Two of the most innovative record labels in the history of modern music are Blue Note and Salsoul Records. However, there was only one artist who released albums on both labels. That artist is legendary Cuban percussionist, Candido, who released two albums for Salsoul in 1979. Candido’s Salsoul debut was Dancin’ and Prancin,’ which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. Not only was Dancin’ and Prancin’ an innovative album, but it epitomized the Salsoul sound. By 1979 when Salsoul released Dancin’ and Prancin,’ their trademark sound was just about to change, change beyond recognition. Before I tell you about Dancin’ and Prancin,’ I’ll tell you how the Salsoul sound came about, and why, and when, it changed.

Originally, Salsoul was a small label that specialized in releasing Latin music. That wasn’t what Ken Cayre, one of the owners of Salsoul wanted. What he wanted was an orchestra similar to Philadelphia International Records house-band M.F.S.B. Ken’s vision was an orchestra who could fuse salsa, Philly soul and disco. Ken got his disco orchestra after a fortuitous meeting with Vince Montana Jr. 

Vince Montana Jr. approached Ken Cayre about bringing a Latin vocal to Mericana, another of Salsoul’s labels. Ken wasn’t interested in Mericana, but explained his vision to Vince. He explained that he was looking for an orchestra similar to M.F.S.B. Having explained his vision to Vince, Ken wrote Vince a cheque. In return, Vince would deliver three songs where Philly Soul, disco and salsa were fused. Without even looking at the cheque, Vince headed back to Philadelphia to record three songs with M.F.S.B. Eventually, Vince looked at the cheque. He was shocked to discover it was for $10,000. Back in Philly, M.F.S.B. recorded Nice Vibes, Dance A Little Bit Closer and Salsoul Hustle.

After the three tracks were delivered to Ken Cayre, he took Salsoul Hustle to CBS who’d first refusal on Salsoul releases. Unluckily for CBS, they were busy releasing albums by Bob Dylan and Barbara Streisand. CBS passed on Salsoul Hustle, as did Atlantic and Polydor Records. So Salsoul released and distributed Salsoul Hustle. Immediately, Salsoul had a hit single on their hands. This proved to be the best $10,000 Ken Cayre had ever spent. Then in Philly fate intervened again.

Less than a hundred miles away from Salsoul’s New York headquarters, problems were afoot at Philadelphia International Records in 1979. Gamble and Huff were locked in a dispute with Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house band M.F.S.B. over money. When this dispute couldn’t be resolved, members of M.F.S.B. quit Philadelphia International Records and headed to New York where they became The Salsoul Orchestra. In one fell swoop, Ken Cayre had his orchestra.

From Salsoul’s earliest releases in 1975, the fusion of salsa, Philly Soul and disco was at its strongest. This was the case right through to 1979, when Candio signed to Salsoul. Commercial success and critical acclaim were never far away. However, by 1979, Salsoul’s trademark sound was changing and had become diluted. The reason for this was the change in personnel at Salsoul. Some of the musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters who were crucial to Salsoul had left the label. 

With Vince Montana Jr. at the helm of The Salsoul Orchestra, the fusion of influences Ken Cayre wanted was at its strongest. After Vince left following a disputed with the Cayres over royalties, this was the start of dilution of the trademark Salsoul sound. The dilution of the Salsoul sound continued when other key personnel either left Salsoul or played less important roles. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Playing an important role were remixers, including Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons and Tom Moulton, who’d also produce and write tracks for Salsoul. The music Salsoul was releasing began to change. Recent signings included Silvetti, Claudja Barry, Gary Criss, The Miami Disco Band and Skyy. However, after Candido signed to Salsoul, the music changed dramatically. Candido’s Dancin’ and Prancin’ would mark the end of an era at Salsoul.

Candido was born in August 1921, on the outskirts of Havana in Cuba. From an early age, Candido was immersed in music. He started to learn music when he was four. His uncle taught him to play bongos and then Canido learned to play the tres, a three stringed Cuban guitar. By the time Candido was a teenager, he’d mastered the congas. This lead to him performing at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Soon, he was backing Carmen y Rolando, a dance duo whose reputation was worldwide. This lead to Candido accompanying them to New York, where he gained a reputation as a true musical innovator.

In New York, when Candido was accompanying Carmen y Rolando, their budget couldn’t stretch to hiring two conga players, which were needed. Candido, realizing that the only way round this, was to play two congas simultaneously. He’d watched tympani players doing something similar, so realized it was possible. When the time came, Candido played two congas simultaneously. This had never been done before and people were mesmerised. Then Candido took things even further. Soon, he was playing three congas, all tuned at different pitches simultaneously. After this, American jazz legends began to take notice of the name Candido. So it made sense for Candido to move to America.

