Elec Simon, a former cast member of the Broadway show STOMP! hasn't put down his drumsticks or given up the rhythm just yet. Today, the Canton resident uses his talents to share messages of love and peace with anyone willing dance along with the beat.
By all accounts, Elec Simon has defied the odds.
He comes from a depressed town called Smithville, Ohio, just outside of Steubenville, and has experienced parts of life most people can’t imagine. From his childhood best friend committing suicide to gang violence affecting his family to pinching pennies living in Harlem, Simon has garnered an arsenal of life experiences that has caused him to devote his life to a single, sometimes thankless cause: helping others.
His method is rather unusual, though, when it comes to charitable work. The Canton resident and self-taught musician is an on-stage performer who uses unconventional instruments, tap dancing and rhythm to connect with audiences in schools, colleges and prisons. His group, Elec Simon & Friends, makes it their personal motive to spread positivity wherever they go.
“Skin color means nothing, that’s the big thing,” Simon said. “I say lot of inspirational type things through the music, like ‘no matter what you’re going through, keep going strong’ and ‘never give up.’”
Simon calls himself a percussionist, tap dancer, actor, motivational speaker, teacher, mentor facilitator and emcee. On the homepage of his website, a three-minute long video shows an infographic filled with staggering bullying facts, like “every seven seconds, a child is bullied.” Simon strives to change that through his music, where he leads student performances, works with at-risk children and delivers amotivating messages.
Simon draws a lot of his inspiration from his time performing with the show Stomp, a theatrical percussion display wherein cast members use buckets, brooms, ladders and other nontraditional instruments to create music. He performed with that show for five years. Simon said he also owes a lot of his skill to Larry Wright, the first “bucket drummer” in New York City, and his friends and mentors William Johnson and Amy Jo Phillips.
“William Johnson kind of took me under his wing to teach me how to make money in New York City,” Simon said. “They call it ‘hittin.’ People say ‘Hey, want to go make some money today?’ ‘You want to go hit today?’ I played in the Subway, Union Square, Times Square, Columbus Circle, everywhere. That city never sleeps and money never sleeps and you have to figure out how you’re going to eat.”
It wasn’t until later that Simon got his big break after he auditioned for Stomp.
“I auditioned with 1,100 people and they only took eight of us and I was one of the eight,” Simon said. “Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas are the creators of the show and you can be the worst drummer and have the best attitude and they still might want you. It just depends how your attitude is and how you move on stage.”
Simon’s current show, which features guitar, horns, bass, a drummer, two other percussionists and an emcee, in addition to himself, tries to emulate that sort of energy.
Page 2 of 2 - “We use buckets, ladders, pans. It just depends on how I feel that day,” Simon said.
The group tries to tailor each performance and message depending on the audience, according to Simon.
“I have to scan the audience,” Simon said.
He said if they’re performing in a grade school or high school, he focuses on an anti-bullying message and tries to encourage the kids to respect their parents. Simon said he almost always references his childhood best friend who committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.
“The only thing we can do is show it to the parents and put it in the kids’ heads. If you’ve changed one kid, you’ve helped,” Simon said.
If he visits a college, the message is similar. He advises the young women to dress appropriately and reminds the young men that “no means no.”
On Sept. 16, Simon visited Malone University as part of their annual Culturefest.
“Just because (Malone) is a Christian school doesn’t mean people don’t fall off,” Simon said. “I still have to tell my message: ‘Skin color means nothing,’ ‘You can still be a bully in college,’ ‘Never give up.’”
For Simon, though, there’s a sort of unspoken message hidden beneath his performance. He seems to want to expand his audience’s frame of reference, to help them break free from their cultural and economic boundaries.
“I tell them that there are some kids out there that are smart who don’t have the money to come to Malone,” Simon said. “Some kids in the inner city can’t even go to the refrigerator and get a snack.”
Simon said he left STOMP to pursue this type of inspirational performance full-time.
“I’ve always had that helping spirit,” Simon said. “Even as a kid, my mom said I would hate to see people struggle. I know the violence will never stop no matter how many programs we put on, but I know I’ve changed a lot of minds in a lot of kids,” he said.
Elec Simon & Friends will perform at the on Oct. 27. For more information on Elec Simon, visit his website at www.elecsimon.com.