Where to start…I have been playing drum set and percussion instruments as far back as I can remember. I think I was probably banging inside my mother's womb until she could stand it no more and said "you're out of there" like an umpire in a baseball game. But on a serious note, from the day I was born I heard many different styles and rhythms of music due to the love my parents have for music. My mother is Puerto Rican/American and my father is Cuban/American. I clearly remember my mother always singing beautiful Puerto Rican melodies to us all the time when we were growing up. She loves to sing.
I am honored to say I was born into a family that for three generations has been making a living at playing music. My grandfather, Walfredo de los Reyes II (trumpet player and singer), laid the family musical foundation by co-founding the famous Cuban orchestra in Cuba called Casino de la Playa. My grandfather lived in both Havana and New York City. My father, Walfredo de los Reyes III, went on to become one of Cuba’s most successful and well known drummers/percussionists before moving on to Puerto Rico and then the United States. My father’s musical credits range from Josephine Baker, Celia Cruz, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Bennie More, Paul Anka, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Debbie Reynolds, and more. The list goes on and on. He is one of the first drummers to incorporate the drum set with congas and other percussion and take it to a level recognized throughout the world. My father blazed a wide path that many would follow. He continues to wow crowds with his drumming and percussion ability, extensive musical history and incredible enthusiasm. I am constantly in awe and learning from him every day. My grandfather and father both grew up and participated in the golden era of music, especially in Havana, Cuba, where they were involved in the creation of styles of music such as son, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and rumba. They both contributed to the evolution of Latin Jazz around the world during the free-form descarga years. Music has been flowing through my veins since the very beginning of my life.
So you can see how with the musical family that I come from, I did not have any choice in becoming a musician. Just kidding of course! I was surrounded by all different kinds of drums in our house growing up and was instinctively drawn to them, especially hand drums, as early as two years old. You know how you see kids banging away on kitchen pots and pans with a spoon and how excited they get? Well, that was me except I had access to real drumsticks, drum sets, and percussion instruments and used them to bang on anything within my reach. The minute I started hitting on things the way little children do, my father took the drumsticks in my hand and said, "This is the proper way you hold them." Drums have always been part of my life. When I was young I used to get bored very quickly just sitting and doing one thing at a time. Telling me to sit still was like telling a mosquito not to buzz! That is why drums and percussions are perfect for me. I get to use all four limbs at once. And by the way, to this day I am still like a mosquito always buzzing!
As for my early drum instruction, my dad was my first teacher. He always wanted to sit me down (the buzzing mosquito) to study technique and go over books like the drumming bible, George Lawrence’s Stick Control Book. I was 11 years old and would get very restless sitting there in front of a book and pad, All I wanted to do was go wild on the drums! So being very wise, he decided to put me with another drum teacher by the name of Irv Klooger. That was a great thing for me. Irv, being the cool Jazzer that he was, helped me a lot but with my family and amazing extended musical family around all the time, how can you turn into anything but a musician? At any time we would have these great musicians around our house: Joe Morello, Alan Dawson, Billy Cobham, Alex Acuña, Rogelio Darias, Roy Burns, Armando Peraza, Marcelino Valdez, Cachao, Louie Bellson, and on and on. Sometimes I would play alongside them when I was a young adult. By participating in their jam sessions, I was fortunate to absorb through osmosis the amazing feeling of expressing yourself musically with no restrictions. Those impromptu ‘lessons’ with these music legends were priceless to me. In addition my father would always take me to work with him. My childhood playgrounds were the backstage of theaters. I was always right next to him on stage while he would play the shows. A typical day would be the musicians would get to the rehearsal, they would see the written music for the first time, play the songs in the show one time through, and play two shows that night like they had been playing this music all of their life. It was amazing! In these back stages I was fortunate to have seen and met many incredible entertainers throughout my youth.
As a young adult I could not get enough of the drums and percussion instruments. I literally lived and breathed drums/percussion because I loved them so very much. I would take them apart, rebuild them, change the color of them, and build new instruments from scratch. I would practice all day long whenever I could. Sometimes I would fall asleep and wake up with the drums at my side. I know that sounds really crazy, me and my drums. What a love affair!
I definitely knew when I was in the 10th grade performing in front of a large crowd that I would go on to pursue a career as a professional drummer and percussionist. One of the funniest early moments that come to my mind was when I was in my late teens. I was playing drums in front of an audience in Las Vegas and we were playing Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" song. And yes, before you say anything, it was the disco days! Well, I think I was getting into the music and celebrating a little too much because when the band finished the song, I kept right on playing, oblivious to the ending. There I am playing drums on stage in front of a large crowd and the vocals and music stops. Dead silence. And then guess what? My very first DRUM SOLO!
Of all the hand percussion that I love to play, my favorite hand drum is the tumbadoras or congas as they are called in the United States. I have a very special love for hand percussion instruments in general because it is just your hands and the drum making the music. Tumbadoras are a very physical instrument and it takes a special devotion to get through the pain that you go through to get your hands in shape and to build your stamina when you first start playing. But what an incredible feeling you experience when you reach that point. What most people don't realize is that playing a whole night of hand percussion is a serious physical workout!
People often ask me what I personally like to do when I am not drumming or doing music of some sort. It probably won’t surprise people to learn that I love to express my creative side in all sorts of ways. I especially love to work with all different types of materials and tools. If it were left totally up to me, I would have an incredible workshop where I could build anything that I could dream up. I don't think very many people know that I also enjoy cooking and am actually pretty good at it or so I have been told. Plus give me a few power tools and I am also quite the handyman!
On the professional level, one of my most popular and successful inventions I have developed is the One Shot Shaker series from LP that provides a downbeat shake without the inevitable back-shake. 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 the Daniel de los Reyes Signature Pro pad by DW (Drum Workshop) that incorporates timbales, cowbells, and congas all in a portable practice rig that easily fits in a backpack. Always creating and thinking of new ideas!
To switch gears, one of the most rewarding activities I have been doing a lot of in the last few years is reaching out to others in a variety of ways using the drum and rhythm programs I have created. Whether I am working with children, teens, adults, elderly, or special needs clients, I believe there is a drummer in everyone! I have been honored to create rhythm programs and events for a variety of clients such as Cirque du Soleil and NBA’s Miami Heat’s Alonzo Mourning and Dwayne Wade. In the future I look forward to taking my rhythm outreach programs to a more global audience.
And now I am very proud to be playing with the Zac Brown Band. Everyone within the organization and all the fans has been so welcoming to me. I am really looking forward to this journey together. Nothing but great things are created when you share music with a person who shows you his heart. And Zac’s heart is pure gold.
In addition to my current schedule with the Zac Brown Band, I have been incredibly blessed to perform on tour, record, TV, movie and video over the years with a virtual who’s who of music giants including Chicago, Don Henley, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sting, The Killers, Sheryl Crow, Patti LaBelle, Peter Frampton, Jennifer Lopez, Don Omar, Stevie Nicks, Louie Vega, Ricky Martin, Shakira, Lionel Richie, Kenny Ortega, Steve Winwood, and many others.
With all my years in the music business, if there is one thing I would like people to feel and take away when they see and hear me perform, it would be how happy one feels when you have the freedom to express your individuality in whatever way is right for you. It doesn't have to be through music like it is for me. It can be anything that you love with a passion and choose to pursue with all your heart. The greatest gift I could ever hope to share with another person would be to always encourage you to strive toward your dreams and enjoy the heck out of it. When people share their own personal stories with me and say I have inspired them in some small way … wow … now THAT makes me smile!