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The Prof is in...Carlos Vega

Posted by Gareth Makin on

In this blog I'd like to turn the spotlight on a drummer and musician that not many of you may know.  I came across the drummer in question through a friend of mine (a fine drummer and educator) who directed me to a live recording by James Taylor (and for those who already know, give yourselves a pat on the back and go and put the kettle on).  The track in question was 'Country Road' (a set list staple) and the bit he wanted me to listen to was the breakdown section at the end.  'Just check the drummer out' (he probably said - I'm ad libbing here as it was a while ago and I've slept since then).  I dutifully searched out the clip on youtube when I got home (obviously not using my work computer for personal reasons as per my contract) and pinned my ears back in anticipation...

The drumming was considered (by that I mean, there were some thought processes going in to the parts being played and it sounded good and solid), funky and had (that always indefinable component) great feel.  The track really took off rhythmically however when as the song breaks down (and the instrumentation 'thins out') the drums come to the fore and a little solo section is offered.  The drummers phrasing and placement was (in this writers opinion) perfect with the part precisely spanning the time given (without the requirement of Pro Tools 'movement').  It brought a huge smile to my face (in fact, hang on I'm going to go listen to it again now, just go and finish making the hot beverage I suggested you well read types start earlier, I'll be back in a bit - I'm back, that was so good), this drummer was really ticking all the boxes (including the ones at the bottom of forms in the small print), in total command of his instrument.

So, who was this guy?  His name was Carlos Vega.

Vega was born in Cuba in 1957 and tragically left this mortal coil (far too soon) in 1998 (depriving me (and many others) from seeing him live).  The great thing is that, despite his career being cut short, there are plenty of clips of Mr Vega playing with both James Taylor and Lee Rittenour (his other long term 'collaborator') for us all to enjoy (couple this with a plethora of recorded work from the session ace and a large chunk of time can be beautifully spent in his company).  So let's gently count ourselves lucky, particularly if this is all new to you and you can set aside some time to search it all out.

The cards seem to have been set well for Mr Vega, attending high school with Michael Landau, Steve Lukather (and previous blog great) Jeff Porcaro (who cited him as a major influence).  He co-formed his first band in the early 1970's with David Garfield, Lenny Castro and Jimmy Johnson (yes, that was his first band...you couldn't make this up) and then went on to cement a long term musical relationship with James Taylor.  He also found time to play on cuts by Olivia Newton-John and featured on the original high school musical soundtrack album superhit 'Grease' (amongst others).

If we turn our attention now to his musical palette (and in our case here we like to shine a light onto metal things that shine) he chose the fine cymbals of Paiste to help him paint.  Searching through the plethora of websites discussing and dedicated to Mr Vega, it seems he did use a variety of models, ranging from the delicate and mellow Formula 602 series to the brighter (and precursor of the 'Signature' line) Sound Formulas to eventually ending up on the aforementioned Signatures.

For the purpose of this blog we'll focus our attention on his 1995 touring set up when he was on the country roads with James Taylor.  All the cymbals were selected from the Paiste 'Signature' line...

13" Heavy Hi-Hats (LHS)

12" Heavy Hi-Hats (RHS) - Remote

16" Fast Crash

18" Full Crash

20" Dark Crash/Ride

Vega tended to favour Gretsch drums but did start using Drum Workshop (as did many other LA players as the company began to get a foothold in the marketplace in the early 1990's) too.

So there you go.  Another drummer featured for you to go and search out (or rediscover) and take pleasure in his skill (as both a technician and musician) as he indelibly contributed to such major artists careers.

All of this is tinged with a little sadness however as like many drummers in the industry (and beyond), he departed this life well before he should have.

Right, back to that 'Country Road' break...until next time keep the feel, not the volume, make mine a cymbomute. 

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