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Carlos "Patato" Valdez & Candido Camero

On April 7, 1999 Carlos "Patato" Valdez and Candido Camero visited with me to discuss their lives in music and to have their photo taken. They talked of their pioneering work in bringing about the use of more than one conga drum And of bringing Latin rhythms into jazz and mainstream American music.

Candido was the first to come to the United States in July of 1946 with the dance team, Carmen and Rolando. At that time, there was no bands using congas outside of Dizzy Gillespie who on December 3, 1947 created in collaboration with Cuban conga great, Chano Pozo, the tune Manteca. Dizzy took Candido to meet jazz pianist, Billy Taylor and after hearing him play, hired him to work at The Downbeat Club. Candido pioneered playing more than one percussion instrument at one time. In the early 1950's he was performing as a featured soloist with the Stan Kenton Orchestra using 3 congas, a guiro mounted to the a conga and a cowbell, attached to a bass drum pedal.

Candido, from his early days in Cuba, has done most of his work in nightclubs and caberets which paid better than working in dance bands. While working a show in one of the hotels in Puerto Rico in 1964, I brought to him my invention, Afuche/Cabasa which I had just created. It was within months on my quiting my last job and perhaps it was this master's praise of my new product, that encouraged me to go full time into the percussion business.

Patato came a few years after Candido in 1952. He worked in New York's Tropicana with Conjunto Casino. In 1954, with his immediate family having passed away,  he said good-bye to his birthplace, Cuba and never returned.

Patato's first jazz work was with Billy Taylor in the Blue Note jazz club in Philadelphia. After that he worked at New York City's Apollo Theater with trumpet player Chip Murray.  The first jazz recording that Patato played on was that of trumpet player, Kenny Durham. He said the name of this recording was Afrodesia. Years later Patato formed a group of his own which he named Afrojazzia.  He worked with Art Blakey and you can hear Blakey's sage instructions to Patato on the RealAudio interview of these two giants.

I first met Patato in the late 1960's when he was working with the great percussionist, bandleader, Willie Bobo. I used to follow Patato from one Bronx dive to another. He played in the strangest of situations, from a bar somewhere around Freeman Street with organist, Chagine Garcia to a killer band with the late Kako, Manny Duran, Bobby Brown and Alex Blake in a place on Webster Avenue named the Puerto Rican Tavern. In 1974 when I produced my first recording, Understanding Latin Rhythms, Vol. I, Patato was an important part of this group along with his long time sidekick, José Mangual. I produced three other recordings featuring Patato; Authority, Ready For Freddy and Batá y Rumba. In 1978 I formed a band with Patato and Tito Puente and financed this band's four international trips which included one to Japan. There were a couple of times that Patato drove me to tears during these trips, but the memories I have and the benefit LP derived from spreading the gospel of the clavé, more than offset these temporary hardships.

Candido and Matthew Cohen

Robbie Ameen, Patato, Vivianne Cohen, Matthew Cohen, myself, Enrique Fernandez, Luz Fernandez, Candido, Candido's friend, Mary and my niece Samara Cohen in the front row.

My daughter, Andrea, and my son Matthew shared the visit with Patato. When Andrea was not much older than Matthew, she was involved in arranging hospitality for Patato when he would come to our house in Hillsdale, New Jersey where we had a recording and photo studio.  She was trained to ask if Patato wanted a beer. This was the first time that Matthew met Patato. While I find Mr. Patato Chips fascinating, Matthew was more interested in watching the new Rug Rats Movie. Robbie Ameen told me that when I left the room and he heard Matthew playing a conga, Patato said that my little boy plays a lot more drums than his father. I have to agree.

Can you guess who is the real Patato?

Robbie Ameen, Patato and Candido in the LP photo studio during their historical interview.

Patato, Matthew Dillon Cohen and Candido.