It doesn’t happen every day. Yes, we’ve all heard it before: The family that plays together, stays together. And, as a certain musical group used to sing, in response, we say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Well, in the case of father Richie and son Roland Gajate-Garcia, no truer words have ever been spoken. In fact, the father-and-son tandem doesn’t necessarily stop there. The rest of the clan, which includes mom (who has sung on select recordings) and two more boys and a girl, all seem to have taken something from dad’s book as a creative musician. In the case of Richie and second-eldest son Roland, however, the story at present contains more sparks, highlights, and fanfare.
How does such a thing happen? Is it genetics? Is a sense of rhythm, or business sense, inheritable? Did dad and mom drive them to become music-loving musicians, and, at the risk of driving them all crazy?
The answers to those questions and more will be revealed in good time here.
When Richie and his wife, Mary, started a family, the choice to include the kids in dad’s oftentimes-busy work outside the home was an obvious one. “When I became a husband and father, my wife and children, including Roland, would often travel the world with me,” Richie says. “We would go to Asia and Europe and South America.
“Roland grew up with Alex Acuña, Justo Almario, Wally Reyes, Pedro Eustache, and Abraham Laboriel Sr. rehearsing in our home, to name a few,” Richie adds. “We traveled with Diana Ross, John Denver, Hiroshima, Phil Collins, Art Garfunkel, and Sting. With Roland, I’ve always tried to be there for him as his father, as his friend, and as his mentor. It isn’t uncommon for us to be watching basketball and practicing our rudiments while Tristan and Devin practice their basses.”
Tristan and Devin, two of the other three children in the family, have both taken on musical lives of their own. “My eldest son Tristan plays bass and trombone and performed with me on the most recent Latin Grammys with Gilberto Santa Rosa and opened for Earth, Wind & Fire last year. Tristan, Roland, and I perform in a band called L.A. Carpool together. Tristan plays electric bass on some John Denver tribute symphony dates. We just returned from performing in Kansas.” Rounding out the family are bassist Devin, age fourteen, and Lisette, age nine, who plays keyboards.
“My wife, Mary, loves the music more than all of us,” Richie adds.
For Roland, things took off really early. “I became interested in drumming when I was about three years old,” he remembers. “There were always drums around the house and I would go bang on them. I started taking lessons when I was five. Both my older brother and I took drum set lessons from a local teacher.”
But what started it all? Simply put, Roland says, “My dad was my motivation, influence, and inspiration.” For Roland, who most recently landed a gig as the percussionist in American Idol’s house band, looking up to his dad was easy.
“My father was raised in Puerto Rico and was surrounded by Tito Puente, Armando Peraza, and these great Latin players,” Roland recalls. “When I was growing up people like Giovanni Hidalgo and Alex Acuña were at my house playing and working on different projects. I would always be curiously watching ... and seeing these great musicians with my dad inspired me to play.”
Having already established himself many times over, Richie was, indeed, The Man, by the time Roland was born. His career as a percussionist and drummer had included work not only as a regular session and/or touring artist with such heavyweights as Tito Puente, Sting, Phil Collins, Diana Ross, and Celia Cruz, but also on film and soundtrack work (recent credits include The Mummy Returns with the London Symphony, Mr. & Mrs Smith, Mission Impossible, I-Spy, and Disney’s Robots) and gigs as an clinician, educator, and published author of music books.
This should come as no surprise given Richie’s impressive roots. “I am Puerto Rican — born in New York, and raised in Puerto Rico from the age of seven,” he says. “Gajate is my birth last name and Garcia is my stepfather’s last name. Doel Garcia, my stepfather who raised me, was a conguero who gave Armando Peraza his first work and a place to live in San Francisco when he came from Cuba before meeting my mother.” Perhaps creating the template that would continue with Richie’s own kids, he recalls, “My biggest influence was my stepfather, Doel, who loved all music and would bring me to the clubs at a young age in Puerto Rico to hear the local bands. His closest friends were musicians: Armando Peraza, Tito Puente, Monchito Muñoz, among them. I would sit in at clubs and parties and learn on the spot.”