A native of Brooklyn, New York, José Claussell was raised with his ten brothers and sisters in a very musically charged Puerto Rican household. His mother was his first and biggest musical influence. Raising eleven children with a husband who was a merchant marine, Mrs. Claussell worked very hard in and out of the house. Her main form of relaxation and entertainment was listening to music. Her vast collection included music from Cuba and Puerto Rico, American popular music, big bands, jazz, and anything else that was joyful and fulfilling. After a hard day at work she would return home and start spinning albums like a DJ, filling the whole house and her children's lives with incredible music. Recently I sat down with José Claussell and he expounded further on the subject.
"Besides my mom, another influence in my life was my older brother who was a popular rock drummer in Brooklyn. As he rehearsed in our home's basement, my younger brother and I would mimic playing drums on old one-gallon paint cans and refrigerator shelves for cymbals. On my seventh birthday, my brother asked me what I wanted, so I told him I wanted him to teach me how to play the drums. He took me to the basement and sat me by the drums. Before he said anything, I started to play as if I had been playing drums for years. It was in my blood, in my genes, a gift from the creator, definitely.
"By the age of nine, I was already playing with some of the top rock and funk bands in the city. Then one day my brother turned me on to the debut LP of Carlos Santana, and both of our lives immediately changed. All the Latin music that my mother played in the house every day, like Benny Moré, Casino de La Playa, Machito, Cortijo, El Gran Combo, Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez, all took on a new meaning for me spiritually. From that point on, Latin music was it for me. I learned to play the tumbadoras (conga drums) from my brother and José Bermúdez, the percussionist in his band.