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Bill Brewer, 70, teaches drum lessons from a storage unit converted into a music studio in Rossville, Georgia. Brewer has managed to keep his business afloat by using Zoom for remote teaching. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy.

Inside a converted storage unit in Rossville, Georgia, 70-year-old Bill Brewer continues to ply his trade as a drum instructor.

There are two drum sets positioned about 12 feet apart with a free-standing air-conditioning unit nearby spraying cold air into the windowless "studio." The pulse of the drums carries out into the parking lot.

A sign on the front door asks visitors to wear a mask. And indeed, Brewer has made all the usual concessions to COVID-19 — Zoom sessions, social distancing, health department clearance — with the goal of beating back the coronavirus with rim shots.

Brewer, a professional drummer since the 1970s, says he has lost close friends to COVID-19, so the pandemic has become personal. It's also one of the reasons he refuses to succumb to fear when he believes there are plausible work-around options to maintain his 25-students-a-week teaching schedule.

"I have lost two really good friends to [COVID-19] who were in really good shape, who were runners, who took care of themselves and were influential in my life," he said.

Brewer said that parents of his younger students say his virtual drum lessons have provided the kids structure during this stay-at-home period. Some wait eagerly on their 50-minute Zoom sessions to start. A couple still come to the studio, but most lessons are online, he said.

He's got a couple of adult students, too, who are using the time to build their chops. His current and former students play drums in bands and churches across the Chattanooga area.

For 30 years in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Brewer traveled the world with a variety of country acts. He was in a band that opened for artists such as Little Texas and Travis Tritt. For years, he was responsible for building and maintaining the custom drum kits that were on the five stages of the Riverbend Festival.

A Lakeview High School graduate, Brewer started out playing high school sock hops in the 1970s and later found work in Chattanooga nightclubs.

"But I never drank," he said. "Never."

Besides playing in bands, Brewer has symphonic training. He played in the Chattanooga Youth Symphony and studied music at the University of Chattanooga beginning in the late 1960s.

After his days on the road in country bands, Brewer rededicated himself to his Christian roots following a cancer scare about 17 years ago. His father had died of colon cancer, and Brewer feared that he, too, might have the disease. But after a doctor found a possibly cancerous polyp in his intestine, a biopsy came back negative.

"OK, I thought, 'I've been spared for some reason,'" he said. "I thought, 'Lord, if you were able to do this for me, I am going to do more for you.'"

Brewer, who has been dubbed "Wild Bill" for his enthusiastic drum solos, decided to channel new energy into his faith. He became a fixture in the band at Silverdale Baptist Church on Bonny Oaks Drive, and eagerly awaits returning to the group when the coronavirus subsides.

In the meantime, a couple of his students are covering for him.

"I'm blessed that they have listened and gotten good enough that they can now perform," he said.

And there's nothing more gratifying for a drum teacher than to pass the baton — or in this case, the drum sticks.

Despite the pandemic, the beat goes on.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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