hand-drum

Daniel de los Reyes:
Dream It. Build It. Live It.

Everyone has ideas. A couple of us even have good ideas. But very few people actually take the time, the energy, and the risk to pursue their ideas and see them through to the end – success or failure. Most ideas, regardless of their ingenuity, remain simply that: ideas. They float around in a sea of abstract existence until they eventually slip out the backdoor of the conscience, drifting down the forgotten river, never to be heard from again. It’s a rare occasion when a good idea makes its way beyond the dam of internal rationalization and into the hands of its maker. Rare, that is, unless you’re Daniel de los Reyes.

As a highly acclaimed percussionist, performer, producer, clinician and inventor, Daniel de los Reyes is a rare example of someone who possesses the right combination of intelligence, experience, connections, and guts that separates himself from the masses. His pedigreed upbringing allows him to dream big, his years of paying dues on the road allow him to filter these ideas with a business-minded sieve, and his passion for life and music – they are one in the same for him – allows him to pursue worthy ideas with the level of energy and enthusiasm that they demand. He’s a visionary with the drive to execute. But above all of this, he is and always has been one single thing: A drummer.

What’s In A Name?

The de los Reyes name is to the Latin percussion world what the Trump name is to the New York real estate world. Daniel was born into a family that for three generations has been making a living at banging and shaking things. His grandfather, Walfredo de los Reyes II, laid the family foundation by co-founding the famous Cuban orchestra Casino de la Playa. His father, Walfredo de los Reyes III, went on to become one of Cuba’s most successful percussionists before moving on to conquer Puerto Rico and the States. As one of the first drummers to incorporate the drum set with congas and other percussion, he blazed a wide path that many would follow. He continues to wow crowds with his quick hands and deep knowledge at the ripe young age of 72. And now Daniel and his brothers, Walfredo Jr. and Kamar, keep the torch burning brighter than ever as they consistently stamp the de los Reyes name all over the percussion and entertainment landscape.

Many of Daniel’s first memories revolve around drumming and his father’s chaotic life as a professional skinsman. “Growing up in an entertainment family as a son of one of the greatest percussionists – I used to think that was normal, that everyone grew up like that,” he laughs. “My playrooms were the backs of show stages. I was always bothering the lighting guy or sticking straws in the holes of the drum shells and stuff like that. I used to take it for granted, seeing my dad play a show every night. And now that I look back on it, I realize he would play with someone different almost every night. They used to rehearse that day and play the show that night like they’ve been playing it forever. Every night. It was incredible. But at the time I just thought that was what you did.

“My dad was my first teacher, but we kind of locked a little bit. He always wanted to sit me down to study technique and stick control, and I would get restless. So he decided to put me with a drum teacher, and that was great. He was a lot looser, a jazz player. He helped me a lot but really, with my family around, how could you go wrong? And then every one of their friends was family. At any time you could have these great musicians around the house: Joe Morello, Alan Dawson, Billy Cobham, Alex Acuña, Roy Burns, Louie Bellson, and on and on.

“There was never a moment – at least a sane, sober moment – in my life where I wasn’t going to be a drummer. Maybe back in the old road days there may have been some questioning, but nothing serious. I’ve always known I’d always be a drummer and percussionist. I might do other things that pop up, but I could never leave the drums. I’ve found that we end up doing what our parents do. And I have to be careful with that because my father is very drum-selfish, where nothing is as important as drums. And that can sometimes cause trouble. But it’s all done with love and without malice. That’s just who we are.”

While his father is probably best known for his professional technique and mastery of tradition, Daniel has kept the restless spirit that festered in him as a young boy and became one of the top performing drummers in the country. His reputation in the business is one of relentless energy and excitement. You won’t find him slouched behind a pair of congas under the dimmed lights in the corner of the venue. Instead, look for the brightest spot on stage and there you’ll find him, sweating and smiling and beaming a contagious pulse of energy. It’s a reputation that has earned him some illustrious gigs, including Earth, Wind And Fire, Sting, Ricky Martin, and Billy Joel to pull just a few off the long list. But even performing with these icons wasn’t enough to subdue the restless hands of Daniel de los Reyes.

It’s A Jungle Out There.

