SEPTEMBER 15, 1983 – Drummer WILLIE BOBO (b. February 28, 1934 in New York City as William Correa) died at the age of 49, succumbing to cancer after a period of ill health. He was survived by another son, Eric, who performed with him, and his wife, Alicia.Bobo grew up in Spanish Harlem, New York City, and began playing bongos at age 14, only to find himself performing with Perez Prado a year later, studying with Mongo Santamaria shortly after his arrival in New York while serving as his translator, and joining Tito Puente for a four-year stint at age 19.
The nickname Bobo is said to have been bestowed by the jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams in the early 1950s. He made his name in Latin Jazz, specifically Afro-Cuban jazz, in the 1960s and 1970s, with the timbales becoming his favored instrument.His first major exposure was when he joined George Shearing’s band on the album “The Shearing Spell.” After leaving Shearing, Cal Tjader asked Bobo and Santamaría to become part of the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet, who released several albums as the mambo craze reached fever pitch in the late ’50s. Reuniting with his mentor Santamaría in 1960, the pair released the album “Sabroso!” for the Fantasy label.
Bobo later formed his own group, releasing “Do That Thing/Guajira” with Tico and “Bobo’s Beat” and “Let’s Go Bobo” for Roulette, without achieving huge penetration.After the runaway success of Tjader’s “Soul Sauce,” in which he was heavily involved, Bobo formed a new band with the backing of Verve Records, releasing “Spanish Grease,” the title track being perhaps his most well-known tune. Highly successful at this attempt, Bobo released a further six albums with Verve.In addition, Bobo played on innumerable sessions in New York, recording with artists like Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Chico Hamilton and Sonny Stitt. In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles where he led jazz and Latin jazz combos, and again met up with his long-time friend Richard Sanchez Sr. and his son Richard Jr. and began recording in the studio. Bobo then worked as a session musician for Carlos Santana among others, as well as being a regular in the band for Bill Cosby’s variety show “Cos” and recorded on his own for Sussex, Blue Note and Columbia.Santana covered Willie Bobo’s latin song “Evil Ways” in early 70s. In the late ’70s, Bobo recorded albums for Blue Note and Columbia Records.One of Bobo’s last appearances, only three months before his death, was at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival where he reunited with Santamaria for the first time in 15 years.His youngest son, Eric Bobo (Eric Correa), is a percussionist with crew Cypress Hill.
He also performed on the Beastie Boys’ 1994 album “Ill Communication,” as well as doing the 1994 Lollapalooza tour with the group.His grandson William Valen Correa, son of Bobo’s first son William Gill Correa, is Co-Founder of the music-based non-profit organization HNDP Los Angeles.