In 1957, I was scheduled for an audition with Benny Goodman’s band at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The drummer with Benny was a man by the name of Mousey Alexander. Mousey was a well-known professional drummer whom I had admired for years.
Benny asked me to listen to the band during the evening’s first show. Then, he asked me to sit in and sight-read the second show. I was then introduced to Mousey. (After all, I had to play his drums in order to audition.) Mousey couldn’t have been nicer. He told me, “Don’t worry about me, kid. I’m leaving the band anyway. Let me show you the drum parts, and I’ll point out all the important cues.”
I played the show and got the job. That job was my big break, which led to recordings, publicity, and eventually, to the contacts that helped me to break into studio work. If Mousey had not been so supportive and so helpful—not to mention kind—I might not have made it. It’s hard to say what direction my career might have taken if Mousey had been a different type of person.
In 1980, Mousey was sitting at home after dinner with his wife and friends. Suddenly, he felt he was losing control over his body, and he couldn’t tell what was happening. He woke up in the hospital, partly paralyzed and unable to speak clearly. His wife was there, and she said, “Darling, you have had a stroke.”
Doctors were not optimistic. The consensus of opinion was that Mousey would never walk again, much less play the drums. But Mousey just could not accept this. He fought bravely against depression and the urge to give up. He resolved that he was not going to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. More than that, he decided—while still partially paralyzed— that he was going to play the drums again.
Mousey was not a young man when all of this happened. He was 60 years old, and at the peak of his playing powers. He had performed with virtually all of the top names of his era. He had done studio work in the days when studio players were not named on albums. He had paid his dues. No one would have blamed him if he took the easy way out and stayed in the wheelchair.
With his wife’s help and support, Mousey embarked on an arduous and painful program of therapy and rehabilitation. As you might well imagine, Mousey worked harder than he had at any time in his life. He endured great pain and frustration, but he would not give up.
Today, Mousey is walking, talking, and playing the drums. As he readily admits, he can’t play all of the licks he used to play. But he can still swing, and his heart is as big as ever. However, this isn’t the end of the story. Mousey was so successful in his recovery that he is now helping others. He travels all over the United States, giving lectures and seminars to people who have had strokes. His motto is, “You can get out of that wheelchair.”
In his seminars, Mousey tells the story of his great career, his stroke, and his rehabilitation, and winds up by playing a drum solo. His seminars have helped many individuals to find the courage to start on a path of rehabilitation. He has encouraged many to try. He has demonstrated that, with effort, faith, and determination, you have the chance to fight your way back from serious illness and misfortune. I talked with Mousey recently, and, as in old times, he was ever the positive one. He said, “Roy, I am a very lucky person.” His comment reminds me of the old adage, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Mousey helped me a lot when I was a young drummer looking for a break. Today he is helping people who have had a bad break, by showing what courage is all about. He is still looking to the future with a positive and giving attitude.
So, when things aren’t going well for you and the good breaks aren’t coming your way, just think of Mousey. Pick yourself up and start all over again. With some luck, you just might meet someone like Mousey who will be there to give you a helping hand. Speaking of luck, I know that I’m lucky to have a friend like Mousey Alexander. He is an inspiration for all drummers—and, indeed, all people.