William B. Johnson plays the buckets as part of Drumadics, a buckets-and-djembe percussion trio under the Little Billy Entertainment banner, for Music Under New York.
Occupation, where from, where now?
I play buckets for Drumadics, and I'm the founder of Little Billy Entertainment. I'm from Harlem. I'm a New York-born New Yorker.
A few for you:
Real drummers play buckets. I've played everything but it takes a whole 'nother style of learning, a whole 'nother mentality to play the buckets.
What other instruments do you play?
Anything in the percussion family. I started on the violin – go figure. I used to be a part of the Charlie Randalls string orchestra. So when we're playing, I'm hearing strings, I'm hearing basses, xylophones. I'm a lover of Tito Puente, but I love Mozart. I love orchestras that know how to originate and break down the sound.
Where did you train?
We trained on the streets of New York.
How did Drumadics come to be?
We met in the subway. We all met through a subway connection of other people we're playing with. I'm part of the Music Under New York organization – I help bring people in, I give out comments. Right now there's about 140 artists playing for MUNY.
Do you guys jam, or do you stick to set pieces?
Jamming is not something that the people stop for. The people stop to hear solos, but they stop more to hear a song. Right now, we're doing a couple of songs from the new CD. The old CD is a masterpiece, but the new CD is from a show called Drumadics: Orchestrated Rhythms. We've gone somewhere else with it. It's great family entertainment: a conversation of rhythms, with a dialogue of poetry, and a live band accompanying with seven drummers. It's an excellent show.
Is this your regular stage?
We play all around the subways in NYC, but this is our usual spot. We're in Times Square twice a week.
Favorite venue to play in New York?
I really don't have one. Everywhere in New York, every day, is another stage to mount. Every day the rhythm changes in New York. When we play, there's always a "Let's get 'em" attitude. You go to other places, you're at peace. You just go ahead and see what they've got to offer. Not here. Here in New York you learn the audience – the way they clap, the way they move. Other places, they're so open and ready to receive you. In New York, you've got to really move the people. New York makes an honest audience. I've toured with everyone from Mary J. Blige to Alicia Keys. When you buy a ticket to a show, no matter what, you've already paid to get in. In New York, I come to the streets because these people are going to be raw and honest every day.
You've played around the world?
I've been to every continent except Antarctica.
Where's your favorite place to play?
Germany. It's not so much the music scene; it's more so the audience reception.
How does New York compare to other stages?
In New York -- this is where you make it. You train here. The diversity here allows us to learn so many different cultures and styles of music. When in Japan, they're not playing salsa. They're not playing Afro-Cuban. They're not playing West African. In America – this is school. Everywhere you go, there's a multitude of people and cultures and we literally have to learn so very much. You've got to learn to sit in with everybody here. It's so different from anything else we know.
What excitement have you seen while spending time in the subway platforms?
I get flashed on the regular. Women pulling up their shirts, stuff like that. It's crazy down here.
What are your musical goals? Who are your inspirations?
I'm into writing theater. I want to be a producer for theater. I write theatrical presentations of rhythm, dance, and poetry. Pure art. We're putting together a 40-piece orchestra to perform with us on the stage. On the buckets, I haven't done an orchestra yet. I've played with drum circles of 120. The energy is strong. But some cats are skilled to play, and some of us are all spirit. I can sit down in a circle of drummers and when you take them to another place, people don't know where to go. When you sit down with people with heart, who really take this serious, it's a whole 'nother mentality. We tap into the spirit. I play with the best drummers every night. The window of opportunity is about 14 to 15 seconds long. I could solo for about 45 minutes, but when I get anointed, it's because I'm now mimicking the Tito Puente who's now sitting in heaven. The Buddy Rich that's still sitting there laying down chops. The Max Roach in his prime, Chick Webb before he was gone. When you're mimicking them, you close your eyes, you're into the drummer's world, the drummer's collective where they're doing something and I'm trying to imitate it. The window of opportunity is so small that you've got to – [William verbally imitates some drums here] buu-dd-raah, buu-ddd-rrrrah -- you've got to really mimic them before the window closes. I play with the best every night.
What would you be doing if you couldn't play drums?
Worshipping God all day, every day. I worked Wall Street and I quit. The stress. When I'm here, everything is heart. No stress at all.
Any advice for Mayor Bloomburg?
Come and check out the talent, the rawness and the purity of the art. Being a billionaire, I'm sure he knows Mozart and Picasso. A Mozart painting -- when you hear that composed piece, it paints a picture in you head. When you see that Picasso, it play music in your head. And if he ever came down here, and heard the underground sound that we so well created and established, if he went to the hood -- be it in Harlem, in the Bronx, in Brooklyn, and saw the rawness of the dance, the rawness of the art, he'd be looking at a Picasso, he'd be hearing Mozart. The question is, is he wise enough, or mature enough, to be the one to start it or weak enough to be the one to follow it. the weak ones follow the trend. The strong one is the one that says, "You know what? I'm going to invest in that because that's what New York is." New York is diversity. New york is strength. New York is a place of creativity. This is the Big Apple -- if you don't create it here, it's not happening. We take some of everything. When you hear the group Drumadics, you're hearing Tito Puente, you're hearing Max Roach, you're hearing Buddy Rich, you're hearing Dennis Chambers. Then you're hearing West African drums, drums from Zimbabwe. When we write shows, that's our history lesson. Not to mimic Africa or Japan or these other places we've been connected to -- just to show exactly what we have right here in New York. When we go other places, they well receive it because they're like, "Wow, New York has all that, a little bit of all of us."