Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


RAY, Ricardo 'Richie' and Bobby Cruz

Ray b Ricardo Maldonado, 15 February 1945 NYC; pianist, arranger, composer; also other keyboards, bass, flute, saxophone, vibes and percussion. Cruz b Roberto Cruz, 26 February 1941, Hormigueros, Puerto Rico; singer, composer, arranger; güiro and maracas. Purveyors of 'salsa with beatitude', Ray and Cruz were partners for over 25 years. Ray started on piano age seven, and played bass in a group led by Cruz '57. He attended the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, the High School of Performing Arts, and left Juilliard after a year to dedicate himself to his recently organized band, including Cruz singing lead; he signed with Fonseca and issued six titles which represent arguably the duo's strongest recorded work: Ricardo Ray Arrives/Comején '64, On The Scene With Ricardo Ray '65, Three Dimensions '66, A Go-Go-Go/Ricardo Ray Introduces Bobby Cruz mid-'60s and the Christmas album Bobby Cruz En Fiesta Navideña mid-'60s. 'Comején', the co-written title track of their '64 debut album, was a hit and another stand-out from the same record, 'Mambo Jazz', was revamped on 10 Anniversario '75. 'Jango' from Three Dimensions was a crossover hit in the black community.

Key band members during their Fonseca period were bassist/arranger Russell 'Skee' Farnsworth; Richie's brother, trumpeter Ray Maldonado (now deceased) and singer Chivirico Dávila (1924-94). Grandes Exitos de Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz '91 on Fuentes is a good collection of the Fonseca material. Ray switched to Alegre for eight albums: Se Soltó/On The Loose/Introducing The Bugaloo '66, Jala Jala Y Boogaloo '67, Jala, Jala Boogaloo Volume II '68, Los Durísimos/The Strong Ones/Salsa Y Control '68, Let's Get Down To The Real Nitty Gritty '68, The Best of/Lo Mejor de Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz c.'69 (a compilation), Agúzate '70 and In Orbit '70. The '66 album was one of the first to feature the R&B/Latin fusion known as boogaloo; the next included one of his biggest hits, 'Richie's Jala Jala', co-written with Cruz; another track 'Colombia's Boogaloo' was a massive hit in Colombia, where their sound had a crucial influence on that country's own brand of salsa.

Still signed to Alegre, Ray made Viva Ricardo c.'68 and El Diferente late '60s for UA Latino (a division of United Artists Records). Cruz shared equal billing for the first time on Los Durísimos/The Strong Ones/Salsa Y Control '68; the band now had an eight-piece lineup of Doc Cheatham and Venezuelan Pedro Rafael Chaparro, trumpets; José 'Candido' Rodríguez, timbales; Jackie 'El Conde' Dillomis, conga; Harry 'Bongo' Rodríguez, bongo; Farnsworth, bass and co-arranger; Ray piano and co-arranger and Cruz on lead vocals. They stuck with an all-trumpet frontline, later adding flugelhorn on occasions. Longtime Cab Calloway sideman Doc Cheatham had played previously with Machito, Marcelino Guerra and Pérez Prado; he first met Ray '67 after being offered a job by Panamanian trumpeter Victor 'Vitín' Paz at a ballroom in the Bronx. 'When I arrived at the dancehall, the leader, a young pianist named Ricardo Ray, greeted me and introduced me to his sidemen ... [they] made me feel wanted ... I remained with Richie Ray for two years.'

In the wake of the huge success of 'Colombia's Boogaloo' in Colombia, Richie's band received a hysterical reception there; Cheatham said the band tied up traffic. 'Nitty Gritty', contained on Let's Get Down To The Real Nitty Gritty, charted in the UK top 100 in '69. Tiring of the competitive NYC salsa circuit, they moved to Puerto Rico '70. Meantime Chaparro, who had worked previously with Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodríguez, turned bandleader on Este Es Chaparro '71 on Ralph Cartagena's Rico Records; his sidemen included Cheatham, Farnsworth and Dillomis. Chaparro followed up with El Padrino (The Godfather) '72; just Cheatham stayed on Chaparro's Gozando '74, which featured bassist Israel 'Cachao' López. After some early difficulties, Ray and Cruz established themselves in Puerto Rico and opened a night club in Santurce in San Juan; but they couldn't operate the club as well as gigging, so they sold it. They signed with the new Vaya label, a subsidiary of Fania; their Vaya product during the '70s-80s was variable, but relieved by occasional moments of brilliance. El Bestial Sonido de Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz '71, made in Puerto Rico, was the first in the Vaya catalogue, and one of their better ones, including 18-year-old female vocalist Miki Vimarí and the Rubén Blades-penned 'Guaguancó Triste'. Jammin' Live '72 with Vimarí was another of the better ones. Following a period of personal anguish and alcohol and drug abuse, Ray converted to evangelical Christianity '74 which he gave priority over performing; this created conflict with Cruz until he also became a convert. Thereafter they missionized through their salsa records, spiritual recordings and crusading concerts, getting their ninth gold disc for Reconstrucción '76, presented at Madison Square Garden '80; it was directed by Louie Ramírez and included the hit single 'Juan En La Ciudad' ('John In The City'). Viven! '77 included the stirring 'El Rey David' ('King David'); their second '80 release, De Nuevo 'Los Durísimos' Again, included the dynamic 'Yo Soy La Zarza', all these jointly composed by Ray and Cruz.

Doc Cheatham came back to play trumpet solos on Pinturas '81, Los Aguilas - The Eagles '82 and Back To Back '82. Their last Vaya album, Los Inconfundibles '87, recorded in Miami, included 'Sipriano', written by Cruz. Their work with other Latin artists declined after their conversions. Richie performed on the Tico All Stars' Descargas At The Village Gate Live '66 recordings and on the Fania All Stars' debut Live At The Red Garter '68; they both recorded with the Fania All Stars '71-6 and appeared in the films Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa) '72 and Salsa '76. The duo produced albums Naturalmente Serafin '72 by Serafin Cortez, Que Traigan El Son Cubano '72 by Leyo Peña, and Chivirico Dávila's Nuevos Conceptos/New Concepts '78. Ray guested on Héctor Lavoe's Revento '85. They made their farewell performance at the 16th annual New York Salsa Festival '91; two tracks included on a concert album. Cruz performed live in Puerto Rico '96 and came back with a helping of 'Christian salsa' on album Cuando Era Niño '97 on RMM.