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Drummer Corey Jones

Drummer Corey Jones

By Leslie Gray Streeter —

Like any good reggae band, Future Prezidents found inspiration in the sounds of Africa and Bob Marley’s homeland Jamaica. But it also found inspiration, for too short a time, in the dedicated drumming of a journeyman musician named Corey Jones.

“Corey wasn’t in the band long, but he became the core,” explained founder and frontman Boe Simeonov, 33, of Delray Beach. “For this to happen to Corey is much too real. Much too real.”

The future of Future Prezidents is now up in the air. Several gigs planned this week have been canceled, including an appearance at Thursday’s Clematis by Night in West Palm Beach and another one Saturday at Lake Worth’s Bamboo Room with several other reggae acts.

The Bamboo Room gig has now become a benefit for Jones’ family, and the overwhelming support for both the late drummer and his band speaks to the goodwill the three-year-old band has attracted.

Future Prezidents

Future Prezidents

“They’re kind of new to the scene but have progressively gotten more involved and seem to be doing fairly well,” said Casey Buckley, frontman of The People Upstairs. His band is one of several local acts who have taken to social media to express their pain and frustration over the loss of Jones and “just wanted to send our condolences,” Buckley says.

Local venues felt the same way about Future Prezidents’ potential.

“They’re a talented bunch of individuals. I thought they were a great band,” says Michael Steinberg, manager at downtown West Palm Beach’s E.R. Bradley’s, where he’s worked with Future Prezidents frequently over the past several years, most recently this summer. “We still have them on our list. They’re scheduled to perform in a couple of weeks.”

The local music scene is small and players often float between different bands. People Upstairs drummer Gabe Ringo once played for Future Prezidents, for instance. “It was great. We’re friends,” Ringo says. “They’re all about one love and reggae music and making people feel good.”

That feeling started with founder Simeonov in childhood, in a seemingly unlikely place – Bulgaria, where his mother was a human rights activist and, “therefore, a Bob Marley fan,” he remembers. “We had to listen to those tapes in secrecy, to songs like ‘Get Up, Stand Up.’ If anyone knew you had that tape, you could go to jail.”

The family love of reggae wasn’t revealed, but Simeonov’s mother risked being “sent to a prison camp” after a friend and fellow activist “who was tortured in front of his children until he named names” gave her up. The family then “escaped that oppressive regime and lived in Italy for two years, before we came to the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on our back.”

Simeonov’s path seemed destined to lead him to activism and musical expression, but it first took a detour through white-collar America, as a corporate trainer for Dish Network. After a successful decade there, the call of social justice and the music of his youth was too strong.

Corey Jones

Corey Jones

“I walked away. What I sing about is very, very personal to me. I’m on a mission to help people open their eyes and understand the community they’re a part of…The point was to do that and have no regrets, and to show people that you can follow your dreams and find yourself. To free your mind.”

So Future Prezidents, whose lineup includes Simeonov and bass player Mat Huntsberger, was born, playing some covers but focusing on original music. Their songs are about peace and social issues like the anti-GMO movement and, in their song “Neda”, written before Jones joined the band, police shootings. “It’s an hypocrisy, people shot down by their own police,” the refrain goes.

“For this to happen to Corey…it hits close to home,” Simeonov says now.

The band has a busy schedule locally and nationally, including a now-annual Midwest tour. “I find the northern states understand the ‘one love’ concept because they all depend on each other for safety and warmth. You can’t not be a part of a community if you’re stuck in a ditch and need to get shoveled out,” Simeonov jokes.

Their local appearances include places like E.R. Bradley’s, Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room, SunFest (where they opened in 2013 for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff), and last year at Clematis by Night, a sought-after date where reggae is a favorite genre, says Laura Reines, the event coordinator and talent buyer.

Corey Jones

Corey Jones

“Bringing back a band means that they’ve resonated with the crowd,” says Reines says, who is not surprised by the traumatic effect of Jones’ death on his group and the local music community.

“These musicians, this is what they live for. It’s their life, their second family. It’s like losing a family member.”

“It’s quite a blow to the broad musical community,” adds Bradley’s Steinberg, who says Jones had played there in a few bands over the years. “It’s such a tight-knit group here. We’re interested in doing a tribute for him down the road.”

Jones joined Future Prezidents “about five or six months ago and immediately jelled” with the rest of the band, Simeonov says. The drummer’s friend Forest Jones (no relation), who has known Corey Jones for about a decade from the black church music scene and plays with the J. Sharp Band, agrees that his friend “was a very good fit for that group. He was the go-to guy. He could play anything.”

Several friends and acquaintances of Jones interviewed for this story say they’re moved not only by the loss of such a reliable and talented musician but a more disturbing truth: Their work day is largely during the night, attracting not only the positive attention of fans, but also an element of danger, of driving dark roads with a van full of expensive equipment, possibly with cash and of not knowing who’s waiting outside.

“I come home late at night all the time, and it’s scary,” Steinberg says.

“The first thing I thought when I heard was that it could have been any of us in that car,” says Ringo. “We need to keep that in everybody’s face.”

As the music community struggles to make sense of their loss, Simeonov says the band plans to continue, but that Future Prezidents’ immediate future is uncertain.

“All that’s on hold,” he says. “We don’t have a drummer anymore.”

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