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interview :: willie.cantu

Here's an exclusive interview Willie Cantu gave us on March 24, 2003.

Q: Obligatory background information:

Full Name: Willie Cantu

Place of birth: Corpus Christi, TX

Date of birth: 1946

Marital status: Married

Number/Ages of children: Two children

Current city/state of residence: Hermitage, TN

Q: How many years have you been performing/playing?

A: Since 1958 and professionally since 1961.

Q: How did you first become involved with playing the drums?

A: In my junior high school marching band and through private instruction at the same time period.

Q: During what years did you perform with Buck?

A:January 1964 - September 1968

Q: On which Buck albums did you perform and/or tour?


Q: Which instrument(s) did you play? (Please note any differences between recording and touring.)

A: Drumset (recording & touring)

Q: Do you play any other instruments, and if so, what? What is your favorite instrument to play?

A: All types of drums (congas, bongos, timbales, Irish Bodhran, African Djembe, Scottish pipeband snare drum, and Middle Eastern Dumbek); the Scottish pipeband snare drum is my favorite.

Q: Describe how you came to be a Buckaroo? (What lead to the audition, what was the audition like, and anything else you'd like to share.)

A: There was no audition. I met Buck and the band the night of President John F. Kennedy's assignation (November 22, 1963) at the Maverick Club where I worked. Don Rich and Doyle Holly had been in the club the night before and heard me play with the house band. The next night, at the end of the night, Doyle Holly asked for my phone number and how to get in touch with me. In January of the following year, I received a phone call from Buck asking me if I wanted to go to work with him. My response to him was that I would have to talk to my parents. (I was only 17 at the time.) After discussing the offer with my parents, we decided it would be a good opportunity, since I wanted to make a living with my music. Within a week I was flying into Bakersfield, CA. I arrived the same day the band was recording "Together Again" in Hollywood, CA.

Q: Before becoming a Buckaroo, were you a fan of Buck Owens? Did you own any Buck Owens albums?

A: No, I'd never heard of Buck Owens until the night I met him.

Q: What bands did you perform with prior to becoming a Buckaroo?

A: Local bands in Corpus Christi, TX.

Q: What bands have you performed with since you left the Buckaroos?


Q: Who were/are your musical influences?

A: Jazz Drummers: Max Roach, Shelly Mann, Elvin Jones, and Roy Haynes
Latin Music: Carlos (Potato) Valdez and Tito Puente
Scottish Pipe Band Drummers: Alex Duthart, Alex Connell, and J. Reid Maxwell
Country Music: Buddy Harmon

Q: Describe typical day in your life now. What are you doing, etc.? Feel free to elaborate and share as much as you'd like.

A: I'm a drum instructor out of my home and at Donelson Music. I play at the Nashville Palace 5 nights a week. I perform with the Tennessee Scot's Pipe Band.

Q: What is your most memorable experience as a Buckaroo?

A: Going to Japan.

Q: Did you save any memorabilia? If so, which is your favorite and why?

A: Yes, the photographs that I took while I was in Japan, one of which was used as the cover of the Buck Owens Fan Club Magazine.

Q: What led to your decision to leave the Buckaroos?

A: My wife at the time was Canadian, and since the band spent so much time on the road and away from home, she moved back to Canada. I quit the band to move to Canada to be with her and my baby daughter.

Q: Other than recording with Buck, have you appeared on any albums with other artists? If so, who and what album?

A: Yes, I've recorded with Vasser Clemmons, Henry Questa, Eddie Henderson, Pee Wee Ellis, and Michael Munoz, but don't remember the name of any of the albums. Also I was session player and recorded with many local artists in Canada and Nashville, TN, but again, I don't remember the name of the albums.

Q: BuckOwensFan.com member California Okie asks: "Willie, Recently Buckaroo drummer Jim McCarty left the band after 14 fine years. Jim certainly lived up to the high standards expected of a Buckaroo, and will be missed. Have you considered applying for the gig?"

A: No, my life has changed since then. My home, my wife, and my career are all in Nashville, TN now.

Q: BuckOwensFan.com member Tennessee asks: "Willie, how did Buck come up with your nicknames: Dangerous Don, Wonderful Willie, Dashing Doyle, and Tender Tom?"

A: Buck found words that started with the first letter of our names and that reflected our personalities to some extent.

Q: BuckOwensFan.com member carlintexas asks: "You were always my favorite drummer of all of the Buckaroo drummers. How did it feel to be a part of the most famous country band to ever grace the stage, and did you use brushes or sticks the most?"

A: At the time I didn't realize how special we were as a group. I just loved playing and knew that when we were together on stage it was "magic." As to the second part of the question, I used sticks the most.

Q: It's well known that Buck Owens and the Buckaroos changed country music in the early sixties. One of those changes included using stronger percussion. Whose influence on the percussion led to this change from the traditional country music at the time? Did you have any influence, when new songs were being learned by the group, in how much percussion was needed?

