Unless you're one of those fanatical, foam-drooling collectors who searches out long-lost records of the 1960s and '70s, or you lived in New York City in the '60s and kept your radio spinning all over the AM dial, it's doubtful you've heard of a band called The Moon People. And yet The Moon People were back on the airwaves last year, playing on Christina Aguilera's latest hit. The funny thing is, The Moon People never set foot in the studio with her.


To begin this tale, let's go back to the mid 1960s. Throughout most of the U.S. rock 'n roll and soul music are ruling the Top 40, but in the Latino neighborhoods of New York City - in Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights, Jackson Heights - rock and soul are being fused with Cuban and Puerto Rican styles, creating a Nuyorican (from "New York" + "Puerto Rican") concoction, sung in English, called Boogaloo. Joe Cuba had a hit with "Bang! Bang!", as did Ray Barretto with "El Watusi", and a wave of 45s and LPs begin to pour out of labels like Fania, Cotique, Speed, Tico, Ghetto, Swinger and Allegre (with majors like Columbia, Decca, Tower and United Artists also getting into the act for an album or two).


Louie Ramirez


Bobby Marin


Dave Clowney/Cortez


Tilling this fertile musical landscape was a group of musicians known, for just one record, as The Latin Blues Band. While they were all working musicians in the Latin clubs of the greater New York area, in the studio they were comparable to the in-house bands at any indie label, a sort of Latino Booker T & the MGs if you will. Featuring the arrangements of pianist/vibraphonist Louie Ramirez and the English-language lyrics of Bobby Marin, they would back up vocalists as often as they cut instrumental tracks. For their debut album, Take A Trip Pussycat, a 1968 release on Morty Craft and Stan Lewis's Speed label which features the most psychedelic cover art of any of the Latin soul LPs, they backed vocalist Frankie Delgado on many of the tracks, the best of which was a song called "(I'll Be A) Happy Man". With its scorching horn riffs, funky breakbeat drums on the verses that switch off to strict Latin percussion on the chorus, mad bassline and infectious vocals, the song was a hit in New York's Latin clubs, as well as some soul joints and on the radio show of the legendary jazz DJ Symphony Sid, who by now had gravitated to playing Booglaoo and the nascent salsa.

For its third album Speed re-christened The Latin Soul Band as Los Astronautas - or, for the English speakers, The Moon People. Produced by Craft, an industry veteran who'd founded a string of indie labels including Melba and Warwick, the LP contained a number of songs from the Latin Blues Band album, but with the vocal tracks stripped off. "(I'll Be A) Happy Man" was now titled "The Happy Soul".

When the album appeared in 1968, it didn't make much of a dent in the charts; in fact, it was probably a rare find outside of El Barrio. Not wishing to give up on a good thing, however, the folks at Speed took "The Happy Soul" and edited in new sections that sounded exactly like Archie Bell & The Drells' "Tighten Up", which had been a monstrous hit that summer. On top of that they overdubbed organ solos by none other than Dave "Baby" Cortez, the journeyman musician who had recorded a couple of big novelty numbers, "The Happy Organ" and "Rinky Dink", back in 1958 and 1962, respectively. Cortez (née David Clowney) had recorded a handful of singles and albums for various small labels over the years, including Morris Levy's Roulette Records.


Retitled "Happy Soul (With A Hook)" and now credited to Dave Cortez with The Moon People, the single was released in late 1968. A few months later, in 1969, yet another re-edit of this track, this time titled "Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut (Opus #1)" and credited simply to The Moon People, was released on Roulette. The organ was now gone, replaced by vocalists chanting the song's title, backed by psychedelic waves of wah-wah guitar.

Much as the song titles and artist credits shape-shifted as the piece wended its way through the years and sub-genres, so too did the writing credits. Credited in its original form of "(I'll Be A) Happy Man" to Bobby Marin alone, for the "The Happy Soul" version on the Moon People LP Morty Craft's name popped up alongside Marin's, perhaps owing to Craft's decision to strike the vocal track. Yet for the Dave Cortez version, "Happy Soul (With A Hook)", the writing credit was assigned to Cortez (as Dave Clowney) and the otherwise-unknown E. Jackobeck. And now, for the "Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut" version, the composition was credited to Harold Beatty, best-known as writer of some minor hits for the post-Diana Ross Supremes.


