Erin Go Merengue

Is merengue's next standout an Anglo?

The crowd in Boston was in an appreciative mood that night, and Shannon was hooked. "Once I got over the initial nervousness, it was a rush," he says. He then worked his way through the ranks like any other merengue wannabe, playing in house bands on the Washington Heights circuit. Shannon played clubs, weddings, quinceañeras, even New York's Dominican Day Parade before 500,000 spectators. He recalls, "I thought we were going to be playing at a restaurant along the parade route, when the band leader told me: 'Gringo, get on the float. Let's go.' At first I thought they were going to hate us because we were just a small cruddy band, but we got cheered the whole way."

Shannon says he enjoyed the anomaly of "being the only white guy in a club." He recalls he was often suspected of being an undercover police agent, but says the mistrust usually melted when people heard him speaking in Spanish. "It's the most beautiful thing in the world. I never once had a problem," he says. He did get hassled once while lugging amplifiers and rehearsal gear inside a friend's place in a Dominican neighborhood. But his antagonists were cops. "They were like, 'What are you doing here?' They didn't say it, but they implied, 'What are you doing here, little white guy, buying drugs?'"

Despite his sense of acceptance by Dominicans in general, Shannon did encounter some problems getting fellow musicians to take him seriously. He suggests some of his erstwhile musical associates may have been afraid of being upstaged by a gringo. "That's when I realized if I don't do something on my own, if I don't call the shots, I'm never going to get where I want to go," he says. He took out a $10,000 bank loan and began work on his debut album, the eponymous Patrick Shannon. After hashing out four tracks, in which many friendly musicians and composers gave him cut rates, Shannon was discovered by someone with genuine industry connections.

Play that funky music white boy: Is merengue's next standout an Anglo?
Play that funky music white boy: Is merengue's next standout an Anglo?

Randy Ramos, formerly a singer with established Dominican artists such as Luis Almonte, remembers the first time Shannon visited his basement studio. A mutual acquaintance asked Ramos to listen to a demo, without disclosing any details. "Two of the tracks gave me goosebumps," says Ramos, who also owns a Washington Heights travel agency. "I told them to play it for me again, and when I asked who it was, I remember Patrick was sitting on the floor, and he said, 'It's me,' and I said, 'Get out of here.' I couldn't believe it."

For a stake in the proceeds, Ramos agreed to bankroll the remainder of the production and set Shannon up at a major studio in Santo Domingo to complete the album. The final product, slated for retail release this week, is more than a novelty. It is a well-crafted record from first song to last and showcases Shannon's fine voice. And though his origins do not go without mention, he refrains from milking them and sings without an accent. (He now speaks Spanish with only a slight accent.)

Ramos admits that Shannon's nationality was part of the initial intrigue, but says he believes Shannon will make the cut with Latin consumers on artistic merit. "Honestly if you're trying to cross over from your culture or race in the recording business, you better have some talent to back it up," he offers. "If not, you're not going to last very long. The beautiful thing this guy has is he loves singing the music. It's not about making money or becoming famous; it's because he really loves singing merengue."

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