Now living in America, Candido played alongside Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday and Tito Puente. They were able to experience firsthand this visionary percussionist. Then in 1956, the wider public were able to hear Candido when he released his debut album. Candido was released on ABC-Paramount.  Over the rest of the fifties, Candido featured on albums by The Billy Taylor Trio, The Lecuona Cuban Boys and The Don Elliot Octet. There was also numerous appearances on albums by everyone from Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, The Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. Candido also released two more solo albums, 1957s The Volcanic and 1958s In Indigo. If the fifties had been busy for Candido, then the sixties would be even busier.

During the sixties, Candido’s solo career continued alongside his collaborations with other artists. He released 1962s Conga Soul,1963s Congas Comparsa and featured on Jazz At The Philharmonic In Europe. However, Candido was gaining the reputation as the busiest percussionist in jazz music. Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Elvin Jones, Donald Byrd and Gene Ammons all called upon Candido when it came to percussion. Little did Candido realize, as the sixties became the seventies, that he’d release albums on two of the most important labels in the history of music.

Candido’s first album of the seventies, was one the best albums of his career. Thousand Finger Man was released in 1970, on jazz’s premier label Blue Note, with Beautiful following in 1971. Apart from the two albums for Blue Note, Candido only released two other albums before signing to Salsoul. These were 1971s Brujeras De Candio/Candido’s “Latin McGuffa’s Dust” and 1973s Drum Fever. For the remainder of the seventies, Candido worked as a session player, working with everyone with Elvin Jones, Randy Weston, Duke Wellington and Sonny Rollins. Then in 1979, having started the seventies signed to a label synonymous with jazz, Candido ended the seventies signed to disco’s premier label…Salsoul.

In many ways, Candido was similar to Joe Bataan, one of the Cayre’s earliest signings for Salsoul. Joe’s music was a fusion of Latin, soul and disco. He’d two spells at Salsoul. His first spell resulted in his best known track, a cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s The Bottle. So maybe, Joe could replicate the success of Joe Bataan?

Producing what became Dancin’ and Prancin,’ was an old friend of Candido’s, Joe Cain. The pair had worked together on albums like Thousand Finger Man and Beautiful. Joe had been brought to Salsoul by the Cayres, as General Manager of Salsoul Salsa and Mericana. During his career, Joe had produced over 400 Latin albums. However, when it came to disco, Joe was lacking in experience. That wouldn’t stop Joe Cain and Candido trying to produce an album worthy of baring the Salsoul logo. That album would be Dancin’ and Prancin.’

Accompanying Candido on Dancin’ and Prancin,’ were the members of Kleer, who when working with Patrick Adams, Greg Carmichael and Leroy Burgess, were known as The Universal Robot Band. Kleer included a rhythm section of drummer Woody Cunningham, guitarist Richard Lee and bassist and keyboardist Norman Durham. Completing the lineup of Kleer was percussionist Paul Crutchfield. Kleer would play an important part in Dancin’ and Prancin.’ Not only did they accompany Candido, but cowrote two of Dancin’ and Prancin’s tracks.

Dancin’ and Prancin’ consisted of four lengthy tracks. The title-track Dancin’ and Prancin’ and Thousand Finger Man were penned by Woody Cunningham and Louis Small, while Carlos Franzetti wrote Rock and Shuffle (Ah-Ha). Jingo was written by Michael Olatunji. Recording of Dancin’ and Prancin’ took place at The Power Station in New York.

Joining Candio and Kleer, were a horn section, backing vocalists, drummer Jimmy Young, bassist Ken Payne, guitarists Sandy Santana and Joe Caro. Adding keyboards and synths were Louis Small and Carlos Franzetti. Candido played everything from congas, bongos, cowbells, jawbone, clave, quinto and tumbao. Producing this compelling fusion of musical genres was Joe Cain. However, would Dancin’ and Prancin’ be a commercial success?

On the release of Dancin’ and Prancin’ in 1979, it failed to chart. The lead single Jingo, reached number twenty-one in the US Disco Charts, while Dancin’ and Prancin’ failed to chart. Although Dancin’ and Prancin’ hadn’t been a commercial success, it was well received by critics, who hailed Dancin’ and Prancin’ as a minor classic. Why was that?

