“The Grey Ghost was the national anthem of rudimental drumming. That kicked it off. You didn’t have drum solos with rolls and drags in those days. It still hangs together today.”
Paul Mosley (Toronto Optimists)
“Not very much changed from 1941 to 1953. There was a move to more difficult rudiments. Rather than play diddles, we played rolls.”
Bob Adair (Reilly Raiders)
“Reilly had Ginther as an instructor in 1951. They had a wide open style. Reilly held their sticks back further – real far back. They played real high off the drum. Their solos had as lot of rolls and drags in them.”
John Flowers (Reading Buccaneers)
“Reilly played a Connecticut type style. We were monsters; an absolute fife and drum influence!”
Bill Kaufmann (Reilly Raiders)
“Reilly Raiders in the early and late 1950’s was a hell of a good line. Their tenor drummers were equally as competent. They could all duplicate parts so it sounded like the original recordings. Corps were playing the Boston Pops pieces then. . Their drum solo was in the middle of the competition. It sounded like one drum, 128 to 130 beats per minute. They had three or four snares and I judged them several times. You better believe they were clean! Six to ten ticks for the entire show. Kids would come up to me all the time and ask me to play Reilley's drum solo. Archer Epler was closest to Reilly. They played through all 26 rudiments. [They] had a big horn line too; fifty and up. Reilly had ‘em all beat. A national example for three drummers sounding like one. Just unreal! They were real hot - just a joy to watch - a real joy to judge them out there."
“Reilly played their street beat in their show in ‘52. You didn’t want to tick or they’d kick the hell out of you. They had their drums around their knees - a thirty inch lift. It’s no wonder Redican loved them.”
Paul Mosley (Toronto Optimists)
“Reilly Raiders had a German Sheppard on the field. He almost got me! The guide-on handler of the dog would wait off the field and parade him along the back sideline. He would get close to the judges but never bark.”
“We used to call them the East Side Boys. Reilly had a hearse they would take to shows. Believe me, you never knew what was going to come out of that thing when they opened the doors!”
John Pratt (Interstatesmen)
The Reilly Raiders tore through the 1950’s on the strength of their drumline, respected even by judges. Never let drum corps “neighbor-next-door” camaraderie or casual nicknames fool you. To hear Reilly’s former drummers tell of their Masters and Doctorate degrees in different fields reflects the competitiveness and natural ability with which they performed - people centered upon perfection. They achieved impressively after corps but always remembered their glory days wearin’ the green. It is of this they are most proud.
Previously a junior corps, Reilly Raiders became a 1946 extension of Philadelphia’s A.K. Street Post Senior Drum and Bugle Corps. Before the war, members came from 16 local junior corps, including those from 1929 national champion Frankfort American Legion Post 211. Reilly matured to win 5 VFW Senior Championships: 1950, 1951, 1957, 1958 and 1959, the only corps to win both service nationals taking the 1954 AL title. Behind a serious and dedicated drumline (undefeated in 1965), Reilly won 7 National Championships and 17 state championships due to drummers catching extra practice by going to show sites with their "green hearse" a day early. Reilly entered 129 contests from 1946 to 1959 with a phenomenal record of 90 first places, 31 second places and 8 third places.
The Downfall and Halftime were on the field thanks to Bill Reamer - to the delight of judges like J. Frank Martin - but Reilly didn’t much respect tradition and used their chops for a most famous drum solo – The Grey Ghost. Although first using Ken Lemley’s Army 2/4, instructor Harry Ginther thought they could string continuous Roll-Drag rudiments together using bass drum notes supporting snare accent patterns. The use of the three separate voices was precursor to drumline arranging using tenor and bass pitches for tonality. He named “The Grey Ghost” solo after Jimmy Giles who was born with very light skin pigment. Jimmy graduated with a degree in architecture from Drexel University, practicing with a firm for many years, having a most “happy-go-lucky” personality.
Jimmy Giles (Reilly Raiders): “In winter we would play once every week, more in the summer. Near a contest it was every day. It was pretty rudimental back then. We were always trying to stay on the go, another one or two practices a week before the season came. Sometimes it comes off well, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s difficult to win every contest. I don’t care where you go.
“It was ’53 when I marched my first year with Reilly Raiders. A lot of Reilly people were from Liberty Bell. They came from Philly junior corps. That’s why Reilly was so good. The juniors were feeding into Reilly. The Reilly drumline basically taught Liberty Bell. I was teaching two other corps as well. They flew me up there. Money? I didn’t care what they paid me. I liked having fun!
“I was born with a cleft palette. I can’t blow a horn, so I played drums. That’s how I got started. I was in Liberty Bell and went to Reilly after a few years. We had two different drum instructors. Ginther was there, but Perrilloux was coming in from New Jersey. Eric Perrilloux was the tops! We had a little goofing around but closer to the contest everybody has to get serious to play well.
“There were so many drum corps! Must have been 100 around the area. Some good, some not so good. We would see Sac [Blessed Sacrament] occasionally - a really good line. Oh God, they were a good line!.
“I played with old Corny [Charlie Cornilius] and Bob Adair who was also a horn player. We drilled all over the field for ten years. The drum instructor, Perrilloux, drove us nut but he was terrific! A tough instructor. He had a whole different sense of writing.
“Our three snares didn’t like each other all the time. Sometimes we would bitch and moan. We had different styles. After three or four years of playing together you get to know each other. We would argue about who made a mistake! No one ever made them! There were marks on the score sheet but no one made them! It wasn’t me! I put my time in, I know that! We always argued! It was like part of a family. We were together a lot.”
The Gray Ghost - The Drum Solo That Changed History
Breakdown drummers had the technique to connect rudiments together cleanly with endurance. This is a first example of "consecutive" Ruff-Rat-Drag-Roll combinations performed in competition.
The Reilly Raider Quartet - Wild Bill Hooten On Bass
Notice all the Medals........
Eric Perrilloux: "I used to take the train to Philly to Reilly Raider rehearsals. I'd get back about 5 am. Did it for three years.