A: I listened to the Buckaroo albums that were recorded before I was with the group to get a feel for the Buckroo sound. Then, I just played the songs my way. Buck said that he would just let me know when he didn't like something. Otherwise, I was on my own.

Q: A closely-related question: When performing with or for Buck, how much freedom did you have to change portions of a song. In other words, did you have the freedom to basically create your own part?

A: Yes.

Q: When was the last time you spoke with Buck?

A: August 2000; I saw him at his 70th Birthday party at the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, CA.

Q: Have you been to or performed at the Crystal Palace? If not, do you have any plans to do so? If so, do you have any plans to do so again?

A: Yes, the Buckaroos reunited for Buck's 70th Birthday at the Crystal Palace. At this time I don't have any plans to go back.

Q: What, if anything, do you miss about being a Buckaroo?

A: The feeling that no matter what we did on stage, it was perfect.

Q: What, if anything, do you not miss about being a Buckaroo?

A: Nothing; it was a great experience.

Q: What is the one (or two or three or . . .) things you remember most about Buck? A: He was always kind to me and was always there for me. I was only a teenager when I joined the Buckaroos. Buck was someone I could look up to. It really meant a lot that Buck treated me like an adult and was always there for me.

Q: When was your last contact with the other Buckaroos?

A: I saw Doyle Holly in February 2003; I see and talk to him from time to time since we both live in the Nashville area. I haven't seen Tom since August 2000, but I hear from him from time to time.

Q: Which of the the albums put out in the sixties by the Buckaroos without Buck were you involved with?

A: The first two albums.

Q: Did you have a favorite of those albums?

A: No.

Q: Who were those girls that were always on the cover of the albums with you guys?

A: I really don't remember there being any girls on the album covers.

Q: How did those albums get started? Whose idea was it?

A: Buck's and Don's.

Q: Did Buck have anything to do with those albums?

A: He was in the control room overseeing things.

Q: Did ya'll ever tour as the Buckaroos without Buck?

A: No.

Q: Did ya'll ever play any of the songs from the Buckaroos' albums live?

A: Yes; Buckaroo.

Q: Do you have a favorite Buck Owens album?

A: The Carniege Hall Album.

Q: OMS Records is schedule to release Together Again in February. According to OMS, the project was conceived by Johnny Russell. What's the background on this record, and how did you initially come to be contact and involved in it? Did Johnny Russell just pick up the telephone and say "Hey, Willie, we're putting the Buckaroos back together?\"

A: I saw Johnny Russell at the Nashville Palace where I work now every few weeks. He kept talking about doing a recording with the Buckaroos. Then, one day he just called me.

Q: What was it like being back in the studio with Doyle, Tom and Buck?

A: Tom & Buck weren't there; it was just Doyle and me, and you wouldn't believe it if I told you.

Q: Were each of you heavily involved in the project, or was it just a matter of showing up and playing your part?

A: I just showed up and played the drums.

Q: From jazz to country to African hand drums to, currently, Scottish drumming, you've pretty much run the gamut. Pretend for a moment that you've decided to retire, and you are content to sit on your front porch, answer stupid questions, and watch the world go by. As you look back on your life and accomplishments:


Q: You've designed and developed two drum practice pads for the Reel-Feel Company. How did your involvement in this project come about, and was it difficult moving from the "performance" world to the world of "theory and design"? Who else was involved in this project?

A: It was totally my idea. Necessity is the mother of invention. It wasn't difficult going from playing to design. I've done that since I was in Junior High School. I made my very first bass drum pedal from coat hanger wire and tape, and I've been inventing and tinkering ever since. In 1959 I designed an internal tuning mechanism to fit toms toms which enabled quick changes of pitch by the turn of a knob. I submitted my idea to the Ludwig Drum Company. I got a letter from the company owner thanking me and telling me that someone in the company has already designed something similar years earlier.

Q: Please feel free to share any other thoughts or comments you might have.

A: I really appreciate the fans remembering me from the old days; it's a great feeling knowing that my drumming made them happy.

Man, what a great interview! Willie gets bonus points for answering all of the questions.

One of the things I despise about email-based interviews is the lack of spontaneity and the opportunity for follow-up questions. For example:

Q: What was it like being back in the studio with Doyle, Tom and Buck?

A: Tom & Buck weren't there; it was just Doyle and me, and you wouldn't believe it if I told you.

Argh! Try me, Willie! I'll believe you. I promise! I'm very gullible that way! Just ask Paul ....

On a personal note, I'd like to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Willie's wife, Julie. She worked diligently with Willie to get his answers typed and "in the mail." She seems like a super lady, and I really appreciate her efforts. Thanks, Julie!

Willie ... you rock. Thanks a million, and keep on Buckin'!

stephenhargrove productions