b. Pedro Juan Rodríguez Ferrer, 31 January 1932, Ponce, Puerto Rico, d. 2 December 2000, New York City, New York, USA. This golden voiced vocalist’s cool and inspired singing style and regal stage presence befitted his nickname of ‘El Conde’ (The Count). He was one of the great soneros, a salsa singer who improvises. Rodríguez worked with local groups in his native Ponce before relocating to New York. He first worked with long-time employer Johnny Pacheco in the mid-60s, appearing on the albums Pacheco Y Su Charanga Vol. IV - ‘Suav’ito’, Cañonazo, and Pacheco At The N.Y. World’s Fair. In 1966, Rodríguez sang lead vocals on Swing by Conjunto Sensación, a three-trumpet group led by Cuban Rey Roig and featuring pianist Alfredo Rodríguez. El Conde was reunited with Pacheco in 1966 on Pacheco Y Su Charanga - By Popular Demand, and between 1967 and 1973 they recorded a further five albums together. One of their best is 1973’s Tres De Café Y Dos De Azúcar, which contained the marvellous ‘El Piro De Farra’. They also produced several hits which became classics, such as Catalino Curet Alonso’s composition ‘La Esencia Del Guaguancó’ (from 1970’s La Perfecta Combinación) and ‘Dulce Con Dulce’ (from the following year’s Los Compadres).
During this period Rodríguez gained great acclaim as a founding member of the Fania All Stars, performing an exciting version of his hit ‘Pueblo Latino’ on their excellent album Live At Yankee Stadium Vol. 1. In 1974, he went solo under the new management of his wife, Frances, and made a series of albums which used the same typical Cuban trumpet and tres (six- or nine-string Cuban guitar) conjunto format that he had worked in with Pacheco. The recording of his debut, El Conde, was directed by Pacheco, who also sang in the coro (chorus). The album was a bestseller and won him the Latin NY magazine award for Best New Band in 1975. José Febles arranged the hit tracks ‘Catalina La O’ (written by Johnny Ortiz) and ‘Pueblo Latino’ (composed by C. Curet Alonso) on his 1976 follow-up Este Negro Si Es Sabroso. Louie Ramírez produced this album and El Conde’s 1977 release, A Touch Of Class, which contained the Rubén Blades composition ‘Tambo’, arranged by Febles. Frances took over the role of producer on Soy La Ley in 1979, but Febles returned to handle all production and arrangement chores on 1982’s Fiesta Con ‘El Conde’. A decade after Tres De Café Y Dos De Azúcar, Rodríguez and Pacheco teamed up again for four albums between 1983 and 1989, which included their 25th anniversary release Celebración. Pacheco was in the background as producer and musical director on El Conde’s salsa romántica orientated El Rey, released the following year. Rodríguez remained busy throughout the subsequent decade, working with his son Pete Emilio and daughter Cita on 1993’s Generaciones ’93, and Papo Lucca on 1996’s Pete Y Papo ’96. He returned to Puerto Rico in April 2000 to play with the Fania All Stars at the group’s 35th anniversary show, but died of heart failure in New York a few months later. He was buried in his native Ponce.