The 1957 version of Reilly was a Perrilloux effort to use snare, bass and tenor drums as separate voices at times, leading the ear more around the entire section. Other arrangers listened and remembered. Eric loved the Ancient “7” but was changing accents in rudiments, creating more interesting mathematics, something picked up by a young Mitch Markovich.
Professionalism is the display of difficult skills done with consistency under pressure. Reilly Raiders were breakdown drummers. Contests were now decided by grace note control, not the ability to play downbeats together as in the 1920’s. New stickings and rudiments required more coordination and endurance.
The ability to perform continuous rolls with accents was not foreign to fife and drum -Three Camps the example - but arrangers were becoming more mathematically unpredictable. Accents could now be placed anywhere, something fife and drum technically achieved, but refrained from using because of tradition. It was also foreign to the drum set. The short duration rolls of Krupa and Rich were not used nearly as often as single stroke patterns. Drum set players were still trying to develop technique and the mixing of single and double beats independently with four limbs, watching rudimiental drummers to absorb technical clues. This one item – continuous Ruff-Rat-Roll-Drag combinations - gave drum and bugle corps its unique competitive sound. Reilly’s long Gray Ghost solo difficulty is seen in works such as Fred Johnson’s 1959 Magoo and the Caballeros 1960 The Bomb, then extended solo work of the mid 1960’s Connecticut Hurricanes and Hawthorne Caballeros using higher pitched snare drums. A 13 1/2 minute show had about 9 tunes and the opportunity for two short drum solos and one long one. This pressure raised the talent level to the next performance plateau using Swiss Flam coordination and 24th note accented singles.
Bobby Redican: “The Reilly Raiders were really slick! If there was an error or if it got ragged, there might be two or three quick ticks. Their drummers respected that. They were one of the finest M&M lines. Reilly Raiders were very intelligent to talk to.”
Bob Adair was an Osmond Cadet horn player from 1941 to 1951, winning VFW nationals in ’48 and ’49. Knowing that drummers have the most fun, he became a Reilly Raider snare in 1952 and 53.
Bob Adair (Reilly Raiders): “Reilly was unique for the time. The corps had a military style but would do dance steps and crossover footwork. The drills would have three or four company fronts. There would be rank and file maneuvers. We had an Irish theme: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling was our signature piece but played The Irish Washer Womanand A Great Day For the Irish. In 130, contests the corps never took lower then third! The drumline was strongest and most consistent part of the corps. There was always a corps you wanted to beat. You had territory rights! Archer Epler was nearby.”
“Hawthorne didn’t have as difficult a drum book as we did. They had a Latin theme. Skyliners were there - Hurricanes and Prince. Hooten didn’t like Archer Epler but always said, “if it wasn’t for them, Reilly Raiders would not be as good". Our drumline enjoyed a lot of success. It was our strongest section and resulted in many championships. The corps was daring and would open up the drill patterns. That was not common then.
“Too many of us were raising families so you had to prepare at home. It was an individual effort. For a big show we had extra practices. It was a weekend thing. You had a job and raised your family. There were many little practices and sectionals during the week if the guys could make them. Every Friday evening there was a contest. A good instructor might make $10. There was not that much money going around then. In 1959, I think our budget was about $19,000. You could get by running a corps with $10,000. Prize money wasn’t much.
“Most corps had 21 to 27 horns and a 3-3-2-1 drumline. A nine-man line was consistent for many years. Maybe there would be a fourth snare or tenor. We had 39 horns to start the year in ’58. Then we added a back row of 12 more with a separate drill. After the season we picked up more. Hooton was considering adding 12 more. Most of them were junior members from out-state. Besides, paperwork would then have to be “juggled” for the VFW and American Legion. Everybody did it. Sixty-three horns? That’s sticking your chin out too much. Hooten figured that the new addition would be the target of judges. They would look for and pinpoint them. It was a good year already so why risk it?
“Today, drum corps all sound alike. If I want to listen to orchestra, I go to the indoor venue. They have no melodic interest to us. You used to go and leave the stadium whistling the songs you heard.”
Reilly Raider snare drummer William “Willie” Curlott earned his bachelors from Drexel University and Doctorate in Business Education from Rutgers in 1974. He lives in the splendor of New Mexico desert. He was the (1951 or 1952) and ’53 VFW Jr. National Snare Drum Champion with the Osmond Cadets (’52 New York City and ’53 Milwaukee). He was a member of the U. S. Marine drum and bugle corps from 1954 through 1956. Mr. Curlott has a definite streak of Moeller. "I was one of the first to join the “peace corps” and went to the Ukraine. I wrote a docu-novel, “Peace Corps, The Toughest Job They Ever Mismanaged.”
William Curlott (Reilly Raiders, Liberty Bell Cadets): “I’m not a person to go with the norm. I played horn in Reilly rather than play Eric Perrilloux’s “New York” style. We used to call New York style “press drumming”. It was lower, like bag pipe, Scottish drumming. I was a hardcore rudimental drummer. I played horn instead of play low. The tenor drum twirls of the late 1940’s went out. They didn’t do the Scotch twirling anymore."
“We used to practice on our own - rudiment breakdowns. It’s hard to get breakdowns clean. It’s more precise; you move fast and it might be imprecise. The corps would go one night a week. We’d learn the parts together; none of us could read. We learned Paradiddle sections and Flamacues by rote. You had to make sure the sticking was together. Rhythmic patterns were written where they would fit in the music.
“I used to go up to musters. We would play Downfall with Reamer, a drumming icon from Philly; he taught McCall [Bluebird’s]. He would use all 26 rudiments. Connecticut was very wide open. Reamer was a good man - real gentleman type.
“My snare solo was original - different. It had quick Paradiddles and speed. There were 32nd notes, Ratamacues, Flamacues and Flam-a-diddles…. I would practice seven days a week. It was tough on the neighborhood! Finally, I went on a bicycle outside the city. When individuals got closer, I’d practice more often, a couple of hours every other day if not every day near a contest. I won 2 nationals; 5 total. Took second with a rope drum but I was beat by a better guy, an Archer Epler snare.
