On Top of the World!
Tito Puente, Jr. reveals the details of his life as the son of a Living Legend.
Photo and interview by Luther Orrick-Guzman

Just about everyone has heard of legendary Salsa percussionist Tito Puente. Well, make room for junior because Tito Puente, Jr. is livening up dance floors across the nation on his own with his hit anthems like "Oye Como Va" and "Azucar." The energy that Tito Jr. exudes leaves people breathless as they watch him and his dance crew get down across the stage. qvMagazine recently spoke with Tito Jr. about what it was like growing up with such a famous father, the collaborators he's worked with, and his latest high-energy album, "Sientelo."

Makeup by Joel Sebastian; Location: Alegria Restaurant in Long Beach, CA

I recognized your single "Azucar" from somewhere else before I heard your CD. It's on a few compilations, A.B. Quintanilla is the actual producer and the writer of this song, and then he remade it as a cumbia version for his group, the Kumbia Kings. He is such a great person. Working with him at first was kind of eerie, of course, after the death of Selena. I went to Corpus Christi to record with him after that whole situation. It felt different for me to be in Texas doing dance music, but A.B. made me feel comfortable. He let me stay at his house-what a house! A.B. is really wonderful to work with. I love him with all my heart. As a matter of fact, I performed with him Sept. 12 in Dallas along with my dad, Elvis Crespo, and Paul Rodriguez, among others.

Have you performed in Puerto Rico, yet? Yes, as a matter of fact-at Roberto Clemente Stadium with MDO and many other artists. It was quite an experience. I think I had more joy at the Puerto Rican parade last June than I ever did in my entire life because my dad was the Grand Marshall and Jennifer Lopez was the Queen. I got to walk in the parade with my dad and people recognized me! I only have two albums and dad has 115. I've got a lot of catching up!

Tell us about your mom. My mom is the epicenter of the Puente familia. Nothing can be done without her approval. She is the CFO-Executive Producer of the Puente familia (laughs). I don't think my dad would exist without her. 33 years, they've been together, and he still doesn't know what a beeper is! He's old fashioned. He's still looking for the rotary phone. What? E-mail? No, put it in the mail with a stamp on it (jokes). He's so traditional, but that is why I give him so much respect.

Where were you born? I'm a Puerto Rican from New York-Nuyorican, that's what we call it. My grandmother from my mom's side is still alive. I never met my dad's dad, but I know he was the vice president of Gillette. My dad is 76 years old-and doesn't need any Viagra (laughs)! It's all in the heart, that's why my dad still plays. I hope I inherit that.

What was your childhood like? I had a normal childhood. I used to play rock music and heavy metal. They (my family) all thought I was going to be a delinquent. But even today, I still listen to that stuff--Metallica, Death Angel, Carcuss, etc., and I'm so impressed on how they play so fast!

What did your parents think when you were going through that stage? They thought I was something like a devil worshipper. My dad saw the tattoos and said nothing, but my mom was more of the disciplinarian. My dad wasn't home as much-working, traveling, etc.

Growing up you probably had a lot of people going through your house. Whom do you remember? I woke up to go to school one morning and Stevie Wonder was there! They (Tito and Stevie) were doing a TV show together at the time, and Stevie needed no help when he got there. He went right up the stairs-no problem. It was like Wow! He even cracked jokes like, "You have a wonderful home." It was right around the time (Stevie Wonder's #1 song) "I Just Called To Say I Love You" came out in '84. That was probably the most awesome experience at home-aside from crashing the car, the motorcycle, backing up the toilet, parties...

What's your favorite thing about your music? I like seeing how my music affects people-seeing people smile. My dad has done it for 50 years. I want to expand and do a little more than just dance music like some ballads. I'm working on my English album right now. I'm happy for groups like MDO, but I think they're underrated. They speak English and Spanish perfectly and they could be just as successful as N'SYNC or the Backstreet Boys. Saludos and respect para Ricky Martin for opening a really big door and always giving respect to the leaders like Dad, Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Machito...

Who are your biggest Influences? Well, my dad of course. Production-wise, I like rock music, particularly Elton John and Billy Joel. Also, a lot of my influences come from my friends, people I grew up with in the Bronx. It's ironic to see Marc Anthony, I look up to him so much because he's the same age as I am (28). My first love is freestyle dance music-George Lamond, Cynthia, Johnny O-those are my favorites. Then of course, I love hip-hop, rap, and pop, too.

What has been your most positive experience recording? Recording with dad. It's so funny because I never knew who my father was when I was growing up. I was like, hmm, a guy with grey hair, chunky, going around the world, performing. I'd see his record in the store, Latin music-whatever! You know what I mean? I didn't really realize it until I graduated from high school. I said, "Wow! Four-time Grammy award winner-living Legend!" I kind of have a shadow, but not like the Iglesias (Julio and Enrique)-they're both singers. My dad plays timbales, but I sing. The older generation is expecting Dad. Then here I come along doing house music and they get confused-but the smart ones know what I'm doing. Elvis Crespo is also doing it. So are Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Enrique. I love being a part of that.

What are you currently promoting? The entire album (Sientelo). Whatever song you like, I'll promote it. I also do independent promotion. It gets a little difficult sometimes. Most artists have promotion companies, but I try to do everything myself. A lot of people ask me if I'm financially secure because of my father or if he takes care of me, or if I'm a rich kid. No, I am not. I do everything myself. I pay my own rent, car payment, and I pay my own publicity. My parents do not help me in any sort of way. They support me. God forbid I get into a freak accident. Of course, naturally, my parents would be there, but careerwise, my parents don't help me. I make my own contacts.

How much input was yours on the album? I had about 80% input. I directed the "Azucar" video along with JC. I wanted a particular image and music. I had full control of the music which was nice. I really wanted to do Pop. I'm from America born in New York. I'm an English speaking Hispanic. I really want to cross over. When they ask my dad about crossover, he responds, "Crossover, I'm on my way back!" My dad's biggest fans are Italian and Jewish, and hopefully I'll get those people and their seeds to appreciate the new generation of Latin Music.

What question do people ask you all the time that you are tired of? When they ask, "How is your dad?" Or, "If you weren't the son of Tito Puente, what would you be doing?" I'd say I'd probably be a mortician because that's a job where you would get no lip from anybody! But music is in my heart.

Where do you see yourself in 10 or 20 years? Running a record label, Executive Producer, VP or whatever. I think I'll continue making records. My immediate goals include moving to LA, and acting. Marc Anthony, Edward James Olmos, Jimmy Smits, Jennifer Lopez are all great actors.

For those who haven't seen you on stage what can they expect? I play percussion and do a lot of choreography, flips, back handsprings. I have two amazing dancers called The Nasty Boys who are professional strippers and wear g-strings.They perform at all the QV and straight clubs. I kind of just take off my shirt, but those guys...

Have you had any men attack you? Yeah, when I've performed in QV clubs. I don't know if you know about Miami, but we have an awesome T-party every Sunday where all the queens come out--and I love it! That group of gentlemen gives me the ultimate support. We perform at clubs like Splash, Warsaw, and at places like Key West. It's insane-like Mardi Gras but totally QV. We just recently had a fundraiser at Casa Antigua and RuPaul was the Grand Marshall. We raised over $10,000 in one night. It was great!

Do you have anyone special in your life? I don't have a significant other at this time. I travel a lot. I have a dog. I did have a girlfriend. They all break up with me! At this point in my career, I'll just stay spiritual with myself.

Are you QV? No I'm not, but the ear rings, the way I look--you would think so. I do love the QV community, and I support them 100%. Then again, maybe one day, I'll change--that's the first time I've ever said that!


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