Los Nombres

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Los Nombres may be one of the few Latin Soul/Funk bands of note that owes its existence in large part to a U.S. foreign aid program. In 1948, in response to growing poverty in Puerto Rico, the United…
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Los Nombres may be one of the few Latin Soul/Funk bands of note that owes its existence in large part to a U.S. foreign aid program. In 1948, in response to growing poverty in Puerto Rico, the United States government established Project Bootstrap, a joint effort by public and private interests to reshape the Caribbean nation's faltering agrarian economy into a more stable industrial-based model. As American firms brought manufacturing to Puerto Rico, a growing number of citizens gained greater industrial skills, and the S.G. Friedman Agency, a firm based in Philadelphia that had previously brought Puerto Ricans to the United States to serve as migrant workers in the American agricultural sector, took advantage of this new work force after the National Tube Company of Lorain, Ohio approach Friedman when they were short on labor. Friedman brought dozens of Puerto Rican families to Northern Ohio, and soon Lorain became home to one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the Midwest. Lorain's Puerto Rican community spawned a thriving Latin music scene in Northern Ohio, and with the rise of rock and soul in the early 1960s, local teenagers began forming bands that fused these new sounds with the accents of the music with which they'd been raised. Willie Marquez, who sang, and his brother Nelson, who played drums, were high school students from Lorain who became close friends Pepe Rivera, who played guitar and wanted to form a band. Teaming up with guitarist Richard Velazquez, the young men formed a combo called the Tidal Waves, and though they were initially hampered by inexperience and cheap gear (at first, the guitarists lacked money for amps and hooked their electric guitars up to stereos in order to practice), they found a mentor and manager in Diego Martinez, a former baseball player who encouraged the boys to take a more organized and professional approach to their music. By 1965, The Tidal Waves had grown into a seven-piece group called The Pacesetters, whose music was clearly influenced by the Motown sound that was beginning to dominate AM radio, as well as the nascent sounds of Latin rock. The Pacesetters played regularly at dances and teen clubs in Lorain, and occasionally opened for touring R&B and soul stars, developing a sizable local following. In time, the group came to the attention of Bob Davis, who ran a label out of Cleveland called Day-Wood Records, and he brought the Pacesetters to his studio to cut a record. By the time their first single was released in 1971, the name The Pacesetters was deemed unfashionable, and reflecting the stronger Latin elements in their sound, they adopted a new handle, the 7 Nombres. Over the years, the name shifted to Willie and the Nombres and eventually just The Nombres or Los Nombres; while over twenty people were in the band at one time or another, key members included Willie Marquez on vocals (the sole constant member through their history and their principle songwriter), guitarist Pepe Rivera, bassists Sixto Barrios and Tony Crespo, drummers Nelson Marquez, Danny Garcia, Freddie Laba and Danny Cocco, and horn players Don Nocoloff and Sal Jacinto. After cutting a few singles for Day-Wood and its sister label Beth Records, Los Nombres formed their own label, Lorain Sound, and after a handful of seven-inches they released their first full-length album in 1977. While the 1971 single "Loving You" would hit the Top 40 on Cleveland's WBAQ, for the most part Los Nombres remained a local phenomenon, playing to loyal audiences and cutting self-financed record well into the 1980s, and the band never really stopped working until Willie Marquez died in 2007. While Los Nombres may have never broken through to a nationwide audience in their lifetime, their self-released singles earned a reputation among aficionados of rare soul and funk sides, and in 2011 the record collectors at the respected reissue label The Numero Group released a collection of their best material, assembled with the cooperation of Pepe Rivera and Diego Martinez.