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Tracing the path of "Valdez in the Country"

Manny Moka
Landsberg family
/
courtesy of the artist
Pianist and bandleader Manny Moka performing with his Band On Fire at the Fillmore St. Jazz Festival in San Francisco on July 5, 2015,

Composed by singer-songwriter Donny Hathaway in the 1960s, the Latin, funk and soul-influenced instrumental piece "Valdez in the Country" has since been recorded by an impressive variety of artists.

Donny Hathaway's many musical talents received worldwide recognition as a result of his 1970s duets with Roberta Flack.

Before then, Hathaway was a songwriter, session musician and producer for Curtis Mayfield's first record label, and then for ATCO, where he worked closely with the great soul saxophonist King Curtis.

Hathaway's instrumental composition "Valdez in the Country" was first recorded as "Patty Cake" by King Curtis and the Kingpins in 1969.

That same year, the song now titled "Valdez in the Country," was covered by a group of studio musicians calling themselves The Soulful Strings.

Hathaway produced and played keyboards for the 1972 album "First Taste of Sin" by rock, blues and funk band, Cold Blood. This version of "Valdez in the Country" became the earworm of the 1970s, propelled by the Latin percussion of the Escovedo Brothers, Pete and Coke.

Hathaway finally got around to recording his own composition in 1973, on the album "Extension of a Man."

"Valdez in the Country" even qualified for a live extended-jam treatment from Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia and his early collaborator, keyboardist Merl Saunders in 1974.

The tune then made its way through the smooth jazz era of the 1980s with versions by bassist Gerald Veasley and guitarist George Benson.

No one is really sure about the origin of the song's title. But there is speculation that it might have been inspired by the popular series of TV commercials for Columbian-grown coffee, featuring a character known as Juan Valdez (and his mule, Conchita), hand-picking the coffee bean harvest.

Listen for a Latin jazz big band version of "Valdez in the Country" from keyboardist Manny Moka and his extended bi-coastal "Band on Fire" on this Saturday's Jazz Caliente.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

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Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.
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