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Helping that beat go on

John Burrows and Leave Those Kids Alone drummer Addisyn Bonadonna give new life to old drums
Author: Devan Mighton
Photographer: Syx Langerman
1 month ago
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It’s Christmas morning and little Sammy Hunter is on a mission. Christmas morning means Christmas presents and he’s storming down the stairs to see what Santa brought him.

It’s been a hard year for Sammy and his family. Sammy’s doting father, Dave Hunter, the patriarch of The Drive Magazine, passed away in late June, leaving a hole in their lives, in the lives of those who knew him, and in that of the local community.

However, Christmas is a time of healing, caring, loving, and memories—to be remembered and to be had.

Sammy’s love of music was instilled in him by his father from a very young age—especially his love of drumming—and his mother, Shawna Pelletier, had been in search of the perfect Christmas gift—an electronic drum kit. After an internet post, local drummer and drum restorer John Burrows, father of The Tea Party’s Jeff Burrows, made it his mission to find a set for Sammy.

“Sam was so excited,” recalls Shawna, of her son who turns seven at the end of March. “On Christmas morning, he woke up, walked downstairs, and immediately saw the set. I taped his reaction—it’s a thing Dave used to do with him every year, taping him go down the stairs and his reaction as soon as he saw the presents.

“His face lit up with excitement and he said, ‘Oh! Look Mom!’ He ran over to it, sat down on the stool, and played for hours after, totally ignoring the other presents!”

The legacy of John Jeffs

In August 2021, 11-year-old drummer Addisyn Bonadonna was just beginning to cut her teeth as a drummer. As the percussionist of local sensations Leave Those Kids Alone, she was making a name for herself as the youngest member of the touring youth rock group.

Having spent much of that summer touring from laneway to backyard to local park, Leave Those Kids Alone became an entertainment staple in Windsor-Essex County, alleviating pandemic boredom with setlists of oldies rock covers from bands like Pink Floyd, U2, Kiss, and Styx, among many more.

Familiar with Addi from some drum kit repairs he had performed earlier that year, John Burrows reached out to her father, John-Paul Bonadonna, with an offer. A good friend of his, John Jeffs, had recently passed away from cancer and had left Burrows with a mission—to restore and re-home his classic Slingerlands drum set with a worthy recipient. Burrows saw Addi as an ideal candidate and offered the set to her father as a surprise. John-Paul set a date with Burrows and soon drove his daughter to his place under false pretenses.

“My dad told me we were going so he could fix a part of my old drum kit,” explains Addi, now 13. “When I walked in, he showed me the drum set, but didn’t show me the front because it already had the Leave Those Kids Alone cover on it. He told me to go on the drum kit and try it out and asked me how I like them, and I loved them, so he told me that ‘these are now yours.'”

“John’s generosity knows no bounds,” praises John-Paul. “We brought bags for Addi’s drums because part of the ruse was that I had to fool her into thinking we were just bringing her old drums to get them tuned up.”

And then it was her turn…

In late 2023, the opportunity arose for Addi to pay forward Jeffs’ and Burrows’ generosity. Burrows had recently posted on a local percussionist Facebook group that a local mom was looking for a used electric drum set for her son. John-Paul happened upon the post and had an inkling that it had something to do with Sammy.

“As a dad that is so involved in his kids’ lives, when I heard of Dave’s passing, knowing how involved he was in Sammy’s life, I was devastated—as our entire community was,” states John-Paul. He says that Dave was a great supporter of Leave Those Kids Alone and that he had once reached out to Dave about featuring the band’s 2022 album, Groundwork, in his serialized Sunday morning Facebook post, Sammy’s Sunday Morning Over Easy, where Sammy poses with a vinyl selection from his father’s record collection.

John-Paul sprung into action. Knowing that Addi had an old set of Roland E-Drums she used to use, he texted her at school and asked if she would like to hand it off to Burrows for Sammy. She knew it was the only thing to do.

“The circle of giving is going to continue—and I love that we were able to be a part of it,” beams John-Paul.

Inspiring the future

“It’s about drums and people getting connected,” explains Burrows about his motives. “My youngest son and I taught 20-25 students from Gr. 6-8 in a South Windsor school a few years ago how to play drums and, ultimately, how to be a part of a drum line. They started from scratch, and when they were about to finish elementary school, they played the S’Aints Christmas Show—they were that good.

“You always hope each of them might teach someone in the future.”

