Eric Velez: Chameleon Conguero To The Stars

Branching Out

Despite his success with Marc Anthony, Velez still had time to freelance. He did two “hardcore, in-your-face” salsa albums with Jimmy Bosch, Avión De La Salsa in 2004 and Million in 2009, and was in the Bosch band for their Salsa Vivaldi tour of 2003. “We did shows with the Chicago Symphony, the Arizona Symphony, and the San Diego Symphony. They’d play the classical version, then we’d play our salsa version. Sometimes we’d collaborate and all play together.”

After years of playing in other people’s bands, Velez decided to step out on his own in 2005. With his brother, Jose “Juicy” Jusino, the man who first taught him how to play drums, he put together Juicy And Eric – Huracan, along with Isidro Infante and Nelson Hernandez producing. “Isidro and Nelson encouraged us to be creative and even let us sit in on the mixing. Juicy played timbal and I played bongos and conga, although we switched around on some tracks.

“The only problem we had was trying to find a singer. Every singer we auditioned was singing like Marc. My brother finally decided to make a demo with his vocals on it. The song was ’Por Si Vuelves’ by the Venezuelan band Guaco. It’s a hard tune to sing. I let him do it in the studio alone and when I heard it, I said, ’You don’t sound bad at all.’ He became the singer on our record. We put our names on it because we couldn’t think of a band name.” The album was released on Diamond, a small label started by Velez and Jusino, and it did well commercially. The brothers want to do a follow-up when their busy schedules permit (Jusino plays regularly with India and Conjunto Clásico), and Velez is planning a solo outing. “I still don’t know which road to take: jazz, salsa, or something nobody’s ever heard me do. I’m still brainstorming.”

Meanwhile, Velez keeps busy with his regular gigs with Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. “I mainly play congas, bongos, and timbales, but I’m a diverse percussionist. When I’m playing with Jennifer, she gives me some room to experiment, as long as I make it sound like the CD, but you always have that little gap between notes that you can improvise around, especially on the ballads. There are no accents in the CD versions, so that’s when you can drop coloring in here and there. She gives me some space to do that. I like to use the minor percussion and cymbals, to make it sound pretty – little effects like chimes, rainstick, African gourds, small cymbals that you play with your mallets. It’s all about filling the spaces between the notes. It’s not an easy thing to do. The smallest things are often the ones that are the most challenging.”

Velez’ J-Lo Setup

Drums: Toca Eric Velez Signature Series Congas
1 11.75" Conga
2 11" Quinto
3 12.5" Tumba
4 14" Pro Line Timbale
5 15" Pro Line Timbale
6 12" Synergy Mechanically Tuned Djembe
7 7", 9" Eric Velez Signature Series Bongos
8 8" Mini Timbale Effects Snare

Cymbals: Paiste
A 14" Alpha Medium Crash
B 10" Alpha Thin Splash
C 17" Alpha Thin Crash
D 18" Alpha Rock China

Percussion: Toca
E Pro Line Bells
F Percussion Table includes: Professional Shekere, Double Bar Chimes, Half Moon Tambourine, Triangle, Graphix Tube Shakers, Woodblock, Seed Shell Shakers, Casaba/Afuche, Sleigh Bells, Rattler, Fusion Bells, and Caixixi
G Roland SPD-S Sample Pad

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