Corps didn’t travel long distances except to attend nationals. Sometimes the individual contest would lack entrants if corps stayed home. The 1954 contest in was in Philadelphia, a drum corps hotbed, meaning many more contestants and east coast trained drummers if not judges. There were two distinct styles: Les Parks was using a lower no arm motion style similar to Perrilloux, who had lowered his heights for M&M corps and Bobby Thompson high accented low grace note style.
Jack Cassidy was a Bracken Cavalier from 1950 to 52, wearing Reilly green 1954 through ’58. Bracken was 2nd behind St. Vinnies in the ’51 American Legion championship. He judged for over a decade, 1958 to 1972. “We didn’t get paid anything to judge – 35 dollars at most. You did it because you loved it.”
Jack Cassidy (Reilly Raiders): “We had two short drum solos and one long one. The show was about 13 1/2 minutes to 15. Bracken was a small town – maybe 5000 people – not a bad corps for a small town. There were 15 corps in Philly at that time; 4 senior and 11 junior. They drew kids in and taught them to play the instruments.”
“In late ’59, the snare line for Reilly was Jim Bowser, John Dowlan, Jimmy Giles and myself. It was a four and four line. We were concerned with execution. Other corps – Sky and Archer Epler – played more difficult stuff. Our music was easier - the Irish Washer Woman.
“They would do “trick” drills. You had to master the “guillotine” where every other horn player did a 180 over the guy who knelt down. It was a snappy move and you better duck! We played a lot of drag figures and long rolls into drags - different figures - Paradiddles into rolls; long rolls into singles. Reilly didn’t do Swiss at that time. The long solos were brutal! The drill would have two big company fronts back into each other from forty yards apart and then wheel into one company front.
“When Eric Perrilloux was brought in to teach Reilly in ’57, he cleaned us up another two points. He added dynamics and expression. Jimmy Giles had a low left hand; Harry would play higher with his right. Eric matched our styles and worked on uniformity. He improved us 1 1/2 points in a week! He gave us figures to work on and after we picked them up, the mistakes went down!”
“Reilly Raiders played similar to Bobby Thompson’s style but without the left grip. We didn’t do the pinky thing. We didn’t see a benefit to it until we sat down with Bobby and he showed us the benefit of the style. We tried it and - IT WORKS!”
“An instructor came in hot and critique took off. Judges back then could all play. If challenged, they would bring out their sticks and show them. It was not uncommon. In order to judge you had to be a pretty decent drummer.
"We worked on caption uniformity a lot; a uniform tolerance from all the judges. Some were style prejudiced. You can’t do that. If execution was different within the book that was one thing but if you didn’t like the sound that was “beside the point!” It worked out more or less. There were big problems in the Northeast. Some put down the Latin music corps. Hawthorne was getting 4th or 5th in drums. They might go from 2nd to 6th. We worked all captions to try and get some similarity - no prejudice. We tried to be very fair and accurate.
“There were similar problems in Canada. We were hired as outsiders to come in and judge. They seemed pleased and were judged on merit. Same thing happened when upstate New York would meet the Boston area.”
The wife of Reilly’s drum major has keen wit. Carol Hooten explains Bill’s success with drum corps score sheets and rules. He had the corps march without intervals to increase marching scores. Bill Hooten was someone who wanted to understand the different elements of a competing corps, so he took 13th in the ADA snare drum competition at the August, 1940 World’s Fair.
Carol Hooten (Reilly Raiders): “I was married to "Wild Bill" for 39 years. I have been in corps since I was a drum major at 7 years old. I studied trumpet for 17 years at the Eastman School of Music in my hometown, Rochester, NY. I had my picture taken with him when I was 11 years old at nationals. I was the drum major of a small rinky-dink corps and Bill was, of course, with Reilly. I told him then I was going to marry him when I grew up. He said, "That's nice little girl", and pulled on one of my pigtails. I was writing for one of the drum corps magazines and not marching for the first time in my life when I ran into Bill for the second time in 1959. We got into a heated argument after he told me all drum corps writers knew was that "the field is green with white lines". We married six months later. Bill was 16 years my senior and I had a problem keeping up with him. The man was a dynamo.
“I learned much about drum corps from Bill. He had the entire performance scientifically broken down into components. In an era when a corps had to be on the field 11-13 minutes, he had his show timed to 11 minutes 10 seconds. He calculated how many tenths a corps lost per minute and determined how to get the corps over the finish line as quickly as possible. I'm sure he would have timed it for 11 minutes period, but built in a 10 second safety margin. He could never understand why other corps were on the field for 12 minutes, 30 seconds.
“Bill was not only Reilly's drum major, he did the drill, and arranged some of Reilly's music. That was him as a snare drummer at the World's Fair in 1940. He was the Drum Major for Street Post American Legion. He just practiced with the drummers when he didn't have anything to do. He was a good snare drummer at one time. He and Eric Perriloux used to kid about an individual contest that they both entered. Bill won, Eric was second. Bill's score was 98.8 and he always rubbed it in saying, "Eric, I lost 0.2 in inspection,. Think how it would have looked without threads on my uniform!"
“Bill was never the director of Reilly. He was never interested in administration of any kind. He just did the show, wrote and taught the M&M, cleaned up the horn line if someone else had arranged a chart, and collaborated with the drum instructor on positioning the drums. He was a reasonable dictator. He would listen to any member with an idea, but he alone made the decision on whether to use it."
Nick Piscotti was a Yankee Rebel from ‘55 through ‘57, with Reilly in ’58 and 59, then back with the Rebs from 1960 to ’68.
Nick Piscotti (Yankee Rebels, Reilly Raiders): “In those times it was mostly 27 horns, 3 and 3, 2 bass and an honor guard. Back then drum solos were like street beats. John Flowers was playing higher in ’60, ‘61 and ‘62. He was doing alternated Lesson 25’s in the early 60’s.
