By Jacob Katel
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An impressive vocal range, off-the-cuff improvisational skills, and smooth dance moves enabled Oscar D'León to step out from behind the wheel of a taxicab to follow his true love.
In the early Seventies, the Venezuelan sonero would sing along to Cuban star Beny Moré's biggest hits as he shuttled passengers along the streets of Caracas. Soon he picked up a bass and taught himself to play by listening to Johnny Pacheco, Eddie Palmieri, and Willie Colón records and following the music. "I tried to learn as much as possible," says D'León. "All I wanted back then was to sound intelligent and not make a fool out of myself."
Heavily influenced by Moré, La Sonora Mantacera, and other Cuban ensembles, D'León formed La Dimensión Latina in 1973 and recorded "Pensando en Ti" ("Thinking of You") several months later. Since then he has released more than 70 records, scoring countless major international hits such as "Lloraras" ("You'll Cry"), "Mi Bajo y Yo" ("My Bass and I"), and "Francisco Guayabal." Despite stardom, he insists the only thing he concerns himself with is sending his fans away from his performances with smiles on their faces.
"To me that's the biggest thrill of doing what I do," D'León says. "If the people aren't enjoying what [I'm] doing, then obviously I'm not doing my job."