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Music ‘a way of life’ for longtime drummer Earl

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A lifetime behind the drums: Earl Leader (Photograph supplied)

Earl Leader started playing drums at the age of nine.

A year later he was performing on stage; by 15, he was travelling the island with a popular local band.

He is certain his talent came from his father.

“My dad was Ernie Leader. He was a legend,” he said of the late drummer and horn player who received a Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council because of his talents.

“He was the one that actually started me off and I'm fortunate to have two brothers that also play, that are also drummers.”

At 15, his mother only allowed him to perform with The Subdominats after the band’s bass player made a promise to bring the teenager home immediately after each show.

“I was under manners. I got to play with these gentlemen, but they had to take me and bring me back because, obviously I was underage.”

He believes the group put up with his mother’s demand because he showed promise as a musician.

“As I said, it came from our dad. He had all the talent and it went on in us. It's been a really big part of my life.”

At 17, Mr Leader got his “first regular gig”, playing with a band called The Dimensions at the Bermudiana Hotel.

From there he travelled the hotel circuit with The Bermuda Sounds until he found a spot with The Happening BDA.

“Music with me, it was a way of life. It was a language, it was my existence,” he said.

At 24, he gave it all up and left for Toronto, Canada, where he studied at the Ontario College of Percussion.

“Because of my experience, because I’d played for so long, they gave me a job teaching there as well,” Mr Leader said.

On graduating he travelled from Newfoundland to Vancouver performing in bands.

“I also ended up doing a campaign for the Prime Minister of Canada, the late Pierre Trudeau, who is the father of Justin Trudeau who is the Prime Minister of Canada now.

“We did a big campaign at one of the big establishments, the Maple Leaf Gardens.”

His time at college and the network he’d built performing got him the gig, which was one of the high points of the eight years he spent in Canada, Mr Leader said.

He returned home in 1980 after he was invited to join The Tom Ray Band at the Sonesta Beach Hotel.

“I couldn't turn it down,” Mr Leader said. “I came back and I was only planning on staying for a year but I actually stayed for two.”

Earl Leader played with The Tom Ray Band at the Sonesta Beach Hotel in the early 1980s. From left: Tom Ray, Scott Lykins, Quinton “Tiny” Burgess, Mr Leader, Glen Miller and Lyle Van Wie with Loretta Augustus in front (File photograph)

At the age of 32, he picked up a racket for the first time and got hooked on tennis.

“I took lessons from a legendary coach, Mr David Lambert and in five years, in 1988, I was representing Bermuda at the Pre-Olympics in Mexico.”

Once back home he found his time was gobbled up by the Southampton Princess where he taught tennis during the day and performed with The Joe Wiley Trio at night.

“Joe was the musical director of the Southampton Princess and I joined him and another buddy of mine, the late Quinton ‘Tiny’ Burgess,” he said.

“Tony Bari and Dennis Francis and I had been playing at a jazz club on Angle Street called Hubie’s Bar. So I was playing with them Friday from 7pm to 8.30pm and then I would make 9 o’clock to my normal gig up at Southampton Princess with The Joe Wiley Trio.”

By the early 2000s, Mr Burgess had died and Mr Wiley decided it was time to retire; Hubie’s closed soon after.

Earl Leader, left, and his brothers Erwin, centre, and Denton in 2016 when the Bermuda Arts Council honoured their late father Ernie with a Lifetime Achievement Award (Photograph supplied)

The hotel asked Mr Leader to stay on and play in the Jasmine Lounge; he invited Mr Francis and Mr Bari to join him.

“That went on up until the time of the pandemic, which sort of stopped it,” he said. “Not being able to perform was kind of hard but I would play by myself. I would practise because that was something that my father always taught me to do. So I practised.”

He was thrilled when the opportunity arose to play at Bungalow56.

“Brian Swan, Tony Bari and I are friends. We play golf together. Brian was asked to put a group together and because we had worked together before he asked us. And then we gave it the name Just Friends, which I thought was great.

“We play all different types of music – a bit of jazz, a little reggae. We try to cover everybody. There was the idea to create sort of a Hubie’s environment – it’s a friendly atmosphere, we invite musicians to come up [and perform]. It's fun. It's slow building the word to get out there to people, but we're enjoying it. And it's great to be back on stage after a long, long period.”

Live music is on offer at Bungalow56 every Sunday from 7pm until 10pm. Admission is $20

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Published September 29, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated September 29, 2022 at 4:49 pm)

Music ‘a way of life’ for longtime drummer Earl

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