Billy Bryans

September 15, 1947 – April 23, 2012

A legendary drummer, producer, songwriter and dj, who was born in Montreal but spent most of his life and made his mark in the Toronto music scene.  A co-founder of The Parachute Club, he also worked with the Downchild Blues Band, Dutch Mason, Raffi, Lillian Allen, the Afronubians, Punjabi by Nature, Shego Band, Laura Fernandez, Aline Morales and Alex Cuba.

Billy Bryans2


Remembering Billy

by Lyba Spring

Billy came into my life in his partying phase.  My ex and I used to have a house party once or twice a year and fill the dance floor with an eclectic mix of music and people.  Billy was a regular.  I would bump into him at musical venues, but we didn’t really get to know each other until we started playing music together with Aline Morales in Baque de Bamba, her maracatu group.

Billy, as everyone knows, amongst his multiple talents, was a kit player; but he found the snare drum parts challenging and we sweated over them together.  We would chat about life and love and piss and moan about how hard it was to play caixa.

I played at a fundraiser after his first cancer diagnosis. He returned the favour by MCing a fundraiser I organized for a close friend with breast cancer who wanted to go to a treatment centre in the States.  Both Baque de Bamba and Samba Squad played that night.  Billy felt close to both groups and DJ’d  Squad shows at the Lula many times.

Billy had a big Facebook presence.  He was keenly interested in politics, especially the Israeli Occupation.  His bookshelves were full of history books.  He turned me on to +972 Magazine on Facebook, which helped me keep up.  Several times, I got into debates on his wall.  He didn’t seem to mind his space turning into a salon.

He called me out of the blue one day to say he had decided to go back on his treatment after a hiatus following a recurrence of his cancer.  He was getting in touch with friends to let them know.  I was pleased that he considered me his friend.  So when I was asked to be part of his care team, it was a privilege to be one of the people entrusted with this phase of his life.

I began my shifts at his basement apartment.  Oddly, even when I didn’t have a shift, I found it hard to stay away.  I started signing up more often (we retirees can do that).  Sometimes Billy would feel like talking.  Sometimes he said it was “too much fucking work”.

One day when I came, he had just got off the phone with Alex Cuba.  Billy was insisting that he come and play for the upcoming benefit at the Lula.

Eventually, he was moved to the hospice.  We had our best conversation shortly after his arrival.  He was very lucid.  We sat in the lounge and talked about his involvement with Israeli politics.  He had travelled there as a young man.  It would appear that the Israeli women were crazy about him.

Billy was getting sicker as the night of his benefit approached.  He was insisting that he would go but it was clear to his care team it wasn’t going to happen.

The benefit was absolutely wonderful.  Billy was able to watch some of it on a live feed.

Those last two weeks, I found that I could just sit by his side, not saying anything.  I would wet his mouth from time to time – but mostly, just be.  That was a gift he gave to me.

After Billy died, his care team came to the hospice to walk his body out.  Mojah gave a powerful, uplifting speech like the preacher he is.

I played at his memorial service – also held at the Lula.  But earlier in the day, Baque de Bamba led a procession through the streets, stopping at all of his old haunts on Queen Street.  At Queen and Spadina, we took over the intersection.  Someone asked me if I would say a few words about Billy’s politics.  I thought fast and then, using the people’s mic, told people how fitting it was to be speaking at the site of the kettling during the G8 events.  I told them that Billy had been a wonderful source of information and a keen follower of Middle Eastern politics.

That night’s memorial was one of the finest evenings of music this city has ever seen, a fitting tribute to this major contributor to the Canadian music scene.  Billy is missed… and will always be missed.

Billy and Lyba1

Lyba Spring (second from the left) retired from Toronto Public Health last year but continues to do sexual health work independently.  Billy’s son passed through her hands in sex ed class at his middle school.  Lyba plays with her own son in Samba Squad and continues to piss and moan about the caixa in Baque de Bamba. 

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