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Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck: Hector Lavoe

Marty McFly and Doc Brown had the Delorean to go travel through time; We have the Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck. Every week, we’ll hop in our time traveling machine, gun it to 88 MPH, and go back in time to bring you the best from the good ol’ days. Will it be a clip from an old telenovela? An old school music video? Stick around and find out!

In the annals of salsa history there is a holy trinity that defined the genre: Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, and the late great Hector Lavoe. In the late 60’s and 70’s Hector Lavoe became the archetype of a salsa lead singer as part of Willie Colon’s legendary band. It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that if there is a Platonic form of a salsero it’s Hector. Hector’s voice was sweeter than coquito on Christmas. Unlike other songwriters that just wrote about parties, his songs were about life on the mean streets of Puerto Rico and Spanish Harlem. Like so many of the greats of the era, (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc), he burned out too quickly and died entirely too young.

Hector was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico into a musical family. His grandfather was a protest singer and his dad was a well known tres player in bands around town. Hector grew up literally surrounded by music. But because being a jobbing musician never friggin’ paid ever in history, they were dirt poor. So, in the mid-sixties, like a lot of Puerto Ricans, he went to New York. Of course, this was a horrible time to be in New York as the city was about to get all “Taxi Driver”. Hector started singing with legends like Johnny Pacheco. This was the time in which the confluence of recent arrivals from Puerto Rico and Cuban refugees were inventing salsa in New York and Hector was on the ground floor of the movement. He soon got the nickname, “La Voz” for his golden tones. In 1967 he met Willie Colon and joined his band. This thrust Hector into a new level of fame and fortune. That’s when the trouble started.

To say Hector developed a drug problem is an understatement. This dude did Tony Montana levels of blow. Ironically, he was never doing better career-wise. He went solo and scored number 1 hits with songs like “El Cantante” and “El Todo Poderoso”. But as Biggie said, mo’ money mo’ problems. Hector continued to self destruct. He was doing drugs and banging chicks on a level that worried even dudes who were also doing huge amounts of drugs and banging lots of chicks. Hector went into rehab and cleaned up his act, but it was too late. He had contracted HIV, probably from sharing needles, and his health started to deteriorate. He tried to commit suicide by jumping from a hotel window but survived. In 1990 he developed AIDS and died horribly soon thereafter.

But, let’s not leave it on that seriously depressing note. Though he was with us far far too short a period of time he left us with some of the best salsa songs in the great golden age of the genre. Today when you go around Spanish Harlem and the Bronx you’ll see murals of Hector on tenement walls and Puerto Rican restaurants. There are even streets named after him. In 2007 Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony made a crappy biopic about his life called “El Cantante”. Someone should have told Marc Anthony that he can’t act…and J-Lo ain’t much better. Still, the movie introduced Hector’s music to a whole new generation. Every crappy cloud has a silver lining.

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