“Reilly was doing Swiss rudiments in ‘58 or ‘59 but never played them on the field. There were people from Switzerland with Soistman. Harry Ginther was instructing in ‘58. That Reilly line in ‘58 -‘59 never lost a show in drums: Johnny Bowser, Jimmy Giles - the Grey Ghost. Their tenor line did not play an open high style but could play all the snare parts: Billy Kaufmann, Bobby Hall and Harry Force. Jimmy Giles was always ready to go!
“In the 50’s, Archie and Reilly had a crying towel at the shows. They carried it out on the field with them all the time. It was a big deal to carry it out there. Whoever lost that night would get the towel. They would walk over and give it to them. They were like neighbors, some of them in Archie and Reilly, but when you got to the competition - “FORGET IT!”
“Ludee at [Connecticut] Hurricanes wrote parts and I still don’t know how he did it! At one time they had 12 snares. That was the line we were trying to beat!"
Archer Epler was Reilly’s nemesis. Charlie Cornielus was with them from 1960 through 1966. The corps respected each other so much that as years went by and times became tough, the two corps merged. Bill Reamer tried to out-gun Reilly for many years with a tougher book. Duke Terrari was with them. The Musketeers were right behind the Shamrocks most nights. Bill Kaufman marched in both corps.
Charlie Cornielius (Archie, Reilly): " Reilly had a big corps in '59,'60,'61 and '62. We had a drum line that was out of this world with Dowlan, Ginther and guys from the Baltimore area that came in…..We [Reilly] went undefeated in ‘58 and ‘59. It was a tight group. Some of the trips were long. Upstate New York was 6 or 7 hours bus ride. Remember that roads were not what they are today! We always left the night before. We would put the drums in an old hearse and drive up. Albany from Philly was a hell of a drive! When we got there, we played until the contest started. We’d go to the contest site – some gym or something – and unpack then start playing. We just played the book – 100 times if needed - fix trouble spots….. There was no such thing as a warm up. We didn’t think twice about it. If you have solid teaching, you don’t need to warm up. Kids at band shows have to warm up. Give me a break! You can do that before breakfast!”
Bill Maling: “Dowlan, Reamer and Jack Corey were the Archer Epler three man line. Archie and Reilly had excellent drumlines.”
Lorne Ferrazzutti: “The senior corps guys were a nice bunch. They’d go and get a beer after the shows."
Gus Barbaro: “After a show the judges would come in. Pratt would be there playing on the table. We would show each other's music and play each other's parts.”
Tommy Falzone scored a second and two first places in the Archer Epler Individual Contest. It was considered by many to be the true championship of that time period. John Flowers NJA judged. Steve Gadd wrote the solo for Falzone.
Doug Reynolds (Former Canadian National Champion, DCI Judge): “For those of us that era, the only “real” individual competition was the one held by Archer Epler. Such national individual title holders such as Dick Filkins (Air Force), Tom Falzone (Rochester Crusaders “twice”), John Flowers (Air Force), John Bowser (Reilly Raiders), Tom Malley and others won there. In 1971, the national contest was held in Bridgeport, Ct. In ’57, I was a teenager – seventeen - up against Jonh Bowser, Dick Filkins, John Flowers and Redican. He was absolutely unbelievable! He was powerful but imagine playing pianissimo rolls at eye level!
"Archer Epler’s individual contest was considered by us to be the national championship. I won that in 1971. I competed in the 1957 National contest at the 62nd street armories. It started at 10:00 am and finished a 3:00am the next day. The required rudiment was the single drag. There were so many contestants, over 100, including the quartets. What a deal! Earl Sturtze was one of the judges. The winner was Bobby Redican and John Bowser was second. Eric Perrilloux was there (first time I met him) but just as the instructor of John Bowser; he was Reilly's instructor at the time. Many of us from those days competed almost every month. That's how popular it was then.”
Eligibility to march in VFW senior contests was overseas military duty. Tony Scheletca or not, they found a way to fix that. Don Mihok used Ed Lamb's name; he had served overseas. John Flowers used Herbert Bush's, and Jim Bowser used Harry Ginther's, Reilly’s instructor many years. John Flowers won the 1961 Senior VFW snare title borrowing a name to sidestep “veteran rules.”
Rita Macey (Audabon Bon Bons): “Ed Lamb definitely DID NOT win the 1957 VFW Senior Nationals. Donald Mihok of Archer-Epler won. Ed Lamb was a bass drummer well before 1957, at which time he wasn't even in the corps.”
These were America’s good times, typified in the movie “American Grafitti”; popular music included pure “Doo Wop” ballads. Some 55 million television sets were making shows like “What’s My Line” and “I’ve Got A Secret“, popular in 1955. The 1954 IBM 704 computer used Fortran, the size of a room in with less computing power than a modern laptop. Simple electrical amenities (washers, dryers and televisions), and long drives into the countryside on weekends with the family were common. Gerry Thomas sold 10 million TV dinners (they looked like small televisions) for his Swanson company in 1954. Russia shook United States confidence by the first testing of an intercontinental missile on August 21, 1957, the first successful orbit of a man made satellite into space on October 4, 1957 in Sputnik I. Suddenly, America went into overdrive, colleges piling homework onto students and creating NASA in 1958 . Soon, America would launch toward the moon.
