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In the Mix with Leo Vigil

Jun 26, 2017 10:15PM ● By Paul Cotruvo

This area is filled with many accomplished musicians, and Leo Vigil is no exception. Long time drummer of the legendary PHDs, Leo’s versatility is unparalleled.  He can play every style of music, whether it is jazz, blues, funk, rock, or country. He has recorded some great jazz CDs on his own (Diversity is my favorite) and has been a staple of the renowned Carlos Reyes Band. Besides all that, Leo is nothing less than a gentleman. I have had the pleasure of knowing him for many years, and he is kind, funny, professional, and just an amazing human being. A favorite moment for me is when Leo comes out from behind his drum kit and performs James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” Leo took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions, so meet Leo Vigil.


PC: How old were you when you first started playing drums? Were they your first instrument of choice?

LV: After years of banging on pots and pans, boxes, and pillows, when I was 7, my parents bought me a "real" drum set. I went through a couple of sets until I got my first professional set at age 12.  I immediately started playing with bands and played my first night club in San Francisco at age 14.


A little dark secret I don't share much is I played the accordion from age 8 ‘til around 11.  The beauty of this was it trained my ear for chord structure, melodies, intervals, voicing, etc.  I actually developed a bad habit during this time. Instead of reading the music, I looked through it and played by ear.  The negative - I don't read music.  The positive - I can memorize a song by hearing it once or twice, all the parts!         


PC: Who were some of your inspirations and influences?

LV: I was inspired by all forms of music and still am, from The Beatles to The Lawrence Welk Show, The Monkees to The Tijuana Brass, The Banana Splits to Led Zeppelin.  As a child, we would go on vacation and drive for hours. My parents always had the radio on, sometimes it would be Wolfman Jack (R&B, soul, funk) or Latin music (cumbia, ranchera, cha cha, bolero, corido, etc). Nowadays, when I'm not studying music for a show or session, I listen to classical. 


One of my major influences was James Brown.  He had great, innovative drummers. His music was responsible for the genre "funk"! James as an entertainer changed my life; I wanted to be him, and I tried as a kid.


PC: What have been some of your favorite musical highlights so far?

LV: Hmm, that's a hard one. I remember doing a show for a couple of thousand people and getting a standing ovation after my drum solo. That gave me goose bumps and made my eyes water. 


But I think the best highlight so far was to hear songs I composed being performed live or on the radio.  One of my compositions was used by Hewlett-Packard at the C.E.S convention in Las Vegas a couple of years ago on their big screen displaying the new products.  That was a great feeling -- and lucrative.      


PC: Who would you name as the best three drummers of all time and why?

LV: I wouldn't classify them as "the best" because, as the saying goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but it would be sacrilegious to not say Buddy Rich. That said, I'm more from the school of Gene Krupa.  Rich is an amazing drummer. I had the pleasure of meeting him twice.  Once, my buddy since kindergarten, Curtis Ohlson, was playing with him at, of all places, The Stone in SF. Buddy was a great technician! Flawless!  Krupa played a little more from the heart and soul.  I think since I'm a self taught/non-schooled musician, I gravitated toward Krupa's style. 


I'd have to put David Garibaldi (a great technician) on that list.  I was playing in a band with horns in 1970-71 and we played a few Tower of Power songs. That taught me a whole lot and really opened the door for my playing.  He was and still is an innovator. 


Tony Williams would have to be on that list also. He broke ground with Miles Davis at a young age, playing jazz in the ‘60s. By the ‘70s, he was at the forefront of the birth of the fusion genre. He had the power of a rock drummer and the finesse and chops of a jazz player.


PC: As such a versatile musician, if you could choose just one style of music, what would you choose and why?

LV: Ha! I get asked this question all the time, especially when I conduct clinics.  I think my answer usually is disappointing: I JUST LOVE PLAYING DRUMS! I am very lucky. I get to play a wide variety of music and with musicians from all genres!  Over the last 15 years, when I'm driving or playing dominoes at home, I listen to classical! I am fascinated by the arrangements and melodies but mostly the counter-melodies.


PC: If you were a song, what song would you be and why?

LV: LOL! Never thought about that.  Okay, let me think…you made me think. I narrowed down from 20, to 15, to 10, to 5, to 1. Not to sound cliché, but "Stairway to Heaven" would be my pick. It is such an epic piece of music!  I love a song that tells a story, not so much lyrically but musically.  It takes you on an emotional ride and touches your inner feelings.


Check out Leo on July 15, when he will be drumming for Purple Haze, a Jimi Hendrix tribute band, headlining at the Pleasant Hill Blues and Brews. Also on the bill: Dr. D, Jr. Deville, Jinx Jones & the Kingstones, and Frankie G. & the Conviction. It’s going to be an amazing day of music, and it’s free! Music starts at 12:30pm; Purple Haze goes on at 5pm. Come early, stay late, and support local music.


Paul’s Picks for July:

July 1: Delta Wires, Armando’s, 707 Marina Vista, Martinez, 8pm

July 4: Garageland Rodeo, Armando’s, 707 Marina Vista, Martinez, 4pm

July 5: Billy Schaub, Zachary’s Pizza, 140 Crescent Dr., Pleasant Hill, 6:30pm

July 9: The Bell Brothers, PH Summer by the Lake series, Gregory Lane &

                   Cleaveland Rd., 6pm

July 14: Big Jangle, Pleasant Hill Park, 147 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, 7pm

July 14: Native Elements, Armando’s, 707 Marina Vista, Martinez, 8pm

July 14: GG Amos, WiseGirl,1932 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill, 9pm

July 15: Brews and Blues, Pleasant Hill Park, 147 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, 12:30-6pm

July 15: Kyle Jester, WiseGirl, 1932 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill, 9pm

July 20: Scotty O’Neill, Rocco’s Pizzeria: 2909 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek, 8pm

July 23: Aja Vu, PH Summer by the Lake series, Gregory Lane &

                   Cleaveland Rd, 6pm

July 30: The Sunday Paper, Armando’s, 707 Marina Vista, Martinez, 4pm