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Johnny Almendra y
Los Jóvenes del Barrio

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About Johnny Almendra

Brooklyn-born Johnny Andreu already got in touch with Latin music at the early age of two. His parents went to the Park Palace and Palladium Ballrooms and listened to the popular bands in the time. Desi Arnaz was maybe his first influence. As a five year old, Andreu remembers playing the pots and pans to Tito Rodriguez records as soon as his mother left for work.

He got his musical education at the U.C.L.A., the "University of the Corner of Lexington Avenue. That's where I learned, by watching musicians" as he puts it. When he was 18 years, Mario Lebran, a musician with Ricardo Ray and author of 'Mambo Jazz', helped to get into music business. He learned a lot listening to his records and playing on his instruments. Lebran also encouraged Andreu to audition for his first job as a percussionist job with "Mike y Su Rítmico". From there he moved to Bobby Matos whose pianist Paquito Pastor one day said "Forget that Andrews translation for Andreu. Tu eres Latino, tu eres un 'Almendra'". That's how Johnny Andreu turned into Johnny Almendra.

In the late 60s he joined Johnny Colón, who enjoyed a lot of success those days, as timbal player. They performed at the Corso and the legendary Cheetah, and after one year, Almendra and Louie Bauzo left to form their own band, Tambo. This group lasted about four years and later Almendra worked with Charanga '76, Orchestra Broadway, and Típica Novel. Playing with Típica Ideal, he met Milton Cardona, who became a lifelong friend.

One day Cardona invited Almendra to see Willie Colón at the Casa Borinquen, and as it turned out, they were in need of a timbalero. Almendra was asked to play, sat down with the charts, and stayed for eight years. During the years 1977 and 1978, Willie Colón Ruben Blades recorded history making records. Almendra: "This became the best band I ever played with. It had all these great musicians, but I was the avocado of the group, the greenest. I learned so much watching Willie, he is great in the studio."

He met a lot of the best musicians in that time, including Hector Lavoe, percussionist Candido, bassist Victor Venegas (who today plays in his group Los Jóvenes Del Barrio). He also started to teach, teaching the kids basic concepts of Latin music.

Shortly after leaving Willie Colón's band, he was invited to play with legendary Mongo Santamaria, and to this day he joins him every now and then. They recorded four albums together and toured all over the USA. Almendra says he's still learning from the now 80 years old master percussionist.

In 1991 Johnny Almendra met Isidro Infante while they both where touring with Willie Colón and later became timbalero of Isidro's band "La Elite".

Besides teaching in the Boys Harbor School of Music he leads the successful charanga band called Los Jóvenes Del Barrio.


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Copyright Klaus Reiter (klaus@salsaholic.de). Last updated: 12.6.98. WEBCounter by GOWEB