“Bill Reamer was with Audabon for years. He was a purist – a warm person type like Jimmy Stewart; tall and lanky. He was a vision of what a man would be - good at everything he did – down to earth. He ever lost his temper but was serous about it and could be stern if we got rowdy. Reamer stands out. He was in his mid 20’s when he taught us and was like a father figure to the corps. We were in awe of him. He commanded respect and was very patient.” Rita Macy (Audabon Snare Line)
“Rita, she is a natural. Sis could play a roll as beautiful as a sky on a sunny day! Ancient anything, anytime - pure drumming. You can set your watch by her.” Jane Macy (Audabon Snare Line)
“Reamer would tell me he didn’t want that “ziggedey-roo” stuff around. The guys would all ask me to show them new things but if Bill was coming around the corner, we stopped.” John Dowlan
“I wrote a little longer drum solo full of “troublemakers” for the McCall Bluebirds.” Bill Reamer
“I didn’t know ‘troublemakers’ by any other name.” Mark Beecher
Playing anything other than the “Original 26” invited trouble. His Archer Epler line was disqualified in a 1954 weekend competition using brushes for effect (legal in 1974 DCA senior competition), Bill Reamer saw above average talent in the 1954 all-girl Audabon corps, something vaulted Blessed Sacrament and St. Vincent Cadets found out as the ladies beat everyone a few years later. Not only was a female line winning on the field, but Rita Macy Bernert beat “The Duke”- St. Vinnies best snare and 1956 champion – to become an individual national title holder. (Like Royal Airs guard who went for Cavalier guys, Audabon had a thing for the toughies from Bayonne.) Serious 1950’s drummers were practicing six and seven days a week honing great amplitude and power, their styles reliable under pressure. This was the time of the purists and nothing was more rudimentally pure than a fife and drum muster with the Ancients. Bobby Thompson, Reamer, Dowlan, Parks and the Connecticut fife and drum influence was everywhere. They all played the Ancient pieces then learned each other’s drum corps show music.
Bill Reamer extended fife and drum technique into Pennsylvania teaching Dowlan, Flowers, Mihok, Ginther and all the Archer Epler and Osmond Cadet snares. They in turn joined and taught Reilly and branched out again. Reamer began his drum career in 1933 with Boy Scout Troop 89 at a Philadelphia Presbyterian Church. He spent a few years playing for AL post 214 junior corps of Upper Darby Pa., then met C.S. Rogers in 1935, a drumhead maker in New Jersey while working at the Barry Drum Shop and joined Archer Epler post 979 in 1936. He entered armed forces in 1941 and later played with the 147th Army Field band, selected to the All Star Pacific Band. He returned in 1946 and studied with Philadelphia Orchestra principle percussionist Benjamin Podemski. Bill became a draftsman for the Philadelphia Electric Company. Reamer won the VFW National Snare Drumming title in 1938, 1941 and 1946. He taught the Archer Epler Junior and Senior corps from 1936 to 1963 in VFW and AL competition and Audabon from 1947-1968. Females could indeed compete with the best and win. From 1946-1954 he instructed H. C. McCall Bluebirds of AL Post 20. Archer-Epler was a national champion before World War II as a junior corps, then won after the war as seniors, wining the trophy and drum title in 1954. Bill became an All-American drum judge from 1950-1958 and was Chief judge of the Mid-Atlantic circuit. In 1969, he organized the Patriots fife and drum corps, returning to the musters. Marie Soistman had Bill take over her husbands drum shop and he continued to make drums. At 85 years of age he was still performing. Interestingly, the Blue Devils 2007 drum solo used mostly tap six stroke rolls – Reamer’s Troublemakers.
Bill Reamer: “Audabon was an all girl corps. They didn’t want them to use heavy bass drums. The girls played the Connecticut style and did it well.”
Bill Bernert: “When Audabon was winning, the drum lines really were knocking heads. It took Joe Mallen to say “Damn it, they’re good! What are you people listening to? Do you realize what they’re playing? Stop looking at them as girls!” It took awhile for judges to accept that girls could play that well. We won the drum quartet competition in 1956. In 1957 at Atlantic City nationals, Audabon won drums. We beat everyone, the highest score of both junior and seniors. The corps lost by .05 – a half a tenth to Holy Name, who were always the American Legion ‘s babies. We had been beating them most the year.”
The “Rodney Dangerfield” of rudiments was the Six Stroke Roll. It received “no respect” because Ancients thought it sounded like a Ratamacue. Why use the “6” when you can do something more difficult from the original “26” that switched hands? The Six Stroke Roll does not appear in many instructional books of history and if it does, only as an “exercise” or “practice material”, odd considering the “6” gives speed and a generous driving downbeat accent pattern that’s easily executed, something corps need charging the stands - much sound and fury for little effort. It was not effective until tempos increased, which was happening from 1945 to 1949. Instructors discovered that Sixes were easier to teach and execute than Ratamacues. Larry McCormick finally gave due this lost rudiment, easily combined with other stickings, seeing the advantages of its simplicity and arrangement potential for mid 1960’s Cavalier drum charts. It was the rudiment of choice in marching band lines of the 1980’s who rarely attempted hand to hand difficulty. (Reamer taught it in the early 1950’s.) Today, the best players use the rudiment that “got no respect” for displays of speed.
Bill Kaufmann: “Troublemakers was Reamer’s word for Sixes. It was a same-handed roll. It was frowned upon. Why not just play Ratamacues? It was the beginning of change, especially the mid 1950’s."
Don Mihok: “Reamer taught us “Troublemakers”. It was a tap Six Stroke Roll. No one had seen or done them then. We would kick off-the-line and while the horn line was doing a wave – up one at a time – we would play “Troublemakers”. The east coast became divided into sections, Bill Reamer had the Delaware Valley, Bobby Thompson was in New Jersey and Eric Perrilloux was with the New York corps. We went round robin with all the Philly corps so we saw what everybody was doing. All the corps were close by so we didn’t have to travel much.
“I practiced 3 hours a day….. I remember going on first in individuals. I was playing the Rita Macy 6/8. She didn’t want to go on first. We were playing the same solo. The judge had to give her the same quality of selection mark. My wife Ilene was in Audabon’s snare line. They were all naturals.”
Mark Beecher: “I was in that VW van of his going to musters. He brought everything he saw back. There was a large transfer of knowledge at the musters. I got into the jollifications at Swedes Hall where the better drummers would congregate away from everyone else to jam. It was less noisy there. Bobby T, Jim Clark, Cliff Barrows – all the names – showed up. They would take a piece like Paddy On the Handcar starting with the traditional notation, then double it. They would throw inverted flam taps, ratamacues and flam accents into it to make it harder.
