Since Patato emigrated from Cuba he had an incredible career,having the spontaneity and charm to draw audiences from all over, with the irresistible Afro-Cuban rhythms he so skillfully created. Valdez's understanding of melodic percussion was ahead of his time and required advances in drum technology. During the late 1940's he helped develop the first tunable congas, as earlier models were tuned by the previous method of heating them over a source of fire. His innovations on the conga drums have been a major contribution to music. He truly is in the master class.
Born November 4, 1926 in Barrio Los Sitios in Havana, his father was a pioneer "tres" (guitar) player with the group Los Apaches, made up of longshoremen, the group was formed in 1915 and when they broke up in 1920 split into Sexteto Habanero and Sexteto Nacional. In this musical fertile environment he learned various instruments as a child, like the "marimbula" and of course the "tres."
Around the age of twelve he began playing congas with a "compara" called "La Sultana" and by his teens was an established "rumbero." From the beginning it was his melodic tone that set him apart and at nineteen he broke into the big time when he replaced the ailing Valentin Cane as conguero with La Sonora Matancera. He stayed a year before his boyhood friend Armando Peraza brought him into the Conjunto Kubavana of Alberto Ruiz.
In 1952 he visited New York City for a performance with Conjunto Casino at the Tropicana Nightclub. With all his friends there like Peraza, Mongo, Candido Camero, and other, he was impressed with the scene. The Palladium and the mambo were in full effect, not to speak of the bebop revolution sweeping jazz, and he decided to immigrate in 1954 to this country. Mongo recommended him to Tito Puente who quickly absorbed him into his orchestra.
If jazz was a motivating factor, he took it head-on. His first record date in this country was with trumpeter Kenny Dorham on his Afro-Cuban LP alongside Art Blakey on traps. His appearance with Tito Puente at the Apollo Theater in 1955 is a legendary performance that brought the house down! A document to those years is Puente's classic Cuban Carnaval on RCA which included Mongo, Willie Bobo, Candido, and Johnny Rodriguez. He was also part of Tito's landmark Puente in Percussion. In 1956 he joined the Machito orchestra at the urging of musical director Mario Bauza. He stayed with Machito for five years. Patato's most memorable jazz association came in the early sixties when he teamed up with flautist Herbie Mann.