Percussionist Daniel de los Reyes, a member of the Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band since 2012, has virtuoso rhythm in his blood, being a third-generation professional musician of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry. His grandfather was a trumpeter-singer, and Daniel’s father was a gigging percussionist and, at 86, still keeps his chops up. “My dad is my biggest inspiration,” Daniel says. “He taught me that you always need to practice. He never stops practicing, even now, because he always wants to be better. That’s something to admire, for any artist.”
Born in 1962 in New York City, Daniel moved to Puerto Rico as a child before spending his teenage years in Las Vegas, where there was abundant musical work for his dad. Daniel grew up playing music there, learning not only Latin rhythms but how to integrate them into pop shows and so much else. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, spending two decades there as a percussionist and drummer for hire, playing every sort of gig: from weddings and bar mitzvahs to Latin jazz groups, rock bands and pop singer-songwriters. He graduated to being a first-call percussionist on stage and in the studio for the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, Don Henley, The Killers, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Winwood, Ricky Martin, Peter Frampton, Chicago, Sergio Mendes, Cher and Yanni, among others. He has performed multiple times on the telecasts of the Grammys and the American Music Awards, as well as Saturday Night Live.
With the southern rock group Zac Brown Band, de los Reyes has recorded multiple studio albums, including their latest The Owl, just as the band finished their last stadium tour. He even moved from L.A. to Fayetteville, Georgia, to be near the group’s base in Atlanta. On his five-acre property there, he pursues another passion: working with young people via his DayGLOW Music Center, which has hosted summer music camps that focus on percussion since 2014. He also conducts DayGLOW outreach programs in schools across the country. On a break from performing on the road with the Zac Brown Band – and just before playing a side gig with New Orleans star Trombone Shorty – de los Reyes took the time to talk about music and education, as well as how Samson audio gear helps him get across his rhythmic concepts and artistic philosophies to young people.
Photo provided by Daniel de los Reyes
You’ve played with a wide range of musicians, though not much country before joining the Zac Brown Band. What have you enjoyed most about being a member of the group?
I love the diversity of the band and the music. The differences in our backgrounds only make us stronger and more interesting as a group. And I’ll admit that I was really moved to see the name de los Reyes on a table-seating card at the Country Music Awards in Nashville. Who ever would’ve thought a Puerto Rican/Cuban-American would have a seat at the CMAs? In the band, I contribute my rhythmic thing, of course, with the sound and feel of my percussion instruments – the goal always being to complement the song. It can be about adding a little or lot, depending on the song; sometimes, it’s even about doing nothing at all, laying out. To me, it’s all about finesse and care for the music. I learn a lot from these guys, too, and it’s not a band that’s just all about country. Zac will come back after a layoff and talk about having listened to an EDM artist like Skrillex and how he would like to incorporate some of those rhythms into the band – Zac will be full of ideas. So, it becomes my job to try to help translate that rhythmically through what I do. It’s challenging and fun to explore those sorts of things. No matter all the music you’ve done before, and how you’ve developed your sound, you can never think you know it all.
Are those the core values you learned in your musical family?
Yes, definitely. My dad taught me – and my older brother, Walfredo Jr., who plays drums in Chicago now – to be dedicated to practice and to learning new things, so that we would keep bettering ourselves. My dad still always wants to play – when I go to California to visit, he’s always getting me to play with him. As I said, that’s inspiring.
Photo provided by Daniel de los Reyes
That must be a key lesson you share with young people at the DayGLOW Music Center. What are some of the other aspects of your philosophy that you share at DayGLOW?
Along with that idea of striving to be a perpetual student – always practicing, always learning – one of the key things I want to share, through music, is how to communicate and how to integrate with others. I want the kids to look at each other and really see each other, to recognize commonalities and differences and respect them, make the most of them. I also strive to take the competitiveness out of music – it should be about coming together to create performances. Resilience is another important thing to try to share. Life throws things at you, and some of them can be uncomfortable. But it’s most productive to see the glass as half full, not half empty. For instance, I injured my right hand at one point, and while I wasn’t happy about it, I soon realized that it was an opportunity to get really good with my left, to develop independence with my hands and get better at leading with my left. Young people need to learn to overcome challenges, to realize that it’s worth taking your time and getting things right – whether it’s music or relationships. Keeping the classes small, 14 kids for each summer session, means that they can really bond with me and each other, so they can develop meaningful relationships and build lasting memories.
Of course, this is all in the context of teaching the kids about various percussion instruments and the cultures that produced them, like, say, the cajón from Peru or, my favorite, the Cuban tumbadoras, or congas as they’re known in the U.S. At DayGLOW, we use music and nature – through the “rhythm trails” we created there in the beautiful Georgia landscape – as the incredible tools they are to facilitate the lessons. It’s a relaxed educational environment, including outdoor practice and performance spaces. I’ve also taken DayGLOW outreach on the road to schools in Georgia, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Photo provided by Daniel de los Reyes
How does Samson audio gear help you with your educational outreach work?
The Samson audio equipment has been essential, particularly with the outreach events in schools and other institutions. To be able to demonstrate what I do, musically and verbally, it’s vital to have clarity with the sound in whatever space I’m in. During these events, I use a looper and run tracks as I demonstrate the layering involved in recording. I explain that creating polyrhythmic layering as being a step-by-step process, like cooking: You start with a base and gradually add flavors to come up with something that tastes great, or sounds great. The Samson gear I use – the Expedition XP1000 portable PA, the wireless Go Mic Mobile lavalier system, the Auro X15D loudspeaker, the MixPad MXP124F compact mixer and Q8x dynamic microphones – has been wonderful for achieving that clarity, along with portability and power that I need. The gear sounds really good and has never let me down. Samson has been so supportive of what I do with DayGLOW – something I really appreciate. It’s a valuable relationship for me.
Going back to your musical upbringing, what was a feeling you experienced early-on that you have always chased as a professional?
When I was growing up and my dad was playing in Las Vegas, the backstage was my playground in a way. My dad would take me to work with him, and seeing the musicians rehearse was an incredible education in and of itself. Then we would have great musicians playing in town come by the house. On any given day, it might be Joe Morello, Alan Dawson, Billy Cobham, Alex Acuña, Cachao, Armando Peraza, Rogelio Darias, Louie Bellson, so many. I’d even get to sit in on jam sessions sometimes – an incredible way to first experience that bliss of expressing yourself musically with no restrictions. That’s what a great night on stage feels like now – and I hope the joy of those moments comes across to listeners and can inspire them. Because a person can feel that same sort of joy expressing his or her individuality in whatever way works for them. It’s music for me, but it can be anything that you love and devote yourself to with real passion.
Learn more about the DayGLOW Music Center.
— Bradley Bambarger