"I was there in 1969 when Alfons Greider and the Swiss Radabangs came to Connecticut. VDK was there. They were sword fencing, flipping and juggling sticks, there was a part with lighting sticks on fire, and they played one handed with the other hand behind their back.
“Reamer taught a Sturtze template, a tap-up-down system – high handed with prepatory motion with a four to six inch tap and a two inch grace note. He wanted accents held down. He didn’t play as high as Redican - the arm movement was not as pronounced. For a paradiddle: DOWN-UP-TAP-TAP. The style adapted well to drum and bugle corps.”
“Because of Bill, I’ve had the privilege of playing alongside many of the greatest rudimental drummers in history - Earl Sturtze, Bobby Thompson, Bobby Redican, Charley Poole, Paul Cormier, Hugh Quigley, Jack Tencza, Bill LaPorte, Jim Clark... I played with Rita Macy in the Old City and Liberty fife and drum corps. Rita plays a little higher. She hesitates her roll attacks, like most the fife and drum players do – a long hesitation. She’s got to be 70 years old and still plays well.”
Jane Macy was not allowed in drum corps until kid sister Rita aged out. Her junior marching years were 1960-1966, but lowered her style to fit the Yankee Rebel Alumni Corps. Bill Reamer taught her the high Connecticut style at Audabon.
Jane Macy: “Big sis wouldn’t let little sis in. Rita took the younger ones and taught the rookies. The big Audabon line was good. They still remember that line. They beat the best of them: Blessed Sac, St. Lucy’s, St. Vinnies. Our girls held their own. In Atlantic City we took top drums. People couldn’t believe they were girls. We always had a stable line.”
“Our quartet won in 1965. Reamer wrote our solos. I went in and lost to a back sticking guy. The rudiment that year [besides the long roll] was the Ratamacue. No problem. I did it well. The guy that won said he hacked it up. He blew right threw his solo though. I gave my weight to the rudiment breakdowns.
“I remember my first time in individuals. The critics – Reamer and sis – came. I remember before I went on, “What the heck did I get myself into?” I don’t remember the solo or even being out there. I blew through it – 9th out of about 20. I met the national champion that day, John Bodnar. Next week came and well, I can’t back down. People said there was no one there. Bodnar was. He was first. I was second. He looked at me surprised. I told him “That’s what happens when you get me mad!”
“We would do the ancient style breakdowns with your hands way up in the air. The breakdown was a perfect 1 1/2 up and 1/1/2 minutes down.
“We had a neighborhood of Bon Bon girls. Three of them were from next door. My cousin Bonnie was a cymbal player with me. We had something good going, a community thing. There were four generations of Bon Bon girls. Our girls dated the St, Vinnies guys. It was the 60’s. It was OK to hang around and socialize - then beat them. It was more who’s beating who. John Flowers tried but still didn’t beat my kid sis [Rita]. We had great fun and pride in what we did. Now it’s something different. We had full capacity at shows; the stands were filled. They came to see the girls with the white boots. We never hurt for audiences. It’s sad to see what has happened. We used to have people following our busses. It was like having groupies! People back then went to shows that didn’t have sons or daughters in it.”
Annual Eastern States Championship Quartet and Individual Contest 1966
Jim Hurley (Blessed Sacrament) 97.20 John Bodnar (Ct Troopers) 95.50
Francis Donnelly (Silver Falcons) 96.90 Bob Culkin (Colonials) 92.60
James O’Hara (OLPH Ridgemen) 96.40 Bill Zampino (Colonials) 90.10
Jane Macy (Audabon Bon Bons) 95.30 Gail Chalmers (Colonials) 89.30
Calvin Haskin (Wynn Troopers) 91.70
Joe Gannon (St. Patrick Cadets) 90.30
Bill Adamsons (St. Joseph Patrons) 89.60
The 1957 champion Audabon drum line was anchored by Reamer snare drummer Rita (Macy) Bernert. The Bon Bons went to American Legion nationals, won drums but lost to Holy Name Cadets (Garfield) by half a tick (.05) after beating them all season. Rita was also in the national champion 1956 drum quartet. Separated by mere tenths, she placed third in '56 behind Charles Ellison (1st) and Danny Raymond Sr. (2nd). She is the 1957 VFW National Champion.
“By 1956, the Audabon drumline was really coming on - knocking on the door. We beat all the top corps - St Vinnies, St. Joes, Blessed Sac…. knocked heads all year long. We lost American Legion by less than a tenth of a point and lost the Dream Contest to Blessed Sac the same way. Audabon had one of the top drum sections in either senior or junior getting the best score in Atlantic City. We marched 3-3-2-2 from the mid 1950’s to the 60’s. By 1957 we had peer respect. Holy Name was the Legion’s babies. At VFW they would pack the stadiums and there was nothing to say how you were judged.”
“We had three snares that practiced all the time, every weekend. We were high school seniors 18 years old and didn’t have jobs at that time. They were my friends. We were always together and liked to be on top - really hated band. In corps you always try to do better than your last show. I enjoy being a girl, but that show music really got under my skin.”
“The Penn-Jersey circuit had individuals in the winter. We had quartets that entered all the time… ’56, ’57, ‘58. Our 1956 quartet won. We had two snare and two rudimental bass. They did the over the head strokes like the fife and drum corps.
“Bill Reamer was our instructor from ‘52 till the early 1960’s. He was also with Archer Epler. We knew Archer Epler’s parts. We had high arm motion like the others. After shows we would get together with all of them – Les Parks, Bobby Thompson…. the guys from St. Vinnies and Sac. Our rolls were real high. Your stick didn’t wiggle. It wasn’t loose. We played with lighter sticks.”
“Individuals were hairy! It was like duck soup! You needed dedicated practice. I played all the time. It’s like a sickness. I always practiced one or two hours a day. The people next door weren’t too happy! My brothers were ready to shoot me! I liked it. It’s in ya. I wanted to be perfect. You could set a watch by the roll breakdown. Bill Reamer wrote my snare solo “The Rita Macy Special”. It had fancy 6/8 material in it. Dan Mihok in the seniors used the same solo. Reamer wrote some rudiments that didn’t even have names! I beat John Flowers and all those from the west - the guys from Cavies. Men are always cocky!”
