Ralfi Pagan passed without making a significant mark in the music industry, but not because he didn't try. Raised on the Lower East Side of New York City, he was part of the city's bubbling salsa scene in the '60s and late '70s. His main body of work -- four albums -- was waxed for Johnny Pacheco and Gerald Masucci's Fania Records. Though a major player in the studio, he didn't achieve the notoriety of some other Fania artists, known as the Fania All Stars and which included Mongo Santamaria, Johnny Colon, Willie Bobo, Joe Bataan, Ralph Robles, and Bobby Valentine. The label started on a shoestring and couldn't afford to promote its early product across-the-board, but Fania records were hot platters on Latin radio stations.
Pagan was a gifted vocalist. His light, floating tenor was as serenading as Smokey Robinson's, but more ardent when he came down from the clouds. His melodious crooning got some chart action on a remake of Bread's "Make It With You" (1971) for Wand Records (Fania contracted with Wand during this period). Two years later, he scored a minor charter with "Soul Je T'aime" with Sylvia Robinson (now there's a duet made in heaven) on Robinson's Vibration label; but its success was modest at number 39 R&B and 99 pop on Billboard. Other singles include "Didn't Want to Have to Do It," "Just for a Little While," and "Come Back Baby."
In addition to the four Fania albums, he had an obvious hand in Ralfi Pagan Presents Johnny Nelson, which is quite an item among collectors; Low Profile Records also reissued his second Fania album, Ralfi Pagan With Love. Examples of Pagan's haunting vocals can be found on ITP Records' East Side Classics series. ~ Andrew Hamilton