Three Top L.A. Percussionists Talk Shop

Living Life In The Fast Lane

Richie “Gajate” Garcia, Kevin Ricard, & Darryl “Munyungo” Jackson

Atlantic, Capitol, Elektra, Motown, Geffen, Universal, and Warner Bros. They’re all in Los Angeles, along with an army of smaller labels, booking agents, publicists, producers, managers, and lawyers, all stirring the cauldron of popular culture. This heady recipe creates a magnetic pull of pure, unadulterated commerce that draws thousands of musicians from around the world, each vying for even the tiniest slice of that tasty pie.

Smog, gridlock, population density, stiff competition, gangbangers — they’re all in Los Angeles, too. Face it; it’s not a normal workplace. It’s dog-eat-dog. It’s highly political. It’s every single stereotype that you’ve ever heard. And it takes a very special kind of person to live, work, and thrive in that kind of pressure cooker. We wanted to find out exactly what it takes to be a major player in the Los Angeles percussion community, and turned to three luminaries to trade war stories.

One of the most versatile percussion players today, Kevin Ricard has recorded with Joe Zawinul, B.B. King, Shelby Lynne, Marc Anthony, and many others. He can be heard on the hit CBS sitcom King Of Queens and the weekly pre-record for Fox’s reality series American Idol. Beginning his musical career as a classical pianist, Darryl “Munyungo” Jackson switched to timbales at age 17, and subsequently performed with Miles Davis, Willie Bobo, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and Anita Baker. Voted one of the top rock percussionists by DRUM! magazine, Richie “Gajate” Garcia has performed and toured with the likes of Sting, Celia Cruz, Phil Collins, Tito Puente, Diana Ross, and Don Henley.

They all gathered at our photographer’s studio in the heart of Hollywood, just below the fading Hollywood sign and blocks away from the Capitol Records building. It doesn’t get any more “L.A.” than this.

DRUM!: Welcome, everyone. Let’s start by talking about the first well-known artist you had the opportunity to play and tour with. Did you have to audition for the spot?
Garcia: For me it was with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I didn’t have to audition, I just happened to be playing in a club with Barbara Eden — “Jeannie.” It was one of those stories of being at the right place at the right time. They saw me play and said, “Do you want to come do some gigs with us?” I ended up doing it for five years.

DRUM!: Kevin, what about you?
Ricard: I guess the first tour that put me out in the world was as a result of this man [gestures to Jackson]. It was with the Temp-tations. The night before I got the call, I showed up to my salsa gig and another timbale player was setting up. I was supposed to be on the gig. The next morning Munyungo called and said, “Hey man, you want to do this Temptations gig, because I’m getting ready to go out with Miles Davis.” The next afternoon I met the guys, rehearsed and left two days later. I did that gig for two years.
Garcia: To add to that, Luis [Conte] recommended me to Phil Collins.

DRUM!: So there was no audition for Phil’s gig?
Garcia: Nope. Luis said, “Just call Richie.” I went in and that was it. They went on his word like they went on Munyungo’s. That’s actually a great feeling to have guys say that and you can just walk in and do the work.

DRUM!: Munyungo, what about your first big tour?
Jackson: Audition wise, I’ve never got a gig that I auditioned for. You never know. Some people get gigs they audition for.
Ricard: I’m in that boat.
Jackson: My first tour was back in the ’70s with a group called The Supremes. The Supremes, can you believe it!
Garcia: That was thanks to Kevin and I! [laughs]
Jackson: Yeah, at the time I was playing with a guy named Big Black — a legendary master percussionist, drummer. I was playing timbales in his band. My roommate, bass player Joe Harris, was the one that hooked up with the Supremes. He asked if the drummer, Quentin Dennard, and I could do it. It wasn’t an audition, but it was another one of these “get turned onto” kind of gigs.

DRUM!: Why do you think so many tours originate out of Los Angeles?
Jackson: What people think about Hollywood. This is a major industry here.
Garcia: I think the fact that though some live elsewhere they come here to record. Their management seems to be here. The record companies, the main studios, they’re here and I think it means something. Like Munyungo said, if you say Hollywood, if you recorded in Hollywood, you got musicians from Hollywood, it must be happening.
Ricard: That’s true. This is the place everybody wants to come to make their dreams come true. There are a lot of great musicians concentrated in Los Angeles. We might play with a Brazilian band on Monday, salsa band on Tuesday, funk band on Wednesday, a rock-and-roll band on Thursday because we have that ability to go into different situations. That’s what draws people here, they know musicians here can cover a lot of styles well.
Garcia: We have the versatility. That’s the thing.

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