Cali Rivera: The Guy Who Makes The Best Cowbells He has no signs, no store, no advertising. He's in his late 70s and makes all his instruments by hand. But, as percussionists around the world know, nothing sounds like a Cali Rivera cowbell.
NPR logo The Guy Who Makes The Best Cowbells

The Guy Who Makes The Best Cowbells

In The Bronx, there's a man who builds instruments for the world's great Latin percussionists: Tito Puente, Eddie Montalvo, Giovanni Hidalgo, Bobby Sanabria. He has no signs, no storefront, no advertising of any kind, but people from around the world call him for work. After all, nothing sounds quite like one of his handmade cowbells.

Calixto "Cali" Rivera's father was a guitar maker, and his son picked up the tradition of craftsmanship. But Cali gravitated to the drums — he's a timbale player — and made congas, bongos and other percussion instruments. These days, he specializes in high-quality cowbells of all sorts. He's in his late 70s, with only his wife for administrative support, yet he cranks out dozens a week.

Jazz Night In America recently visited Rivera at his JCR Percussion workshop to find out how, for nearly 40 years, he's transformed strong metal into strong bells.