Steve Kroon: Laughing In The Face Of Uncertainty

The bar scene in New York City in the ’70s was huge, and Kroon found plenty of work as a conguero and percussionist playing in Latin, jazz, and R&B bands. “You could work from Thursday to Sunday in the hood,” he recalls. “You didn’t have to travel. I’d play for whoever would call me and it went on for years. I made a living at it pretty much from high school on. I worked in the Post Office for five years during the days too, until age 25. Then I decided to quit and do the music thing full time.”

Always looking for ways to improve his chops, Kroon studied Afro Cuban percussion with Tommy López Sr., who “opened my eyes to playing correct. He was a master who played with Eddie Palmieri in Conjunto La Perfecta. He cured me of a lot of bad habits. Then, in the early ’70s, I studied with Dom Um Romão from Brazil 66. He later played with Weather Report on Mysterious Traveler. We played together and he taught me the Brazilian patterns for bells and other percussion instruments. I played in his band Hotmosphere with Steve Thornton for a couple of years, just before I got my big break with Luther [Vandross].”

The Big Break

Kroon met Vandross through his friend Errol “Crusher” Bennett, who was the original conguero with the Salsoul Orchestra. “Crusher was a hot studio percussionist,” Kroon explains. “He did a record with Luther. When Luther asked him to go on the road, he said he liked doing studio stuff. He told Luther to call me. I got that gig and it changed my life. It was good financially and Luther was a class-A act all the way. Then, five years later, in 1986, Crusher was playing a studio session with [jazz bass player] Ron Carter, who offered him a spot in the band for a world tour, but again he didn’t want to travel, so he got me that gig. I stayed in both bands for about 20 years and made a lot of R&B and jazz connections on the road and in the studio with them. I got very knowledgeable about both types of music.”

At the same time he was playing with Carter and Vandross, Kroon was doing sessions with a cross section of musicians. He played on albums with Diana Krall, Roberta Flack, Billy Ocean, Gloria Lynne, Mavis Staples, The Temptations, The Family Stand, Kenny Rankin, Bette Midler, Johnny Gil, Freddy Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, D Train, Kenny G, Spiro Gyra, Paul Butterfield, and Kid Creole & The Coconuts, to name check just a few. As Kroon says, “The juices were flowing and my name was getting around. People ask how you know if you’ve made it, but you don’t have to ask yourself that question. When it’s all around you, you know you’re there.”

A Normal Life

“I’ve always been cool with where I am at any given point,” Kroon concludes. “I’m married, I get up in the morning like everyone else and go take a walk in the sun. A musician’s life doesn’t have to take you to all the excessive places people expect you to go. I never got strung out or went overboard, but I had my share of good times. You know, we all start off at the same place and we all end up at the same place, but I’m more excited now than I’ve ever been.”

Kroon’s Percussion Rig

1 15" x 6.5" Tito Puente Timbale
2 14" x 6.5" Tito Puente Timbale
3 11.75 x 30" Giovanni Galaxy Series Conga
4 11" x 30" Giovanni Galaxy Series Quinto
5 12.5" x 30" Giovanni Galaxy Series Tumbadora
6 7.25" Giovanni Series Bongo
7 8.625" Giovanni Series Bongo

A Cowbell
B Cowbell
C Cajon
D Shakers
E Double African Shaker
F Large Caxixi
G Studio Series Bar Chimes
H Cyclops Tambourine
I Small Cluster Chimes
J 5" Triangle
K Cabasa
L Shekere
M Guiro
N Cricket
O Traditional Rain Stick
P Dry Agogo Set

Steven Kroon also uses LP hardware, heads, and timbale sticks, and Samson microphones.

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