Which all adds up to a big mystery: Why all these different composers for what is essentially the same song? And how did Morris Levy end up putting this out on his label? Could it be that someone owed the partners of this archetypal record industry gangster some money, and this song was the payoff? Or had Roulette, having somehow gained control of the Speed catalog (considering that they had already bought the Tico catalog), suddenly decide, "Yup, this is the hit!"?

Alas, "Hippy, Skippy Moon Strut" was not a hit. By a quarter of a century later, however, vinyl junkies, particularly in Japan, Germany and the UK, were aware of it, and copies of the original 45 were commanding top-dollar. Personally, I found a copy, for about 25¢, in the early '90s. I had no idea what it was, but was intrigued by the title. I fell in love with this fun, lively tune as soon as I put the needle down on it. It was always a hit in my DJ sets, and is one of the few records that has never left my case.

When I heard Christina Aguilera's song "Ain't No Other Man" playing on MTV sometime last summer my ears perked up, as the song is based on samples of "Hippy, Skippy Moon Strut". Aguilera's producer, DJ Premier (formerly of the genre-bending hip hop act Gang Starr), is famed for dropping samples of little-known or otherwise lost recordings into his tracks. Billboard's chart listing for "Ain't No Other Man" credits Harold Beatty as one of the composers, so Dave Cortez, Morty Craft, Bobby Marin and the Moon People themselves have all apparently been tossed overboard, royalties-wise. I'll bet, though, that the ghost of Morris Levy is still somehow getting its cut.


The Speed label is long since gone, but the sound of Latin Boogaloo is as fresh today as it was in the mid 1960s. If you missed it the first time around, there are plenty of reissue CDs and LPs that feature these infectious recordings. In fact, "Happy Soul (With A Hook)" is included on the new CD El Barrio - The Bad Boogaloo Nuyorican Sounds, 1966-1970, and "Hippy Skippy Moon Strut" and "(I'll Be A) Happy Man" are both included on vol. 1 of Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo, a highly recommended three-LP collection of Speed and Ghetto releases.

Piggybacking on the Xtina release, the newly-revived Fania label has issued "Happy Soul (With A Hook)" on a gloriously mastered 12" single, including the originals of that and "Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut" along with a few alternate mixes and edits. See http://www.7digital.com for more info, or check out your favorite vinyl emporium.

As Symphony Sid once put it in one of his liner notes, "The Latin-funky music of Americana ... will put you on a psychedelic, underground trip". ¡Vámanos!


Brother Cleve:

version 1:
  The Latin Blues Band feat. Luis Aviles: (I'll Be A) Happy Man
  from LP Take A Trip Pussycat; Speed 101, 1968
  voc. Frankie Delgado; wr. Bobby Marin; pr. Morty Craft; arr. Louie Ramirez
  reissue on Brownsugar: Latin Breakbeats, Basslines & Boogaloo
(Harmless (UK) CD HURTCD 039, 2002; and bootleg LP reissue, 2003)
version 2:
  The Moon People (aka Los Astronautas): Happy Soul
  from LP Land Of Love; Speed 103, 1968
  wr. Morty Craft & Bobby Marin; pr. Morty Craft; arr. Louie Ramirez
  bootleg LP reissue, 2003
  lineup: Bobby Valentin: trumpet, Hector de Leon: trumpet, Louie Ramirez: piano and vibes,
and arr., Bobby Marin: vocals, and composer, Sonny Bravo: piano, Papi Cadairec: drums (?)
version 3:
  Dave Cortez with The Moon People: Happy Soul (With A Hook)
  Speed 1014, 1968
  wr. E. Jackobeck & Dave Clowney (aka Dave Cortez); pr. Morty Craft
  reissue on El Barrio: The Bad Boogaloo (Nuyorican Sounds 1966-1970) (Fania (UK) CD, 2006);
reissue on Fania (T1, 12" single), 2007
version 4:
  The Moon People: Hippy, Skippy Moon Strut (Opus #1)
  Roulette 7065, 1969
  wr. Harold Beatty; "An Ancelra Production"
  reissue on Big Ol' Bag O' Boogaloo (Andale LP 5901, 2006);
reissue on The Kings Of Diggin' (BBE (UK) CD/LP, 2006);
reissue on Fania T1 (12" single), 2007
version 5:
  Christina Aguilera: Ain't No Other Man
  RCA 82876 86072 2 (CD, maxi-single), 2006
  wr. Christina Aguilera, Charles Roane, Chris E. Martin, Harold Beatty, Kara DioGuardi;
pr. DJ Premier (aka Chris E. Martin)