Burrows was happy to help Shawna with her search for drums and making Sammy’s life even brighter and full of love. Through John Jeff’s drum set, Burrows helped inspire the generosity of Addi and, in turn, helped give Sammy a Merry Christmas.

“It was a good thing to do, and it was great to give back after what John Burrows did for me,” says Addi.

“It was her desire to do this because it had happened that way for Addi,” continues Burrows. “Once again, it’s just such an honour to have a very small role in getting drums and people together. I think Addi got to feel the excitement of helping make someone’s dream come true. I understand this young fella was delighted to receive such an awesome gift that allows him to continue to stay connected with drumming.”

A busy summer coming for Leave Those Kids Alone

For Addi, the season of giving was a break from a busy summer of touring. Her and her bandmates have been rehearsing, planning their summer touring schedule, and reshuffling the inner workings of their band.

Leave Those Kids Alone, founded in 2018, consists of Addi on drums, her brother Alex (17) on guitar, Louis Diab (17) on keyboards, and Luca Angelini (18) on bass guitar. Although the band shares vocal duties, Alex and Luca sing most of the band’s material.

This group of teenagers have come a long way in a short time. Not long ago—in fact, just under three years ago—they played their first driveway show on the laneway of a friend of the band, Gregg Schooley, in Tecumseh. John-Paul, who serves as the band’s manager, recalls that event made him a little nervous—especially considering the constant tightening and loosening of COVID-19 crowd restrictions.

That first show started a tradition for the band—a grassroots movement as it were—of taking requests to play front yards, backyards, laneways, and parks—and entertaining locals with their musicianship and a setlist of classic rock covers that keep onlookers singing and dancing along.

“At least we had something to do, something to look forward to, and something to not remind us of the fact that we were set to play everywhere across Michigan that particular summer,” recalls John-Paul. “They were so young at first that it would have been crazy. In some respects, when we finally got to do it two years later, we went, ‘Geez, were we quite ready for the rigours of what it’s like to drive two hours for a gig and play a show?'”

This past fall was a season of change. In October, the band parted ways with longtime lead singer Timothy Hole. The band mulled over searching for a new singer but were shocked when one band member showed off his hidden talent.

“Luca comes to the party with this voice, just out of nowhere!” exclaims John-Paul. “He sang harmonies for us, sure, and we definitely knew he was working towards being able to sing some lead, but it ended up being so evident… it’s such a tight-knit group and we already have exactly what we need right here.”

The band is excited that with no new lead singer to train up, instead of catching up on old material, the band can now focus on new stuff instead. In early February, their new single, Everything and More, was mixed and mastered for a late February release. The band performed the song live for Cogeco TV’s Meet the Music, which aired on Feb. 20, with a subsequent launch to all music streaming platforms.

Leave Those Kids Alone has also been utilizing their rehearsal time to connect with fans around the world by broadcasting multi-cam virtual shows straight from their rehearsal space and into living rooms around the globe.

“With the new foursome, we were less frightened to go live right from rehearsal,” says John-Paul. “When you have 180,000 followers around the world, and maybe 15-20,000 of those are from Windsor-Essex and have the opportunity to see us on a regular basis—that leaves a huge number that don’t, unless we go live.”

The band looks forward to a very busy Summer 2024 tour, with planned shows across Ontario, Ohio, Michigan, and New York.

“We love it!” states John-Paul. “Most nights, we’re able to sleep in our own beds because they’re only an hour or two away in Michigan or Ohio. Sometimes they are these driving shows and they’re just from our 180,000-plus followers on Facebook who found us, and they want us to come and perform where we can.”

“Every week, there seems to be a few more calls, and three or four times per week we will be performing.”

Coming full circle

John-Paul and Addi are eternally grateful to the kindness and generosity of John Burrows. His love of drumming and sharing that love with others is second-to-none and undoubtedly influenced the Bonadonnas in their decision to share that love, through him, to Sammy Hunter.

No matter where Leave Those Kids Alone tours and performs, Burrows has left an indelible mark on a young lady who not only has an undeniable talent at percussion but has also learned a lesson in kindness and the importance of paying it forward.

“He is and will always be her drum tech,” states John-Paul on behalf of Addi. “Even though I might occasionally tune them up myself, no, I’m the assistant drum tech. He has come out to shows, sometimes two days in a row. Once, we played in LaSalle and he was there the next day—he wanted to come by the next morning to make sure that the tuning stayed. Down to Amherstburg, he drove. He is just incredible, and we are so fortunate to call him a friend.”

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