Q&A: A Conversation with Oscar D'Leon
GR: How are you Oscar?
ODL: Iím very happy to be back, here in the great Babel of Iron that is New York. Iím here for the purpose of promoting my latest release, which was and continues to be a great compromise for me until it hits the arena because not until then will I know what the people think. The concept for this release was to recapture that sound I had in the beginning, when I would select the songs, get involved in the arrangements, as well as get involved in the total production to obtain what I call today LA FORMULA ORIGINAL.
GR: Why donít we start with why you decided to play the bass?
ODL: I liked the instrument. It is an important instrument. Music has been inside of me since the very beginning. When one is born and has that special talent itís because one is born with it. That is what happened with me.
GR: And how were the early days?
ODL: The early days were hard, but sweet as well. I didnít know that it could be this good in the beginning. I was a music aficionado that wanted to be a musician, not a singer! I never really was interested in becoming a singer. It was a great time. We were forming all kinds of groups including ones that would just perform serenades. Back then that was big. I really started my professional career when I formed La Dimension Latina. Originally it was my orchestra, but I gave all the musicians a piece of the band. It was sort of like a cooperative band. After a while I left that to form my own orchestra, which today backs me all over the world.
GR: How did the switch to singer come about?
ODL: It came about when I was playing in a quartet. The singer had a problem with the owner of the establishment where we were working. The owner was going to fire him, and with him we would all have to leave as well. So I decided to sing so that the band would not lose the job. After that I started to sing. That was back in 1971.
GR: You left Dimension Latina before Andy Montañezís arrival, right?
ODL: Yes, Andy joined the band when I left to form my own orchestra. Andy was my replacement. Andy eventually left the group as well to form his own orchestra. Afterwards they kept looking for singers until they found Jimmy. Jimmy arrived as the real Oscar DíLeon replacement. Thatís when they started to feature him as the "son" of Oscar DíLeon. Thatís why he is known as Jimmy "El Leon". At this point in time Iím still not sure if he is really my son or not. I have to conduct some tests to see if he is really my son or not. Iíd like to do this simply because he really admires me, and I admire him as well. I donít want to make him out to be a fraud. If the tests prove he is not my legitimate son I will still consider him my son. If not, then heíll really be my son.
GR: There came a time when you became embroiled in a nasty situation with certain people as a result of your orchestra, La Salsa Mayor, playing Cuban music in CubaÖ
ODL: Yes, because I started to get involved heavily in Cuban music, which just took control of me. It was a part of me since I was a child when I would listen to the Cuban radio stations with my father. From that time on I acquired a taste for the Cuban Son and everything that Cuban music means to me. And I appreciate the fact that it has made my music acceptable throughout the world.
GR: Currently there are basically three principal flavors of what we call "Salsa", the New York, Puerto Rico, and South American - Venezuela, Colombia and Panama styles. Your band can adapt to any of the three styles. Do you prefer one over the other?
ODL: We try to mix it all in. I even try to cover Rancheras, Paso Dobles, Boleros, Merengues, Jazz, Jazz Latino. My orchestra incorporates them all because we have fans all over the world and we try to please them as much as we can.
GR: How do you feel about the positive response you get from your fans?
ODL: The people have taken a liking to my orchestra and the results have been tremendous. We are featured throughout all the Jazz Festivals in Europe. We make the fans feels good and as a result we get a good draw throughout the world.
GR: Of all your releases, which album would you consider your best?
ODL: The truth is that I consider the very first recordings important. I hope that this latest one grows to be one of the very best. Itís not up to me to decide. Itís up to the public. The early recordings were so good that they were hard to surpass. I hope that the public finds this latest offering good enough to surpass those early recordings.
GR: Do you go into the studio looking to make a better record than the last one?
ODL: I donít think about that. That comes about on itís own. It just happens. Itís like a hit record, it just happens spontaneously. Sometimes you think youíre recording a hit and it just falls flat. The process is so complex that one cannot predict what will happen.
GR: Letís talk about the new release, LA FORMULA ORIGINAL.
ODL: Well, like I said before I got totally involved in the whole process of the production. I tried to duplicate what I did in the beginning. The public will have the final word on the production.
GR: Why such a big band?
ODL: Because within that band I have all the sounds I want. I think that when an artist reaches a certain point in their career they need to stretch out.
GR: Thatís a great sounding band. Youíre putting on quite a show these days. Is that going to be the way you present the band from now on?
ODL: Yes. All of my presentations are like that now. Iím still trying to perfect it. There are still some more things I need to try. I need to offer each and every country something specific to them.
GR: Your orchestra is now considered to be the "university" for the musician in Venezuela. Guys like Luisito Quintero, Raul Agraz, and Robert Vilera have started their careers as members of your orchestra. Are you still looking to break-in new talent?
ODL: Yes. Itís important to look for that new, young musician that wants to work, rather than just hiring guys who already have good careers. First, because the guy that already has a name sometimes loses that certain drive. Secondly, because the new up-and-comer has that drive and an extra added energy because he wants to get to where the other guy is.
GR: What would you like to leave the reader with?
ODL: Well, they can always count on me to bring them something new and refreshing because Iím always looking for new ways to keep them entertained.
GR: With that said, thanks!
ODL: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reach my fans and the public in general.
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