As a young musician, Calixto Rivera couldn’t find the sound he was looking for in a cowbell. So he came up with a solution that would change his life – and the course of salsa music: “I decided to just make it myself.”
For the last 40 years, Rivera has reigned as the cowbell king of the Bronx, drawing musicians from around the world to JCR Percussion, his modest storefront shop on Odgen Avenue. He specializes in the production of three bells: the cha-cha bell, the timbale bell and the bongo bell, which vary in size and sound. Cowbells of different pitches are custom made to order.
With the help of his wife, Lilly, and his apprentice, Greg Askew, Rivera produces up to 200 cowbells a week. According to Guitar Center, his biggest client, competing cowbells are manufactured in bulk at factories.
Rivera, who is in his 70s, is proud to say that he’s the only one still making them by hand.