Saturday, July 7, 2007
Larry "Bucketman" Hunt drums his way to happiness
by Summer Sewell
Fifteen white buckets surround Larry Hunt on the bustling corner of Powell and Market streets in downtown San Francisco. One of the larger buckets displays a bent cardboard sign with Tips, please scribbled in thin, black Sharpie. Another shorter bucket is used as his stool. And the other 13, he bangs the hell out of.
Hunt, better known as Bucketman, is one of many entertainers making a living off their talents in San Franciscos popular shopping district. He plays about two hours a day, seven days a week, rain or shine, in sickness and in health.
He sells self-made CDs for $10 and can make up to $100 in an hour and a half of playing on a good day. Even homeless people put money in his tip bucket. But the big money comes from tourists who stop and spend a few minutes watching this petite, dark-skinned man with the perfect, gap-filled smile beat buckets as if his life depended on it. And in many ways, it does. Hunt relies solely on drumming to keep a roof over his head. To this day, people ask, Why dont you get a job? This is my job! he says.
Performing is second nature to this 48-year-old musician. By the time he was 9, he had played with jazz greats such as Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and Louie Bellson. He was introduced to these influential figures by the man Hunt still calls Daddy. His father, an alcoholic who died when Hunt was 13, encouraged him to play drums starting when he was only 3 years old.
For as far back as Hunt can remember, his drums were all he had. His mother left soon after his birth and he has not seen her since. After his fathers death, Hunts now estranged oldest brother forced him to leave home and join the Job Corps in Washington when he was 15. There he formed a band with legendary jazz keyboardist Rusty Thomas and honed his skills until he was accomplished enough to play with popular 1970s bands like the Oreos and the Drifters, though acid and cocaine have erased chunks of those recollections.
Fumbling through years of homelessness and drug addiction, Hunt has always maintained a means of hustling. Whether it was eating fire as a male stripper to pay his way back home from Washington D.C. at 21, marrying a woman almost old enough to be his mother at 17, or selling his own plasma at blood banks to make ends meet, Hunt never stays down for long.
You can make it up if you try. You just gotta keep going, he says.
Hunt has been off the streets for almost six years and hasnt skipped paying rent in his hotel room/apartment in two years.
Ive seen it, Ive done it, but I came up from all that, he says. I got my clothes, my little microwave and two iceboxes full of food. Tonight is lasagna.
Now that he doesnt have to worry about basic necessities like food and shelter, Hunt doesnt seem bothered by the absence of a biological family. That void seems to be fulfilled by 15 plastic buckets and random admirers.
My drums are my kids. My family is me playing for people, he says. When they come back to see me day after day, thats my family.