Lenexa drummer and philanthropist Billy Brimblecom says he’s put blood, sweat, and tears into trying to be an original musician.
“But seriously, one of the most fun and — dare I say — at least locally successful things I’ve done, is this.”
He’s talking about his foray into “yacht rock” with the band Summer Breeze, which he and his wife Allison formed eight years ago to play cover songs by ’70s and ’80s bands like Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, and Christopher Cross.
“The music is so hard,” Brimblecom says. “It’s crazy. It sounds so smooth, but it’s like beds of harmonies.”
The drummer has been in bands from Los Angeles to Nashville over the past 24 years: Stick, The Creature Comforts, The START, and Blackpool Lights. But he might have earned the most local attention after losing a leg to Ewing’s Sarcoma in 2005.
For a while, not only did he think he might never sit behind a drum set again, but his whole future was uncertain.
He recalls how friends and acquaintances from all over the country rushed to his aid and raised more than $30,000 to cover his medical expenses, including his first prosthesis.
All that love, he says, “took the worst time in my life and turned it into this thing that was incredibly beautiful and memorable.”
So Brimblecom still has his music. And when he started Summer Breeze, it was just a little joke among friends, one of whom made mix CDs called “slow jams for soccer moms” before they knew the term yacht rock.
It was when his first child was born and his wife was on maternity leave from her teaching job that Brimblecom decided he wanted to do for other amputees what his friends had done for him.
Four years ago, he became the executive director of the Steps of Faith Foundation, which provides prosthetics to those who would otherwise not be able to afford them. According to the Steps of Faith website, 500 people a day in the United States lose a limb, and the cost of a prosthetic ranges from $10,000-100,000.
Brimblecom’s organization partners with providers such as Hanger in Olathe, where prosthetists donate their time and sell the limbs to him at cost. To date, Brimblecom says he's helped about 120 people. This year’s goal is to fit 52 amputees, and he’s already ahead of schedule.
He says the loss of an arm or leg is so devastating, particularly with bad or no insurance, that often a person’s life can spiral out of control, so replacing that limb is crucial.
He cites Jerry McDown, who appeared with him on an April "Limb Loss Awareness Month" segment on KC Live two weeks ago.
McDown, who lives in Chanute, Kansas, lost his leg in a car wreck about 18 months ago. In the weeks while Steps of Faith was processing his application, McDown suffered other losses and moved into a homeless shelter.
He was fitted for his new leg on March 7.
Between then and now, Brimblecom says, McDown has started a new full-time job and found a place to live.
While a Summer Breeze performance this weekend is not a fundraiser for Steps of Faith, Brimblecom will have a table at the event (the seven members of Summer Breeze will host a fundraiser on June 3 — an Elton John tribute).
“One of the biggest surprises has been that the money typically doesn’t come from the most obvious places,” Brimblecom says of his fund-raising. For the past four years, the majority of the non-profit’s funding has come from Brimblecom’s own extensive network, but he knows that’s not sustainable, nor does it have much opportunity for growth.
In the past, actor Jason Sudeikis, a good friend of Brimblecom's, has jumped on the stage with Summer Breeze. Kevin Richardson, a member of the Backstreet Boys, showed up at a recent performance and sang a chorus of the Doobie Brothers’ “Taking it to the Streets.”
Brimblecom says he knows it’s silly to perform these soft-rock cover songs, but says he’s not trying to sell records.
“We’re just creating this experience for people that’s an experience for us as well,” he adds.
The bonds he’s created with people through performing with them are strong and have carried him through his toughest hours. In turn, the bond he feels with others who have suffered limb loss allow him to help carry them through their toughest hours.
Summer Breeze performs at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 29 at Kanza Hall, 7300 W. 119th Street, Overland Park, Kansas, 66213. Tickets are $10.