Pedro Juan Rodríguez Ferrer, better known as Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, was a consummate sonero (vocalist), dancer, and showman. His good looks, coiffed hair, chic attire, and regal deportment earned him the moniker, “El Conde” (The Count).
His primary influences were Cuban: Pedro Ortíz Dávila (Davilita), Miguelito Cuní, Cheo Marquetti, Abelardo Barroso, Benny Moré, and the trumpeter Felix Chappotín y sus Estrellas. For this reason, Rodríguez was known by Cuban connoisseurs as, “the most Cuban of Puerto Rican soneros.”
Rodríguez was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1933, the second of three children to Emiliano Rodríguez and Anatilde Ferrer Colón. He grew up in the barrio La Cantera. At an early age, he played the bongos with his father’s quartet, El Conjunto Gondolero.
At thirteen, Rodriguez moved to New York and lived in Spanish Harlem (El Barrio). He graduated from Patrick Henry High School and The New York School of Printing and worked in the field briefly before he was drafted by the U.S. Army.
From 1953 to 1956, Rodríguez served as a paratrooper and was stationed at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg in the southern part of the United States, where racial segregation was rampant.
After discharge, he returned to New York. There, he honed his “chops” with La Oriental Cubana, followed by Los Jovenes del Estrella de Cuba (1958-1961), directed by the trumpeter, singer Roberto Rodríguez. The internship led to his first recording.
Rodríguez was also a member of Willie Ellis’s Típica Novel (1961 to 1962). Also, he Chivirico Dávila and Monguito (El Único) replaced Rudy Calzado and Elliot Romero in Johnny Pacheco’s charanga, which led to the hits “Suavito” (1963), “Alto Songo” (1964), “Guachinango” (1965) and “Soy del Monte” (1965), among others.
Due to friction between him and Monguito, Rodríguez left the group and joined pianist Roy Roig’s group (1964-1966). When Monguito joined Larry Harlow’s band, Rodríguez returned to Pacheco’s charanga. During this period, Rodríguez and Pacheco recorded some of their most successful albums including Cañonazo (1964), Pacheco at the World’s Fair (1964), La Perfecta Combinación (1970), Los Compadres (1972), Tres De Café y Dos De Azúcar (1973), and Pacheco y El Conde con Celia Cruz (1980).
As a member of the Fania All-Stars, Rodríguez and the all-star cast traveled the world and took the genre to its highest level. In 1979, 1980, the group traveled to Cuba to record the album, Havana Jam. The trip was significant because Rodríguez was able to meet his idols Miguelito Cuní, Félix Chappotín, Tito Gómez, and Pello El Afrokán among others, shortly before they died.
In 1974, Rodríguez left the Fania All-Stars and embarked on a career as a soloist. During this period he recorded some of his most memorable and socially conscious works: El Conde (1974), Este Negro Sí Es Sabroso (1976) and A Touch of Class (1977).
In 1980, Rodríguez and his family settled in Puerto Rico, however, the merengue and salsa erótica crazes made it difficult to find work. Consequently, the family returned to New York.
Between 1983 and 1989, Rodríguez recorded several albums, including the Grammy-nominated Salsobita, with Johnny Pacheco.
On September 8, 1996, Johnny Pacheco, Papo Lucca and La Sonora Ponceña, Andy Montañéz, Ismael Miranda, Bobby Valentín, Camilo Azuquita, Los Guayacanos de San Antón, Ruth Fernández, Cita Rodríguez and Pete Jr. gathered at Ponce’s Teatro La Perla to celebrate “35 Years of Royalty.” It was one of the most memorable and significant events of Rodríguez’s career (the event was recorded for posterity).
Rodríguez recorded two acclaimed albums in the 90s: Generaciones (with Cita and Pete Jr.) and Pete and Papo (Lucca, 1995), which featured Rodríguez as a formidable ballad (bolero) singer. Also, in 2000, Rodriguez participated in the release of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri’s Masterpiece – La Obra Maestra at the Tito Puente Amphitheater in San Juan, and he toured South America with Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz.
On December 1, 2000, at 67, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez died in his sleep. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest. He is buried in Bayamón’s National Cemetery.
In Ponce, the neighborhood where Rodríguez grew up was renamed in his honor. Also, his legacy survives through his daughter, Cita, a vocalist (sonera) and creator of the one-woman show El Conde y La Condesa, which tells the story of her relationship with her father.
Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez was a Puerto Rican icon and a national treasure. Emerging salseros would do well to study his distinctive phrasing, timbre, swing, mastery of the Cuban son, and socially conscious lyrics.
- Lechner, Ernesto Pete El Conde Rodríguez Profile (Fania)
- Kent, Mary – Salsa Talks, A Musical Heritage Uncovered (Digital Domain, 2005)
- Ortíz, López Miguel Rodríguez, Article: Fundación Nacional Para La Cultural Popular.
- Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez Biography – www.lost.fm/music
- Wikipedia – Rodríguez, Conde, Pete,
Miguel de Armas: Miguel de Armas and The Ottawa Latin Jazz Orchestra
Django Festival Allstars with special guest Edmar Castañeda Featuring Dorado Schmitt and sons Samson & Amati
Christian McBride’s New Jawn at Koerner Hall: Concert Review
Papo Vázquez Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda with The Mighty Pirates Troubadours
Donald Vega: As I Travel
“They Shot The Piano Player” Screening At The Village East in New York And The Royal in Los Angeles
Una Navidad Nuyorkina: Celebrating 40 Years of Los Pleneros de la 21
The Latin Side of Jazz Episode 35
Sebastian Schunke: Existential Intensities
NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas with Melvis Santa, Alfredo Rodríguez and Hilario Durán
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Borrowed Roses
Tito Puente and his Latin Ensemble: Mambo Diablo on Vinyl
Juan García-Herreros – The Snow Owl: Normas
Raphael Cruz Reaffirms His Commitment To Latin Jazz!
Edy Martínez, the Music Architect Behind the Piano
Rubén Blades con Roberto Delgado & Orquesta · Son de Panamá
Celebrating Emiliano Salvador and his Musical Legacy
Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: A Memorable Night in Toronto with Poncho Sánchez
A Conversation with Percussionist, Bandleader Poncho Sanchez
The Odyssey of Anat Cohen
Paquito D’Rivera & Quinteto Cimarrón: Aires Tropicales
Have You Seen My Nana? The Enduring Genius of Moacir Santos
Enrique Rodríguez: Enriquito – Me Quito El Sombrero
Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra: Azul
Most Read in 2023
Featured Albums9 months ago
Aymée Nuviola feat. Kemuel Roig: Havana Nocturne
News10 months ago
Wilson “Chembo” Corniel Releases New Album: “Artistas, Músicos y Poetas”
News9 months ago
Aymée Nuviola To Release New Latin Jazz Album: “Havana Nocturne”
Events8 months ago
Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez Centennial Celebration