Up Close And Personal - by Jim Nakao
Born William Robert Leacox in Shenandoah, Iowa & into a musical family of mainly drummers. Willie's uncle, father & three cousins as well as his brother all grew up playing drums. His mother & sister play various instruments & his brother teaches music. The big band era of the 40's & 50's included groups that Willie's uncle & father played in, all providing the essential genesis for young Will's first professional exposure. From the time young Willie could walk, he was drumming up a storm under the watchful eye of his musical family. Throughout grade school & high school he played in many bands. One of the grade school bands was named the Echoes & it was with this band that an entry into a television talent show in Omaha, Nebraska followed; anchored by Willie's superb drum performance, the Echoeswon & were invited back for guest appearances on the show. Participation in a number of bands followed in High School as well as professional training at the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp which included instruction from the staff of the Berkeley School of Music. The stage was now set for a career as a professional musician, but not before obtaining a bachelors degree in Music in 1970 from Washburn University in Topeka Kansas where Willie majored in piano & drummed in various collegiate ensembles. This broad based formal training would later serve Willie well & was in fact probably a factor in landing the America job as we will later find. But now back to college, where Willie continued playing in bands as a means to earn extra money. It was during this period that Willie learned about life on the road, which once again would be something that would serve him well as a member of America. One of the bands he was in was called the Jerms & their claim to fame was a single that reached 98 on the pop charts in 1968. In addition many of Willie's bands opened for various big name acts. The best was yet to come for this highly ambitious & energetic young man.
In 1971 after graduating from college, Willie elected to move to Southern California where his chances at working in the music industry would be greatly enhanced. For the first few years Willie was quite busy doing session work & working with local musicians, doing lots of free lance work. The Southern California scene in the 70's was one of a robust industry fueled for widespread growth & Willie had certainly chosen the right time & place to pursue his career.
Along the way Willie met David Jolloff, the actor/musician who played "Bernie" in the top rated show "Room 222." It was David Jolloff who suggested that Willie try out for the America drummer job. Jolloff had an apartment near Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell & Dan Peek of America. He had heard that they would be holding a public audition in a building on Santa Monica blvd., to find a permanent drummer. Willie, armed with a very deep musical background, both professionally & academically & buoyed by the huge success of this band called America who had won a Grammy as Best New Artist of 1972 -- prepared to show his best. He went out & bought all the available America Lp's, numbering 2 at that time. Willie transcribed all the drum parts from the Lp's & rehearsed them to perfection; his experience & deep musical roots would now come to bear as a distinct advantage. At the audition, Willie led off & America & their management was completely blown away; they stopped the midnight audition, sent the other drummers home, who never had a chance to play & immediately hired Willie -- the rest is history. The private America jet was waiting with a seat reserved for Willie.
The first Lp that Willie worked on was the smash hit Holiday. Willie has great memories of working on this project & the collaboration with former Beatles producer Sir George Martin. Willie played drums on all the Martin produced material that included about 5 Lp's, including a live Lp done at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles with a full orchestra. America does over 150 shows per year throughout the US & has played in over 50 overseas countries. Willie is on his 25th year with the band & still going strong. He firmly believes that stamina & pacing one's self is very important to handling the rigors of the road. His professionalism & well-disciplined approach to his work is key to his longevity. He usually enjoys life on the road & is a real flexible, adaptable type of guy, unlike other musicians who beg off of the road after just a few years.
Some inner thoughts from Willie:
"Life is but a dance to the music of time."
The next one is a favorite that he put together from various sources:
"Sometimes I think well; then I again I just don't know; of course you never know until you go & even then you never can tell. So I just go with the flow, play the notes I know & keep my best lick in my pocket."
Willie expects to continue doing what he does best -- touring with America & doing session work. (The photo on the right is a close up of the sleeve of the jacket that he got while he was touring in China.) He enjoys attending jazz concerts, golfing & traveling, among his many interests, alongside relaxing at his North Hollywood, California home with a great pool & 2 cats. Willie performs & endorses Ludwig drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, RhythmTech percussion, MAY E.A. internal mike systems & GonBops conga drums. He is the best keeper of time without a watch. The consummate musician, one of the best in the industry.
Written by Jim Nakao.
Links to other photos of Willie and his equipment
Last Revised: 8 August 1999