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Criollo Lebron Brothers The Lebron Brothers celebrated their 40th anniversary in the business in 2006. Their career spans five decades of doing things uniquely and uncompromisingly in their way: making funky, gritty, streetwise and relentlessly swinging music that mixed Spanish lyrics, Latin tunes and English-language R&B/soul-oriented numbers. “Lebron Brothers are the only other band (besides Willie Colón) to arrive during the boogaloo era and survive long after boogaloo was dead and buried,” comments Ray Rosado, leader of Maña. “I believe that for these two bands, boogaloo was merely a means to an end.”
Originally called Angel Lebron and his Orchestra in 1965 (co-founded by Puerto Rico-born brothers Angel on bass and José Lebron on piano,) they changed their name to Lebron Brothers at the suggestion of George Goldner (1918 – 1970) when they signed to his Cotique Records label during the peak of the 1966 – 1969 boogaloo craze. The eldest, Pablo Lebron, sang Spanish lead vocals with the band until 1981 – when sadly, he suffered a stroke.
Between 1967 and 1982, the band recorded 16 albums for Cotique, during which time brothers Carlos and Frankie joined on bongo and conga, respectively. The multitalented José and Angel wrote and arranged most of the material. Fania Records took over Cotique in the early ’70s and drafted star bandleader Larry Harlow to produce one of the band’s albums and Johnny Pacheco, the label’s co-founder, to produce another three. Reportedly, Fania boss Jerry Masucci (1934-1997) tried to persuade the Lebron Brothers to replace Pablo with a younger, thinner white lead singer. Proud of their Afro-Boricua heritage, they resisted and were consequently excluded from major industry opportunities. Angel and José eventually took over the reins of production on the band’s 14th Cotique release in 1980, and Angel took the producer credit on the remaining two albums for the imprint (Frankie produced a one-off return to Cotique in 1998). “On all of their recordings, the coro is precise, the swing formidable and the message is both timely and seemingly prescient. That’s more than enough to make up for whatever naïveté one might observe in their recordings at first blush,” says John Walsh, trumpeter with the Grammy Award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, who began playing with Lebron Brothers in the mid-’80s. “And then there’s the vibe.
When they walk on stage, they made their presence felt: five or six of them, not one under six feet or less than 225 pounds! Criollo is a landmark album in a number of respects: it was Lebron Brothers’ last outing for Cotique after a 15-year run with the label and spawned the immortal “Sin Negro No Hay Guaguancó” (Without The Black Man, There Would Be No Guaguancó,) co-penned by Angel Lebron and Aura M. de Velázquez, which has virtually become an anthem in Cali, Colombia. They first visited Colombia in 1979, where they continued to grow in status and recorded three albums, including their live 35th anniversary album in 2002. “Diez Lágrimas,” another Angel Lebron gem with a subtle string orchestration, also acquired super hit status in Colombia, as did Angel’s composition “Esposa Y Querida.” Both numbers shift up a gear into the unremitting trademark Lebron groove. Other outstanding tracks include “Siempre Será,” a vintage Lebron groove composed by José, and Pablo’s notable rendition of the classic bolero “Sabor A Mi.” “Criollo – that’s a classic,” adds Walsh. “The importance of ‘Diez Lágrimas’ and ‘Sin Negro No Hay Guaguancó’ in particular will survive the vinyl onto which they were pressed. It’s amazing to me that when we do gigs anywhere in the world where one might find Colombians, they know the words to every song.
Kids that were yet to be born when this album was recorded easily sing along with their grandparents now.” After Criollo, the band went on to record for the Caimán, El Abuelo, Yengo, Astro Son, Boso and Exclusivo labels between 1986 and 2006.
Credits: Angel Lebron – Bass José Lebron – Piano Carlos Lebron – Bongo Frankie Lebron – Congas Ruben Lebron – Trombone Joséph Trapaneses – Trumpet Charlie Hernández – Trumpet Willie Rodríguez – Trumpet Edwin Acevedo – Timbales Osvaldo Acevedo – Percussion Louie Cruz – Percussion Lead Singer – Pablo Lebron Chorus – Angel Lebron, José Lebron, Carlos Lebron Producer, Musical Director – Angel Lebron Arrangements – José Lebron, Angel Lebron Original Album Cover Design – Colin Klebanoff Original Album Photography – Jorge Pardo Posse
Written by John Child