On Jan. 10, the collective music world was shocked to receive the news that Neil Peart, famed drummer of Rush, had passed away after a long bout with brain cancer.
On the same day, another loss sent a shock through the Antelope Valley. Sly Hearns, a drummer beloved by many in the music community, also passed away. Like a ripple, you could see the news spread through social media as the weekend went on. Upon interviewing a few of Sly’s musical compadres, it made all the outpouring of love on social media hit home. Here are some of the thoughts Sly’s friends shared with me, about him.
Dean Matherly: “I started playing with him in Scarred For Life around 1989. Jet Drive in around 2000 and So Long Sucker 2012. He was so kind, truly a gentle giant who couldn’t tell anyone no. If you needed a drummer, he was there. That’s why he touched so many in the AV music community. Sly’s talent was immeasurable, yet he wasn’t aware of it. He was on par with the greatest drummers in history, but that wasn’t as important as being with friends. Once you started him laughing, you couldn’t stop it. Sometimes he’d literally be on the floor with tears streaming, unable to breathe. It was infectious.”
Mark Burgess: “Sly brought some different angles to the scene here in the AV. He was always pushing to be a better player, always happy to try new things, which is what being an artist is all about. He contributed a spirit of adventure and brought integrity to an situation he was in, which is one of the reasons so many people loved working with him. He also had a deep pocket, so everything felt really good when he was on the drums. Sly was one of the kindest, gentlest, most humble people I have ever met. I never heard him say negative thing about anyone — a rare thing in this business. He was rooted in love and the world could use more people like that. His final gift to me was to remind me not to take people for granted, to assume that they will always be there, to show me that now’s the time for us to love each other, get together and make music. That’s what Sly was all about.”
Clyde Merrick: “Sly and I first met in 1980. I was an aspiring 12-year-old, brand new drummer and I ran into Sly at a church in Lancaster. There was a popular Christian rock band playing that night called Petra. When I first got there, Sly was talking to the band. They were all headed to lunch and told Sly that if he wanted to play the drums, to feel free. Being a young whippersnapper and drummer, I thought I would inject a request to play the drums, myself. Sly was happy to oblige. He listened to me play for a few minutes and started with the pointers that very day. When I stepped away from that drum kit, Sly sat down to play. I was blown away immediately, at how talented he was. He was about 18 at the time. How that guy used accents and upbeats in his playing style just boggled my mind. We’ve were brothers since that day. In the near 40 years that I’ve known Sly Hearns, I’ve never heard him speak an ill word about anyone. Ever. There was no kinder soul on this planet than Sly Hearns. He always and humbly had time for anybody. If you walked into his gig and he locked eyes with you, it was a near guarantee that at the end of his set, that big man was going to find you and lay a big hug on you. Sly always had a way to make you feel like you were the most important thing in the conversation. In the AV music scene and to all that know him, he will be spoken very highly of for decades to come. To my friend, Sly, I love you and I’ll always miss you.”
The last time I saw Sly, he was behind the kit at the American Legion Post 311. He was getting ready to play and started warming up with “Cosmic Slop” by Funkadelic. When I asked if that’s what he was playing, with utter surprise, he got off the kit and gave me a giant hug. That night we bonded over obscure Parliament-Funkadelic songs until we parted ways. As they famously preached, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot. Stop and let me ride.” Sly finally got a chance to ride. Thanks for your service to the instrument and your fellow humans.