Interview Joe Bataan: The KING of Latin Soul
(Red Bull’s Music Academy Showcase, Cordy House, EC2)
On Friday 12th June 2009, a day after his hotly anticipated first UK ground breaking Latino-Soul gig for Red Bull Music Academy and Karen P’s Broadcasting at Cargo; London, the in demand ‘Ordinary Guy’, Mr ‘Rap-O-Clap-O’ himself, Joe Bataan sat down with The Dood to express his gratitude, expose his spiritual side and set the record straight on some key issues.
The Dood: Is this your first visit to the UK and if not, what took you so long?
Joe Bataan: Actually, I’ll tell ya the truth, because you don’t wanna step on anybody’s toes. What happened was in 1979, when I had the record ‘Rap-O-Clap-O’, it was starting to become an international hit. We had success in every country in Europe except the United Kingdom! So RCA brought me here and we did the promotional bit.
I travelled with Sugar Hill Gang, they had the number one and I had the number two record. Then we found we ran into some difficulty, there was politics involved and I couldn’t understand it – I thought, ‘why didn’t England want to play my record?’ They (RCA) said, ‘well Joe, they (England) want a part of your publishing.’ I said, ‘my publishing, nobody else asked for that.’ ‘Well’, they (England) said, ‘they won’t play your records.’ I said, ‘well that’s unheard of.’
Of course the record company said no also and the end result was throughout that course, the two places that I had difficulty was the United States, because they weren’t ready until after Sugar Hill Gang came out, and England. Actually, I had the first release!!
The Dood: So what you’re saying is your rap tune ‘Rap-O-Clap-O’ came out before Rapper’s Delight?
Joe Bataan: Yeah! I had mine before them, but they (USA) wouldn’t play mine! And then the United Kingdom wouldn’t play mine!
The Dood: Now that is strange?
Joe Bataan: Yeah! People don’t know this. So that’s what kept me from England – ALL THIS TIME! And then it was the underground – thank God for the underground and people that loved my music, who were not in abundance, but they kept my following going all these years. Then after the revival, the re-issue of songs from Fania catalogue…then they started to play my things and people started to take an interest.
The Dood: So you came round in a long loop?
Joe Bataan: I came through the back door! And that’s why this day is so important, that it took Red Bull, who didn’t want any particular ties with me, that weren’t putting any limit on the finances and treating me like an ARTIST!
The respect, I wasn’t going to come over here begging somebody to come to the United Kingdom. I felt that I was an artist and that I had my just due. Nobody ever got a chance to see what Joe Bataan could do. So it took me – thank God I’m still alive – thirty years to come here!
The Dood: We’re thankful.
Joe Bataan: I am too! My wife thanks you, because I know this is going to be a venue for me, this is going to be a lucrative place and part of my life and that’s why the spirit is involved so much.
The Dood: That came across big time last night in your track ‘The Prayer’.
Joe Bataan: You understood! You’re about one of the very few that understood my message. So that’s why I said, I wanna talk to that gentleman because he said something interesting, and that means somebody was listening.
The Dood: I’m getting goose pimples again, like I did last night when you explained on stage about your gangster background and how you died ten years ago but came back to life. You’re a changed man now?
Joe Bataan: It’s similar to Paul, because when I look at it. I say ‘what did he really go through?’
The Dood: When you say Paul, you mean Paul as in whom?
Joe Bataan: The Saint! You know, when you think about it, you’ve gotta think about him travelling and the difficulties he ran into. I’m here tying to say something that might be foreign to a lot of people’s ears and how you dare come and impose…you know what I mean. But it doesn’t matter, because I have to go through with my mission. And if it’s one person, like yourself who gets it, then I’ve accomplished something. You see because you get it ten fold. And then, you see what He did – He brought this (points to the voice recorder). Not only you, He brought this! So those that we miss here, we’re gonna get’em through here (points to voice recorder again).
The Dood: I hear that!
Joe Bataan: You see, now I’m getting goose pimples!! Now I know it’s working – Yeah! Wow!
The Dood: Tell me more about people that inspired you musically and vocally? In the past you’ve mentioned Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Patti Page, whom you listened to as a kid on the ‘Hit Parade’ chart?
Joe Bataan: Well, we would listen to the radio Top Forty and buy the magazines at the neighbourhood store. And then I would emulate these songs while they played on the radio.
The Dood: You learned English by duplicating their vocal styles?
Joe Bataan; Exactly, I would sing like the girls and sing like the guys. And of course that would help you develop a style, it helped you with your diction, it helped you with the pronunciation of words and influenced you…But you don’t know this growing up through that period.
The Dood: It’s all subconscious?
Joe Bataan: Exactly! That’s exactly what happened.
The Dood: Your music was unique, in that you managed to marry the rhythms and styles of the Afro-Caribbean community with that of the Latino people? You came along and cleared up that whole market. Correct?