“I lost by two tenths in ‘56. A flub was a tick. St. Vinnie guys said that their guy won on his hand salute, that mine didn’t look as good. Were they kidding or was it true? Who knows? You have to pay some dues you know? I think I had a 98-point something in 1957.”
Bill Bernert: “You could set your watch by her.”
Joe Marrella: “Rita could really play. Not as intense as the guys but with a little lighter touch.”
Bill Lundy: “Audabon was very good. Simplistic parts but very clean.”
John Flowers: “I saw Rita in ‘57. She wiped my socks! Man she had excellent rolls! Bill Reamer was teaching Audabon. Danny Raymond and Charles Ellison were with St. Vinnies then. He [Ellison] was the ’56 junior winner – second in ’57. I couldn’t beat him either!”
St. Vincent Cadets (1942-1962) had a long string of national championships: 1951, 1952 and 1953 AL and 1946,47,48,50, 51, 52, 53, 55 and 56 VFW titles. Vinnies was undefeated in 1951 and 52 winning national and state championships of both Veterans organizations, losing only two contests from 1950 to 1954. “The Big Green Band” had Les Parks teach them a lower, no-arm-motion style, but not with perfect uniformity. Les had Vinnies’ drummers playing closer to the body with less wasted motion and used that “teacup pinky”. The 1955 snare line of Charles Ellison, Danny Raymond and Tom Gerahy own two perfect drum scores. Danny Raymond Sr. was part of many championships the St. Vincent Cadets corps won. Later Mr. Raymond would teach the high playing St. Lucy’s Cadets in ’64 ’65 and ’66. Ellison – called “The Duke” - marched St Vinnies from 1953 to 1958. He graduated with a master degree in Electrical Engineering from Stevenson College and worked for Bell Labs for many years “where I did a lot of math” as most drummers seem to do.
Wes Meyers: “Ellison was a great player. He was special. There was no wavering in his rolls.”
Charles "The Duke" Ellison (St. Vincent Cadets or "The Big Green Band"): “Bobby Thompson got Les to come over to our corps. He was with us from 1954 to ‘58. Les kept the arm in. It was all forearm. We practiced all 26 rudiments. The middle finger was straight on the left hand. The right hand had a grip between the thumb and forefinger. We all learned drumming before Les came so our styles were a bit different. Les had a dry sense of humor, very scholarly about drumming. He approached it as music. We executed mostly by repetition. The judges used to come around. We knew all the judges.
“We played Sousa marches; things from Broadway - El Captain March. Les wrote our own compositions. We had a good hornline. St. Lucy’s, Holy Name, Blessed Sac, Liberty Bell and Audabon were right there. Cavies and Vinnies pushed each other. In Florida one time, we actually did!”
“There was no backsticking then – no twirls - but you could improvise in your solo. There wasn’t a lot of coaching for individuals. That was something you did in your spare time.
“St. Vincent’s was our church sponsor. Father hired a lot of us. We were important additions to the “construction crew.” It gave us time to travel and earn a little money. Every weekend it was 100 percent drum corps. You pack into the busses and go. It was our whole life - like being in the service."
Danny Raymond Jr. would ride in the back of his fathers car in ’73 or so and play Hawthorne drum solos. He was taught by Bobby Craig, a Blessed Sacrament snare and marched the 1987 and ’88 seasons with the Skyliners senior corps. His father, Danny Raymond Sr. started in 1946 with St. Vincent’s feeder corps, mentored there by Les Parks and later at Hawthorne. He won seven nationals with St. Vinnies and six with the Caballeros. Raymond senior was a well known judge who held himself accountable for his marks.
Danny Raymond Jr. - “My mom was raised in school at Blessed Sacrament. Her brother was a French horn in the Woodsiders so she tolerated my drumming. Dad was from St. Vinnies. The corps were bitter rivals then. I would go to shows all the time with dad and that got me out of mom’s hair. My grandfather was a quartermaster with both Sac and Woodsiders.”
“I used to sit there on the couch with 3S sticks and do basic rudiments. The couch mattress was good to play on. Had the attention span of any 4 year old but I would mimic what I saw. I’d play on top of a horn case. My dad would put one on its side – the perfect height for me to play – and would say, “Play Paradiddles. Now play Four Stroke Ruffs. Now Singles. The Garfield instructor laughed.” I remember being at Garfield when I was 12. I was a little kid and didn’t have the endurance to stay. It was the ’77 season.
“We would go to the shows dad judged. My father stated that it was hard to judge past 15 corps. John Flowers pulls up one time. Bobby Thompson…. We’d open up the car door and I’d play on the arm rest of the car. I tore so many of them up! My dad would hum tunes. “You want to play to Blessed Sac?” He would sing El Sid and I would play to it. I learned by listening to records. I was learning to play what they were. Blessed Sac was a huge influence on me. Indirectly, I was taught by Bobby Thompson, listening and playing to all the albums.”
Few people know that – unbelievably - two national champion snare drummers were dating each other. Charles “The Duke” Ellison from St. Vinnies was going to Villanova college – 95 miles one way - and driving back to Audabon to see one of the Macy sisters. The Macy’s and “The Duke” have good memories about each other’s company. When asked how anyone could date someone they were trying to pulverize for the national individual title, Ellison had deep philosophical perspective:
“I didn’t date her until after I won.”
STEAK FOR DINNER?
