A drummer for a popular go-go band was shot to death late Tuesday as he stood with a group of friends on a street in the Barry Farms housing complex in Southeast Washington, authorities said.

Willie Irving Gaston Jr., 24, the bass drummer for the Junkyard Band, was shot about 10:40 p.m., when several gunmen approached the group. Police said they had no suspects and have found no motive for the killing.

"They have sort of been like our Jackson Five of the go-go circuit," said Maxx Kidd, a music promoter who is president of TTED Records, the first go-go record label. "The music is as much a part of this city" as the Capitol, he said.

Gaston, known on the street by the nickname "Heavy One," was an original member of the band, which started in 1980 when a group of friends from Birney Elementary School in Barry Farms struck out on their own musically when budget cuts left them without a band program at school, acquaintances said.

Gaston was remembered by followers of go-go music as a driving force behind the band, the musician who could always be called on to cheer others up after a bad show or when personal problems had them down.

His family had moved away from Barry Farms several years ago to an apartment in Lincoln Heights, in the easternmost part of the District near the Prince George's County line. But Gaston returned frequently to the area where he had grown up, though shootings are a regular occurrence in Barry Farms.

On Tuesday night, police said, several gunmen jumped from a car in an alley behind the 1200 block of Eaton Road SE and approached Gaston and his friends from behind. The attackers began firing semiautomatic weapons. Residents reported hearing at least 30 rapid-fire rounds; one woman said she heard shouting. At least two other members of the band were in the group that was fired on, acquaintances said.

Gaston, a second man who was shot and wounded and a third man apparently ran toward Eaton Road seconds after the attack in an attempt to escape the gunmen. Gaston, who had been hit in the back, collapsed between two buildings.

Six bullets had pocked the side of the beige stucco building near where he stumbled after he was shot. The dirt nearby was bloodstained. Residents at Barry Farms said that was where Gaston fell and where emergency workers tried to revive him with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The second shooting victim, whose name was not released because he was a witness in the attack, was taken later to Providence Hospital, but his condition could not be determined yesterday.

Gaston's mother, Annette Parker Green, said she moved her children out of Barry Farms to the 300 block of 54th Street NE when the Barry Farms apartments were renovated four years ago, after the crack cocaine epidemic began to fuel violence in the community.

"He felt Barry Farms was home," Green said. "His school was there, his friends were there, and that's where he wanted to be."

Green said that she knew some of her son's friends were involved in illegal activity but that she assumed that most of his time in Barry Farms was spent at the home of his girlfriend.

Court records show Gaston pleaded guilty in 1991 to carrying a deadly weapon and in 1988 to leaving the scene of an accident, both misdemeanors.

Five years ago, Derrick Ingram, who had been a band member, was found slain in the 3000 block of G Street SE. His hands had been placed in handcuffs behind his back, and he had been shot twice in the head.

The popularity of the Junkyard Band had soared along with that of go-go, an up-tempo, percussion-laden style of music with lots of verbal interplay between the musicians and the audience. The group's brand of music was a product of streetwise invention. According to acquaintances, the youths who formed the original band picked up bottles, cans and boxes because they originally could not afford instruments.

"They are immensely popular in the D.C. area," said Gil Griffin, music editor at YSB magazine (Young Sisters and Brothers). "In December 1990, they were on a bill at Capital Centre with {rappers} Salt-N-Pepa and {funk band} Tony! Toni! Tone! and they stole the show. It really opened my eyes to a unique phenomenon, that go-go bands seem to upstage even national acts when they perform in D.C."

Gaston "was like the heart of the band," said Freddie Bethel, former director of Barry Farms Recreation Center, where the Junkyard Band first played. "You can get another bucket man and some tin can players, but it is hard to find a real drummer with his kind of talent."

Gaston's first drum set consisted of a cardboard box and three five-gallon paint buckets that he dented in strategic spots to give each one a unique sound, said Benny Harley, lead singer with Little Benny and the Masters, a go-go group that occasionally played with the Junkyard Band. Over time, Gaston collected a real bass drum set including cymbals from a pawnshop and foot pedals donated by a drum and bugle corps.

In the 1980s, the band began opening for other prominent go-go acts and eventually developed its own following after being featured in the movie "D.C. Cab." The group's recordings include "The Word," a diatribe of the government's attitude toward poor people. But perhaps its most popular song is the "Sardines and Pork 'n Beans" rap, in which audience members frequently yell out the names of their favorite foods.

The group is also credited with creating a highly athletic dance called the Hee Haw. When the band breaks into the Hee Haw song, audience members bend their knees, put their hands out as if riding a horse and move in jerky steps that create the image of riding a bucking horse.

According to a friend, Gaston was looking forward to a performance scheduled for the end of this month at Ballou High School's homecoming dance. Gaston graduated from Ballou.

Staff writer Santiago O'Donnell contributed to this report.