Meet the Musicians
Theme Songs
Rhythm of the Stars
Ya Gotta Laugh
Tito Puente Tribute


It 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.

The older kids he looked up to, including his brother--were on their way to becoming percussionist's extaordinaire.

"The 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."

These 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 Latin music.

"I 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."

Eric 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 Bashiri 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.

"Your 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."

The 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.

"Most 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 couldn't adapt."

Eric 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.

"There's 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."

Those 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.

"Things 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?

"Oh 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".

Martin 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.

"I think maybe it's just the love of the music".

Yes, that's it exactly.

All quotes taken from an interview conducted by Martin Cohen in December, 1999 for MPR.

Story By Jim McSweeney