Jose Luis Feliciano Vega, was born on July 7, 1935 in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
He moved to NYC in 1952, worked as a percussionist and became the bandboy for
Tito Rodr¡guez, who gave him a break on lead vocals. Tito was so impressed that
he later recommended Feliciano to Joe Cuba, whose sextet had lost its lead
singer Willie Torres to the band of Jose Curbelo. Debuted with Cuba's sextet on
his wedding day in 1957. After the ceremony he hurried to the gig and departed
for his honeymoon the next morning. In eight years he made albums with the Cuba
sextet for Mardi Gras, Seeco and Tico labels, notching up such notable hits as
'Como Rien' (co-written by Cheo and the group's pianist Nick Jimenez) and 'A Las
Seis' from Steppin' Out (1962); 'Ariñañar ' and 'Aunque Tu' from Diggin' The
Most (1964); 'Ya No Tengo' and 'Chicon (Juan Ramon)' from Comin' At You (1965);
and his own 'El Raton' from Vagabundeando! Hangin' Out (1964). He also
moonlighted on three Al Santiago productions for his Alegre label: Que Chevere
Vol. II (1964) by Orlando Marin; The Alegre All-Stars Vol. 3 'Lost And Found'
and The Alegre All- Stars Vol. 4 'Way Out' (mid-1960s) by the Alegre All-Stars
(on Vol. 4 due to his Tico contract); and performed with the Tico All-Stars on
Descargas At The Village Gate (1966, three live discs).
Idolized by Latin fans for his sweet resonant style and romantic stage persona, he went solo after Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien!/We Must Be Doing Something Right! (1966). By this time he'd become a heroin and cocaine addict. He went into personal decline, becoming homeless. After hearing of the Impacto Crea drug rehabilitation project in Puerto Rico from bandleader Tommy Olivencia, he admitted himself for four years' treatment. Even so he participated in an 'Alegre All-Stars in disguise' (1967) recording production by Al Santiago, released on two albums Live Jam Session and Salsa Festival by the Cesta All-Stars on Joe Quijano's Cesta label. Sang boogaloo 'Ay Que Rico' and 'Busca Lo Tuyo' on Champagne (1968) by Eddie Palmieri and the hit bolero 'Soy Tu Ley' and guajira 'Guajirita' on Hey Sister (1968) by Monguito Santamaria.
He signed with Fania subsidiary Vaya and issued the immediate success Cheo (1971). Hhis first collaboration with the significant black composer Catalino 'Tite' Curet Alonso, who co-produced and wrote most of it. LP included hits 'Anacaona' (the story of a pre-Columbian Indian princess), 'Mi Triste Problema' (the single was a NYC no. 1 and a Puerto Rico top five hit in the Farandula charts). La Voz Sensual de Cheo (1972) was lushly orchestrated by Jorge Calandrelli, indulging his fondness for boleros, recorded in Buenos Aires. Alonso contributed to all Cheo's LPs '1973-88. With A Little Help From My Friend (1973) (friend being Alonso) included 'Nabori', 'Salome', 'Hace Furo'.
He played El Padrino (the Godfather) in Hommy at Carnegie Hall (Larry Harlow's Latin version of Tommy; album 1973). Appeared on 1973 debut LP by Puerto Rican band Impacto Crea, developed out of the drug rehab programme; sang title track on same band's next LP Cobarde 1974. LPs in 1970s include. Felicidades (1973, Xmas LP), Looking For Love (Buscando Amor) (1974, another bolero collection arranged by Calandrelli), The Singer (1976) (included big hit 'Canta', subtly arranged by Louie Ram¡rez, and two songs by Ruben Blades). First self-production was Mi Tierra y Yo (1977). From Estampas (1979), Sentimiento Tu (1980) his LPs were made in Puerto Rico, where he now lived, as did Palmieri (whose eponymous LP 1981 made in NYC featured three songs by Cheo). Profundo (1982) had three songs by Alonso, Calandrelli arrainging, and played piano on two tracks; Cheo's Rainbow (1976) and La Vida de Cheo Feliciano (1984) were compilations.
He formed his own Coche label in 1984 in PR and launched the live 25th anniversary set 25 Años de Sentimiento (En Vivo), mainly a greatest hits collection. Regresa el Amor in 1986 was another bolero collection. Sabor y Sentimiento (1987) on Coche was full-blown salsa collection with two Alonso songs, co-produced by Cheo and arr./mus. dir. Louis Garc¡a, followed late 1987 by Xmas LP Te Regalo Mi Sabor Criollo, with former Joe Cuba sextet colleague, Jimmy Sabater sharing lead vocals on the Alonso-penned 'Controversia'. Cheo revived Cuba sextet format (augmented by tres, guitar and bongo) and united again with Sabater for his final Coche release Como Tu Lo Pediste (1988).
He signed with RMM label debut Los Feelings de Cheo (1990) made in PR and NYC with prod./mus. dir. by Sergio George and Charlie Donato. Cantando (1991, made in PR) had guests Papo Lucca (a reunion after ten years: the virtuoso pianist/arr. worked on Cheo's '76 to '80 albums) and 'new crop' sonero Gilberto Santa Rosa, Donato as prod./mus. dir. Motivos (1993) was a remarkable return to form, but did not receive the success it deserved; made in NYC and PR it reunited Cheo with ace prod./mus. dir./arr./multi-instrumentalist Luis 'Perico' Ortiz, who'd worked on his '76 and '77 LPs. For the RMM all-star gathering Combinacion Perfecta in 1993, he paired up with Ray de la Paz on a tribute to the late Louie Ramirez (1938-93) 'Recordando A Louie', and with Pete 'Conde' Rodriguez for 'Soneros de Bailadores'.
He appeared on classic Fania All Stars albums of the '70s
incl. Live At The Cheetah Vol. I '71, two-disc soundtrack Our Latin Thing
(Nuestra Cosa) '72, Latin-Soul-Rock '74 (incl. new version of 'El Raton'),
two-disc Salsa (soundtrack of concert film '76), Tribute To Tito Rodriguez '76,
Live '78 (incl. Cheo on 'Felicitaciones'), Latin Connection '81 ('Nina'), and
participated in the FAS 30th anniversary reunion tour '94 (San Juan, Miami,
NYC). Had major hit with cover of 'Yesterday' from RMM Tropical Tribute To The
Beatles '96; collaboration Un Solo Beso '96 on RMM interpreted boleros of
Mexican composer Armando Manzanero.