March 18, 2014 – Joe Lala (Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young) was born on November 3rd 1947 in Ybor City and raised in Florida’s Tampa area.
He started out playing the drums in several Florida bands, before forming the band Blues Image. He also occasionally sang lead vocals, most notably on the song “Leaving My Troubles Behind”.
As a drummer and percussionist, he worked with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Manassas, The Bee Gees, Whitney Houston, Joe Walsh, Andy Gibb and many others. He played the trademark congas that drove the Bee Gees’ 1976 US chart-topper You Should Be Dancing, subsequently included on the multi-million selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Lala provided the wide selection of percussive effects on Barbra Streisand’s 1980 worldwide No. 1 album Guilty, and contributed to Whitney Houston’s eponymous 1985 debut album. Throughout his career, Lala accumulated 32 gold records and 28 platinum records.
He played on the movie soundtracks of Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive, D.C. Cab, Streets of Fire, All the Right Moves, Breathless, Defiance, The Lonely Guy and Airplane!. A severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome ended Lala’s career as a percussionist. It kept him from performing full time, but he continued to record with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, the acoustic band Firefall, Dan Fogelberg, Dolly Parton, Rod Stewart, the Eagles, the Bee Gees, the Byrds, Eric Clapton, Chicago, John Mellencamp, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Allman Brothers Band, and many others.
He made the most of his Italian-American background and his mastery of Spanish, Cuban and Puerto Rican accents with TV roles in Miami Vice, General Hospital, Melrose Place, Seinfeld, Hunter, and Who’s the Boss?, and starred in a summer replacement show named Knight & Daye. He portrayed another native of Ybor City, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, in Ali: An American Hero, and co-starred with Andy Garcia in For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. His films included Active Stealth, Sugar Hill, On Deadly Ground, Deep Sleep, Havana (with Robert Redford), Out for Justice, Marked for Death, Eyewitness to Murder, and Born in East L.A., plus many more.
Lala also guest-starred on several animated shows; Batman: The Animated Series, Pinky and the Brain, Quack Pack, The Angry Beavers, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Johnny Bravo, Ozzy & Drix, Superman: The Animated Series, The Woody Woodpecker Show (the 1999 version), and many more.
He dubbed Kun Lan of the video game Killer7.
He had ultimately walked away from the entertainment business in the mid-2000s in order to care for his mother who had dementia. Lala coached young actors at the Italian Club in his native Ybor City. Joe Lala died suddenly from complications of lung cancer on March 18, 2014, at the age of 66
The Tampa Tribune notes that Lala, a native of the area, rose to prominence as a member of the band Blues Image, whose 1970 single ‘Ride Captain Ride‘ was a No. 4 national hit. Following the band’s split, he embarked on a career as a session player, compiling an impressive list of credits.
Renowned bassist Leland Sklar shared his grief over Lala’s passing on Facebook, where he posted a note calling himself “beyond brokenhearted” and credited Lala with “always [bringing] great feel to everything he touched.” Added Sklar, “From his parrot sitting on his shoulder pooping down his back (you had to be there) to the sauces he made (what a cook) he was the man. Could get you up and out of your chair with a cow bell. ‘Could use more cowbell’ was not a phrase you used on Joey. He always had plenty. I will miss you and you will always be in my heart and my groove. You set the bar high. RIP dear friend…”
Lala also enjoyed a busy life as an actor, scoring roles in a long list of shows that included ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Miami Vice,’ and ‘Melrose Place,’ as well as doing voice work for animated series. He focused on that side of his career after problems with carpal tunnel forced him to abandon the drums in the ’80s, ultimately walking away from the entertainment business entirely in 2004 in order to care for his mother.
Lala’s last chapter in life was turbulent, as he received his cancer diagnosis and said goodbye to his mother, who passed away earlier that year at the age of 98. But he remained positive in spite of it all, quipping in a 2013 interview, “It’s about attitude. Attitude is the most important thing. If you accept that big ‘C’ diagnosis as a death sentence, you are dead in the water. And like I say, I have too many people I would like to make mad yet.”
“He is undoubtedly one of the all-time great musicians in the history of this city,” Tampa DJ Tedd Webb said. “Take a look at his discography and all the people he played with. To play with so many legends, you have to be a legend yourself.”