La Gran Fuga

During some 1970's summer, in the housing projects of Newark, NJ, a young Puerto Rican girl would listen as the bold, brassy sounds of New York City's salsa wafted from open windows, like the unmistakable scent of chuletas fritas. (No, that's too obvious.) The bold, brassy sounds of New York City's salsa fell from open windows like newborn babies. (Oh, god, too gruesome.) The bold, brassy sounds erupted like gunfire, falling into rhythm with police sirens and train whistles. (Whatever.) The music was everywhere. Our young Puerto Rican girl listened to it, and fell in love with it. She (very innocently) plastered the walls of her virginal bedroom with the colorful artwork of her favorite album covers.

Before her 16th birthday, the girl would learn to shake her ass better than the Soul Train Dancers. Soon she would be allowed to tag along with her older cousins, aboard the same trains that passed so often outside her bedroom window. She would go from Newark's Penn Station straight into the heart of Manhattan and up into its Barrio. She would go to the clubs—the Red Garter, the Cheetah Lounge—and she would dance to the music she had grown to love so intimately. Her ass parted dance floors like Moses parted the Red Sea. (Whatever.) She caught the eyes of so many of the young, flamboyant salseros, but she was immune to their advances. She was only interested in dancing.

Then, on one particularly hot summer evening, with the Willie Colon band raging harder than ever and the dance floor jumping higher than ever and the cuchifritos smelling better than ever, our young Puerto Rican girl would fall. (One of her six-inch red heels had given up on her.) The tall, lanky, loud-mouthed emcee would notice her fall and he would laugh. He would direct the crowd to her mishap and, together, they would laugh.

She hated him. (Of course, at the time, she did not know that it was his artwork that hung from her bedroom walls!) He jumped from the stage and danced through the crowd to the spot on the floor where our young girl remained, petrified.

Como te llamas?

She did not reply.

He held out his right hand, his drawing hand.

She smacked at it. (Imagine her regret had she broken a bone!)

He laughed.

She pouted.

He grabbed her by the arm, raised her from the floor, and gave her a mighty spin.

Now she was mad. She returned his mighty spin with a wild and powerful hip shake. Soon, they were locked in dance. The rest is history: They are married still today.

The young girl was my father's cousin. The tall, lanky emcee was Izzy Sanabria, graphic designer for the Fania record label. I made up the rest.

Of all the outrageous and colorful LP covers designed by the inimitable "Dizzy" Izzy Sanabria, the one for Willie Colon's sixth album, La Gran Fuga, may be the most infamous.

The story goes that Willie Colon was given the nickname, "El Malo," not because he was a bad, thuggish kid, but because he was a horrible trombone player. Being the bad, thuggish kid that he was, he embraced the nickname and ran with the gangster image it conveyed. Sanabria thought it was a hoot, too, and came up with album artwork that mimicked an FBI "Wanted" poster. In promoting the album, the pair would drive all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens (even then, Staten Island got the boot) tacking their artwork onto billboards and telephone poles.

Word spread fast. Willie Colon, that horrible trombonist, was wanted by the FBI! Izzy had done too good of a job.

Local police stations were inundated by phone calls from people who had seen Willie at the bodega, or who had run into him at the club. Had they stopped to read the fine print, this might have all been avoided:

WILLIE COLON was last seen in New York City, he may be accompanied by one, HECTOR LAVOE, occupation "singer," also a very dangerous man with his voice.

A word to the wise: These men are highly dangerous in a crowd and are capable of starting riots, people immediately start to dance, SO DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT let Hector Lavoe fool you with his smooth style of singing. If you do, you will find yourself dancing a HOLE in your last pair of Shoes.

If anyone knows the whereabouts of Willie Colon and his gang do not notify us. Go immediately to where they are and enjoy yourself.

Due to all the confusion, the authorities would order Fania to tear down the posters. Fania would even have to alter the album artwork.

For these reasons, the original album has become very valuable. I have seen this album, in poor condition, sell for as much as $180 on eBay. I have seen it, in wretched condition, sell for five. I found my copy at the Princeton Record Exchange, in near mint condition. It looks as if it had never been played.

Last night, a 31-year old Puerto Rican boy shook his ass to La Gran Fuga, as if time didn't exist.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Stephen, you are always welcome to visit.Awesome. Thanks Christian.

