William Anthony Colón Román is an outstanding trombonist, composer, arranger, vocalist, producer, and bandleader. He hails from the South Bronx and is the son of Puerto Rican parents. He played trumpet as a young teenager but switched to trombone after discovering the sounds emanating from Barry Rogers and Mon Rivera recordings. He was 16 years old when he began his recording career with Al Santiago, former owner of the prosperous Alegre record label. Willie’s first album was being recorded for Santiago’s Futura Record label. While the album was in progress Al’s medical conditions forced him to find a label that would release the album which would eventually be released as El Malo for Fania Records. Willie signed with Fania while being pursued by this writer and brother, Richard Marin for Decca Records. Fania’s co-owner, Johnny Pacheco, recognized the talented Colon as a diamond-in-the-rough and chose Willie to lead a parade of sensational hits that would endure a couple of decades. El Malo became a smash hit that sold hundreds of thousands of copies and launched the flourishing career of a talented kid with aspirations and the ambition to be a leader in the world of salsa music.
Of special importance among Willie’s dozens of albums is El Juicio and La Gran Fuga (The Big Break). El Juicio was released in 1972 and features Hector Lavoe, Willie’s lead singer at his peak. The band was carefully chosen by Willie and includes Willie on trombone; Eric Matos, trombone; Louie Romero, timbales; Joe Torres, piano; Jose Mangual Jr., bongos; Milton Cardona, congas; Gene Golden, percussion; and Santi Gonzalez on bass. The coro includes Justo Betancourt and Johnny Pacheco. Wanted By FBI/The Big Break – La Gran Fuga was released in 1970 and includes Hector Lavoe on vocals, Willie Colon and Willie Campbell on trombones, Louie Timbalito Romero on timbales, Professor Joe Torres on piano, Milton Cardona on congas, Jose Mangual Jr. on bongos and Santi Gonzalez on bass. Perhaps the one moment that best encapsulates the transcendental qualities of this album is “Panameña” – when the tune stops on its tracks, Lavoé introduces la salsa de Puerto Rico, el Aguinaldo, and all hell breaks loose, thanks to Colón’s roaring trombone and the jerky piano lines by the maestro, Professor Joe Torres. —Bobby Marin