Most people are probably unaware that Academy Award–winning actor Billy Bob Thornton is an accomplished drummer. Playing since the age of nine, Thornton leads a band called The Boxmasters. A homage to his ’60s youth and hillbilly roots The Boxmasters play originals and cover tunes, including countrified versions of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright.” Thornton handles all the drums on the record, as well as lead vocals.
On tour, he leaves most of the drumming up to Mike Bruce so he can come out front to handle the vocals. Thornton started out on Ludwigs as a kid, a red-sparkle four-piece kit with a ride cymbal, and graduated to Slingerlands which he continues to play to this day. He sets up his four-piece similar to how Buddy Rich did with all of the drums and cymbals positioned low and flat.
Thornton lives by the mantra “Play for the song.” In a 2008 interview for Modern Drummer he said, “It’s not to go back there and show off. The idea is to feel the song. If you’re paying too much attention to a click or to your time, sometimes the feel can get lost. The idea is to play to the click, but ignore it as much as possible.”
Thornton credits drumming for bringing him out to LA in the first place. Originally he started out in the early 80’s playing drums and singing in a band called Tres Hombres. In 1985, Thornton joined the South African rock band Jack Hammer. It was then he claims to have accidentally become a movie star.
In 2001, Thornton released an album titled Private Radio. Then The Edge of the World (2003), Hobo (2005) and Beautiful Door (2007). With The Boxmasters he has released The Boxmasters (2008), Christmas Cheer (2008), Modbilly (2009), Somewhere Down the Road (2015), Providence (2015), Boys and Girls… And the World (2016), Tea Surfing (2016) and In Stereo! (2018). Today he only does two movies a year so he has time to record and tour.
Here’s Billy playing live: