Rudy Perez Talks Julio Iglesias, Beyonce and Growing Up in the Hood in New Memoir
The Latin Hitmaker, the recently published memoir by songwriter and producer Rudy Perez, offers an aspirational success story, juicy gossip (like yearning for Julio Iglesias’ car) and nitty gritty music industry details, from recording sessions to record contracts.
The end result is a book in which the award-winning Perez, one of the top producers in the genre and a founder of the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, gets props aplenty, but that is also refreshingly honest and insightful. Industry pundits will find plenty to go over here -- from recording sessions with Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Julio Iglesias, to Perez’s start as a young songwriter and recording artist with help from the likes of Jose Feliciano and an early recording contract with Jose Menendez (later murdered by his sons in the infamous Menendez Brothers case).
But this is also a good human-interest story. Perez describes how his tight-knit family emigrated from Cuba when he was just a child, fleeing the revolution, and far from finding an easy American dream, had to struggle with poverty and its related challenges. Perez is bracingly candid, for example, about his brother’s nine-year stint in prison on drug charges. And the story of how he and longtime wife Betsy almost decided to go through with an abortion when they were young and penniless is revealing and touching.
Billboard spoke with Perez about the making of his memoir.
What's the book about?
First of all it’s not a tell-all. I wanted it to be about an immigrant who came with nothing to this country and was able to do a lot thanks to his faith. America is a country people come in, and if they work hard and they have faith, they can actually succeed. I would have called it By the Grace of God, but the title was taken. One of the biggest kept secrets has always been my faith. I’m very Christian; my father was a Pentecostal minister and so was my grandfather -- I grew up with strong Christian faith, and God always got me out of very difficult situations in my life.
I’m sure you’ve had many not-so-memorable moments. Is there one that stands out?
Many, many, many. But I didn't want it to be about negative stuff. Steve Jobs summarized it in a speech: “If you connect the dots in your life, even the bad moments led you to something special.” I tried for the book to have that tone. There were a lot of difficult moments. There were moments in my career where they changed my name, and they tried to make me into something I wasn’t. This was a promoter in the late '70s. He hired me to do some demos for someone related to Ernesto Lecuona. And I went in and he asked me to sing with an American accent. And then he told me he had a record deal form, and he said, "Your name is David Bass." I was eager to please, I was a kid from the hood. So I went ahead, they sent me to Puerto Rico to do some press, and in the first day and a half I had a meltdown. I said, "It’s over, this is not me."
There are a lot of artists mentioned here. Who had the biggest impact on your life?
I would say Jose Feliciano and Julio Iglesias. The first time you gave me a producer of the year award in Billboard, I put out a page thanking Jose. I met him on the road when I finally got to do my own Rudy album in 1983 with RCA, and he was a big star. I had been signed by Jose Menendez -- he was the guy who signed my record contract -- and I went on promo and met him. Jose was bigger than life. He was considered a super successful crossover artist. I really got a lot of inspiration from him. When I met him, I was a nobody. And he said, "This kid is going to be my songwriter and producer!"
You’ve worked with pretty much everyone in the Latin world and some of the biggest voices in the mainstream. Who stands out?
Beyoncé has to be in the top of the list. Luis Miguel. Christian Castro. Michael Bolton. Christina Aguilera. Natalie Cole was brilliant. I’ve been privileged to work with great singers. I write songs for people who can actually sing amazing, because that’s my school. I come from that school of standards and classics.
A recurring theme in the book is your own career as an artist. You don’t want to let go of that, do you?
No. It’s like unfinished business. That flame lit up again in 2011, when Herbie Hancock invited me to Paris to the UNESCO celebration. I said yes, if I can sing Cesar Portillo de la Luz’s song. I thought it was going to be a small event. When I got there, there were 2500 guests and all these big stars. I got there and I was panicking. I sang and all of them said, "You got to record."
[At the same time] every Sunday, after the service we would go to lunch with my dad. One day he turns around and says, "Oye Rudito, yo me voy a morir sin oirte cantar." (Rudito, I’m going to die without hearing you sing). About three weeks later he was gone and when I came back from Paris, I said to [my wife] Betsy, "I’m going to record an album for my dad." That has led me to have two albums, one in Spanish and one in English. I’m going to record everything before the end of the year.