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Published: 2004/11/30
by David Hardy

Walfredo and Friends

In the 1980's Walfredo Reyes was known most for playing with David Lindley and El Ray-o X, in the 90’s it was with Santana, and in the new century it’s his work with Steve Winwood and Traffic. He has also made music with a diverse list of artists including Robbie Robertson, Jackson Browne, Boz Scaggs and Celia Cruz. Last year both he and Winwood sat in with The Dead. He’s is also the subject of Phish song titled, appropriately, "Walfredo."

Reyes’ dad was a pioneer in "Cuban Jam Session" recordings, and he was the first percussionist to play Cuban percussion and drum set simultaneously. Aside from working with Cachao and performing on Cuban T.V., he played with American artists such as Sammy Davis Jr., Josephina Baker, Paul Anka, Jerry Vale, Wayne Newton, Milton Berle, Bobby Darin, Liberace, Linda Ronstadt, Tony Bennett, and studied formally at a Conservatory of Music. The Cuban, New York City Be-Bop and Puerto Rican musical roots that his dad provided enriched Walfredo since childhood.

Reyes holds the perspective of someone who has single-handedly captivated audiences of all sizes worldwide. He speaks of jamming with The Dead, the esoteric connection of band and audience, and more.

DH: We recently experienced the passing of Superstar Celia Cruz. She was a big influence on you, a mentor, as well as someone you have made music with. How would you describe Celia?

WR: She was a master professional singer performer in every sense. One of her last performances was the Latin Grammy Awards 2002, she came to rehearsal, ran the song masterfully once and smiled and said " See ya tomorrow" ... and we played the next day in front of millions of viewers.

Later, I found out she was ill at the Grammy’s, but she did not come in a wheel chair or with a nurse, she came in like the master musician she was, I will never forget this experience.

DH: You once said that when you perform, you have the ability to rise above personal pain, and through a shared experience, you heal both yourself and the audience. Do more things than healing happen, and do you know how it happens?

WR: This is difficult to explain. In order to perform the best possible way, to "give your best" you need energy, and you need to be in a state of looseness and relaxation. If you are tense and depleted, you cannot give your best. Sometimes if I am weak because of lack of sleep, illness, or normal life tensions, I can walk to the stage and once I am in front of the people I get in that zone of one with the music and the audience. Music is the priority at that moment cause that is what the audience is there for. Egos, tension, ache, pains, allergies, worries, etc. go away, and they may come back, but at that moment…they’re gone!

DH: Is this like non-local relationships?

WR: Maybe so. I know that there is Music Therapy for many people with conditions like autism, paralysis, etc., that make progress rehabilitating through music therapy.

A friend of mine, Eddie Tuduri, heads an organization for kids that make progress through music therapy. He found out while healing from a spinal injury accident himself, that when he started to give shakers and percussion instruments to a group of patients with physical conditions, everyone in order to create the rhythms and the energy that goes with the music, bypass their physical inabilities, and this stimulated their bodies in ways that one-on-one conventional therapy did not. Music is a mysterious healing art form.

DH: I have had musicians tell me that the best music they play is when they "go out", or even go into a trance-state of sorts. Is that true for you?

WR: Yes, this is what I am talking about when I say you go into the zone, where music plays you instead of you playing music. Sometimes after the shows I have had to play the recording of the show back because I could not comprehend what was happening, so I needed to listen back … what was happening was not a vocabulary I knew. This is when music gets magical, with the interaction of musicians triggering things out of each other. It doesn’t happen often these days of much controlled, predictable music.

DH: As a performing musician, can you define the connection with the audience, and how deep is that connection?

WR: When you play live music, that moment that you experience with the audience is there to happen and never again to be repeated, the moment you give, and the audience receives, it’s going to only live in everyone’s memory, and of course, everyone’s experiences are individually different.

DH: In 2003, Steve Winwood went with his old format, using the organ pedals instead of a bassist. What was it like playing without a bass player?

WR: Steve’s bass pedals are pumping in my in-ear monitors for sure, so there is no lack of bass, but with that being said … I do miss a bassist once in awhile for certain tunes. I don’t know how Steve does it singing, playing organ and bass all at the same time! It makes me go and practice my Four Way Coordination drum book!

DH: Every tour has great moments, I’m sure this summer is no exception. Have there been some magical high points that stand out?

WR: Well there have been many, Bonaroo 04, New Orleans Jazz Festival 04, Montreux Jazz Festival … where there are so many performers in one place … I guess there are many.

DH: Those are some great venues …

WR: Some nights, in what may seem the most insignificant venue, something musically extraordinary happens and it becomes a great memory.

DH: The latest Steve Winwood release, About Time, now features a bonus CD, with great live versions of "Dear Mr. Fantasy", "Why Can’t We Live Together", and "Voodoo Chile". I was wondering if you suggested the song "Why Can’t We Live Together", or was that Steve’s idea?

WR: When we where going to record the record, Steve and I were talking about great organ songs, and I suggested "Why Can’t we Live Together", and he had it in his iTunes, so we listened to it, and then we jammed on it, and Steve sounded great so when Jose (guitar) arrived, we played it again and we recorded it. The live versions on the CD I like a lot.

DH: Just over a year ago, during the leg of the U.S. tour that Winwood supported The Dead for seven shows, you were invited to jam with them. How did that come together?

WR: Playing with The Dead is a very enjoyable experience, always. To me it’s the closest thing to capturing the spirit of Woodstock 69 you can get.
The feeling of friendship really embraces you. Mickey Hart always invites Steve and the band to participate and jam and vice-versa, we invite them too.

Jamming and improvising with The Dead is fantastic, musically, visually, and also feeling … the response and energy from the audience … is a unique experience. I am looking forward to the next time!

DH: I hear the latest live performance DVD from Phish features the song written about you, titled "Walfredo". Have they asked you to perform the song with them?

WR: I have not seen the guys since 2000 except for Mike (the bassist) here and there. I actually did not know it’s on a DVD. We all have been busy with music and personal lives I guess. I am really looking forward to listening to the song on the DVD! It is an honor. It is what we were talking about in an earlier interview, memories of those particular moments in our lives; this is what this song is about.

DH: What have you been up to since the cancellation of the Traffic tour?

WR: After the cancellation of Traffic I found myself home in L.A., which I had not been able to do much because of constant touring with Steve the last 2 years. I started to write music again, and work on my first instructional DVD which I am recording December 20, 2004.

DH: What will we see in the instructional video?

WR: It will be on my "Global" style grooves and how to mix traditional rhythms with modern beats and percussion. I have also been playing in clubs with musicians that I have not played with in a while. Don Grusin and his brother Dave Grusin, Alphonso Johnson, Abraham Laboriel and Jimmy Haslip on bass, David Garfield on piano, Ernie Watts playing sax and many, many others great musicians.

DH: What’s on your list for 2005?

WR: Next year I am looking forward to cutting more tracks in the studio with my friends, do some clinics I have committed to in Puerto Rico, France and Italy and maybe start working on Steve Winwood’s next CD.

Dave Hardy and Walfredo Reyes wish Jim Capaldi a speedy recovery!

_David Hardy is former Personal Assistant to Carlos Santana, with over twenty
years experience in music production, and currently resides on the
California coast._

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