From Herbie Hancock to Los Hombres Calientes, Bill Summers keeps on drumming

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NEW ORLEANS — Unless you’re a music fan, the name Bill Summers might not ring a bell.  But this world-class percussionist calls New Orleans home, and we got a chance to chat about his career and what he’s up to these days.

Summers is a legendary percussionist who’s played on a host of recordings in several different genres.  In the early 70s, Summers made a name for himself as part of Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking group The Headhunters.

Summers says his way out of Detroit, the city he grew up in, was unconventional.

“If it wasn’t for me winning the daily double at DRC Racetrack, I would never have met Herbie,” he says. “I quit high school in the 12 grade, and I got a job at a racetrack in Detroit as a bus boy, and I learned how to bet the horses from a guy that shined shoes in the bathroom. And I won. I threw all the dishes up in the air. I flipped a bunch of people off that were getting on my nerves. I didn’t even pick up my check, I had made so much money.”

Off to the Bay Area he went, eventually becoming a sought after flutist and saxophonist, but percussion was always his thing.

In the early 1980s Summers fronted his own group, Bill Summers and Summers Heat, to some commercial success.

“Summer’s Heat was a microcosm of the planet in terms of music because I could do everything I did with Herbie but then do some R & B,” Summers says.

Summers’ later years included a move to New Orleans and the formation of the twice-Grammy nominated Los Hombres Calientes. For Summers, his move here was, in a way, moving back home.

“My family came from the Ashland Plantation in a place called Geismar, so my roots are deeper than most. I may not have been born here, but my seed…everybody in my family is from here,” he explains.

As a master of the drum, Summers holds dear what he considers sacred ground in our city.

“I always mention Congo Square in my experience because it was the birthplace of most of what’s popular in American music today,” he said.

Bill Summers’ passion today is his Kamp Kids Foundation. Click here to contact Bill to help.


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