Ry Cooder
December 26, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

Farewell: Ry Cooder pays tribute to Compay Segundo

When we made the Buena Vista CD, Compay would say everything would be okay because he was there. Which is not to say he was an egomaniac. It’s just that he had this constant sense of ”My word is the seal of quality.” And everyone’s rolling their eyes thinking this guy’s a case. He’d go around and say, ”You’re playing wrong, let me show you.” He’d leave [then-77-year-old pianist] Ruben Gonzalez alone, but he’d say the conga player’s not getting the swing, because he’s in his 50s — ”too young.” We’d just do what he said, and of course the result was amazing. Then at night he’d invite us to a little hotel bar. I remember one evening he played with his group and it was just like heaven — 1920s Cuba right there. And then the power went out. But he didn’t care. His band went on playing in the dark as if nothing had happened. (Segundo died of kidney failure in Havana, Cuba; Gonzalez died Dec. 8 of kidney failure in Havana.)

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