Here is a CD essay for Sony-Legacy on the fabled Jose Feliciano-
it also includes transcribed comments from Gregg Rolie of Santana,
who met, played and jammed with Jose in 1970 and 1971.
It contains an overview of many memorable Feliciano
music moments plus an encapsulated history.
Jose Feliciano is a Hispanic superstar and a forerunner of the current mega-popularity of Latino music in all styles across the contemporary world. His unique and universal interpretations of other stellar musicians’ styles, plus his own self-penned material, make him pre-eminent among equals.
Feliciano although born blind, at an early age developed a passion for both singing and playing the guitar. His extraordinary, soaring, soul-drenched vocals and his inspired acoustic and electric guitar playing, has won him fans in the rock, jazz, folk and Latin world music genres.
Included in this package, is his ground breaking version of Light My Fire, which Feliciano made his own. His own compositions Destiny, Rain and Chico And The Man, stand alongside radical re-workings of California Dreamin’, Hi-Heel Sneakers and In My Life the Beatles favourite, among others.
This package is notable for including his controversial version of the US National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, to which Feliciano was the first artist to seriously deconstruct the song for the 1968 World Series in Detroit. His heartfelt rendition was a chart success but also brought him much controversy, with many people feeling he disrespected the anthem. This of course is not true; he was simply the first to explore and interpret the deep feelings inherent in the piece.
Jose Feliciano is a musical pioneer, a legend who has maintained his prolific output to this day. He is ever evolving on his own terms and continually making music of quality and distinction.
Jose Feliciano is a modern Latino superstar, a uniquely talented singer and guitarist who has written many superb songs but is also greatly revered as an interpreter of other artists’ material. He is one the forerunners of today’s massive Latino music market and recognised as the first solo Latin artist to “crossover” into the English market. (Other notable early Latin crossover acts were Trini ‘If I Had A Hammer’ Lopez and Richie ‘La Bamba’ Valens).
Feliciano’s melisma (meaning his vocal tones, clustering of notes, and singing techniques) is beyond compare. His
voice manages to soar freely above his accompaniments but is also tinged with a melancholy that inflects his music with his own brand of Latino soul. His voice aches and seems to cry out the lyrics, deeply touching the listener’s emotions. Perhaps, much like his contemporaries Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, Feliciano’s blindness gives him an extra aural sensitivity, allowing him to transmit a song’s inner meaning.
Jose Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10th 1945. By the time the family immigrated to New York City the young Jose (one of eleven children) was becoming versed in playing first the concertina and then, his real passion, the guitar. He practised constantly with a fierce dedication and developed his singing style and phrasing, playing along to 50’s rock and roll records. His fluent and fiery guitar was a perfect foil to his amazing vocal range and frenzied bursts of staccato acoustic guitar. This, and his ease with the electric guitar idiom, won him many fans in the rock, jazz, and Hispanic music markets.
Feliciano began playing professional dates at the age of nineteen and soon his mesmerising stage presence was attracting a lot of attention. Recording mainly in Spanish, he still managed to create an early but significant stir at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. At this stage he was recording boleros for the RCA label, resulting in hits for the Latin market.
By 1968, his first ‘English’ album for RCA ‘Feliciano’ was a breakthrough smash, just missing the Number 1 spot in the US charts. One standout from that set was his inspired re-working of The Doors’ Light My Fire. Although already a huge hit twice (US Number 1 and later charting at Number 83) with a sultry vocal from Doors’ singer Jim Morrison, Feliciano gave the song a distinctly Latin flavor, adding a plucked acoustic guitar middle section, tumbao conga rhythm, superb string arrangement, Jose’s soaring tenor vocal, and finally an audacious jazzed-up outro.