Opening Dancin’ and Prancin’ is the title-track Dancin’ and Prancin.’ Straight away, thunderous drums grab your attention, and provide a dance-floor friendly backdrop. They’re joined by flourishes of keyboards, cowbells and a myriad of percussion, including congas, bongos and jawbone. Having set the scene, soulful and sassy harmonies sweep in. They add to the irresistible dance-floor friendly backdrop where soul, funk, disco and Latin music seamlessly combines. Keyboards drift in and out, while strings float elegantly and gracefully. Ever-present are the drums that provide a pulsating heartbeat. Horns growl while synths prove their perfect foil. When the soulful harmonies return, they’ set the scene for a virtuoso performance from Candido. Quite rightly, his percussion is at the centre of the mix. You’re enthralled by his jazz-tinged style. Not only is it dramatic and inspirational, regardless of whether he’s improvising or not, but features Salsoul’s trademark sound.

Saying Jingo has a dramatic start is almost an understatement. It’s not unlike Jimi Hendrix teasing you with a guitar solo before diving head first into a familiar track. Instead, it’s keyboards that take centre-stage. Then pounding drums and percussion drive the arrangement along. Combining elements of rock, jazz, Latin and dance music it’s a captivating track. Layers of music unfold, revealing subtleties and nuances aplenty. Urgent, punchy harmonies enter. They soar above the arrangement. By now, you’re swept along atop what’s akin to a musical roller coaster. Candido’s trusty percussion plus banks of synths and keyboards join a powerhouse of a rhythm section, on what is a truly captivating, compelling and genre-sprawling track.

As Thousand Finger Man begins, the arrangement is laden in drama, reminiscent of a seventies sci-fi movie. Soon, drama becomes understated and almost elegant. After that, the two unite, with synths and piano at the heart of the action. When thunderous drums, percussion and ethereal vocals enter, it’s a very different track. Granted there’s still drama and elegance, but the vocal brings a haunting beauty. Keyboards join the funkiest of rhythm sections and heartfelt harmonies. From there, the track reveals its secrets. The result is a track that’s funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Add its Latin influence and it’s a track that’s dramatic, elegant, tinged in beauty and filled with secrets and surprises.

Closing Dancin’ & Prancin’ is Rock & Shuffle (Ah-Ha). From the get-go, the arrangement is like a call to dance. Resistance is impossible. As keyboards, a funk-laden rhythm section, blazing horns and percussion combine, you’ll be on your feet and Dancin’ & Prancin.’ Bursts of soulful harmonies sweep in and out while this tight, talented band kick loose. It’s a joy to behold. Fusing musical influences and genres seamless, Candido and his band never miss a beat. Driven along by blazing horns, rhythm section and percussion, keyboards and harmonies add the finishing touch to what is, the best track on Dancin’ & Prancin.’ Quite simply, it’s a hook-laden and infectiously catchy fusion of musical genres like you’d expect on a track released by Salsoul.

For fans of Salsoul, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ was a landmark album in the history of disco’s premier label. Dancin’ & Prancin’ was one of the final albums to feature what had been the trademark Salsoul sound. This was a mixture of salsa, Philly Soul and disco. After Dancin’ & Prancin,’ disco nearly died. Its popularity nosedived, so Salsoul had to evolve to survive. It was a case of change or die. Other disco labels had folded, so Salsoul change was vital. Salsoul started signing what I’d describe as “post-disco” artists. Aurra, Inner Life and Logg  joined groups like Instant Funk and Skyy. Disco was replaced by boogie, while funk and eighties electronics started making inroads into post-disco Salsoul. Suddenly, Salsoul’s trademark sound could no longer be heard on Salsoul releases. One of the final albums to feature Salsoul’s trademark sound was Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin,’ which was a minor classic. However, there was much more to Dancin’ & Prancin’ than the Salsoul sound.

Listen carefully to Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ and you’ll hear a complex, multilayered album. Dancin’ & Prancin’ has been influenced by numerous musical genres and influences. There’s everything from jazz, funk, disco, Latin, Philly Soul and even rock during the four tracks on Dancin’ & Prancin.’ Soulful, fabulously funky and dance-floor friendly, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ is a truly timeless album that’s irresistible and infectiously catchy. Featuring some hugely talented and versatile musicians, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ which was recently released by BBR Records, is a reminder of Salsoul’s trademark sound. Thirty-four years after the release of Dancin’ & Prancin,’ it’s still perceived as a minor classic. If anything, Dancin’ & Prancin’s’ importance has grown, as a new generation of music fans discover its delights.  Sadly, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ marked the end of a musical era. Following Dancin’ & Prancin’ Salsoul Records’ sound changed. It was no longer disco’s premier label. Although disco hadn’t died, it had been badly wounded. It was no longer King. Its rein was over and disco lover’s marked the end of a musical era. However, what better way is there to end an era than with Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin,’ an album that’s an irresistible and infectious fusion of musical genres. 


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