Forget Snoop and Sublime, buskers make some of the city’s best music
Long Beach has long been renowned for its music scene. Go ahead and type in Long Beach music into any search engine and you’ll spend the next five hours rummaging through a history rich with famous musical artists who have either visited or come up from the city.
What you’re about to read has nothing to do with any of that.
This is about the city’s other group of stars; the buskers. If you don’t know what busking is, it’s playing music or otherwise performing for “voluntary donations” – tips people – in the streets or in subways.
We don’t have subways in Long Beach, so our unsung heroes are working the streets for a simple dollar or handful of change. They pour out their souls as people walk past, trying to drown out the traffic, seeking simple recognition.
Here are just a few of many. Meet the buskers of Long Beach:
Billy Rose – You name it, he’ll sing it
Billy Rose is a man of many words. And many songs, too.
“I’m a walking jukebox,” Rose, 57 says. “I can sing from now until Jesus comes back. Just punch a number and I’ll sing you a song. I know thousands of songs.”
Rose is one of the most recognizable musicians around Long Beach. If he isn’t at one of the farmer’s markets around town (or in Los Angeles or Santa Monica), then he is performing in front of a restaurant on Second Street, or perhaps you can find him on Pine Avenue or Fourth Street.
But you won’t find Rose on social media; he doesn’t have a Facebook account, he doesn’t tweet and he’s not on Instagram.
Pardon the pun, but you find out about Billy through word of mouth.
“I try to reach people through the music I sing,” he says. “I love singing country and western and gospel. I love singing George Jones songs. I know how to connect with people.”
Rose, who moved to Long Beach from Antigua 16 years ago, wrote his first song when he was 8. He started singing by participating in the church choir. He picked up a guitar at the age of 16 and hasn’t put it down. He plays piano and the steel drum, too.
The Caribbean Cowboy has one CD available to purchase (he keeps them in his open guitar case as he performs) and he is working on two more: one gospel and one country and western.
“I’m trying to get from Point A to Point B in my career,” Rose says. “I perform at the markets because you never know who is listening to you. Someone is going to find me. Someone is going to put me on the map.”
As Rose travels around the city to perform, musicians ask to sit in with him; he never refuses. And the other performers who are competing for those dollar bills to be thrown their way? Billy doesn’t mind.
“We are a brotherhood of musicians,” he says. “Sometimes, when I walk by looking for a place to set up, they will say ‘Billy, come sing a song with us.’ And I’m happy to do it.”
Rose wouldn’t reveal what his income is from all these gigs he does every week. All he says is that some days are better than others. To supplement his singing, Rose is an auto mechanic, not with a shop or a dealership; he works out of his house. And his taste in cars runs toward the “high end.”
“I drive a ’95 Jaguar and I have a BMW 740il in the garage,” he says with a smile.
Last Sunday at the farmer’s market in the Marina, Rose, who looks immaculate in his freshly-pressed shirt and pants, is playing with cellist Ken Shaw and Karen Maggiano, who plays the mandolin. Both have high regard for Rose.
“He is much better than anyone else out there,” says Shaw, a retired registered nurse.
“Billy is one of the best in Long Beach,” Maggiano says. “He’s a real human being. He never, ever misses a lyric.”
As he takes a big gulp of honey before he starts singing, the gravely-voiced Rose paused and smiled as he listened to the comments of his fellow musicians.
“Something good is going to come my way,” he says. “I just have to keep on coming, keep on singing and someone will find me.”
Darryl Mapp and Joe Cardinal – The Odd Couple
Head down Fourth Street’s ‘Retro Row’ on a Friday or Saturday night and you may see something a bit peculiar. Is that a guy playing a piano in the bed of a pickup truck? Yes, yes it is. And is another guy playing the bass and high hat symbol, sitting in front of the truck with a guy playing a piano in it, or am I drunk already? Nope, well maybe, but you definitely did just see that.
“You know, we’re just weird,” Darryl Mapp, says with a laugh, he says many things with a laugh.
