Frito Man, including compositions and arrangements by Pete. Ray's The Home Of Boogaloo on Tower (distributed by Capitol) featured Willie Torres on vocals, and arrangements by Marty Sheller. 

Meanwhile Loco kept the albums coming with the under-promoted The Music Of Rafael Hernández y Augustin Lara '57 and The Music Of Gonzalo Curiel y Consuelo Velázquez Vol. 2 '59 on Ansonia, Let's Go Loco and Happy Go Loco on Imperial. He returned to Fantasy for Cha Cha Chá  '58, Olé '58, Latin Jewels '59, The Best Of Joe Loco '60 and Pachanga With Joe Loco '61 made with Mongo Santamaria's charanga (other half of the CD Loco Motion '94); changed to GNP for Poco Loco With Joe Loco c.1962; he issued Dance! Joe Loco And His Pachanga Band early '60s and Puerto Rico '68 on Liberty/Sunset. He moved to Puerto Rico '68, and worked in San Juan hotels.