Roberto Padron is a mighty familiar face in the area. From Scott Rockwood’s projects like The Bankwalkers, house gigs with Jacob Mohr and Drew Powell, sitting in at Mike Whitty’s brunch at The Bay, or filling in for bands like The Wildlife Specials when the need arises Padron can be found performing from one end of Beachcomberland to the other.
Notably, he is part of Season Ammons’ regular backing band and was a featured player on The Wide Open’s album. “I think it was almost two years ago, I went to Wimberley, Texas, and recorded The Wide Open, which was Allen Rayfield and Season Ammons. Then we toured later on. Shawn Hartung, myself and Scott (Rockwood) went to Texas and we did a little mini-tour with Season and Allen.”
Ammons is eyeing the studio again with producer Dave Percefull, and Padron is on board to be a part of the new album. “(He) just brings the best out of the musicians,” Padron says of past experiences with Percefull. “(He) made it so easy to be creative and he gets the job done without going down any rabbit holes, which is a big deal in the studio.”
How does Padron succeed in having a playing style that melds with multiple genres of music? “When I was coming up, the difference between me and a lot of drummers that I met, I was always the youngest guy in the band,” he says.
“Now it’s not so much. But I was always prepared to play drums. I was never one that liked to do a lot of breaks and a lot of fancy (fills), just going crazy on drums. I wanted to learn styles, so for me, I was able to hear the difference between the blues in the Delta and the blues in Chicago and the blues in New York and the blues in Miami. Jazz the same thing, rock the same thing. I was able to hear those regional differences and even city differences.
“And then, when I got into congas, I started studying different regions in Cuba, and that made it even bigger. The differences became so apparent that when I play with different people, I pick up on it. Since I studied styles and fields, I can fall right in. I’ve been doing it for so many years, you can hear a break coming, and you can hear a change coming. And since I’m singing backups with them, I have a good idea as to what’s happening in the songs.”
He adds: “For me to prepare (for a gig), if somebody tells me, ‘Hey, we’re going to do a straight-ahead jazz gig,’ I’ll put some jazz on. I listen to straight-ahead jazz and I try to just suck that in for about an hour before the gig. My prep is not really a physical thing, it’s more audio so that I’m prepared mentally for what’s coming and I can just call on memory to play these things.”
Padron has a theory about why he received his first set of drums so young. “My uncle wanted to bother my mum. There’s a picture hovering around somewhere of me in diapers, and my uncle’s pulling up his drum set out of a box. My mum says I was always beating on pots and pans, always hitting things with sticks the whole time.”
At 11, Padron began to take percussion more seriously, playing and practicing in various bands.
“I always told myself I would never, ever become a professional drummer because it’s such a humble life. At 17, I was already making money playing and I never wanted to do it for a living. At about the age of 22, I had become a stockbroker. I tried to do everything. But at 22, I knew that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life—be a drummer.
“Throughout my 47 years, I have fought (being a musician) three or four times and I’m miserable. I finally realized that it wasn’t about the money, it was about what I was supposed to be doing. Ever since then, it’s a lot easier to be happy. I’m passionate about playing and I love what I do, so I’m a very lucky individual.”
From living in Spain as a child and building roots in Miami to making the pilgrimage to Nashville, Padron isn’t too shy to talk about what went right and what went wrong. “I moved to Nashville at right about 22. I was one of only three conga players and percussionists that were working all the time. Congas were really easy for me because it was part of my heritage being Cuban, or of Cuban descent. My parents are both from Cuba, so the congas just came naturally.”
After a few years, Padron found himself in the middle of a personal vendetta that left him blacklisted from studio sessions. A friend encouraged him to take a break, clear his head, and join him on vacation in Destin.
“That was 22 years ago, and I fell in love with this place. I saw Donnie Sundal playing which blew my mind, and I just sat in on congas. I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this,’ this is an amazing experience. And we had just a great time. And I met my wife at Tib’s Seafood Café.”
Two weeks later, he was calling Destin home.
“What I truly find in most of the musicians (in Destin), I call them friends. We are super supportive. We love what we do, and we support those that have the same feeling. It doesn’t matter if they’re a beginner or like Mark Gillespie doing worldwide tours. We appreciate each other, and we support each other as a community.
“When I lived in Nashville, I was just a rung on a ladder. I met so many musicians that I thought I could be friends with, and they would always look through me. They don’t realize that the community, the music community, is beautiful. That’s what we got here in Destin. I don’t think anybody is trying to cut anybody’s throat. We’re not trying to take people’s gigs, we’re trying to support what it is that we have. I’ve been shown a lot of love by a lot of musicians here, and I reciprocate. If I can help anybody, I will.”
Padron has picked up another gig, teaching music at the Destin School of the Arts located at the Destin United Methodist Church. “It’s really special,” he says. “I’ve been there since the inception, and everybody there is good people. It’s a wholesome environment, a great place for all levels and all ages to learn.”
With the school, Padron is seeing the emergence of programs that bring music therapy to the elderly and drum circles aimed at underprivileged members of the community.
Any given week, you have multiple opportunities to find Padron performing with area musicians. But his hope is to one day put together a full Afro-Cuban jazz band. It’s just a matter of finding the right players— especially horns—and a venue ready to take the leap with him.