Mapp and his partner Joe Cardinal make up the two-man band Classic, and they’ve been busking in and around Long Beach together for roughly 20 years. Nowadays, you can usually find them out front of the Social List throughout the week.
“Nobody would ever let me in their band.” Mapp recalls. “I said fuck it, I’ll start my own band.”
What a band it is. A testament to how opposites attract.
The 61-year old Mapp is black and Cardinal, 64, is white. But the differences are much more than skin deep. Cardinal, with his long hair and bushy stash, has a lively personality. Mapp has a slow, deep and soulful tone to his voice and carries himself with some old-school swag that naturally lends him as the vocals for their band. Cardinal doesn’t drink; Mapp enjoys his booze. Together, they form a unique band with music that’s better than anything you’ll hear in the surrounding restaurants.
“We like to kill the music and rock out to their jams,” Jerry Nichols, an employee at the Social List said.
Many locals appreciate the duo, too, especially the crowds waiting in line for dinner. They turn a wait into an event.
“I’ll support anyone who is willing to load up a piano in their truck to perform for tips,” Long Beach resident Michael Gearin said. “They’re right up my alley.”
Cardinal said they’re unique style, which has become their staple, started from simple convenience.
“We used to bring the piano down to the farmer’s market,” Cardinal recalled. “We would load it and unload it, but finally just decided to leave it in there.”
I don’t think they’ll be taking it out any time soon.
Angely Mata — The Young’n
For many teenagers looking for some extra cash, fast food and retail jobs are the go to. Not for 15-year old Renaissance High School student Angely Mata.
“My mom told me, I don’t want you to just ask me for stuff, you need to figure out a way to make your own money,” Mata recalls. “She gave me a dollar and told me to put it in my violin case while I play and people would give me tips.”
It has been two years since her mother’s reality check and Mata has only gotten better. Whenever she can book a spot at the farmer’s market downtown, she grabs her violin, throws a dollar in the case – just like mom taught – and becomes her own teacher. She doesn’t mind the networking opportunities either.
“Connections are everything,” Mata emphasizes, with a clear awareness far beyond her years.
She doesn’t even envision a career in music, she wants to be a nurse, but has fallen in love with serenading shoppers for her allotted two hour slot.
“This is really fun, you get to see different people and little kids looking up to you,” Mata says with smile, revealing the braces that many who have been so young can relate to. “It feels good to know that there are younger people who look up to you and older people as well because some may want to play an instrument but think it’s too late.”
As for what inspires her, simple.
“My mom didn’t want to give me money,” Mata said. “I’m pretty sure that’s how half of musicians have been inspired.
The Next Big Thing?
Danny Cadiz moved to Long Beach from Big Bear about five years ago and has been determined to leave his mark on the city ever since. You can find him on Second Street and Park Avenue, strumming his acoustic guitar when he’s not playing with his band Bearwulf.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to know people and practice in a live-show environment,” Cadiz said. “They always have the freedom to walk away.”
Although Cadiz is now in a band, he still sees busking as a great opportunity to further hone his craft and admits, like most have, there is something more than the money that drives him.
“Away from just the money aspect, people are really cool about collaborating, and a lot of cool bands are made from [busking]. Then you get to watch how everyone progresses,” Cadiz says. “Everyone gets to work on their sound and discover who they are. “
Cadiz said that busking epitomizes Long Beach. He thinks that the city is a hub of music and art culture and that buskers only add to that feel of the city. Plus, you always get to meet new faces.
“You never know who you are going to run into on the street,” Cadiz said.
Like so many others, regardless of his future he sees no end to his busking days, it seems to simply become who these people are and continues to help make this city what it is.
“I don’t see an expiration date, it’s always a new day to see what you experience and see who you can meet,” Cadiz said. “I really enjoy being connected to the local Long Beach music and arts.”
So, next time you see someone on our city streets, tapping the keys of a piano or strumming a guitar, know that they don’t necessarily want your money – but they’ll definitely take it. They’re in it for something bigger, something more and something that just can’t be put into words.
The buskers of Long Beach. They play the city’s most authentic music.