Craft Latino honors one of salsa’s most iconic duos, Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón, with a reissue of their final album together, 1983’s Vigilante. The best-selling album, which served as the soundtrack to the 1982 film of the same name (starring Colón in his Hollywood debut) also marked a long-awaited reunion for the two icons. Celebrating Vigilante’s 40th anniversary, this special release features (AAA) lacquers cut from the original master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and is pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Rounding out the package is a vintage-style tip-on jacket, replicating the album’s eye-catching original artwork. In stores on November 3rd and available for pre-order now, Vigilante will also make its debut on 192/24 hi-res digital audio on November 3rd. In addition, a Clear Smoke color vinyl exclusive with exciting bundle options that include a limited-edition Vigilante T-shirt featuring the iconic album cover art is being offered at CraftRecordings.com.
Released in 1983, Vigilante marked a reunion for one of salsa’s most iconic duos: bandleader, producer and trombonist Willie Colón and singer Héctor Lavoe. Their foundational partnership began 16 years earlier when Colón and Lavoe (then 16 and 21, respectively) recorded their debut, El Malo, for Fania Records. Over the next few years, the pair rocketed to fame, releasing a string of best-selling titles, including Cosa Nuestra (1970), Lo Mato (1973) and the classic holiday albums Asalto Navideño Vols. 1 & 2 (1971 and 1973). By the mid-’70s, however, the two artists were eager to break out on their own. Colón was shifting his focus to behind-the-scenes roles as a producer, musical director and arranger, while Lavoe was primed to become one of salsa’s greatest vocalists. Although the two men never really went their separate ways (Colón produced the majority of Lavoe’s solo albums), fans still yearned to see the old friends back in action.
By the turn of the ’80s, Colón had become one of Fania’s most lucrative talents, thanks to a steady stream of albums as a leader, plus collaborations with stars like Rubén Blades and Celia Cruz. Lavoe, meanwhile, had found international success as a solo act with such beloved albums as La Voz (1975) and 1978’s Comedia (which earned him the nickname “El Cantante”). The two artists also devoted much of their time to recording and touring with the celebrated collective Fania All-Stars. But the early ’80s also presented challenges for both men: Colón was overloaded with projects and reeling from the sudden end of a six-year creative partnership with Blades, while Lavoe was battling addictions and struggling with his mental health.
At the same time, Fania Records owner Jerry Masucci was also at a crossroads. For the better part of 15 years, the label had been at the forefront of the New York City salsa explosion. But Masucci was eager to expand its reach. After the success of the 1972 documentary Our Latin Thing, scripted features felt like a natural progression. His first film was 1982’s Vigilante, which starred Robert “The Hammer” Forster, Fred Williamson and Colón, in his acting debut. Directed by Bill Lustig, the film followed a group of New York City factory workers, who form an undercover vigilante group to fight the rampant crime in their neighborhood. Colón played the role of Rico Melendez, who heads a Puerto Rican street gang. Fania recognized the film as the perfect vehicle to reunite Colón and Lavoe, whose classic album covers often portrayed the two men as tough guys. Masucci also hoped it would give the two artists a much-needed career boost.
Both artists were eager to be involved. For Colón, the project was also an opportunity to try his hand at film scoring. Although the trombonist did not perform on the album (aside from occasional vocals), he served as musical director, while he assigned arranging duties to Luis Cruz and Héctor Garrido. The talented team certainly did not disappoint. Their most masterful work is the 12-and-a-half-minute-long title track, which blends Latin rhythms, rock guitars and orchestral themes. Among the overture’s most impressive solos are those by seasoned session guitarist Georg Wadenius, cuatro master Yomo Toro and trombonists Leopoldo Pineda, Lewis Khan and Luis López. Toro, who famously first played with Lavoe and Colón on Asalto Navideño Vols. 1 & 2, also shines on the grand-scale closing track “Pasé la Noche Fumando.”
Lavoe is also in top form throughout the four-track album. Each lengthy song allowed the interpreter ample room to showcase his legendary vocals, signature ad-libs and effortless phrasing. Among his most memorable performances is “Juanito Alimaña” (known to younger generations for its heavy sampling in reggaeton pioneer Julio Voltio’s 2005 hit “Julito Maraña”). Clocking in at seven-and-a-half minutes long, the hit single finds Lavoe regaling listeners with an epic tale about the life of a ruthless thief. Opener “Triste y Vacía” has the singer spinning the tragic story of a woman whose life is filled with bad fortune.
Amid an overly ambitious schedule of releases (including the 1983 film The Last Fight, which starred Colón and Blades), the soundtrack to Vigilante was put on hold and released months after the film, but the delay certainly didn’t hurt sales. Nostalgic fans were thrilled to see Colón and Lavoe back together and bought the salsa album in droves. Perhaps most importantly, Vigilante played its part in revitalizing the careers of its two stars.
With new hits under his belt from Vigilante, Lavoe was primed to return to the studio for two more albums, including the GRAMMY®-nominated Strikes Back (1987). Colón, meanwhile, would continue to find success in music, while exploring a variety of acting roles. Sadly, Vigilante would be the duo’s final album together. A decade after its release, Lavoe passed away at the age of 46, leaving behind a mighty legacy. In the years following his death, Lavoe was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, among other honors, while his life inspired an off-Broadway play, tribute albums and two feature films, including the Marc Anthony/Jennifer Lopez-led El Cantante (2006). Colón, meanwhile, continues to stay active in the industry, and in 2004, he received the coveted Latin GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award.
Vigilante tracklist (vinyl)
- Triste y Vacía
- Juanito Alimaña
- Pasé La Noche Fumando
Vigilante tracklist (hi-res digital)
- Triste y Vacía
- Juanito Alimaña
- Pasé La Noche Fumando