Happy Birthday Carlos Vega

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite drummers, Carlos Vega.  So I thought I would repost this piece in his honor.

I wanted to write about Carlos Vega.

Carlos Vega is a session drummer I would put right up there with Steve Gadd and Jim Keltner.

My first encounter with the name Carlos Vega was when I was reviewing the credits on James Taylor’s album “Hourglass”.

“Hour Glass” was suggested to me by my friend.  He wanted me to listen to the inner workings of the bass and drums.  We thought it was Lee Sklar and Russ Kunkel.  So I was surprised when I checked the credits online (You can’t sit and read the cover and liner notes like in the old days.) and saw the names Carlos Vega on drums and Jimmy Johnson on bass.

At the time I wasn’t real familiar with either of them.  But over the past few years I have learned more and more about them and their work both separate and together.

The album “Hourglass” is a great album and the playing of Carlos Vega and Jimmy Johnson is great.

So after listening to this album over and over I started to see Carlos Vega’s name popping up on credits all over the place.  I started to seek out albums that he appeared on such as Michael Landau’s Tales from the Bulge and more James Taylor albums.  I found his name on the hit single “From A Distance” by Bette Midler.

The more I listened to him play the more I wanted to try to find out about him as a person.

I was surprised at his age.  He was only 10 months older than myself.

But in 1975 when I was graduating high school and dreaming about becoming a rock star, he was already making records.

He’s been on 233 records.

In 1978 when I was playing in bars, at frat parties and any other venue that would pay, Carlos Vega was recording with The Hues Corporation, Herb Alpert and did the soundtrack for Grease.

He’s played for Linda Rondstat, Mike McDonald, George Benson, Boz Scaggs, James Taylor, Vince Gill, Suzy Bogus, and on and on.

I was shocked to then read that he died from a self inflicted gunshot wound in 1998.

Reading this really gave me pause to stop and think.

Here was someone who had achieved the very pinnacle of a recording career.  He had achieved things that I could only dream of.

While I spent the 1980’s struggling to make something musically happen for me, and then spent the 1990’s working in an industry that I had no passion for, he was laying down some of the best tracks with the best musician in the world.

At the time of his death he was on tour with James Taylor.  The night of his death he was to have played on a TV show with James Taylor the very next day.

What I think about is what demons was this man struggling with.

From a musical and career standpoint it certainly appears that he had everything.

Here was one of the best at his craft and yet something was tormenting him to the point where he chose not to live.

In 1998 I was happy because I had finally been able to purchase the car that I really wanted.  It was a 1997 Jeep Cherokee.  It had 4 wheel drive.  That was it, that was the only luxury on the car.  But it was what I really wanted.    Up to that point I always purchased the economy car because that was all I could afford.  Life was good.  Sometimes I wish I still had that vehicle.  It looked really good.

This morning as I was once again listening to Carlos Vega playing on the live James Taylor album, I was reminded that it truly is about perception.

Where I would perceive touring with James Taylor and making over 200 records as sheer ecstasy something in Carlos Vega’s life made it sheer hell.

I have tried to do more research on his life but can find very little about him.  Most information is about his death and his credits.

Sometimes I think maybe all he needed was the simple pleasures of a Spartan, utilitarian, 1997 Jeep Cherokee.

I’ll try to keep finding out more information about Carlos Vega and his life.  And most certainly will listen to anything I can that has his name on it.

I’m sure I’ll discover more great music and maybe a great but tragic story.

© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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