Music community mourns loss of Alchemystics drummer Todd “Demse” Zullo and roadie Brian “Budzy” White



Last modified: Wednesday, May 06, 2015

On Sunday, a car accident in Westfield that killed Brian “Budzy” White, a close friend and roadie of the band the Alchemystics, sent shock waves through the local reggae and hip-hop community. The accident also critically injured the band’s drummer, Todd “Demse” Zullo.

When the Alchemystics announced on their Facebook page Tuesday that Zullo had died as a result of his injuries, the family, friends and fans of best friends Zullo and White were devastated all over again.

“It’s this sudden absence of these bright, loud personalities in the music scene around here and the wider circuit,” said Derek Kipp of Easthampton, a friend of both Zullo and White who formerly managed the band. “And the suddenness of it ... it’s absolutely stunning.”

Jake Curran, bass player in Danny Pease and the Regulators, said he cannot imagine how he and his friends will face the upcoming festival season without Zullo and White. His band and the Alchemystics have for years spent their summers together, playing music festivals all over the Northeast.

“There’s a hole in the scene now, and I don’t know how you could ever fill it,” Curran said Tuesday night. “Our circle got smaller by two.”

When the Alchemystics formed in 2003, there was not much of a reggae scene in the Valley, Curran said. The band, mixing reggae, hip-hop and other genres, has evolved over the years, but Zullo was a founding member. Several friends described him as a leader of the band.

Zullo, 40, and White, 43, grew up together in New Haven, Connecticut, Kipp said. Zullo lived in Easthampton with his wife, Kisha Zullo, and his daughter, Ocea. Curran said that White, who went by the nicknames Budzy and Geronimo Dobbs, worked as a DJ when he was not helping Zullo as his drum technician. He lived in New Haven.

The two had been at a music festival in Kerhonkson, New York, Saturday night, where one of Zullo’s side projects was playing. Zullo had written on his Facebook page earlier in the week that after playing the show Saturday night, he would be driving back to Northampton in time to play at the Best Buddies Friendship Walk at Look Park on Sunday morning.

Kipp said Zullo taught lessons to students with disabilities at the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley and had formed a band with several of them. The band, called Bay Rd, was scheduled to play the event in Look Park.

But, driving the van through Westfield on the Massachusetts Turnpike just before 8 a.m., White lost control and it rolled over in the median, according to State Police. White was killed, and Zullo was hospitalized in critical condition, but succumbed to his injuries Tuesday.

State Police have not said what may have caused White to lose control of the van, but Kipp said he has wondered whether fatigue might have been a factor. It’s not unusual for musicians to play a gig until the early morning hours, and then head home without sleeping, he said.

Larger than life

Kipp and Curran both described Zullo as a passionate, talented musician who took his art seriously and drove everyone around him to improve. He was outgoing and honest, “sometimes brutally honest,” said Curran. “He’d tell you what you needed to hear.”

He was hardworking, and threw himself into making every Alchemystics record, every side project, and teaching lessons to young people around the Pioneer Valley.

Kipp met Zullo in 2007 and managed the band in 2008 and 2009. They both lived in Easthampton, so they stayed good friends, he said Tuesday.

“He was one of those larger-than-life people who was not afraid to be the loudest guy in the room. He went after everything with total enthusiasm,” Kipp said.

In the Alchemystics, he always had a prominent role in arranging the songs and producing the records, Kipp said. He co-owned Northfire Recording Studio in Amherst, where the band recorded. He really loved playing live, Curran said, and always drummed with a big smile on his face.

“He was always go-go-go. Go make music. Anytime he could go make music, he was happy,” Kipp said. He said the band functioned as a “funky kind of democracy, but he was always the one pushing, saying, ‘we gotta go to the studio, we gotta take this gig.”

Curran said his friend was “the best drummer in the Valley” and literally never missed a beat. “He was always right where he needed to be,” he said.

Kipp said Zullo was also “crazy about being a dad.” He and Curran said Zullo’s daughter was more into visual art than music, but Zullo was perfectly happy about it.

“He just wanted her to be herself and be happy,” Curran said. “He loved his wife and daughter more than anything.”

White was one of Zullo’s oldest friends, Kipp said, and he started going to the Alchemystics’ gigs in the last few years to help out and have fun. Curran described him as the band’s mascot.

“He was just an incredibly lovable character,” Kipp said. “He embodied rock’n’roll. He was funny and charming and he partied and he worked hard. He was a riot.”

Curran said White had grown up more interested in hardcore music than reggae, but he quickly became a staple in the scene, where he was beloved for his humor.

Big loss

In their 12 years together, the Alchemystics have cultivated a large and devoted following, Curran said. The band got together about a year before Danny Pease and the Regulators, which is also heavily influenced by reggae. But Curran said that instead of being competitive, Zullo and his bandmates were supportive of Danny Pease and the Regulators from the beginning.

“We’re like family,” he said.

Kipp said the Alchemystics created a new sound, and fans listened. “It’s funky, upbeat dancing music, and Demse’s beats were a big part of that,” he said. “They blended hip-hop and reggae and carried a positive message that was accessible to everyone, and they have a special place in the Valley.”

When they weren’t playing festivals all over the Northeast, the Alchemystics played regularly at venues including Bishop’s Lounge on Strong Avenue and at the Iron Horse Music Hall on Center Street.

Eric Suher, owner of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group, said he has been at the venue to take in all of the 30-plus shows the Alchemystics have played there since their debut on the stage in 2005.

“It was a sound that blended rap and reggae and it had people on their feet from when they began to the end of several encores,” said Suher, of Holyoke. “They never disappointed.”

“(Zullo) was passionate not just about the music, but about the whole scene,” Suher said. “He just loved performing and the art of making music. It’s a big loss for the music community.”

The Alchemystics were planning to release their new album at StrangeCreek Campout, a festival in Greenfield later this month, Kipp said. While Kipp said he expects the Alchemystics will stick to that plan, Zullo’s absence will have a huge impact on the occasion. He said he does not know what the rest of the summer will hold for the band he used to manage.

Suher said he hopes the band finds a way to keep performing. “I think that’s what Demse would have wanted to see happen,” he said.

Curran said he will never forget Zullo for many reasons, not the least of which was his friend’s passion for sharing music with his students in Bay Rd.

“He’s a role model who I will continue to aspire to be like,” Curran said.

On social media Tuesday, bandmates, friends and fans of Zullo and White expressed their dismay at the deaths and recalled their time together gratefully. A Gofundme page to help Zullo’s family with medical bills and other expenses — which was started after the accident but before his death — had been shared nearly 600 times and raised approximately $3,500 as of Tuesday night.

Garrick Perry, one of the band’s vocalists, wrote on his Facebook page that Zullo made him the musician he is today. “Demse never let anything stop him and we will soon be releasing the new album he poured his heart and soul into and was very excited to share with the world,” Perry wrote. “There will be select performances and it’s hard to imagine how to move forward from here, but I take solace in the fact that I am surrounded by this family that Demse built and we shall all overcome this all.”

The fund for Zullo’s family is at www.gofundme.com/tq9e6aw.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


 


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