I’ve worked with José Feliciano many times! The first thing that comes to mind when I think of him is his love of life! José Feliciano, has never had a bad day. He cruises along, singing a song and enjoying his profession like no one else. He is a person that one could learn a great deal from.
Wether I was traveling with him of visiting his home it was always a mutual admiration society.
When I say him playing himself in the movie “Fargo” it disturbed me that the Coen Brothers played him off as a second rate act! José Feliciano is not now and has never been a second rate act! The Coen Brothers should be ashamed of themselves! This “What have you done for me lately and what is your current hit” attitude that many people have is disgraceful.
Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10, 1945. Left permanently blind at birth as a result of congenital glaucoma, he was first exposed to music at age 3; he would play on a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle, who played the cuatro. When he was 5, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City, and at 9 he played the Teatro Puerto Rico in The Bronx.
He started his musical life playing the accordion until his father gave him his first guitar in a brown paper bag. He would play his guitar by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day, and would listen to 1950s rock’n’roll records of classical guitarists and jazz players. Andrés Segovia and Wes Montgomery were among his favorites. He later had classical lessons with Harold Morris, who had been a student of Segovia. In a 1969 interview, he also mentioned soul music in general, and Ray Charles in particular, as influences on his singing.
At 17 he quit school to play in clubs. He had his first professional, contracted performance in Detroit.
In 1963, after some live performances in pubs and clubs around the USA and Canada, especially in Greenwich Village, New York, and Vancouver, BC, where he played at the same time as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, he was signed by Jack Somer, an executive at RCA Victor. In 1964, he released his first single, “Everybody Do the Click” (which become a hit in the Philippines, at #2, staying 14 weeks in the TopTen Hit parade). In 1965 and 1966, he released his first albums: The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano and A Bag Full of Soul, two folk-pop-soul albums that showcased his talent on radios across the USA, where he was described as a “10-finger wizard”. He was also invited to the 1964 Newport Jazz festival.
In 1966 he went to Mar del Plata, Argentina to perform at the Festival de Mar del Plata. There, he impressed RCA Victor officials, who asked him to stay and record an album in Spanish. They were unsure what they wanted to record so Feliciano suggested bolero music. The result was two smash hits with the singles “Poquita Fe” (“Little Faith”, also entitled “Sin Fe”, or “Without Faith”), a song written by fellow Puerto Rican Bobby Capó, and “Usted” (the formal version of “you” in Spanish).
A year later, Feliciano was due to perform in the United Kingdom but the authorities would not allow his guide dog into the country unless it was quarantined for 6 months. The stringent quarantine measures of those days were intended to prevent the spread of rabies. Feliciano later wrote a song entitled “No Dogs Allowed” (becoming a Netherlands Top 10 hit in 1969), which told the story of his first visit to London.
During his British visit, on July 16, 1967, Feliciano gave a live performance on the pirate radio stations Radio 227 and Radio 355, on board the MV Laissez Faire off the British coast less than a month before the stations were due to be closed by the UK’s Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. He also guested on a popular British television show with Dusty Springfield and recorded a rare single for UK RCA called “My Foolish Heart / Only Once” which was played on London radio. Earlier, on June 4, 1967, in London’s Speakeasy Club, Jimi Hendrix came to the stage and jammed with him.
After two more successful albums, Feliciano, now a household name all over Latin America, moved to Los Angeles. He got together with Rick Jarrard who was, at the time, also producing Harry Nilsson and Jefferson Airplane. They recorded The Doors’ song “Light My Fire” in a Latin style and released it as a single, and in the summer of 1968 it reached #3 on the US pop charts with over one million copies sold in the US market alone. The song became a #1 hit in many countries, including Canada, Brazil and the UK and was awarded a gold disc. On the strength of this success, Feliciano won two 1969 Grammy Awards for Best New Artist of the Year and Best Pop Song of the Year, bringing him worldwide recognition as a pop star and stylistic leader because of his ‘crossover’ from Latino music to English-language pop rock. He is widely recognized as the first virtuoso classical guitarist to bring nylon-string guitars into the pop rock scene.
On October 7, 1968, at the height of protests against the Vietnam War, Feliciano was invited by Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Tiger Stadium in Detroit during Game 5 pre-game ceremonies of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His personalised, slow, Latin jazz performance proved highly controversial. In an October 2006 NPR broadcast, he expressed pride at opening the door for later interpretations of the national anthem. His World Series rendition, which features him accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, was released as a single which charted for five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #50.