Not satisfied with merely performing top-shelf gigs and recording award-winning albums (like his acclaimed, self-produced San Rafael 560), de los Reyes is on to bigger – much, much bigger – and louder, and sweatier things. Welcome to the DrumJungle. Based out of his Vegas home, de los Reyes is the president and founder of DrumJungle, Inc., an explosive drum and percussion event that combines house music and dancing with traditional and contemporary ethnic rhythms performed by elite, veteran talent. Take the most star-studded percussion clinic available, throw in some addictive, pulsing loops, some beautiful dancing ladies, add fire and thunder, and center it all around the beaming charisma of Daniel de los Reyes, and you have just a sliver of the thrill that DrumJungle brings.

“I’ve been thinking about this for the last ten years,” he reflects. “Every time I do a tour or go to see a concert with a great drum section, it seems that drums are usually one of if not the highlight of the show. I know that drums can reach the masses, people other than drummers, because I’ve been doing it for ten or fifteen years. You start to pick up on certain things that work and certain things that don’t when you’re dealing with an audience, especially a large arena audience. I always knew that percussion works to get people excited. But it has to be well done and well choreographed and well drawn. So DrumJungle is the idea I had based on that premise.”

You’re probably thinking what many first think: cheesy Vegas show. You’re wrong. Erase it. Shred the document. For one, DrumJungle is not just one thing. DrumJungle is a corporation, a network, basically, of de los Reyes and his wide web of musician friends and family. It works like this: You call DrumJungle (www.drumjungle.com) and tell them what event you’re planning, what themes are involved, and how big of a show you want (according to your budget and venue). Then de los Reyes gets together with his co-producers and choreographs a customized show centered around the tribal/ethnic/fiery themes of DrumJungle. Then he calls upon his top percussion friends, and they’re off to knock on your door.

His first client was the legendary Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, who needed an impressive opener to one of his largest shows ever. After a bit of collaboration and conversation, DrumJungle took shape and de los Reyes and his friends (including his legendary father, his brother Walfredo Jr., Gregg Bissonette, Ron Powell, Cassio Duarte, and about a dozen others) showed up and blew the roof off the place. “Let me put it this way,” he says, “that party started at 10:00 at night and ended at noon the next day. And DrumJungle was on the main stage and people just went berserk. After that show, I knew I was right. I knew it would work, because I‘ve been doing it for so long I can see when people are genuinely excited.

“When I play the drum festivals, whether with or without my family, the response is always so great. So I wanted to take that excitement beyond that audience and to people who aren’t necessarily drummers, percussionists, or even musicians. The music of today, the house/techno music, has a very driving tempo, so if you do a drum performance based off of that it ends up being very high energy. Our shows are nonstop from start to finish, usually around 130 bpm or above. You can’t stop moving because the pulse is always there. I feature different soloists who are masters of those instruments in different sections depending on what cultural rhythm we’re utilizing in different parts. And even if you don’t know who these musicians are, you’re marveling at what they’re doing. So it’s always movement and switching of instruments. It’s a serious, glorified drum seminar clinic … on steroids.”

Can Gregg Come Out And Play?

It ain’t easy sharing a stage with Daniel de los Reyes. The audience practically has to wear goggles to protect their eyes from his blinding personality. And that’s just the performance part. Take into account his natural musical ability, and it makes the other DrumJungle roles even more difficult to fill. It’s a challenge he humbly recognizes and deftly overcomes. “One of the key components to DrumJungle is that I use some of the best musicians available. I bring these drummers with résumés like mine together to show people why we do what we’ve been doing for 30 years.

“I’m always jumping and moving around, and those are the kinds of musicians I always look for. They don’t have to be dancers, just musicians who are exciting and bring more to the table than just being the best on their instrument. They have something else to them. Some people capture you more than others when they’re playing and there’s something to be said about it. It’s not just great chops. Gregg Bissonette is a perfect example. He’s an incredible professional musician that can do any kind of music there is. Same with my brother. They can do it all, but it’s the energy they provide that’s unbelievable. Horacio [“El Negro” Hernandez] is the same way. The energy, the smile on his face, it’s priceless. So I recognize that and bring it together and choreograph it. I structure it and put it together so we have certain sections where I know I’ll feature certain musicians on their best instrument. Like Bissonette on a Latin rock section or my brother on an African section, or something like that.