Feliciano’s smash version charted at Number 3 and he subsequently won two Grammies in 1969 for Best Pop Song of the Year and Best New Artist of the Year. With the release of Hi-Heel Sneakers (charting at US Number 28), his career gained a seemingly unstoppable momentum. Hi-Heel Sneakers is a sexy lope thru this R&B inflected piece (originally by Tommy Tucker) with sensational, psychedelic, dreamy strings and a sly, syncopated groove with Jose doing a great vocal percussion piece. Feliciano went down a storm in England too, on a heavy/progressive music bill (including Free, Traffic, Black Sabbath and more) at The “Hollywood” Festival in Staffordshire in 1970. He wowed the late night audience, who were huddled around bonfires, with versions of California Dreamin’, Windmills of Your Mind, Sunny and Hi-Heel Sneakers and encored with Light My Fire, all included in this set.
California Dreamin’ is a melancholy, imploring reworking of The Mamas And The Papas classic. Here Feliciano is almost praying to God for his redemption. Hear how he stretches notes, bending his voice along with his scat singing and unison, grooving guitar plus gorgeous Spanish vocals added for la gente! His self-penned song Rain is another string-drenched piece, complete with swirling flute work. Sunny is simply and starkly beautiful. Windmills Of Your Mind – featured in the film The Thomas Crown Affair – is a 60’s curio, again with impassioned vocal and stunning guitar. Hitchcock Railway and Susie-Q are sturdy takes on Joe Cocker’s version and Dale Hawkins’ original. They appeared on the Souled and Fireworks albums respectively.
Gregg Rolie, keyboardist and singer who also reinterpreted such hits as Black Magic Woman, Oye Como Va and Evil Ways, fronting the young Santana band (another up-and-coming group of Latin music superstars) jammed with Feliciano in Hawaii later in 1971 and recalled the young Feliciano’s attitudes, “He jammed with us in Hawaii and played a few dates with Santana and he was just so gracious to us, so honest and that is exactly what his music and voice is like, honest! He was really unaffected by his fame and he was a really big star. His version of Light My Fire was incredible, you imagine he did a song that was a hit twice by The Doors. There’s only one way to make that happen, make it so different or make it like brand new and he did that. He made it happen in such a different realm, it could have been the first one!”
In My Life was one of many significant Beatles covers that Jose gave fresh life to — John Lennon is on record as saying he enjoyed Feliciano’s versions of Day Tripper and Help. Jose retains the song’s poignancy and gives a beautiful feel to one of John Lennon’s finest compositions. She’s A Woman is another Beatles classic, this time from the pen of Paul McCartney, and here Jose adds a joyful Brazilian samba feel, complete with agogo bells, and guiro percussion. McCartney’s classic, Yesterday, receives a masterful instrumental Latin treatment.
Also included here are The Bee Gees’ song Marley Purt Drive, a gospel driven performance. Destiny is another flavourful Feliciano original. He wrings out every drop of soul from Hey! Baby. Chico And The Man was another Feliciano original and the theme for the highly successful TV show, starring the ill-fated Freddie Prinze, in which Feliciano appeared regularly.
The last cut on this collection is perhaps one of the most significant and controversial for Jose: his version of The Star Spangled Banner. Since then has been not unusual for a major music artist to treat the US National Anthem with a different twist. Names spring to mind such as Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969 and Marvin Gaye in 1983. However, prior to these two eminent versions, Feliciano brought his own achingly soulful rendition to the 1968 (the year of Vietnam and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy) World Series in Detroit before 54,000 and it brought an immediate firestorm of controversy down on him. He was the first artist to explore the song’s inner compassionate beauty. For many years after, he felt his brave, heartfelt version had dogged and stalled his career in the USA.
This collection is just the tip of the Feliciano iceberg, so chill out and savour this tremendous artist’s repertoire.
Look further afield and check out You Tube for some great video clips. Long live the master, the one and only Jose Feliciano!!
(Jim McCarthy is the author of
Tags: Gregg Rolie
Voices of Latin Rock-
Foreword by Carlos Santana)
Published by Hal Leonard.
, Jose Feliciano
, Light My Fire