LOS ANGELES — A few minutes before the Los Angeles Rams take on the Seattle Seahawks at the billion-dollar SoFi Stadium on a late December evening, about six football fields away, there’s a party being held in the Target parking lot.
A smattering of people are dancing in the winter air to the percussive sounds of a man pounding away on a gleaming, golden-nectar drum set he affectionately calls “Honey.”
It’s a massive rig: 13 pieces, including three snares, two bass drums (one of which boasts a double kick pedal) and a gargantuan ride cymbal. Behind the kit, his back against the tailgate of a cherry red Ford F-350, sits Sheriff Drumman, flashing a smile that could outshine the sun.
The audience doesn’t seem to care what he plays during his six-hour marathon set — whether traditional Mexican banda, high-energy gospel or even radio silence after the backing track from the speakers cuts out for several minutes.
“Take your time, we’re not going anywhere,” says a mother gleefully spinning in circles with her toddler.
It’s a joyful occasion. But for those who know, watching the man who was born Anthony Sheriff pummel his drum kit at ground level is a striking reminder of what once was, and what should still be.
Rather than sitting on a cold stretch of concrete, he’s spent the past several years drumming on the back of that pickup truck, outfitted with color-changing lights, a smoke machine and a massive speaker system that earned him a spot on Steve Harvey’s “Steve” TV show after the host saw him drumming at an L.A. gas station.
Less than a month ago, however, he woke up to find the truck and the attached drum kit stolen off the street outside his Hawthorne apartment.
It had taken Sheriff nearly six years to custom-build the four-wheeled drum set, a painstaking process filled with fits and setbacks. The former owner of an appliance business, he’d hand-crafted the metal that made the setup possible, cutting, shaping and bending each slab before adding the eye-catching details and the bright “#SheriffDrumman” sign hoisted high above the vehicle.
It was his pride and joy, bringing smiles to faces when reasons for them were few and far in between. As the disbelief that it was stolen turned to a horrifying realization, the emotions were simply too much to bear.
“When I got outside, I had a total panic attack,” said Sheriff, 34. “I fainted in front of my neighbors. I started screaming, I was calling for help like someone had shot me. It felt like the devastating news of a loved one being murdered.”
Even before the mobile sound machine started turning heads across Los Angeles, drums were a lifeline for Sheriff. The youngest of two siblings, he first picked up the sticks when he was 3 years old, and by age 8 he was drumming in his grandfather’s church.
He’s dabbled with other instruments since then — he plays about 16 fluently, with the Hammond B3 organ being his second favorite — but always came back to the drums, drawn to the rhythms and infatuated with its deafening power.
“It means the world to me,” he said. “Without drums, my life would have went a completely different way. There’s no other way to say it. It’s my therapy, it’s my fun, it’s my life.”
Sheriff attended various high schools but gained the most from Washington Preparatory High School and its music director Fernando Pullum, the renowned musician who later founded the Pullum Community Arts Center in Leimert Park.
Speaking into the microphone from his parking lot pulpit, though, it’s clear his true roots remain in the church. As people walk past, they can’t help but peek over at the drummer spreading the good word one moment, then whooping it up to punctuate his message.
“When I play, I try to play from that place,” he said. “I know life isn’t perfect, I know people can’t get what’s needed out of life, especially today. When I play, I try to bring that fulfillment.”
It’s why the truck was such a special project, allowing him to uplift people through music while also honoring his other true talent: building.
Since childhood, he’s been enamored with Legos, the building blocks that made him fall in love with putting things together. Walk into his home today and you’ll find a custom-built Lego fortress, measuring nearly 15 feet wide, 3 feet high and 4 feet deep.
“I have over 200,000 pieces at my house,” he said. “Sitting there looking at the schematics, and how you build things — plus my grandfather was a contractor and I got to go to work with him sometimes — those two put a different footprint in me.”
Unable to sleep at night after his second divorce in 2016, his mind kept returning to his two true loves, and he soon dreamed up the truck as a way to tie them both together. Once it was up and running, it was like nothing he’d ever felt before.
“I like to see the creativity, to see what he’s going to do next with a song,” said Jamilla Brodie, a security guard who watched him play outside Target. “He’s the next Tommy the Clown, more into the music side. The kids love him, he’s great for parties, he’s great for entertainment.”
After the truck was stolen, though, the search effort was all hands on deck. While waiting for the police to track down his vehicle, Sheriff posted rapid-fire updates on his Instagram seeking any information, and one of his friends took off work to help search the city for clues.
A few days later, it turned up near the train tracks on Slauson Avenue. Dents, broken door handles and scratches marked the truck’s exterior, but more important was the missing: the car battery, the spare tire and his prized drum set, along with his generator, lighting rig and much of the metal holding it together.
“I was thinking they’d just cut the equipment off the truck,” he said. “They took my goddamn name. What you even gonna do with my damn name?”
Nearby cameras captured the robbery on tape, but Hawthorne Police Department has yet to find a suspect and admit it’s unlikely it ever will. In the time since he’s gotten the truck back, he’s purchased a few parts here and there, but he’s still dreading the final process of putting the pieces back together.
“It’s not a five-minute project,” he said. “I’m about to go to Home Depot and purchase the metal to build the frame to hold all the equipment. Just sanding the 10 pieces of metal down is gonna take me three hours. And then I still have to spray paint it and let it dry.”
Sheriff was booked and busy while the truck was up and running, creating a relatively constant source of income. Well-known and often spotted around Los Angeles, he charged $300 an hour, and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, played as many as six or sevengigs in a single day.
“A lot of gigs were piled right on top of each other,” he said. “When I was leaving one gig, I’m flying to the next customer, telling them, ‘I’m 10 minutes away, I’m running a little late.’”
Although the truck was insured, the policy didn’t cover any of Sheriff’s additions such as the drums and lighting. With the help of Guitar Center, fan donations and a private donor who requested to remain anonymous, he purchased “Honey,” along with lighting, speakers and most of what he needs to restore the truck.
Still, he estimates that he’s about $10,000 short on replacing everything and that it’ll take at least another month before the setup is fully functional once again.
“I spent the money I made yesterday on something else that cost just as much as the damn drum set,” he said.
He’d previously been hired to play gigs downtown and elsewhere in the coming days, but without the truck, he’s back drumming for tips at the Target parking lot. It’s his home base, where plenty of passersby know his work and are eager to hear him play.
“Glad to see you out here again,” a man said while dropping a bill into his tip jar.
“You’ll bounce back,” another man yelled from the window of his car.
That community support has kept him going throughout the entire ordeal, and it’s one of the things he loves most about being back, even in limited fashion. Midway through his two-hour setup process, an elderly woman ambles toward the store, slowly pushing her walker past the honey-gold drum set with an expectant look on her face.
“Y’all have a blessed one!” she drawls. “He better be playing when I come out of here.”