Ry Cooder called him a guitar wizard.
Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in 2003: “Mr. Galbán was one of the wonders of Cuban music in the 1960s. His playing pulled together two almost contradictory approaches: the floating reverb of surf guitar and the percussive, snapping sound of the tres, the small guitar that’s a fulcrum between rhythm and melody in Cuban son groups.”
Manuel Galbán's first brush with fame was as the guitarist with the Cuban vocal group Los Zafiros (The Sapphires) in the 1960s. He provided a distinctive sound that complemented the group's mix of traditional Cuban music and doo-wop. They were immensely popular in Cuba, and developed an international following.
In 1999, Galbán was recruited by Ry Cooder to work with some of the Buena Vista Social Club stars. His unique guitar style and composing skills put him back in the spotlight.
His final recording, Blue Cha Cha, was produced by his daughter Magda Rosa Galbán, who is also an accomplished musician.
Listen for Manuel Galbán playing his version of a tune that dates back to the days of Pérez Prado (King of the Mambo), "Pachito Eché" on this week's Saturday Jazz Caliente.
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.