Son by Four
Son by Four
With 20 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart in 2000 with “A Puro Dolor,” the tropical/salsa group Son by Four set a record in the world of Latin music. Following the feat with a slew of Billboard Music Awards and Latin Music Awards, the group also made headway with an English-language version of “A Puro Dolor,” “The Purest of Pain,” and a full-length album aimed at the Anglo market. Sometimes described as a Latin boy band in view of its origins in Orlando, Florida, the group nevertheless remains inspired by the Caribbean rhythms and American R&B that made it distinct from other youthful bands. As Angel Lopez commented in Billboard in June of 2000 regarding Son by Four’s rapid rise to the top, “We’re not in a rush to make a mistake. Whatever we do, we have to do it with a tropical flavor. Otherwise, we’ll be just another cheesy band.”
Brothers Javier and George Montes were born in Ciales, Puerto Rico, but spent several years of their youth in Orlando, Florida. In the 1990s Orlando was the center of a musical explosion, with bands like the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, and the Montes brothers were inspired to take up their own musical efforts. When they returned to Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s
Members include Angel Lopez (born c. 1971 in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico); George Montes (born c. 1976 in Ciales, Puerto Rico); Javier Montes (born Carlos Javier Montes c. 1974 in Ciales, Puerto Rico); Pedro Quiles (born in Ciales, Puerto Rico).
Group formed, mid-1990s; played gigs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, released two singles, mid- to late 1990s; signed contract with Sony Discos, 1998; released two Spanish-language albums; released English-language album, Purest of Pain, 2000.
Awards: Billboard Music Awards, Hot Latin Tracks Artist, Hot Latin Track, Hot Latin Pop Track, Hot Tropical/Salsa Track, 2000; Billboard Latin Music Awards, Artist of the Year, Track of the Year, Pop Track of the Year, Tropical/Salsa Group of the Year, Tropical/Salsa New Artist, Tropical/Salsa Album of the Year, Tropical/Salsa Track of the Year, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Sony Discos, 605 Lincoln Rd., 7th Floor, Miami Beach, FL 33139, website: http://www.sonydiscos.com.
they recruited their cousin, Pedro Quiles, to join them in a tropical band that soon was playing hotel lounges around the San Juan area. “It was a small work group doing lunches, cocktails [cocktail parties], and all those things,” George Montes recalled in a Latinoise.com interview. “We had always wanted to form a group, tropical group of course. A group in which the three of us could develop as individual singers and at the same time in harmony.” With its exuberant and diverse Caribbean rhythms and emphasis on romantic songs, the tropical group was popular among San Juan audiences, and the trio soon began looking for a manager and a recording contract.
In its search for a manager, the fledgling tropical trio encountered songwriter and producer Omar Alfanno, who introduced them to singer Angel Lopez. Lopez, who had released two unsuccessful solo albums, was another Puerto Rican native with American mainland roots. Having spent much of his childhood in Chicago, Lopez was well versed in American R&B and gospel from his time attending a Pentecostal church. Lopez was also inspired by his mother’s performances with a Puerto Rican troop called Flamboyan, which performed traditional Afro-Puerto Rican songs and dances called bomba y plena. Adding these influences to the salsa and tropical styles of the other group members, Lopez helped make the revamped group unique among contemporary Puerto Rican groups. As George Montes told Billboard in June of 2000, “The first time we played together, where we added his voice to our harmonies, everybody in the studio was like, ‘They belong together.’”
Alfanno rechristened the group “Son by Four” in homage to its mix of Puerto Rican and American influences. Son, a catchall phrase that describes the rhythms of Puerto Rican music, also refers to the members of the group as traditional soneros, or singers; the addition of “by four” indicated the number of members and gave the name an Anglo dimension. Entering the studio to record its debut, Son by Four released two songs written by Alfanno that were minor hits on the Billboard Latin Tracks chart in 1998: “No Hay Razon” and “Nada.” That same year, the group attracted enough attention to gain a recording contract with the salsa/tropical division of Sony Records, and its members entered the studio again to record a full-length debut. Released in 1998, Preparense sold well among Latin music fans, and the band toured extensively to promote the album. Meanwhile, Angel Lopez also acted as a producer for a Puerto Rican Christian band, Voices del Alma, while the Montes brothers and their cousin served as producers for a local meringue act, Luey.
