With their own distinctive syle, Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound developed into one of the more sophisticated salsa orchestras over the years. Their sound was created with the help of some of the most creative arrangers in Puerto Rico, including Bobby Valentín, Louis García, Elías Lopes, Papo Lucca, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Julio "Gunda" Merced, Tito Rivera and Humberto Ramírez.
Some of the best known salsa artists played with the orchestra at one time or another, such as Rubén Blades, Miguel de León, Tempo Alomar, Papo Sánchez, Carlos Santos, Piro Mantilla, Frankie Calderón, Lopés, Tito Cruz, Adalberto Santiago, Tito Allen, Tino Guy Santiago, Sammy González, Elias and Julio "Gunda" Merced.
From the outset, Apollo Sound featured a line-up of two trumpets, trombone, tenor saxophone, rhythm section (bongo, conga, timbales, bass, piano) and voices (lead and chorus). A third trumpet was added in the mid-1970's and this instrumentation was kept into the 1990's.
Their first album: El Pueblo Pide Que Toque was directed by Julio "Gunda" Merced, with help from Tito Rojas, Anthony Cruz, Luisito Carrión, Nino Segarra, Osvaldo Román, Tito Allen and Andy Montañez.
The first three Apollo Sound albums all featured the same trio of vocalists, namely, Piro Mantilla, Dino Guy Casiano and Frankie Calderon. Trumpeter Elías Lopes acted as musical director on Apollo Sound's second and third releases. Tito Cruz replaced Mantilla on 1972's Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound 4. Casiano was succeeded by Sammy González, a former Tommy Olivencia band member, on Apollo Sound's fifth release in 1973, which marked the recording debut of virtuoso trombonist/arranger Julio "Gunda" Merced with the band.
Luis "Perico" Ortiz arranged the hits "Traición" and "Parece Mentira' from 1974's Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound 6. In 1974, Roena participated in the reunion of original members of Cortijo"s Combo on Juntos Otra Vez. Calderon and Cruz departed after Apollo Sound's sixth album and José "Papo" Sánchez joined González as co-lead vocalist on Lucky 7 in 1976. This record contained another of Roena's greatest hits, "Mi Desengaño", which was co-written and subtly arranged by Merced. Rubén Blades contributed his compositions "Para Ser Rumbero" and "Amistad Barata" to La 8va. Maravilla in 1977.
González left and recorded as a leader on Sammy González y Los Torbellinos Con Samuel Serrano (1978). Tito Cruz returned to replace González on Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound 9 in 1977. In mid-1978, Merced split from Apollo Sound taking five band members with him, including singer Papo Sánchez, to found "Salsa Fever".
In the late 1980's, Merced left to become the producer and musical director for Tony Moreno's Musical Productions label. Roena carried on to produce El Progreso in 1978, which was one of his strongest albums. It contained "Lamento De Concepción" composed by Catalino Curet Alonso and arranged by Papo Lucca. Tito Cruz was joined on lead vocals by Carlos Santos, who had previously been with Kako and Vilató y Los Kimbos.
While the orchestra recorded dozens of best-selling records for the Fania Label they also performed at countless concerts. The most notable concerts were in the most important venues in Puerto Rico and in various other countries in Africa. The orchestra even performed in Japan with the Fania All Stars in 1973.
Roena released the aptly titled Regreso in 1987 on Up Records. The record marked the comeback to Apollo Sound of Papo Sánchez, who shared lead vocals with Rubén La Hoz and two female vocalists: Johanie Robles and Aracelis Beltran. The album was yet another quality offering of sophisticated salsa and featured two more versions of Adalberto Alvarez songs, including a magnificent arrangement of his "Reflexiones Mías" by Tito Rivera. Three years later, Sánchez was the sole lead singer on 1990's New Decade on the Sonostar label.
Recently a new CD from the long gone orchestra, was released: Llegó el Apollo Sound! It captures the typical sound that made them famous. With Luisito Carrión and Tempo Alomar singing, the album covers romantic and social themes but is eminently danceable. ~ Music of Puerto Rico