“A lot of times, people in the audience will look up and recognize these guys from playing with some of their favorite popular bands. But the majority don’t recognize them: They just look up and realize there’s something special going on, something they’ll never see again. I bring the best of the best, and they’re all my friends and the bottom line is: At the end of the performance, people are going nuts and they want more and they want it again and again. And it makes people want to play the drums, which is great.”

All this talent doesn’t come cheap, and de los Reyes takes pride in paying his musicians well for their time and energy. Despite what you may think his last name brings, he’s still a musician and is susceptible to all the pitfalls the rest of us deal with in our careers. He laments, “Unfortunately, the way the music business has gotten the past few years, you usually have one person that produces a whole record with hardly any live musicians. And that has put many people out of work, and a lot of those people are pretty intense, incredible musicians. Do you really need that kind of quality musician to play most pop gigs on tour? Not really. Do you need to hire a musician that demands $7,000 or $10,000 a week? No. You can pay a young guy who will do it for basically nothing.

“I’ve been playing drums since I was two years old. I’ve devoted a lot of time to this profession and what is that time worth? Same with all these other guys: What is their time worth? So I’m going to pay you what you’re worth. And that’s what I like to do. I like hiring Horacio and giving him his pay and having him go, ‘Man, all right!’ Even the younger guys I hire, I still pay very well – but of course they don’t make what a Gregg Bissonette, who has many more years invested, will get.

“A lot of drummers and percussionists out there have never been in the situations I put them in. The bottom line is I’m doing a drum event that I’m putting together and how awesome is that! Anytime I see percussion or drums being played I get a big smile on my face. It’s built inside of us and that’s what makes drummers such an interesting community. Yeah, we’re sometimes competitive among each other, but we still have this language that no other instrument has. It’s awesome.”

Ring Leader.

It would tempt many to just sit back and take advantage of the names on the stage and simply let their celebrity and their chops take over the show. But if you’ve ever been involved in any kind of organized (or disorganized?) drum circle, you know that leadership is necessary and organization essential. “It might look like more of a jam session between really good musicians, but that is not the case. Any time you have up to 16 musicians on one stage, you have to have structure, or else you’ll end up with a Times Square traffic jam. I write out all the music and get pages out to everyone along with the audio. And once they have this ‘map’ memorized, which I require of them, then that’s when the improvisation comes in.

“It’s just like a drum corps, but it gets really intense where you have to play traditional rhythms over dance music. So if your forte is African and we’re playing a Cuban section, you need to know the melodic structure that the part requires. And on top of that, the deejay is playing loops that I constructed in the studio. So there has to be structure within the improvisation. There has to be a map. Especially for people who play the repetitious foundation parts. Like the cowbell parts, they are very important. They have to know all the starts and stops and play all the rhythms correctly. It’s intense, and once it gets going it’s nonstop. And then my favorite parts are when we really mix it up. I don’t mind putting heavy metal guitars over an Arabic section while singing African.

“I’m also cuing everything on stage. Everywhere. All the time. Hand signals are crucial and we have a whole bunch of them. Again, just like a drum corps. There are even more signals with the whistle as far as cuing other musicians and the dancers and everyone. It’s all being choreographed on stage. So it’s a big task. It’s badass.”

And everything changes at a moment’s notice, and the changes can be drastic from one show to another. As mentioned earlier, DrumJungle is a fully customized drumming experience. The producers work according to the client’s parameters to provide the perfect show for each individual situation. It’s a great concept, but at the same time it opens de los Reyes and his counterparts up for some interesting, to say the least, situations.

“Sometimes people call, and they just want a percussionist to play along with some music. All right, I can do that. But pretty much anyone can do that. This is a full-blown performance. We did one event where people wanted ’80s music but with a lot of drumming. So what I did was I composed it just like I’ve always heard those songs in my head – loaded with percussion and drums. And they loved it. And I’ve been hearing it my whole life like that. The way I have always heard music was like: Well that track is awesome, but it could use some more drums.

