Bernard “Bunchy” Johnson, an extremely popular and talented drummer, who had a second, and third career, as an actor and booking agent, died unexpectedly at his home, March, 21, 2010. He was just 57.
Johnson performed onstage or in the studio with just about every New Orleans artist one could possibly name, including Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint, Johnny Adams, Deacon John, Wallace Johnson, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, and James Booker. For the past five years, Johnson worked at the Ritz-Carlton three nights a week with trumpeter/vocalist, Jeremy Davenport.
“‘Bunchy was the kind of guy that lit up a room when he walked in,” says “Deacon” John Moore.
“He had that kind of magnetic personality. He was really one of the unsung heroes of New Orleans music. No matter what style of music he played—rhythm and blues, pop, modern jazz, rock, Dixieland, soul, funk—he captured that New Orleans sound. He could double that backbeat like Earl Palmer and play those funky licks like Zigaboo [Modeliste] when it was called for.
“He was also a very giving person. When I put together the “Jump Blues” project several years ago, Bunchy was the first guy I called. He put the band together with the best musicians he could find, filed the contracts with the union, played drums and was the M.C. I still remember Bunchy in that blue tuxedo introducing me before those shows.
“Bunchy was always ready to play drums in a second line parade, too. I just saw an advance clip that he and I were in for the television series, Treme, that’s going to premiere soon [April 11, 2010]. Bunchy was in a second line playing trumpet. Now I have to go to his funeral and second line. He’s a tremendous loss for this city’s music tradition.”
Johnson got his first taste for the stage in Vernel Bagneris’ wildly successful off-Broadway production of Staggerlee, which eventually toured the globe. Television credits include the short-lived K-Ville and popular movies Monster’s Ball, A Love Song for Bobby Long, and the yet-to-be-released The Hungry Rabbit Jumps.
Johnson is survived by a son, a daughter, four grandchildren and a legion of admirers.