Once upon a time, Panamanian songwriter Roberto Blades wanted to be an Air Force pilot. But as fate would have it, he opted to go into music and, in some ways, is still flying high.
"When I was in high school I was going to sign with the U.S. Air Force," he explains. "And I then saw the higher ranked guy yell at the lesser ranked guy about something right in front of me. I actually had the pen in front of me but I thought that the lesser ranked guy was right. I just didn't like it.
"And then I just said, 'No. I'm too much of an individual to have some guy, who may be higher ranked than me, mentally be ordering me around. And I dropped that idea."
Tough luck for the U.S. Air Force turned into an opportunity in music for Blades. Through hard work and discipline he became one of the most sought-after songwriters in Latin music of the past decade. "I didn't pursue music; it pursued me," Blades insists, remembering the time when a music teacher from Tallahassee met with his parents, telling them he could learn more in a day than most students could in a year.
By 1981, Blades teamed up with other talented musicians in Miami to form the hardcore salsa group Inmensidad. The band was signed by premier tropical/salsa label Fania, which then offered Blades a contract, where he remained for 10 years, writing several hit songs, including the classic "Lagrimas."
One of Blades' most unique characteristics is the way he composes new songs; he simply hears the song in his head as if he was listening to the radio - lyrics, melody, instrumentation, and arrangement.
In 1992 Blades signed with Emilio Estefan Enterprises as a writer and producer, which led to two Grammys: one as songwriter of Marc Anthony's hit "Dimelo (I Need To Know)" and the other as producer of Gloria Estefan's "Alma Caribena." He was also named BMI's Songwriter of the Year at the 2001 Latin Awards in Los Angeles.