Digi Wax

November 16, 2006

In case you've been sleeping and didn't see it in the last issue of the ragamazine, Anthology Recordings is a must-visit new online and digital-only record label, doing mostly long-lost and/or obscure reissues from a grip of different genres. From their first run of releases, we bugged out on China Shop, a downtown NYC band that included Sonic Youth-to-be Richard Edson. China Shop formed in ’79 but we had never previously heard of them. Anyway, we just got word that Anthology's second rash of releases went up this week, and damned if our friend Joe Bataan isn't included. The record is Call My Name, Joe's most recent studio work, completed in 2004. Check it out over at Anthology, but before you do that we'll get you started in the right direction with our recent Gen F profile on The King of Latin Soul bka Mr New York from our 40th issue spectacular, after the jump.

Holy Ghost

Joe Bataan is the world’s elusive street corner prophet

By Sam Ada

Like some unstoppable ghost, prolific keyboardist/vocalist Joe Bataan is a figure that people have been chasing for decades. He was mis-marketed early in his career. He took an extended musical sabbatical through most of the 1980s and ’90s (to work as a tour commander at a juvenile detention center and to become heavily invested in training his own children in competitive Karate). He also boasts a year-spanning musical stylistic trajectory that has encompassed everything from doo-wop to salsa to boogaloo to funk to disco—the elements of which all neatly fall under the rubric of “Latin Soul,” with Bataan as the genre’s king.

Although born in Spanish Harlem, the ever-evolving Bataan’s whereabouts, both musically and physically, have been hard to nail down. From his home in Mount Vernon, New York, Bataan recounts a story told to him by radio legend Felix Hernandez: as a young child in Philadelphia, Hernandez begged his parents to drive him up to New York City so that he could buy Bataan’s “I Wish You Love.” Bataan also tells of Ray Andrade, associate producer of 1970s sitcom Chico and The Man, who organized “a thousand Chicanos” to picket outside of Los Angeles’s renowned KDAY station, demanding that Bataan’s music be played. Even if his material has been hard to come by, the demand for Bataan’s music has been steady since he debuted in 1967 with Mr New York on the immortal Fania label.

Over the years Bataan’s appeal has grown internationally, with each region of the world, he suggests, championing its own Joe Bataan anthem. “In New York, it’s ‘Ordinary Guy,’” he says. “In California, ‘My Cloud.’ In Japan, ‘The Bottle.’ In Colombia, it’s ‘Good Good Feeling.’ And in Europe, it’s ‘Rap-O Clap-O’”—one of the first rap songs, and a testament to Bataan’s reputation as a musical vanguard. Perhaps the most impressive testament to Bataan’s international influence comes from his friend who served in the Vietnam War—apparently, Tokyo Rose-like Vietnamese broadcasters played Bataan’s music on local radio, hoping to make American troops homesick.

The vastness of Bataan’s impact stems from the evangelical nature of his music. Whether love song or street corner anthem, Bataan’s voice sounds both undying and omnipresent, the embodiment of his powerful everyman-as-prophet persona. Bataan talks of “rekindling that spirit” with his first new studio album in over 20 years, Call My Name, a dancefloor séance full of flawless, salsa-tinged funk jams that will appeal to the Brainfreeze set and old-timers alike. Although these songs signify a grand reentrance, to call the album a resurrection would be inaccurate. Bataan sounds as if he never left, and he appears poised to subsist through clave backbeats, conga rhythms and organ grooves eternally.

Posted: November 16, 2006
Digi Wax