When Clyde Casey began playing drums at the age of 13, he didn’t imagine himself becoming a New Orleans street performer. But with his unique mobile percussion units and signature avant garde look, for more than 40 years, Casey has energized the everyday life in the city with the spirit of New Orleans.
Casey moved to New Orleans in 1977 and immediately appreciated the street theater here, as well as its ability to capture and share the soul of the city. In 1978, Casey was vitalized by the spirit of Mardi Gras and felt compelled to create street art by playing a wooden log drum as he paraded through the city streets. Casey’s performance was well received, and he has been performing as a street percussionist ever since.
Early on, Casey made his wooden log drum into a musical necklace to facilitate mobility with the instrument. It didn’t take long for this concept to evolve, and soon he was creating more elaborate mobile percussion units.
To create his mobile instruments, Casey focuses on form, design, and shape, combining different elements, objects, and percussion instruments to create mobile, musical sculptures. Casey then drives and plays the instruments through the streets of New Orleans.
Inspired by his mother, who was paralyzed and spent part of her life in a wheelchair, Casey built his first mobile instrument around a wheelchair. To this day, Casey can still feel his mom’s spirit driving his wheelchair instrument, he says.
His more recent instruments have names like “The Surreal Drum Wheel of the Cosmic Debris,” “Time Traveler,” and “Synergistic Sonic Sensor Shuttle” and evoke the magic of New Orleans that locals and tourists have long felt pulse through the city.
Making this magic part of the “spark” of the everyday drives Casey. But he doesn’t stop at sharing his music and his creations with New Orleans. He has taken his mobile instruments on cross-country road trips, sharing the energy of New Orleans with cities around the country. In the end, Casey always returns to his beloved New Orleans to recharge and re-engage his audiences here.
Casey’s newest creation is a pedal car inspired by his many road trips. It contains multiple musical instruments, visual oddities, and interactive play stations, including a thumb wrestling ring and a limbo rope that doubles as a jump rope. With this mobile instrument in particular, Casey’s desire to share his spirit with the audience, to engage its members, and to make them a part of his performance and a part of art in New Orleans is evident.
But Casey’s art is not limited to performance. He also creates fork art by molding malleable silver forks into designs inspired by the energy of New Orleans. Casey sells his fork jewelry and performs whenever the spirit of New Orleans moves him to do so. A good place to spot Casey is usually at the St. Claude flash Saturday Art Walks (the next one takes place this Saturday, May 12) or around the Bywater, Marigny, and French Quarter.
Photographer Jason Kruppa offers this gallery of portraits of Casey and his creations: