Excerpts from Harvey Averne documentary in production TRT 24:47
Produced-Directed and Edited by Kathy Cacicedo
Excerpts were taken from interviews with Harvey Averne for a documentary in production by BuenaOnda Pictures currently seeking funding. If you have info to share, would like to be considered for an interview, or would like to help with, or have ideas about funding the project... please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
About Harvey Averne:
Harvey grew up in a predominantly Jewish and Italian neighborhood in East NY, Brooklyn with a father who came to the USA from Georgia, Russia and mother of Polish descent who was born in the USA. He was first exposed to Spanish music through his father who came home singing the Spanish songs he heard sung by newly arrived Puerto Ricans immigrants he worked along side of as a sewing machine operator in a ladies belt factory.
He played the hotel circuit in the Catskill mountains for many summers with his group called Harvito and his Latin Rhythms, where he started his career in Latin music. Renamed Arvito and his Latin Orchestra, Harvey took over leadership of a "troubled" Conjunto (2 trumpet band) originally formed by pianist Larry Harlow with Harvey playing vibes & fronting the band. The group was managed by top DJ Dick Ricardo Sugar and they worked throughout the 50's and into the 60's at hotels, clubs, dances and the Palladium (or as Harvey calls it "The temple of Latin music")
Anglos stopped listening & dancing to Latin music in early 1964 with the arrival of the Beatles and Harvey concentrated on "his day job". Although he was wildly successful in his own home remodeling business he became disillusioned and bored. In 1967 Larry Harlow had signed with a new company, Fania Records and suggested he meet Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco, owners of the label. Jerry needed someone to run the label for him and after weeks of thinking about it Averne sold his business, let go of his chauffeur and took the job at Fania for $300 a week. He refers to it as "being paid to go to music college". He learned by experience and worked on all aspects of the business. He began producing notable albums which included Ray Barretto's "Acid" , Larry Harlow's "El Exigente" & Ralfi Pagan's hit "I Want To Make It With You" (which was certified Gold by the RIAA) . During this time he managed Ralfi Pagan & also recorded his own albums "Viva Soul" (Atlantic Records), "The Harvey Averne Dozen", "Brotherhood" and the "Harvey Averne Barrio Band" for Fania Records." "His recordings from the late 60's and early 70's are treasured by collectors" (1) His singles, such as "Never Learned to Dance" have sold on ebay for up to $595
Averne turned his back on his artistic career and began what would be a successful run as a label owner and producer. He founded CoCo (Originally Mango) Records at the beginning of the 70's and proceeded to make history. In 1975 NARAS announced a new Grammy category... Latin music. "Sun of Latin Music" by Eddie Palmieri, produced by Harvey Averne on the Coco label, won the first Grammy awarded in the new category. CoCo's winning ways continued the following year (1976) when "Unfinished Masterpiece" by Eddie Palmieri and again produced by Harvey Averne, won the second Grammy. In 1977 Averne had two Grammy nominated productions in the final five "Muy Amigos" by Danny Rivera & Eydie Gorme which included mega hit "Para Decir Adios" and "Fireworks by the Machito Orchestra canta Lalo Rodriguez.
Averne signed quality names like Eddie Palmieri, Jose Fajardo, Charlie Palmieri, Típica Ideal, Orquesta Broadway, Machito, Lalo Rodriguez and Joe Quijano. He reunited Cortijo y su Combo Original which included Ismael Rivera, Rafael Ithier with four members of El Gran Combo in addition to Andy Montanez, Roberto Rohena & all the other original members after being apart for twelve years. The album "Juntos Otra Vez" was recorded live in concert at Coloseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico. CoCo also was the only NY Salsa oriented record company to really enter the Latin Pop arena and met with great Success ie: Danny Rivera & Eydie Gorme (Para Decir Adios), Yolandita Monge (Cierra los Ochos y Juntos Recordemos), Lissette Alvarez (Copacabana), Trini Lopez, Steve Lawrence, Wilkins & Alberto Carrion. Harvey also produced La Lupe's album "The Queen does Her Own Thing" (Tico/Roulette Records) which included the hit "Se Acabo (Once We Loved).
Averne says "CoCo records tried to be the opposite...lets say...to change the things I didn't like about Fania, and give the artists a choice. No need to do the same thing - you already had Fania...and we already had the big General Motors assembly line type company - I used to call them (Fania) General Motors. I would tell the artists if you want to come to a Rolls Royce type company that's CoCo Records. We don't want to be the biggest, we just want to be the best. It's going to be truth in credits, truth in advertising, custom production, custom promotion, not masses of asses type service, but personal service..and it worked. The big artists didn't want to be one of a hundred, they wanted to be treated like the stars and superstars they were. You can't do that when you have 100 artists. You can do that when you have a limited amount of artists and that was the concept of CoCo Records...it was a niche, full line, first class latin record company .
"During their tenure with Coco, most of the Artists grasped the opportunity to produce some of their most adventurous & most successful & award winning works. Overall the Coco roster of the '70s stretched the boundaries of the genre and contributed to setting a benchmark for the following two decades." (1)
Averne says "But it's all about the music - you know - and now I'm so glad it's being appreciated 40 plus years later, because I put my heart & soul and everything I had into it, dedicated my life to it ... more than anybody else of my era was doing. I was going to the best studios, working with the best artists, better engineers, better musicians and I was working harder than anybody on it. I was giving the same respect to our music that the Beatles gave to their music, and nobody was doing that in Latin music." "I would say that my contribution was to take our music out of "Cuchifrito" recordings and take it to the next level, to where the best music in the world was being made. Recording along side of Stevie Wonder, along side David Bowie, in Jimmy Hendrix studio "Electric Lady", taking it to the best studios in the world. I gave Latin music the respect it was due. No Latino and no other Latin record company at that time ever did that. I believed if I did that, if we made better records, we would sell more product and would make more money...and it worked. The quality of the music finally supported the hard work and the effort of Larry Harlow, Ray Barretto, Felipe Luciano and others who were petitioning NARAS for years. It forced NARAS to make a Grammy category for Latin music because the music was so undeniably good they couldn't ignore or disregard it any longer. So everybody started making better records because of what little CoCo Records did...and that's really what I wanted to do. "I never wanted to be the biggest, I just wanted to be the best. I wanted alll Latin records to sound as good as the finest recorded product of all the other genres.
"When overviewing Coco's catalogue, apart from a sprinkling of Latin pop, Latin rock and novelty albums, the main thrust was solid hard hitting Latin music. Averne's sensitivity and commitment to Afro-Rican and Afro-Cuban roots - as well as providing artists with room to explore their musical traditions regardless of commercialism - is also clear." (1)
(1) from: John Child lm-mail.com/mailouts/web06_pdf.pdf