Interview & Photo by: TJ Martinez
What was it like to switch from Chicago’s percussionist to drummer?
It’s like being on the same road driving a car, except now you get to drive another car on that same road. There’s more responsibility on the drummer’s driving seat cause the drummer counts tempos and directs the band in many directions with his dynamics and grooves. When I was playing percussion, it was more about enhancements, seasonings of different rhythms and colors.
What was it like to join a band that has had such a strong fan base following them for so long?
I’ve always been a fan of Chicago since 1969. CTA was the first album I bought when I was 13 years old. Although I’ve played drums in other bands that have a huge following; like Santana, Steve Winwood, Traffic, Robbie Robertson, Lindsey Buckingham- I’ve always followed Chicago’s career. This band is not only a huge classic rock band like the bands I’ve played for, but it happens to be a band that I have always been a fan of. Chicago is the soundtrack of my life. I get goosebumps on stage everytime I hear the intro to the song “Beginnings”, it takes me back to when I was a teenager. I can’t believe that I’m playing this song now, on stage with Chicago… I would never have dreamed of that when I was 13.(Although I did fantasize about it and envisioned it).
You combine various percussion techniques to create your own unique style, so what artists have influenced you throughout your career?
I’ve been influenced by every drummer you can imagine. My father (first teacher, still a teacher), Alex Acuña (another percussionist-drummer teacher), Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Jose Luis Quintana“Changuito”… and all the studio recording and band drummers on the radio. Percussionists and drummers of all styles of music where my influence and still are. I grew up playing percussion and drums at the same time with no division between one or the other. A drum set is part of the percussion arsenal so I grew up playing both, meaning that drums were just one of the many instruments in the world of percussion. So to me there’s not that much of a division. I’ve played both with all the different artists I’ve recorded and toured with.
You’ve been involved with bands of all genres from jazz to Afro-Cuban to rock. What makes something memorable from each of those genres?
I express to the young players today is a decision similar to becoming a Chef of fine cuisine. You have to embrace the whole art form. I wanted to be a musician and what that means is to play music, all kinds of music. Music is a whole lifetime of dedication and commitment. It’s classical music, jazz, rock, blues, country, world music, latin, etc.- and that takes a lifetime. I started my journey earlier on when I used to play in Las Vegas and play “funky soul” music in the bars, then put my tuxedo on and play with Las Vegas Symphony and Shows in the Vegas Strip, and another day go and play for rock bands on percussion, or a jazz gig, sometimes drum set sometimes percussion,etc.. So I decided a long time ago that I was going to make a living in music, not just in Rock or just in Latin. What that takes is a commitment for a lifetime and there’s no ending in the learning process. There’s a beginning… there’s no ending. Until death, you’re a student of your instrument. It’s exciting!
You have an extensive list of collaborations. Can you talk about one of your favorites? Chicago probably?
Well yes- I really, honestly, truly have to say… yes… that this is one of my favorites. That’s one of the reasons that I’m going on seven years with Chicago and this year I started on drum set. Even if I would have stayed on percussion, I would have stayed playing very happily. The reason is because this is a band of great musicians that can talk music of different genres and they’re into a lot of different styles of music. There’s several leaders in the band. Right now, there’s Jimmy Pankow and Robert Lamm- Hall of Fame songs writers. There’s Lee Loughnane, an amazing example of a great instrumentalist/composer, a dedicated musician- this guy practices everyday!. I’m blessed to be surrounded by super talented bandmates in a legendary band.
Another artist that I worked for ten years- Steve Winwood. One of my favorites because he was a total musician- he is a multi-instrumentalist, hit songwriter, engineer and very sensitive and considerate towards the band. A beautiful human being. I really enjoyed working with him just as I enjoy working with Chicago now. Some artists are not necessarily great musicians, so they have difficulty communicating what they want and they tend to get frustrated and there can be conflict. But when you’re working with great musicians that speak the “music langage”, well it makes my job easier- you fulfill their visions successfully. So I’d say Chicago, but the reason I’ve played for all these artists on my resume is because I love them truly, and creating music with all of them has been a joy! A lifetime of learning. I’m so lucky and blessed to look at my resume and go “Geez, I’m old! I’ve done all of that?” LOL. It seems the older I get, the more people I work with. I hope this ride continues and I get to enjoy this fantastic musical experience for a while.
Can you talk a bit about your CD set to come out this April?
Yes. It’s called “Jamming at the Baked Potato”. The Baked Potato is a really small music club that started back in the 70’s. A lot of famous musicians have played there. So in my time off from Chicago, I play clubs and I have a little side band called “WallyWorld”. These guys are so versatile we get together with no rehearsals and just play songs we love. For this CD we got there, we soundchecked, and we recorded live. Just like the title, “Jamming at The Baked Potato”. You can download or buy the CD hard copy right now on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon. I have another CD I recorded before this one that is more world music styles with lots of different great world musicians. It’s just called “WallyWorld” and you can also buy the CD or download on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, etc..WallyWorld is like soundtracks of movies and television. My idea for that CD was… close your eyes and fly! It starts in Venezuela, then it goes to Cuba, then Brazil, to the Caribbean, to New Orleans, NYC, China to Africa, then it ends in India. It’s a music trip without the drugs, LOL. I hope you all enjoy these two CDs.