During the 1980s, after a brief attempt at an English album produced by Berry Gordy, (Feliciano was a guest on the famous 1983 CBS television show Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever), record companies recognized his primary affinity for the Latin market, and he began recording an impressive number of hit records for that market including the Motown albums Escenas de Amor and Me Enamoré, as well as others from RCA, EMI, and Capitol, garnering four more Grammy Awards for best Latin performer. He recorded a duet called “Por ella” with the most popular Mexican singer at the time, José José, which became a Latin hit. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, José recorded duets with Natalie Cole (Everlasting), Gloria Estefan (Alma Caribena), jazz singer Diane Schuur on her 1985 album “Schuur Things”, and with Paul Simon on a particular version of his album Songs from The Capeman.
Feliciano received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, continuing as a very popular singer for the rest of the 1980s. He had his hands cast on the famous Madame Tussauds Museum’s Wall of Fame and has a star on the Walk of Fame of his native Puerto Rico. He also had a hit in 1987 in Austria with the song “The Sound of Vienna”, which reached number 1 there for four weeks, and recorded with the famous Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra also performed with him live on national television at Danube Park in Vienna before more than 60,000 people.
In 1994, Feliciano recorded a dance record in English entitled “Goin’ Krazy” (MJM Records) under the pseudonym JR. Latino disk jockeys around the world supported the record, helping the 12-inch dance record chart on Billboard and earning him new and younger fans.
In 1995, Feliciano was honored by the City of New York, which renamed Public School 155 as the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. In 1996, he had a short cameo role in the film Fargo where he performed as a lounge act that Steve Buscemi (as Carl Showalter) took an escort for and evening out.
Feliciano was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards’ judging panel to support independent artists.
Feliciano performed the theme song “Behind the Mask” for the television series Queen of Swords in 2000. A promotional video sung in Spanish but never published can be found on YouTube. The full English version, never published, sung by Feliciano and the composers Spencer Proffer and Steve Plunkett is also on YouTube. He would be presented the 2000 Grammy Legend Award at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, the same ceremony that saw Santana win 9 Grammys and Christina Aguilera become the second Hispanic to win Best New Artist.
In 2003 Guitarra Mía, a special tribute to Feliciano, was produced by the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and aired both in Puerto Rico and in US cities with large Puerto Rican populations. This television special (and its soundtrack) featured Feliciano and many Puerto Rican and international stars singing some of his most famous songs, along with his personal favorites from other artists. It was first aired in December 2003, just two days after his mother died unexpectedly from a heart attack. The special’s last scenes featured her giving her son a standing ovation, recorded for the occasion a month before.
On December 6, 2006, Feliciano’s new Spanish album, José Feliciano y amigos, was released by Universal Records, featuring Feliciano in duets with other Latin American stars including Luis Fonsi, Lupillo Rivera, Luciano Pereyra, Rudy Pérez, Cristian Castro, Marc Anthony, Ramón Ayala, Alicia Villarreal, Ricardo Montaner, and Raúl di Blasio. A special edition was later released, featuring Ana Gabriel and Gloria Estefan.
In 2007, Feliciano released an album called Soundtrack of My Life, the first English-language album composed and written by him.
In 2009, after winning his 8th Grammy for the album Señor Bolero, he left Siente Music and released two new English-language albums for digital download, only available from his personal websites. One was dedicated to American Classics, including songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, and the other was an instrumental album in homage to jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt who inspired Feliciano, and features Feliciano’s song “Djangoisms”. A single from the Kumbia All Starz features him and the Tejano band Los Dinos, released April 28, 2010.
On May 10, 2010, Feliciano performed his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Comerica Park in Detroit. This was part of the remembrance of Detroit Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell, who had died the Tuesday before. He played it similarly to the way he had in 1968 with his acoustic guitar and his slow tempo-ed, Latin jazz style.
On December 15, 2010, Feliciano appeared as the featured guest on the 37th wepisode of Daryl Hall’s Webbie-Award winning webcast Live From Daryl’s House. Feliciano and Hall took turns on several numbers, including Feliciano’s version of “Light My Fire.” On November 9, 2011, Feliciano received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
In January 2012, he was a guest in Memphis for the celebration of Elvis Presley’s birthday, where he announced the release (on 2012 August 7) of his new album The King, a tribute to Elvis produced in collaboration with Elvis’ former manager, George Klein. In July 2012, he signs with managers MBM/Howard Perl Management and then on August 7, 2012, Feliciano released The King, a tribute to Elvis Presley. The record was executive-produced by Elvis’ former best friend George Klein and released by Johnny Phillips’ Select-O-Hits label.
On September 19, 2012, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, he was invited to sing “God Bless America” for the seventh-inning stretch of the New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. Additionally, less than one month later, on October 14, 2012, Feliciano returned to baseball’s post-season, and on national television, once again rendered his stylized version of the Star-Spangled Banner in San Francisco before the first game of the National League’s Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Take that, Coen Brothers! What have YOU done lately?
I am Kip Addotta
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