“The music is very important to how the show takes its individual shape. On top of all this movement and instrumentation, there are loops that we incorporate that are manipulated in the studio. So, for example, the deejay might drop in a Guns N’ Roses riff and the crowd goes, ‘Oh, that’s Guns N’ Roses.’ Well, yeah, but it’s being playing over a North Brazilian rhythm.”

Inventing The Future.

And the ideas keep coming. When de los Reyes isn’t traveling the world with a premier artist or rocking a studio with session work or blowing onlookers away from the DrumJungle stage, he’s turning the cranks in his brain to find the next invention that drummer’s won’t be able to live without. It’s another carry-over from his childhood – all those days tinkering with the equipment while dad played on stage – that has developed into a full-fledged enterprise for de los Reyes.

By far his most popular and successful invention is the One Shot shaker from LP (maraca and studio “soft” versions coming soon) that provides a downbeat shake without the inevitable back-shake. Simple enough. Others include an innovative utility beater by Regal Tip that attaches to pedals for play on cowbells, woodblocks, and tambourines without sacrificing their natural sounds, as well as a forthcoming mega-pad by DW that incorporates timbales, cowbells, and congas all in a portable practice rig that fits in a backpack.

These are all ideas born from his mind, either by necessity in the studio or by curiosity in the workshop. And, like his other success stories, none of them happened by accident.

“What I do is I protect my ideas with a 12-month provisional patent, then develop a plan as to which companies I’m going to contact. And I use the reaction of those companies to see if it’s worth it to go further with the idea. Sometimes the amount of money you have to pay for a patent is more than the idea’s real earning potential. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good invention: It just means there isn’t a strong market for it. If they take your idea, then you negotiate your terms regarding the patent fees, the marketing, use of your name, and all those things. But you have to be truthful with yourself and judge how much money a product can really make.

“As with anything, you have to be creative and focused. You have to create a plan and write it all down. Give yourself deadlines and prioritize things.”

It’s just another building block in the de los Reyes musical empire. Born a percussionist in a percussion family, Daniel is certainly making his family name proud as he shoulders what must be a considerable burden. There are men that shy away from an intimidating historical presence, and then there are men that carry that prestige to new levels.

“Right now I’m just shooting for the moon,” he smiles. “And why not? My ideas are big, but I can make them happen.”

DANIEL DE LOS REYES PERCUSSION RIG

Percussion: LP
1. 14" RMV Timbal
2. 12.5" Galaxy Giovanni Djembe
3. Jam Block (on Gajate bracket)
4. 12.5" Armando Peraza Tumba
5. 11.75" Armando Peraza Conga
6. Rock Bell (on Gajate bracket)
7. Guiro
8. 7-1/4" and 8-5/8" Armando Peraza Bongos
9. 14" and 15" Tito Puente Timbales
10. Tambourine
11. Cha Cha Bell
12. Tapon Bell
13. Mambo Bell
14. 18" x 18" DW Floor Tom
15. Shekere
16. Cuica
17. 12" RMV Repinique

Cymbals: Sabian
A. 14" HHX China
B. 12" HHX Splash
C. 10" HHX Splash
D. 16" Ozone Crash
E. 18" HHX China
F. 24" Gong

Daniel de los Reyes also uses Regal Tip sticks, Remo and Evans heads, DW pedals, M-Audio software, Shure Microphones, Powerstix sticks, Hiptrix sticks, Clearsonic panels, Gibraltar hardware, SKB cases, Ultimate Ears monitors, and an assortment of LP, Rhythm Tech, Afro Rhythms, Lawton, and Factory Metal percussion.

ONE-SHOT EXERCISES

Created by Daniel De Los Reyes, LP’s One Shot Shaker line of instruments address age-old complaints with conventional shakers, whose internal beads strike two or more sides on their journey. Even seasoned professionals have trouble keeping them where they want them, and in time – especially when recording long tracks in the studio. One Shot shakers are constructed with a durable metal body, and its unique design provides only one “live” section for the beads to strike. This enables the percussionist to play forward/downstrokes only, just as he or she would strike a timbale with a stick. No shadow or ghost notes follow. The result is that complex patterns flow from natural body movements and become simplified. Endurance is increased. Simple rhythms become easier to play, complex rhythms a breeze. Here are some examples of rhythms that you can help you get started. They can be played with one hand or two.

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