Son by Four’s second album for Sony, a self-titled album released in the spring of 2000, was a smash hit from the moment it hit the record stores, thanks in large part to the amazing success of its first single, “A Puro Dolor.” Another Alfanno composition, “A Puro Dolor” was recorded in various salsa, ballad, R&B, and pop formats; but as Lopez told Billboard in June of 2000, its basic appeal was universal: “As artists, we’re in love with our songs. But ‘A Puro Dolor’ is something everybody can relate to. We’re all adults; we’ve all been through that [heartbreak]. The way this song reaches out to people is outstanding.”
Helped by the inclusion of the ballad version of “A Puro Dolor” on the Spanish-language soap opera La Vida en el Espejo, the song leapt to the top of Billboard’s Latin music charts almost immediately and eventually spent 20 weeks there; it also ruled Billboard’s tropical music charts for 21 weeks. The song contributed to the group’s huge successes at the Billboard Music Awards in December of 2000 and the Billboard Latin Music Awards in April of 2001, where the band picked up a total of eleven trophies. Within a year of its release, Son by Four sold more than one million copies worldwide. Assisted by a number of concert dates in North America, over 300,000 copies of Son by Four were sold in the United States.
“A Puro Dolor” also hit the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in May of 2000, an unusual accomplishment for a Spanish-language song and a testament to its potential crossover appeal. The group quickly recorded an English-language version of the song, “The Purest of Pain,” which reached the top 30 on the chart in August. In addition, the band rerecorded three other English-language versions of songs that had appeared on Son by Four in preparation for its first album aimed at the Anglo market, Purest of Pain. “Quite honestly,” Lopez told Billboard in December of 2000, “we weren’t actually thinking of recording an English-language album, but then [Sony Discos Chairman] Oscar Llord suggested it and we thought, ‘If Oscar thinks it’s the right time for us to record in English, then it must be the right time.’ It offered us the perfect opportunity to share our love of music with both the Latin and Anglo communities.”
The crossover success of Son by Four intensified speculation about tensions within the group, particularly over the desire for Lopez to record and perform once again as a solo act. The speculation gained a basis in fact when Omar Alfanno filed a suit in United States District Court in Puerto Rico against the Montes brothers and Pedro Quiles in March of 2001. The suit alleged fraud against the three members of the group, who had filed with the United States Trademark Office in December of 2000 to copyright the name of the band. As Alfanno had already copyrighted the name of the band in Puerto Rico, he claimed ownership of the name “Son by Four.” As a member of his management company told Billboard in May of 2001, “We own the Son by Four name and concept… [The Montes brothers and Quiles] are not part of the group. We’re about to finalize an agreement with Angel Lopez.”
Whether Lopez would carry on as the sole remaining member of Son by Four was open to speculation, however; with counter lawsuits filed against Alfanno’s management company, a representative of the other three band members claimed in Billboard, “They were a group before this happened. All they did was sign a management deal and a recording deal. And since when are the managers the owners of your career?” With the members of Son by Four in disarray, the only certainty about the group was that its record-breaking story of success was, at the very least, momentarily interrupted.
Preparense, Sony Discos, 1998.
Son by Four, Sony Discos, 2000.
Purest of Pain, Sony Discos, 2000.
Salsa Hits, Sony Discos, 2001.
Broughton, Simon, et al., editors, World Music: The Rough Guide, Volume 2, The Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Billboard, June 3, 2000, p. 5; June 17, 2000, p. LM6; December 16, 2000, p. 16; May 19, 2001, p. 6.
“Christina Aguilera, Son by Four Winners at Billboard Latin Music Awards,” MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1443227/20010427/story.jhtml (December 11, 2001).
“Exclusive Interview with Son by Four,” Latinoise.com, http://www.latinoise.com/interviews/sonbyfour/soninterview.htm (December 11, 2001).
“Son by Four,” Sony Discos, http://www.sonydiscos.com/discos/content.nsf/io/20001113052536_47?Open&language=english (December 11, 2001).
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