shouldn't have taken a Nostradamus to predict
that Eric Velez would become a standout player
with some of today's hottest Latin bands. When
he was growing up in the Bronx, the music was
all around him.
older kids he looked up to, including his brother--were
on their way to becoming percussionist's extaordinaire.
music has been in my house, I grew up with it,
just seeing all these guys play. I was much younger,
I was just a baby, but I still remember everything
they used to do. When they played together,
the times they used to sit-in with Tito. I remember
when they used to play in the barrio, when they
used to play outside."
were all great players like his brother Jose,
Harry Fernandez, and Bobby Allende and Tito Allende.
A few would go on to become household names in
grew up around those guys. My brother taught me
how to play, but at the same time I'd get a pointer
from someone here, or from someone there. Those
guys are great, great musicians."
learned to play in the Cuban tradition but embraces
the concept of stretching his learning and his
understanding, to think of the wider world of
music and percussion when defining his goals.
This has led him to admire and try to learn from
players who tread that worldwide stage. The multitalented
Johnson being a case in point.
"When it comes to Pop music or Rock, he knows
where to add little spots where the conga has
to come in or the chimes have to come in, the
rainstick. He just knows the spots where you can
put them. And it blends in so well."
Appreciating the depth of learning that rhythm
is leading Eric to other instruments, other cultures.
mind has to expand, you can't just stay with the
same thing. That's the trouble with salsa musicians,
they just stay with 1 or 2 instruments. You just
have to expand. There's a lot of great musicians
out there and I don't know why they don't do it."
2 main groups with whom Eric has made his mark
are DLG and Marc
Anthony. Of the two, DLG has a reputation
for being a tough chair for percussionists.
bands have a simple straight rhythm all the way.
DLG is a band that will switch from straight time
to caballo, then it will switch to Reggae, then
it will switch to some kind of Rap--and you just
have to come up with some idea. Then there might
be Calypso mixed with Rap, it's a blend, all these
rhythms are together. So what makes it hard is
that it's not just straight, it changes. Now to
look for the format on the drum, which pattern
to play, is a problem for a lot of musicians.
I've seen musicians in that band come and go,
come and go, because of that problem, they just
paid his dues as well, going through a series
of gigs on the Salsa Circuit that were primarily
learning experiences: hassling over money with
promoters and bandleaders, bad transportation,
worse accommodations, and way less than ideal
working conditions. It translates into an overall
lack of respect that makes it difficult at best,
for a player to feel good about himself. And it
doesn't help paying the rent and keeping the car
payments current. There's also the way it sometimes
drains the joy from the music.
times that they'll take you to the venue at 12
for example, and you have to wait and hour and
a half to 2 hours for the artist to come. And
the problem is that sometimes, in these Salsa
venues, you're walking around doing nothing. Maybe
there's a little food for you, but you can't lie
down, they don't treat you good, and everybody
gets tired waiting. So when you go up on stage,
you don't have that urge to play."
days seem to be fading into the distance now.
His stature and the level of success enjoyed by
DLG and Marc Anthony assure him of both respect
and first class treatment all the way.
now are the way I always expected them to be,
the way it's supposed to be. I have no complaints".
When Martin Cohen interviewed Eric he asked him
about what he was looking for next, how he envisioned
himself stepping up, so to speak, to expand his
musical horizons. Who were some of the people
he'd like to work with for example?
boy, there's a lot of people I'd like to work
with. Basically, I want to step out more into
the Pop circuit. I've done all I can in the Salsa
field. I've played and I've recorded with lots
of people. I'm not saying I want to leave the
circuit, I just want something different".
also observed that although Eric is not a big
guy and has small hands, he gets a "big-ass
sound" out of his drums. "Was' up with
that brilliant sound", Martin wanted to know.
Eric struggled to find words and finally admitted
he didn't really know.
think maybe it's just the love of the music".
that's it exactly.
quotes taken from an interview conducted by Martin
Cohen in December, 1999 for MPR.
By Jim McSweeney