Joe Bataan: Exactly. But it was not easy, because even to this day I see people trying to attempt it, but they cannot do it authentically. Depending on your culture and how you grew up…to attempt someone else’s, you’ve got to really feel the clave, the beat. I mean Jamaican music played here is completely different to what they play in Jamaica. It’s just like Latin music played in a different country is not like they play in Cuba. So they know the difference – and they’ll tell you, they’ll tell you about their music!
The Dood: What’s the story behind your respectful instrumental version of Gil Scott-Heron’s – ‘The Bottle’ and a young David Sanborn?
Joe Bataan: Yeah! David Sanborn played on ‘The Bottle’ and laid it down, first take! Initially, I wouldn’t touch that tune. Now I did it, because it’s about that time when it can be done, you know on my new album. But at that time, I wouldn’t touch anybody’s song, if I couldn’t do it justice or better. And I knew what they, the artists, were going through at that time.
The Dood: Are there any Jazz musicians or musicians in general you’ve enjoyed working with.
Joe Bataan: Some of the guys I worked with were sort of Jazz or improvisers like Lou Marini, Dave Sanborn of course, Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Encyclopaedia of Soul, Gordon Edwards, Bernard Purdie and of course I was responsible for the exposure of Jocelyn Brown.
The Dood: Formerly Jocelyn Shaw?
Joe Bataan: Yeah! Actually Gordon Edwards introduced me to her…He said ‘do you want someone who sings like I play the bass?’ I said ‘Yeah!’ and he introduced me to her. And of course she sang on one of my records, ‘Sadie’.
The Dood: I’m gonna flip it a little bit. Is it true you taught your kids karate!?
Joe Bataan: Karate! My wife’s the one, also my son and my daughter.
The Dood: So it’s true!?
Joe Bataan: Yeah! I went to join and she jumped ahead of me, and I ended up carrying the bags and she became the black belt.
The Dood: Ok, so during the twenty year period when you stopped playing, did you listen to any music and if so what?
Joe Bataan: Oh yeah! I listened to the end parts of Disco, what was happening, a lot of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Earth, Wind and Fire, stuff like that.
The Dood: Salsoul Records. What happened there?
Joe Bataan: I started Salsoul records, I’m the originator, that’s my name. I coined it. It meant Salsa and Soul – mixed. It was another name for Latin Soul. And I started that label with the Cayre Brothers some time ago, and of course I sold my interests to them.
The Dood: Why?
Joe Bataan: Because I was foolish! I didn’t know what I was creating at that time and that it would evolve into one of the premier dance labels of the world.
The Dood: Any regrets?
Joe Bataan: Nah! You know why? I’ll out live all those guys. Even the people who stole from me, or the people who didn’t pay me my residuals. I think I had a much fuller life – I’m happy.
The Dood: What do you think of the You Tube generation?
Joe Bataan: It has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately like everything else, when they expose and put things on there that are naughty or are disgraceful to other people, I don’t believe in. As far as the media and getting things known, great idea – for the exposure of people like myself and such, but, when they start utilizing it for things that are negative, not good.
The Dood: Do you prefer playing live or in the studio or both?
Joe Bataan: I prefer playing live, yeah! I’m a people person.
The Dood: The young people keep you young. Have you seen the film Cocoon?
Joe Bataan: Yes!
The Dood: That’s how I saw your performance yesterday, because you said you had a bad arm and your wife had a bad shoulder, but something happens when you go on that stage. You become twenty-one again and full of energy and vitality. Would that be a good analogy?
Joe Bataan: That is the truth! You see, because you can hurt during a major soccer game, but they tell you, ‘rest after the championship, now everything goes!’
The Dood: Last question. For your obituary, how would you like people to remember Joe Bataan?
Joe Bataan: Well err! As the ‘Ordinary Guy’ who tried to do something for people towards the end of his life. And I tell people, go after what you really want. If you have a love of something, don’t let anything stop you. Also, I’d like to be known as that aggressive person that went against a lot of obstacles to achieve what I wanted to achieve in life, without trying to hurt anybody.
Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards
Essential Joe Bataan RBMACargo Gig: http://redbullmusicacademyradio.com/shows/1603/
Essential Website: http://www.joebataan.net
• 2009 King of Latin Soul – Joe Bataan with Les Fulanos (Vampisoul) www.vampisoul.com
• 2005 Call My Name (Vampisoul)
• 1997 Last Album, Last Song (Bataan Music)
• 1981 II (Salsoul)
• 1980 Mestizo (Salsoul)
• 1975 Afro-Filipino (Salsoul)
• 1973 Salsoul (Mericana)
• 1972 Live From San Frantasia (unreleased, Fania 432)
• 1972 Saint Latin’s Day Massacre (Fania 420)
• 1972 Sweet Soul (Fania 407)
• 1971 Mr. New York & The East Side Kids (Fania 395)
• 1970 Singin’ Some Soul (Fania)
• 1969 Poor Boy (Fania 371)
• 1968 Riot! (Fania 345)
• 1968 Subway Joe (Fania 345)
• 1967 Gypsy Woman (Fania 340)
You can find The Dood’s concert review in ‘excursions’