On what was likely to be the hottest day of the year Tuesday, the pops of a snare and beat of a bass drum echoed through the open air on Lynn Lane near Starkville Academy.
While musical street performers might be commonplace in destination cities like New Orleans and Memphis, the sight of a lone drummer banging away in the middle of a field is naturally not a common spectacle. That isn’t stopping 20-year-old Tahj Mckey, though.
A lifelong drummer, Mckey has generated buzz in the community for playing his piecemeal kit in the field adjacent to Starkville Academy on Lynn Lane. With Tuesday’s temperatures feeling in the triple digits, McKey was undeterred.
“A lot of people come by and this has been the busiest day people have come out,” Mckey said. “I’ll usually sit out here three to four hours.”
In front of his kit, a basket of loose $1 and $5 bills backed up his claim of folks stopping by to hear him play.
A graduate of Starkville High School, Mckey said he chose the location because he lives in an apartment, which isn’t conducive to the loud nature of his instrument. Some drummers may play on electric kits with headphones to cancel out the noise, but Mckey doesn’t have that luxury.
And he doesn’t need it.
“In my past, I’ve had a lot of noise complaints and this is the only place I’ve found where I haven’t had the police called on me,” he said with a laugh.
McKey said playing in the Mississippi summer heat has both given him the freedom to play as loud as he wants, in addition to helping build up his chops as a drummer.
“It’s kind of an exercise and it’s like stamina building,” he said. “Being a drummer, you can’t just hop off the stage and get a drink and then come back. With the sun, if you can handle this, then a club or church setting is nothing.”
Drumming is woven into the fabric of Mckey’s DNA, coming from a family of drummers and reflecting on his music as a lifelong obsession. He cited his aunt, uncle and father —all drummers — as his guiding lights.
While his drum kit isn’t new or overly expensive, the dented cymbals and plastic bag sticking out of the snare drum tell the story of Mckey’s passion. To him, it’s not the equipment, but the musician playing it.
“It’s a mixture of everything,” he said, looking over his gear. “I don’t have a stable kit right now but this baby is doing me justice.”
His kit consists of a Ddrum bass, a Tama snare, and cymbals ranging in brands from Zildjian, Sabian and Soul Tone.
When the sound comes together, though, the brands being played lose relevance and Mckey’s intensity is that of a professional playing at Carnegie Hall — not an up-and-comer on the side of Lynn Lane.
“It’s all about your spirit,” he said. “If your spirit is infinite, the kit don’t mean nothing.”
McKey plays in a local band called Spontaneous Generation, which can be found primarily at Dave’s Darkhorse Tavern. He even said the band may do a set at the next open mic night next Monday.
When asked about his goals and inspirations as a musician, McKey showed his old soul while keeping an eye to the future.
His inspirations include John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Stewart Copeland of The Police and C.J. Thompson, among others.
“There’s a lot of inspiration, but no favorites because they’ve definitely inspired my sound,” he said. “My big goal is to, first of all, tour the whole entire world playing with a great band, that’s my whole goal.”
Mckey has dedicated his life to his craft and made sacrifices to put the music first, giving him what he believes is the best chance for success on what is typically a difficult road for musicians in terms of a balance with music and work.
“I quit all my jobs, told myself I wasn’t working anymore and it forced me to be in a position where I had to be creative, just for what I have to do to get food and housing.
“I just tell all drummers to just play,” he added. “Dave Grohl said it best, ‘just play,’ and that’s what you have to do. People have to see you and people have to hear you.”