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Truth be told, we’ve been dying to get this interview for years now. The late Salsa legend, Salvador “Sal” Cuevas, a Puerto Rican eñye from New York (Newyorican), was surrounded by not only the Latino side of the city but also the sounds of rock, funk, Afro-Cuban, jazz and so much more.

According to Sal, he quickly picked up the bass guitar in middle school and was forever transformed. For many years Sal was a member of the salsa music group Fania All-Stars circa (1978–1985), as well as several other top name salsa groups of the time lead by Johnny Pacheco, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz and the list goes on. During this time he was one of only five bass players in New York City who recorded many of the “jingles” for T.V. and radio. In fact, as a world-class bassist, Sal helped establish an entire musical genre — salsa while reinventing Latino music with rock n’ roll and jazz influences and smashing basses along the way.

We were extremely saddened to hear that Sal Cuevas passed away on May 9th 2017.



My name is Salvador Cuevas. I am a New York born Puerto Rican. My parents both were born in Puerto Rico so I am what is known as a Newyorican. Being from New York you are exposed to not only the Latin part of music, you are also exposed to Rhythm and Blues, Punk, and also Jazz, so I started playing all of that stuff when I went to Junior High school. I spoke to my teacher and he said “why don’t you play the bass?” He doesn’t know how right he was, remember “Blatico”? The Fania All Stars was comprised of all the singers, Celia Cruz, Rueben Blades, Jose Feliciano, Willie Colon, Mongo Santamaria, Hector Lavoe and the main musicians that they would use for all the sessions and I happened to be one of them. That’s the way someone would play it normally, the thing that I do is I’ll come and I’ll take the same notes, more or less, but I’ll add you know like (plays bass guitar) you can hear all the notes that I added. It gives it a totally different swing. (plays guitar) what I added was like the slap and the poppy style on the bass and just playing slides, playing cords on the bass and just a whole array of new totally different things that I know you could do but nobody was doing it. I says, “why not?” and so I would do them not to be bored and then all of a sudden it became like a thing, it was new. It was different. They were like ‘wow, this guy is playing something we’ve never heard, not in Latin music anyway. Besides of all the playing, the totally different style that I developed, I used to do stuff like this I would leave, you know, go and throw myself on my knees and take solo and smash instruments and, you know, like a whole— it wasn’t just musical, it was visual as well. This is me with the Fania All Stars getting ready to smash a bass. I was into the Rock and Roll thing so I use to buy a bunch a basses go on tour and each concert I would smash one. Then later on it was a wireless system that I had I would go out into the audience and play and dance with some chic and match her up with some guy and then I would take the instrument and smash it , that was forget about it, everybody—they would forget about everything I played. What I played didn’t mean anything. Then I started working with Johnny Pacheco and he let me do stuff. Then I got called by Willie Colon.

Denise: What did this feel like, all these greats are calling you, what was that like for you?

Sal: Oh, for me it was just another gig.

Denise: Were they just not as big as they are now, these people?

Sal: Yeah, you’re kidding? Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colon, Reuben Blades, Celia Cruz. With Celia Cruz I recorded like, 18, 19 albums. When I was playing with Fania All Stars the word ‘Salsa” came up, believe it or not, out of nowhere. Emcee Sanabio, who was the emcee the master of ceremonies for all the Fania All Stars concert he would always come up, he would say’… con ustedes como sabor latino que tiene mas SALSA que pescao because that was the same mas SALSA que pescao. The people in the audience were the ones that started the whole thing; SALSA, SALSA and that’s how that whole term started. Play by the rules and never leave.

Do you know an eñye with an amazing story? Tweet at us using #soyeñye so we can connect with you! Or join our private Facebook group to connect with other eñyes and share your story!

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