CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: Maestro Tom Flores - Valje congas

Saturday, May 10, 2008

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Maestro Tom Flores - Valje congas

Im reposting this, as i published a comment with a phone number and couldnt figure out how to edit it...

Many more pics to come...

From sir Brian Matza's research, and some is regularly disputed, so this is just what he has come up with:

From the time Tom Flores started to build his dums in the 1950's until today, there have been many faces to and behind the the name. What we call Val Jay (Valje), is actually pronounced Val Jee. The name is said to come from Valerie and Jean, not sure if tis was Toms wife and daughter or what (disputed fact, as some say valje was Tom's dog). Tom worked out of two locations in Los Angeles, 3312 Sunset Blvd. and 3314 Sunset Blvd.; moving one whole address away Any drums with the 3314 address are the first that were made.
His innovation of air drying his staves and scoring the interiors of the staves to prevent cracking and allow flexibility during construction was ahead of the pack, but his drums did not take on a huge following until being used by Santana and other Latin rock and rock bands. At one point he and Mariano of Gon Bops were in business together to try and corner the market, but like many partnerships, it ended due to personal philosophy (Others say they never worked together).
By the late 70's Tom was getting tired of the business and the competition by mega mass drum producers. In the early 80's he sold the name and shop to Haight Ashbury Music of San Francisco who was a large retailer of his drums. Akbar Moghaddam, then working as a drum repairman, asked his friend who owned Haight Ashbury Music, Massoud Badakhshan, if he could go to L A to learn how to make the drums from Tom; he was turned down and four others were sent. After about three months Akbar was called back to go to work with Tom because the others failed; maybe partially due to Toms tough temperment. I am not sure, but i think Octavio Ruiz was working with Tom at the time. In any event, Tom taught Akbar how to make the Valje drums. Within a year the operation was moved to San Francisco where the second generation of Valje was created by Akbar with the help of Octavio who moved north to continue the tradition. The only difference in the second generation was that the height was cut down from 31" to 30" and a decal was put on the drum with Valje of San francisco on it (one could still order the taller model but it would require an additional cost). The drums hadware was the same, still made of red oak and the scoring of the staves remained. This operation was only in existance for about two years before there was a fire that destroyed the shop and about 50 shells, thus making these drums the rarest of all hand crafted valje's. The fire was started when a fireworks company exploded on a bright sunny afternoon about 5:00 PM across the street. Akbar heard the explosion and ducked just as the heavy metal door to the shop blew open and across into his machinery. He exited and began to knock on doors and assist others in shops all around the industrial area who were injured and bleeding. He was very lucky, and we are as well, since he is still making drums for all who have them. I know first hand of the devistation of this massive fire, because this conguero was a bombero who fought that fire as a member of the SFFD. I and others pulled 8 corpses out of the mess. Well the story goes faster now. Akbar went on to open his own shop, Sol Percussion, making fantastic drums here in S F., and is now at DW, as you all know, overseeing the whole conga production from the highly demanded California series to production and quality control of the other lines made out of the country. The next generation of Valje was a drum made in Thailand from Thai oak. The first models had no LP markings (LP purchased the rights to the name and drum from Haight Ashbury Music), the hardware stayed the same other than a small Valje was inscribed on the side plates, handle and tuning rods; of course the sizes became standard and fewer and the interior scoring was eliminated. The next generation was the Armando Perazza Cherry wood series; which is a beautiful drum. It also had standard sizes but the hardware was a bit larger and mounted by three bolts instead of two - plastic/rubber trays were designed and mounted to the bottoms of the drums. There is more to the story and please feel free to add what you know, as i will add more as i learn more.
Tom Flores went on to design and build the Resolution Drums with his son Ralph. Tom died a few years back and his son continues on with the drums and repair of old L A Valje's, 31".
The Valje drums vary in size from 9.5 to 14. There can be many sizes in between since they were handcrafted by a real craftsman and artist; he had no training in precision, but was quite presice anyway. The Valje drums are known to keep their shape and rarely crack if taken care of; but we all now wood will be wood - so thanks to Ralph and his love of repairing these drums. Tom often had extra wood around which he used to complete a drum. This often resulted in the smaller bellied drums with small head sizes. He did not make a requinto, but these small drums would be the ones that look like a requinto.


  1. Cool Tony! Thanks for the history lesson. My favorites are the red ones with the handles. Reminds me of Vergara's. Peace!

  2. Hey Tony
    Nice article, I was surprised and happy to see that someone remembered Tom Flores, and the Valje Conga's. I bought my set from Tom back in 1961. I had recently recovered them from the attic so that I could refinish them and went on line looking for some place to replace hardware and score some real skins and stumbled on your site. Thanks for the memory.

  3. Hey Tony,el conguero mayorrrr!!! ache pa' ti y to tu familia. Juan Carlos

  4. I bought a Valje(San Fran) tumba about 6 years ago off of our local public radio want ads for $70 with a gon bops stand and LP padded case. It was in unplayed condition being used as living room decoration!!! I now gig it every week, although I'm thinking I should leave it at home.

  5. yes, a rare perspective of a rare American crafted classic Latin drum. I still have a beautiful Vaje product catalogue, the one that has John Santos on the cover. I have always wanted to see the Valje Bata drums !?



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