Victor Pantoja; conguero par excellence has passed on the morning of March 12, 2010 at 6:00 am. I had the pleasure of interviewing Victor Pantoja thru a visit to Mike Carabello, who was then living in Fairfax, California, this was in the year 1991. I interviewed Victor over the phone for a magazine feature I was doing. I didn’t in fact use some of that till writing the Voices of Latin Rock book.
I remember Carabello telling me, how he had brought Victor in, to hang around the Santana camp, as he had loved his playing with Willie Bobo and Gabor Szabo and Chico Hamilton. Santana had included Hamilton’s song Conquistadores in their early sets. Pantoja also came onto the Santana tour of 1971, playing alongside at various gigs, Rico Reyes, Coke & Pete Escovedo.
Pantoja ended up being recorded at Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live set from the Diamond Crater in Hawaii. He also played on the outtake Banbeye, which can be heard on the Santana 3 two CD Legacy Edition, released in 2005. (This edition has new and detailed sleeve notes by myself).
Pantoja had an earthy style, sparse in places, with each slap and beat echoing his Cubano background. Standout cuts from Victor for Latin rock freaks will be the two Azteca recordings, Malo’s debut album, the Luis Gasca solo recording, Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live plus
the aforementioned Santana 3rd album outtake Banbeye.
But his exhilarating playing on the Gabor Szabo cuts and with Willie Bobo and Chico Hamilton bear renewed investigation and show his earthy, soulful brilliance.
Please find a filmed interview from Voices Of Latin Rock Year 5 show, this was filmed backstage on Saturday January 24th 2009 at The Warfield; San Francisco. God Bless you Victor. RIP.
Here is an unedited excerpt of Victor talking that mostly did not make the Voices book.
“Victor Pantoja; “ I was born in Puerto Rico, raised in New York. I started playing when I was eight years old, then I went on to play with Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito, loads of others. My first band was with my sister. I played drums too, on top. I was with The Harry James Orchestra, when I was about fifteen. ‘
Mike Carabello had brought Victor Pantoja into the Santana scene during recording of the 3rd album. Chepito had suffered a brain haemorrage just as Santana were due to tour Europe in 1971. Coke Escovedo guested and toured on Santana 3, (during the time of Chepito Areas’ illness) just before the band were due to go on the road, starting in Ghana, Africa. Ghana was then just entering the first flush of it’s independence from Britain and the concert was a planned celebration, featuring the cream of US soul and jazz, such as Roberta Flack, Les McCann & Eddie Harris, Wilson Pickett and Ike & Tina Turner.
John Santos; “ Pete Escovedo sang with Mongo on Mongo’s Charanga. Victor Pantoja is Puerto Rican, not Cuban, he played with the Orchestre Cacho in Puerto Rico, he played bongoes and congas, then he was with Herbie Mann and then they both hit the Latin Rock scene with Azteca, after they’d touched Santana on the Third album. Victor was very influenced by Carlos Patato Valdes.”
Victor Pantoja; “ I played with Herbie Mann, we went to Europe, when I got back, I played with Jimmy Smith. I knew Luis Gasca from the Stan Kenton days. I came out to California, playing with Wes Montogomery . I had also met Willie Bobo, we were from the same neighbourhood, that was the barrio. We used to play at a place called Count Basie’s.“
Herbie Herbert; “ When the band was splitting up, we tried to change the spiral by dosing them with liquid Owsley. It was Gregg’s first trip, we took the drops too, to stay on the same page. It was the most electrifying show at Cobo Hall at Detroit and
Carlos was wondering what was going on, Gregg said we’re all tripping. This was about two days after Carlos and the percussion had their Mexican standoff. After at the Howard Johnson, things were really crazy with Booker T. They had the whole floor of the Howard Johnson and they never lost the attitude, y’know fighting, Victor Pantoja had a knife pulled on him by Booker T. He wanted to kill Victor. Victor was screaming his head off, he wants to kill someone else, it was crazy.”
Victor Pantoja; “ We used to do Evil Ways with Willie Bobo, Santana did it but we didn’t make a dime. I met Mike Carabello in San Francisco, I love him to death. I played a couple of times with Santana, it was cool, I also played on the Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live album.”
Nat Adderley- Autobiography (1965)
El Chico- Chico Hamilton (1965)
Spanish Grease – Willie Bobo (1965)
Uno Dos Tres – Willie Bobo (1965)
Spellbinder- Gabor Szabo (1966)
Soul Sauce-Cal Tjader (1966)
Further Adventures of Chico-Chico Hamilton (1967)
Do What You Want To Do-Willie Bobo (1968)
Much Les- Les McCann (1969)
Memphis Two-Step-Herbie Mann (1971)
For Those Who Chant – Luis Gasca (1972)
Bluesmith-Jimmy Smith (1972)
Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live (1972)
Iapetus- Hadley Caliman (1972)
Pyramid Of The Moon-Azteca (1973)
Betty Davis (1973)
Standard School Broadcast (1973)
Born To Love You. Luis Gasca (1974)
They Say I’m Different-Betty Davis (1974)
Canyon Lady-Joe Henderson (1975)
Montara-Bobby Hutcherson (1975)
Fantasy. Luis Gasca (1976)
Hell Of An Act to Follow (1978)
Huracan-Cal Tjader (1978)
Mwandishi Complete Recordings-Herbie Hancock (1994)
Roots Of Acid Jazz – Cal Tjader (1996)
Blue Movies –Various (1997)
No Dancing Please-Mento Buro (1998)
Blue Bossa-Various (1998)
Ay Califas- Raza Rock of 70’s & 80’s –Various (1978)
Celebracion- Malo 4 CD box (2001)
Crossings-Herbie Hancock Re-issue (2001)
A New Dimension-Willie Bobo (2002)
Santana 3 – 2 x CD (Legacy Edition)
Apologies if any stuff is missing?
Tags: Victor Pantoja