There are many ways to measure the greatness of a musician. You can talk dollars or awards or recordings or even high-profile gigs. But for the best of the best, put your money on the ones that other musicians talk about. Among Latin bass players, that's Ruben Rodriguez.
His first big gig was with Johnny Colon in 1979. Since then he's worked with Tito Rojas, Luis Ramirez, Ray de la Paz, Willie Colon, Dave Valentin, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Hilton Ruiz, Johnny Pacheco, Jose Fajardo, The Fania All Stars, and the late great Machito to name just a few. In the mainstream jazz field there's people like Grover Washington Jr. and Roberta Flack. And this is still a young man.
He grew up mostly in East Harlem during the 60's and 70's. But from 1969 to 1974 he lived in Puerto Rico. It's where he got his first musical training. An uncle in the states sent over a trumpet, and Ruben took lessons from an old Puerto Rican teacher. His father was also a musician who played classical guitar, and Ruben learned something about that instrument as well. It wasn't until 1977 though, that he picked up the bass, in junior high.
"Actually it picked me. Nobody in the class would play the darn thing. It was a big, wooden upright, and from September of 77 to January of 78 I dealt with that thing. Then the school got an electric bass and I just switched."
Since then he's been mostly self-taught but spent some time under the tutelage of the esteemed bassist Victor Venegas.
"Victor Venegas was my primary teacher. He was the one who set me straight on this-is-the-fingerings and this-is-the- way-you-do-things. In school they taught me the staff and how to read music. With Victor I got better doing it. He was bringing me material and I would go on jobs with him. When I started studying with Victor in 1979, he had me on the acoustic and made my fingers bleed. The action was so high on the instrument you know, and I'd have to get the note out, and he would press my fingers down on the fingerboard. Then I got into the electric bass because I'd always had one around, and started studying and listening to people. At that time it was guys like Eddie Gua Gua and Sal Quevas. Bobby Rodriguez also played electric at that time, sitting down, with his thumb. And swinging, all those guys were swinging. Victor played electric also, on a lot of things. I used to go with him and carry his instruments and sometimes he'd have to double-up, play electric and acoustic on the same job."