SMALL TOWNS: Still drumming after all these years
ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WBAY) - Bill Schubert started playing drums when he was just a boy.
“You hear the rhythm, may not necessarily seem them, but you hear it and it’s my job to give you whoa,” Bill says.
At the age of 82, he continues to drum in local bands.
In Small Towns, Jeff Alexander takes us to Ashwaubenon to meet the man who keeps the beat.
“Been playing the drums for 73 years,” Bill says.
It all started when Bill was 9 years old, growing up in South Dakota.
“And they wanted to start a band and so they came through, who wants to be in a band? And I raised my hand and everything. What instrument do you want to play?And for no reason I said drums,” Bill says.
He went to school with a famous newsman.
“Pickstown High School, 7th grade, me, Tom Brokaw, and if you flip it over: Tommy Brokaw. Tommy Brokaw. I have probably the only Tommy Brokaw autograph on the planet,” Bill says.
After high school, Bill attended junior college before enrolling at Kansas State.
In 1962 he was thrown a curveball.
“My local friendly draft board informed me that I was number four on the list and I went, oh my goodness sakes, what am I going to do because I don’t want to carry a rifle,” Bill said.
Bill grabbed his drumsticks and auditioned for-- and was accepted into-- the 5th Army Band in Chicago.
It led to experiences he’ll forever remember and cherish.
“Played all kinds of stuff there. I opened the old Milwaukee Art Museum, the first one when they cut the ribbon. I was in the group that played for that, when they unveiled the Picasso in Daley Plaza in Chicago. I was there in the band when that happened. Was at the gravesite band for Herbert Hoover when he passed away,” Bill remembers.
After his time in the service, Bill returned to college to earn his degree.
A chemical engineer by day and drummer by night, Bill moved to Indiana where one evening he had a gig for the ages, playing in a backup band for Bob Hope,
“His drummer can’t make it, whatever, you want to play in the band for him? Yeah, like hello,” Bill says.
Over the next 20 years, Bill’s day job took him from Indiana to Tennessee to the Bahamas where he continued to play in bands.
Then in 1989, he was transferred again-- to Northeast Wisconsin.
“I got off the plane at Austin Straubel and it was 10, snowy, cold, I hadn’t seen snow in 8 years,” Bill remembers.
In 2002, Bill retired as a chemical engineer with one clear thought in mind.
“Music has been a central pillar of my life forever.”
So Bill got busy becoming the drummer for a concert band, a big band, a rock band, and a church band.
“Made a deal with God, if you keep me playing I’ll make sure that every chance I get I’ll give it back to you.”
When it comes to all the bands he’s in, Bill doesn’t play favorites.
“They’re all different and they’re all fun.”
He is the elder statesman.
“I am the senior in pretty much every one of them,” Bill says.
Sometimes, because of his age, Bill has to win the crowd over.
“Group that I played with we played at Mishicot for Manitowoc Crane’s Christmas party,” Bill says. “We took a break and a guy walked up to me, say you know when you walked up to the bandstand and sat down in the drums I punched my wife and says, ‘Oh this is really going to be good.’ He says then you started to play and he was, ‘Oh my God.”
As for Bill’s personal drum set...
“Those drums were new in 1960. Still have them.”
Bill keeps them in the back of his pickup truck.
“This is loaded up and ready for your next gig? Ready to go,” Bill says. “I mean it looks like it’s brand spanking new, it does.”
But if the drums are always in the truck, then how does Bill practice?
“Practice, practice, practice man. Who said that anyway? Allen Iverson. Iverson yes, practice, I don’t need practice,” Bill says. “I have such an unbelievable music catalog in my mind that I can play everything from the 1920′s to what were we doing, AC/DC ‘All Night long.’”
A gift Bill says he was blessed to receive.
“Music has made me younger because I refuse to age, I refuse to be put in a slot, because you’re 82 this is what you could do, no, no, there is no limit to what you can do if you allow yourself to do it, take the chance,” Bill says. “My goal in life is to live to be 109 and that way I can tell people I’ve played for 100 years .”
Bill’s first step towards that goal will take place here in 2023 playing drums in the big band, the rock band and his church band.
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