Born this day in 1934 Willie grew up in Spanish Harlem with his father, a folk-guitarist from Puerto Rico, William Correa taught himself to play the bongos at age fourteen, going on to play with Machito and New York City’s Latin bands including Pérez Prado. Mary Lou Williams gave Correa the nickname ‘Bobo’ when they recorded together in 1951. Bobo studied with Mongo Santamaría, before playing with Tito Puente’s band for four years from when he was nineteen. He recorded with George Shearing in 1955 before working with Cal Tjader and Herbie Mann. In 1959 he worked again with Santamaría, on material including the album, Mongo (1959).
The first time he recorded For Verve was in 1959 as a member of the Bob Brookmeyer Septet; other sessions followed during the first half of the 1960s and he made some albums as a group leader before making his first album for Verve, Spanish Grease, in 1965. A year later he had a small hit on the Billboard chart with “Sunshine Superman”, and other singles like “Spanish Grease” and “Fried Neck Bones And Some Home Fries” attested to his originality. In 1968 he recorded the album Evil Ways, named for the song that Santana would record on their debut album Santana (1969).
Bobo played on countless sessions, recording with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Chico Hamilton and Sonny Stitt. Moving to Los Angeles in 1969, Bobo led jazz and Latin jazz combos, and in 1971 he appeared with Santana in the concert ‘Soul To Soul, Live from Ghana’. Just three months before his death from cancer, Bobo reunited with Santamaria for the first time in fifteen years at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival.
Bobo seemed to enjoy playing pop and R&B, just as much as he did jazz. His love for the timbales and congas made him a thoroughly entertaining performer, and while not blessed with the best of voices it did not stop him from singing too.