Scrolling Headlines:

Minutewomen stunned by last-second free throw -

January 19, 2018

UMass hockey returns home to battle juggernaut Northeastern squad -

January 18, 2018

Slow start sinks Minutemen against URI -

January 17, 2018

UMass three-game win streak snapped in Rhode Island humbling -

January 17, 2018

Trio of second period goals leads Maine to 3-1 win over UMass hockey -

January 16, 2018

Small-ball lineup sparks UMass men’s basketball comeback over Saint Joseph’s -

January 14, 2018

UMass men’s basketball tops St. Joe’s in wild comeback -

January 14, 2018

UMass women’s track and field have record day at Beantown Challenge -

January 14, 2018

UMass women’s basketball blows halftime lead to Saint Joseph’s, fall to the Hawks 84-79. -

January 14, 2018

UMass hockey beats Vermont 6-3 in courageous win -

January 13, 2018

Makar, Leonard score but UMass can only muster 2-2 tie with Vermont -

January 13, 2018

Pipkins breaks UMass single game scoring record in comeback win over La Salle -

January 10, 2018

Conservative student activism group sues UMass over free speech policy -

January 10, 2018

Report: Makar declines invite from Team Canada Olympic team -

January 10, 2018

Prince Hall flood over winter break -

January 10, 2018

Minutemen look to avoid three straight losses with pair against Vermont -

January 10, 2018

Men’s and women’s track and field open seasons at Dartmouth Relays -

January 10, 2018

Turnovers and poor shooting hurt UMass women’s basketball in another conference loss at St. Bonaventure -

January 8, 2018

Shorthanded, UMass men’s basketball shocks Dayton with 62-60 win -

January 7, 2018

Northampton City Council elects Ryan O’Donnell as new council president -

January 7, 2018

Motown Man welcomes all

Benny Johnson approached about 20 drunken revelers dancing to rap music at a Lincoln Street house party late on a recent Thursday night. Once people recognized him the music was turned off and the requests poured in.

“Motown Man, play a song!”

Johnson quickly obliged, performing “Twist and Shout” with a bucket, a kazoo hanging from his neck and a worn shaker held together by masking tape.

The crowd’s dancing soon engulfed him as the whole room sang along to the classic Beatles song. After two encores,  Johnson left with a Keystone Light as a parting gift.

“Parties are fun, but I like playing on the street more,”  Johnson said while walking toward downtown Amherst to entertain the bar hopping crowds that congregate on the sidewalk.

Johnson, 62, performs in Northampton and Amherst several days a week, usually sporting one of his many colorful capes. He answers to a variety of nicknames, including Bucket Man, Motown Man and Motown  Benny, “because I play Motown music,” he said.

He’s good, too. Real good. At least that was the opinion of Mount Holyoke junior Jessica Alvatte after she heard Johnson sing John Lennon’s “Stand by Me” outside Subway in downtown Amherst.

“I appreciate it. You’re not bullshit,” she told him. “You’re pretty good.” She called for an encore, and Johnson chose Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which elicited an immediate response from Alvatte, “I love this song! This guy knows what’s happening!”

She quickly turned the performance into a duet, and both sang with intense passion.

“I’ll keep on loving you, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad,” they sang.

Jessica said she is glad to have someone of  Johnson’s caliber singing in Amherst.

“It’s extremely nice having him out here,” she said. “He sings Al Green. You don’t even know who Al Green is, do you?”

Johnson started playing in the clubs of his hometown New Orleans, La., eventually traveling the world as a drummer and vocalist in a band with his five brothers.

He said playing the bucket is as enjoyable as playing the drums, and over the years has developed a science for bucket playing. He made several small depressions on the bucket’s bottom which produce different notes. He also moves a laminated piece of paper around the inside while playing to achieve the desired pitch.

“Music is my high,” he said. “When I’m playing I don’t feel the injuries I have in my shoulder or spinal cord.”

Johnson still plays in clubs – he once performed his array of instruments in Northampton’s Academy of Music alongside ballet dancers – but especially enjoys interacting with people while performing on the street.

“It’s a lot of fun to get out and get people to sing,” he said.

UMass senior Erik Hellmer quickly recognized  Johnson’s talents after seeing him perform in downtown Amherst two years ago.

“I’ve seen people in Boston playing the drums outside of Bruins and Red Sox games, but I have never seen one man entertain so many people like he does,” he said. “It’s incredible. His charisma is out of this world.”

Hellmer said this as  Johnson entertained an impromptu sidewalk dance party with a jazz- funk interpretation of “monster mash.”

“It doesn’t matter if people are drinking or not, my beats make them move,”  Johnson said.

Hellmer is a testament to this, as he got down while singing a duet of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” with Johnson.

“I have more fun singing with him than being in the bars, swear to god,” Hellmer said.

Johnson is impressed with Hellmer too. He designated him “Party Man” because “he always brings a party,” a title Hellmer said he will treasure for the rest of his life.

“It feels like I have accomplished more than I thought I would in college,” he said. “It means more to me than my degree.”

Even though Hellmer was (hopefully) being hyperbolic, it’s easy to see why he would make such a statement.  Johnson is an everyman’s musician who plays for the love of music and performing with others. It’s rare to find someone as friendly, engaging and talented as  Johnson. One must perform with him to believe it.

The next time you’re in downtown Amherst or Northampton, look for  Johnson. He’s out most nights, serenading pedestrians with some of the 200 songs he has memorized, a tradition he hopes to continue for many more years.

“As long as I can stand and hold my bucket I’ll still play,” he said. “Even if I have to go out with a walker.”

Chris Russell is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at crussell@student.umass.edu.

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