Armstrong Bearcat’s Billy Coakley drums up players for unique karaoke nights at Brothers Lounge - Click here or the picture for the full article
Billy Coakley is a Cleveland based drummer who was born in New York City in 1961. He moved to Cleveland in 1969.
It was after moving to Cleveland while in the third grade that he had a life changing encounter with the drums. He shares that he was watching an episode of Batman in which Robin was wearing a wig and playing a drum solo when he found his calling as a drummer.
His early years were spent in private lessons and also playing in the high school band. After high school Billy went to study at Potomac State College in Keyser, West Virginia and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. At these two schools, he majored in music and performed in jazz band, orchestra, and percussion ensembles. Along this journey, Billy has participated in master classes and studied will Billy Hart, Tommy Campbell, Louie Bellson, Skip Hadden and his long time early teacher Dave Brewer.
All these individuals and experiences have been instrumental in helping Billy become one of the most inspiring drummers anywhere. Billy's professional career as a performer and an educator got started in the early 80's playing in a variety of jazz, rock, and reggae bands. His ten years with the reggae band SATTA from 1985 to 1995 were some of the most exciting. During that time he released five records and toured nonstop through the United States, Europe, and Asia. He also appeared in an NBC Movie of the Week, the KEYS which aired in Spring of 1992.
However not one to sit idle, Billy is currently in one of Cleveland's hottest blues and rock power trios, the Armstrong Bearcat Band. Which, along with constant club dates and festivals, has shared the stage with the Allman Brothers, George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers, Little Feet, Johnny Winter, Blue Oyster Cult, Southside Johnny, Robin Trower, Tower of Power, and others. Billy, who is a committed Christian, is also a member of the music ministry at his home church, Community of Hope.
Billy is aslo teaching, doing solo performances, drum clinics, "Around the World With Drums" (a performance for young people), and a whole host of other musical projects. Whether playing in front of 3000 people at a concert hall or 20 people in a youth assembly, Billy's powerful and inspirational drumming is a shining example of discipline, hard work, and a desire to share his gift for drumming with others.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Billy Coakley has a bit of elfin magic in him.
Oh, it’s not just the Santa hat and Christmasy red outfit he wore for his karaoke drum night Christmas Party at Brothers Lounge last December. Nor is it his slender, rather diminutive size. Rather, it’s that the sense of wonder and joy that is so prevalent for the holiday season seems to be around the drummer for the Armstrong Bearcat blues rock band whenever and wherever he goes.
That likely will include this Sunday night, Feb. 23, when the karaoke drum night he hosts in partnership with Stebal Drums in Willowick returns to the big room at Brothers.
Of course, it also includes those Armstrong Bearcat gigs with bandmates Butch Armstrong and Mike Barrick. But it also runs to his church in Broadview Heights, Community of Hope, as well as nursing homes where he brings his bits of percussion to liven up the joints — both human and structural.
Most assuredly, though, it’s there on the last Sunday of every month at Brothers, where he hosts his unique karaoke drum night.
For the record, it’s not at all like the typical shrill, alcohol-infused, off-key, eardrum-damaging stuff that pervades most barroom karaoke, where a singer who can carry a tune is an anomaly. All of the 20 or so drummers each night can play, and some of them are amazingly good, he said.
Many of the players are in bands, and some of them are “between gigs.” That leads to a wide range of ability on the drum throne, playing to tracks on his computer.
“It’s varied,” Coakley said in a call to his Gordon Square-area home prior to December drum karaoke night, discussing the talent level. The night usually opens with a half-hour drum clinic, taught by Coakley or one of his fellow pros. Then the fun begins.
That might be followed by “a guy who can really play, and he’s encouraging people to take a leap of faith and work hard and play something a little more advanced,” Coakley said.
“I may have a guy who’s a clinician, who’s really advanced, then I have these adults who are taking lessons” — Coakley also teaches at Stebal Drums in Willowick — “who have raised a family, never been onstage before. Or another one of my students, who’s a grandmother who’s 70 and has been taking lessons for nine months [and] who has played at every drum karaoke.
“Then you have an 18-year-old who’s got more talent than I’ve ever had [who] sat down and played an early Genesis song note for note,” said Coakley, who’s now 58 and has been playing since third grade. The teen had told him the name of the song, and Coakley joked with him that it came out before he was even born.
“I got my headphones on, sitting next to this kid and he’s playing this song perfectly, and it’s heaven on Earth,” he said.
But it’s not the kids who surprise you most, not when you go to one of Coakley’s karaoke nights. I sat there that December night, scoping out the crowd. Some of the people there just looked like drummers, like Steve Sinur, who is on the kit for the metal band Attaxe most of the time and has been playing for a couple of decades. But you also have Dylan Friedman, a recent law school graduate who pounded out a Sum 41 tune, and 14-year-old Christian Gendics, whose band Fantomen recently competed in the 2020 Tri-C High School Rock Off.
Most exciting, though, are the surprises.
“That’s the coolest thing,” said Coakley. “This Laura, I met her and her husband at the door and I said, ‘Who’s the drummer?’ He points to his wife.”
That would be Laura Maurins of Mentor, a retired medical secretary who’d never played before and decided she wanted to bang on the skins after leaving the work world. The Christmas Party drum karaoke night was her third.
“It’s an opportunity to get out and be able to hone your craft,” said Maurins, who bought a Pearl Vision drum set after she retired and is now taking lessons.
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