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Carlos Vega

Members of the music industry reacted with shock to the death April 7 of Carlos Vega, a Los Angeles-based session drummer best known for his studio recordings and tours with James Taylor.

Vega, 41, died at home of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound on the eve of a scheduled April 8 appearance with Taylor on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," according to a published report.

Vega, who had just returned from a European tour with Taylor, was set to go on the road with the artist again for the U.S. leg of his tour. The tour is scheduled to begin May 29 at the Beacon Theatre in New York following shows April 27 at Sting's all-star Rainforest Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall and a special appearance with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Boston's Symphony Hall.

Besides his work with Taylor over the past decade -- which included the studio releases "Never Die Young," "New Moon Shine," and "Hourglass," plus Taylor's "(Live)" album Vega had recorded and/or performed with Freddy Hubbard, Boz Scaggs, Lee Ritenour, Vince Gill, Reba McIntire, Olivia Newton-John (including the "Grease" soundtrack), Larry Carlton, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, and Randy Newman, according to sources. Vega was also a member of keyboardist David Garfield's fusion band Karizma.
Drummer Steve Jordan, a friend of Vega's since the '80s, says Vega was "a stabilizing force in any group that he played in, which is the reason this thing is so shocking to everyone, because the circumstances of his departure were so incongruous with his life, at least the way we saw it."

Jordan adds that Vega "fulfilled to the utmost the function of the drummer being the captain of the ship. Where [late Toto and session drummer] Jeff Porcaro left off, Carlos picked up."

Jordan's comments reflect the reaction of Vega's other friends and associates, who also expressed shock and remember him as a pleasant, easy-going person.

Taylor says in a written statement, "It has been a great privilege and delight working with Carlos for the past 13 years and wonderful to have collaborated with so talented a player. I miss him terribly as a friend and an artist."

Jazz guitarist Ritenour was among the first to recognize Vega's talent and hire the young drummer to record and perform professionally. Ritenour also recommended Vega to Taylor when the latter needed a new drummer in the mid-'80s. "At the memorial he had so many friends turn out, I wish he just had put his hand out just even a bit before that day, 'cause so many of us would have been there," says Ritenour.

Producer George Massenburg, whose credits include Ronstadt and Taylor, says he is "devastated" by Vega's death. "My life and all of my expectations will change for this," he says. "How will we ever feel comfortable with being happy in the studio again?"

A memorial service for Vega was held April 14 at the Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, Calif. Following the service, friends and family gathered for a tribute at the Baked Potato in Studio City, Calif.

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