It didn’t take long for Billy to reach a professional drumming status, he recalls, tipping back in a chair parked in front of a computer screen filled with homemade beats and grooves. At 17 years old, a music producer in Ft. Myers, Fla. discovered Billy and he was soon making a living out of drumming by recording for various bands and teaching drum clinics.
“Right out of high school, I had just decided that all I wanted to do was play drums for a living,” Billy says. “I could have went off to college to become a teacher but I decided to take it real serious and started playing locally and professionally.”
Billy belonged to a variety of different bands in Florida with gigs almost nightly and kept himself busy during the day by writing music and helping area high school drumlines with their routines. Billy remembers the time in his life as “sitting pretty.” He had achieved a status in his life where he felt like his music was being well-received by the Florida music scene and he couldn’t get enough of it.
The Night of the accident
In August of 2005, Billy was drumming with his band at a Florida bar. Little did he know that this was the last night he would be able to associate with any sense of normalcy.
“You wouldn’t believe the story,” Billy says. “It’s like something out of a movie.”
A personal problem between the bar owner and lead singer of Billy’s band had escalated and Billy could tell that something wasn’t quite right.
“At the time I was working part-time for JcPenney as a loss prevention officer so I was really good at reading body language and people’s eyes,” Billy says. “I could tell something was up with these two guys [in the crowd.] I knew something was going to happen. Right after we finished playing the last song, I jumped up and told the singer to stay on the stage, not to go out into the crowd. But he brushed it off.”
Soon after, a fight broke out between the band’s lead singer and the two men in the crowd. Billy jumped up to try to break up the fight, and as a result, was hit on the back of the head and pushed down a flight of stairs.
“I immediately didn’t feel it. I landed on my face and tore my nose a little bit. My jaw was shifted and it broke all my teeth. I had instant brain damage,” he said. “I woke up a couple days later with tubes coming out of me. I didn’t know anything.”
Due to the excessive force of Billy’s head injury, he suffered extensive brain damage and had to be re-taught all of the things he had spent his life learning. He went through occupational, speech and physical therapy. He couldn’t recognize the town he lived in, the woman he loved, and the music with which he had made his living.
“I didn’t know how to use the left side of my body that well,” he said. “I had to learn how to pick up keys…I had to learn how to take a step correctly. I would take one step on the stairs and forget what to do next.”
His days of drumming came to a screeching halt.
“For a year, I didn’t know what a drum was. I didn’t know I was a drummer. I didn’t even know what a drumstick was called,” he said.
Through therapy, Billy was only able to reach a fifth-grade learning level so his chances at seeking employment other than drumming were slim.
“I can’t get a job working at Wal-Mart because I freak out because I get dizzy from the lights and from the people. I walk into the mall and get panic attacks. I just shut down mentally,” he said. “I can’t count money so I can’t run a register for a gas station. What am I supposed to do?”
In the midst of his recovery, Billy got on his computer and came across videos he had made of himself drumming before the incident. Suddenly something clicked and he realized that this is something he could do.
He spent tireless weeks teaching himself to play again. He learned how to hold a drumstick and watched his old videos over and over until it made sense again. The things he was learning through physical therapy painted a blueprint for the rebirth of Billy as a drummer. Though the things he went through were horrific and ruined many aspects of his life, he says the injury was a blessing in disguise for his perception of music.
“I was a great drummer that was taught like if I would have went to college. Very systematically taught,” he said. “All of a sudden, I’m starting over fresh, new. There were no rules. I was playing from the heart instead of what I was taught. I was able to write music I was never able to hear before.”
Moving to South Bend
Because Billy and his wife were so deep in debt from Billy’s medical bills and they were expecting a child, they decided to leave Florida and move to the Michiana area, where Kasey’s family lives. The Cantys have lived in South Bend for about a year but Billy has found little success as a drummer so far.
“Walking into a new music scene…it’s like high school,” he said.” You got your popular crowd, you got your outcasts, and then you got your somewhat normal crowd. Same thing happens with music. Professional musicians wanted nothing to do with me.”
Billy said he felt trapped. His wife just gave birth to their young son and Kasey had to stay home to look after not only the baby, but Billy, too. The only source of income they had was Billy’s disability so he had to look for something more.
“I didn’t have anybody to help me too much. With him in the state he was in for so long, I didn’t have him either.” Said Kasey. “He was kind of a stranger. He didn’t know who I was for a long time so it was kind of like living with a stranger. I’m just really happy for how well he has done and that we stuck together and are still so strong and just making it the best we can.”
Billy was able to find work at Hoosierdad’s Music in Mishawaka, teaching private lessons to area musicians. Though he is happy to be putting his talents to good use, he still craves to help area musicians more. He developed a new type of teaching music that he taught himself that includes associating binary code with drumming.
“Somehow this area has to give me a chance as a clinician, as a teacher,” he said. “I’d like to get into teaching drumlines again. I’d like to get into the recording session industry again. I’m not sure that there is one here. I haven’t been able to find one.”
For right now, Billy and Kasey hope they can seek assistance with getting their life back on track. But until then, the couple takes it day-by-day and trying to make the best of the situation. Billy currently plays with a local band, Hooligan Heights.
“Before I got hurt, I was a drummer,” he said. “Now, I’m a musician.”
To see some of Billy's drumming visit his YouTubechannel here: http://www.youtube.com/billycanty
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