Christian's picture

Gangsta Salsa...the original badass. Great story. I am totally jealous of all the deals you are finding. Used vinyl seems to be much more pricey in the Great White North...that or I haven't found the right spots in Toronto yet. My copy of Nashville Skyline that you found for a buck I got albeit in great condition for $19. This weekend I picked up Kenny Dorham--Afro-Cuban (near mint...must be a reissue) for $19 (awesome record btw) and Getz/Gilbert in VG+ condition (original) for $15. The redeeming factor to paying extra was a very fun find. The "Ike and Tina Turner What you hear is what you get Live at Carnegie Hall" 2LP for $10. Regrets...none and I suppose that is what is most important. The Tina Turner record is kind of strange. Disc one is Side 1-4, disc 2 is side 2-3 must be for one of those 70's record players where you could tee up the second record to drop after side one is finished.

AlexO's picture


You're such a good writer. You really are. I hope JA appreciates just how good a writer you are.

Great stuff. BTW, you better hope that your willie colon isn't wanted by the FBI. :0

Vooj's picture

I live in Toronto, and I have to completely disagree with Christian regarding his take on the cost of used vinyl here. Dude, you are not going to the right spots. Just last weekend I scored a mint copy of Jimmy Smith's Verve album "The Cat" for 6 bucks. A while before a mint mono Impulse original Sonny Rollin "Alfie" for 18 dollars. The list goes on and on...But am I going to reveal my sources? Hmm, I will have to think about that one...

Christian's picture

$13 - $18 seems to be about an average price for me. Not much in the sub $10 range. You don't have to tell me your sources, I have a handful of places I like. Vortex is cheap but I hate crawling around on the floor there. FYI the big music collectables record show is coming up in October in Mississauga ( This year will be my first.

VOOJ's picture

No problems Christian. Always willing to help out a fellow vinyl hound... Vortex used to be great, although persistance will pay off. I have been going there for years and I still find the occasional treasure there. Discovery Records on Queen East is good, although the very desireable stuff will cost. She Said Boom on Ronscesvalles and Neurotica on Queen West quite often can be worth the trip. Cosmo on Queen West is expensive but rarities can be had. Bring your credit card there for sure! Sonic Boom is also good and they have a couple of locations. For new stuff, Criminal on Queen has the best prices and very good selection. Rotate This on the same street has awesome choice. For resissues and new stuff, Diamond Groove in Dundas is a telephone call away. I'm sure there are more, but these places keep me set up very well.I have been going to those music collectable events for years and they are often good. Many vendors with a wide range of selection.There you have it. Happy shopping...

Vooh's picture

Back at ya Christian.More vinyl scored just after I sent the previous message. Original Ornette Coleman "Body Meta" on United Artists for $15, OJC Tadd Dameron/John Coltrane "Mating Call" for $8 and finally original British Barclay James Harvest "Once Again" for $4. All minty fresh...

Christian's picture

Thanks Vooh. I love Sonic Boom and Criminal Records. I have had some good luck finding jazz LP's at Amoroso (sp?) just off Queen west of Simcoe.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Sheesh, guys, now I want to go to Toronto.

Vooj's picture

No problem Christian. Maybe we will cross paths one day.Toronto is a very good destination for records, both used and new. Sonic Boom and Criminal are both great stores. I recently scored the new Metallica and a couple of Pixie and Fairport Convention reissues. I also like Amoroso, having recently picked up a mint 2nd press of Jimmy Smith's Chicken Shack.Thanks to Stephen for the Leila and Cyclops records. I am enjoying them both. I also ordered the Rodrigues record from the label's website.I am planning a NYC visit in the next couple of months. How long will it take to go from Manhatten to the Princeton Record Exchange?

Christian's picture

Yeah maybe we'll cross paths someday. The Queen stores I usually hit on weekdays, because I can walk over at lunch. Stephen, you are always welcome to visit. May through October is probably the nicest time of the year to wander the streets looking for vinyl occasionally stopping off at a patio to consume an Ontario craft beer on the way to the next shop.

Vooj's picture

Thank you for the transit information Stephen.And yes, please visit Toronto anytime. You are most welcome!

Felipe's picture

Dude the story is good but that stuff about Willie being a horrible trombonist is out of line and disrespectful. Just like Chappotin and Louie Armstrong, Willie Colón was/is not a great technician but even the great Barry Rogers gave Willie his props. Willie made the trombone speak and inspired many now great trombonists to pick up the instrument. I was there when Izzy and Willie collaborated. I was one of the many interns at Latin New York Mag. Willie was a big part of designing the artwork and the jokes on the cover. I think that the horrible trombone story stems from one of Willie's wisecracks when they asked him how got to be named El Malo. Because of his laid back attitude Willie is very much underrated but his contribution to the development of Salsa is monumental. BTW he has a new album out titled Prisioneros Del Mambo, check it out at or, I love it!

Miriam's picture

Princeton Record Exchange is worth the schlep.An hour to an hour and a half sounds about right. All kinds of music. Great place if you're an eclectic collector.