Rafael Rivera


By Marc David Gambino 

August 30, 2015

In a small suburb of Puerto Rico, while on a family vacation in 1981 at age 12, Rafael “Riff Raf” Rivera began his obsession with the electric guitar and Rock music.  

Growing up in Brooklyn in what he describes was “a typical Latino household”, he had already developed a deep and profound appreciation of Salsa, Cumbia and Merengue (such as Hector Lavoe, Sonora Poncena and Celia Cruz).  He had learned to play a few Puerto Rican folk guitar standards on his nylon-stringed acoustic.

But, while visiting extended family in Arroyo on that vacation, his cousin Antonio introduced him to Hard Rock tunes from Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, early Santana, and Thin Lizzy.  What played through the speakers of the stereo that day changed the focus of Rafael’s musical interests forever…  And the rest is history.

Rafael purchased his first electric guitar as soon as he could -- A used, ninety dollar, Korean-made Kramer Stryker.  Hanging out with friends after school at Franklin K. Lane High was no longer an option.  Rafael spent hours on end at home practicing scales, learning chord phrases and listening to guitar solos over and over again.  He had a vision of the dream tone he wanted, and vowed one day to save enough to buy an American-made Gibson guitar of his own.

Feeling like there was a lot to catch up on, Rafael immersed himself in the history of Rock.  He was drawn to the liquid-like style of the classics, as well as the hard-driving punch and flashy virtuosity of 80’s metal players like Frehley, Moore, Van Halen and Rhoads.  “Breaking down any Randy Rhoads solo is like going to school,” as he puts it.

He arrived at the conclusion that all guitar-infused music should be appreciated; as he developed a love of the blues and funk as well (like BB King, Buddy Guy, Slave, and Parliament-Funkadelic).

Fusion and Classical widened his focus, as he became more interested in artists like Holdsworth, DiMeola, Segovia, Granados and the early work of Jose Feliciano.  The violin pieces of Paganini and (of course) early Stevie Wonder influenced him as well, making it harder to simplify his preferences.  

The nature of his playing style is evidence of how eclectic his interests had become.  

Over the years, Rafael has played in several cover bands that have been just as varied in their tributes, including the New Jersey-based “Black Four” and the hard Rock outfit, “Acken Road”.  

10 years after he vowed to own one, Rafael got his Gibson (actually, many Gibsons) and has since acquired several PRS, Ibanez and Music Man Guitars.  His main axes these days are a gorgeous, 2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard, and his pride and joy -- a custom shop SUHR Modern. 

Gaining a deep appreciation of the sound of John Petrucci of Dream Theater, Rafael plays Mesa Amps exclusively.  “I love many styles of music, but guitar tone is the key factor for me,” says Rafael.  “You can listen to the tone of Muse’s Bill Bellamy for hours and never get bored…  It’s ALL about tone and finding the right sound.” 

These days he is known as “Riffy” (actually a shorter version of his nick name, Riff Raf) and, along with an a undying passion and devotion, brings his tone to LION-HEARTED.

The band’s co-founders Joseph D’Aqui and Marc David Gambino are psyched to have him aboard, and (at this time) would like to both personally thank Rafael’s cousin, Antonio!

© Lion-Hearted 2012