“In 1957 at the Miami VFW finals, it rained. They had plastic heads. Reilly [Raiders] found out about that and asked to borrow the Cavies drums which were green, black and white, both Cavie and Reilly colors. Reilly won drums that night too. The rest of them were putting sticks through their heads all night.” Paul Milano (Cavaliers)
“We [the Cavaliers] were a test corps. When Frank [Arsenault] got there he would bring new stuff over – plastic heads. We ripped them and cracked them; too hard, too soft. We were denting them, splitting them. There was Ludwig and Slingerland heads there. We broke all the plastic. We liked them tight for a sharp, crisp sound. We’d take a block of wood and tighten with the stick between them. There were broke lugs right out of the drum." Ron Marcquenski (Cavaliers)
“Reilly had the first Camco plastic heads. They were not durable. You would see a big bubble. They couldn’t take tension well. We had ‘em in 57 and used them from ’58 on. We had a rehearsal set and a field set of drums but the sets didn’t feel the same so we stopped doing that. The drums were adding lugs, from six then eight to ten and twelve lugs. We used to tuck our own calfskin heads with a spoon to dry them out. If it was rainy, they were not worth a crap!” Nick Piscotti (Yankee Rebels, Reilly Raiders)
“We used the same approach on plastic as we did on calfskin.” Bill Reamer (Osmond Cadets, Liberty Bell, Audabon Bon Bons)
“Heads properly tightened and NOT continually slacked off will finally reach a certain stage where they will stay put in ordinary atmospheric changes… Drum heads dry unevenly, especially near the shell which takes much longer.” John J. Heney (Sousa’s drummer in 1926)
“We visited the tannery on Elston Avenue which I disliked intensely because the odors were nearly intolerable. Every day hundreds of animal skins, mostly calf skins, were dropped off on the factory floor…. All smelly, slimy and often bloody. In the summers the flies were there too – in the millions! My father did not approve of my distaste of the tannery. He always maintained it was a delightful odor because it was the odor of business and the drum business was good business.” William F. Ludwig II
Those wearing green were beneficiaries of the 1957 VFW national championships because of new technology for a damp Miami finals. Through Frank Arsenault’s Ludwig contacts, Cavies were the only ones to have plastic heads that night, except for the senior corps drum trophy winners – who borrowed their drums – the Reilly Raiders. Bad weather would no longer hold sound quality hostage. Within a year everyone was using plastic drumheads. Former Cavaliers director Don Warren believes the plastic heads saved them in the Miami humidity; drummers were putting sticks through heads. With rudiments getting more complex, tuning for clean grace notes and taking care of “true sounding” calfskin was evermore tricky. Pampering cowhide took away practice time, its unpredictability causing nervous drummers to check weather reports for any mention of “humidity”. Rain drew ire. Stick rebound from plastic had to be similar to calfskin if serious Reilly drummers were risking national finals having little experience with them. The transition was smooth, Reilly’s technique was already adaptable to plastic’s slightly shorter “pingy” sound.
John Dowlan: “With calfskin, we had to unloosen the drum every time. If it was damp, you couldn’t get any sound. We were at the Enid, Oklahoma Tri-State Music affair in 1957. The Air Force did an exhibition the last day. Remo comes running down to the field to get input: how to improve them – what we didn’t like. They were denting and peeling. Later we used an extra large center, a black dot. Plastic didn’t sound as good. There is a mechanical aspect to it but plastic was tuned in any climate. Many of the guys didn’t like them. Calfskin was softer - had a nicer sound; plastic has better response and brilliancy.”
Norman Peth: “When it rained, calfskin was a disaster! Those heads sounded like rubber bands! When things were right with calfskin, they had a lot more bite and were easier to play on than plastic. The contrast from calfskin to plastic was like playing on a window. You had to adapt a bit. The rebound wasn’t as good. Calfskin was great to play on but synthetics were a great improvement. The tone was more even across the line from drum to drum and judges couldn’t pick out a certain player. When the first plastic heads came out, one drum set guy put a cigarette on it. The ashes hit the head and it exploded!”
Rita (Macy) Bernert: “We started out with calfskin heads and later went to plastic. In ‘55 and ‘56 we had small rope drums. They looked good but were tough to play on. Late at night they would get soggy and you couldn’t get them tight. By the end of the evening, I felt like kicking it. It was like playing on a pillow.”
William Curlott: “Those calfskin heads were temperamental as hell! We would place them by a radiator the night before a show for them to dry out. You needed the right combination of weather. Then there was nothing like it. But how many of those days do you get? Plastic has a tinny sound; a bit funny. Calfskin had a deep-throated tone without a metal influence. Calfskin required more control. You didn't bounce as much on them. Calfskin got damp - like playing on a pillow. They took pride on being able to play on pillows. You had to release the tension and back everything off three times. It was a pain in the shorts! Plastic was a godsend. But that four inch circle they put on there to stop the dents exposed a lot more people! It's a cheat when they depend on the bounce of the stick.”
Don Mihok: “Calfskin was a pain in the neck if there was damp weather. We would lake the head off and do anything we could – retuck them – dust them to counteract the dampness. Vinnies would put a batter head over the calfskin. Reamer would spray the heads with clear plastic to stop the dampness, especially on the bottom. In the 1940’s and 50’s, Holy Name [Garfield] used rope drums. They didn’t sound that good. They would get ‘em out in the sun before a contest letting the sun dry them up.”
Bill Kaufmann: “I used to tuck our calfskin head myself. You couldn’t keep them in tune; like playing on a sponge! They would loosen on the field during a show and as hard as we played, they didn’t last long! Nothing changed from calfskin to plastic. It was a brighter sound. We still played into the head. “
Jimmy Giles (Reilly Raiders): “I didn’t play on calf skin too long. The snares didn’t react well. They had a dreadful sound if it rained. No rebound. You hit it hard and the stick stayed there!.”
Doug Kleinhans: “With calfskin, you mounted them yourself but if it was a bad evening you’d get burned. You couldn’t get a sound out of them. That low 15” drum had no sound or response. In 1957 or 58, they were selling plastic heads in Buffalo for $10. I just did a job for $10 so I bought one. Wonderful!”
John Flowers: “After a show, we would go back to the hotel, take the heads off, and iron the dents out with an iron.”
Lorne Ferrazzutti: “I remember breaking calfskin heads all the time. On a hot dry day we would reef them up and they would explode all the way across the head. We were always going to the drum shop for heads. If it got damp out the heads went soft and you couldn’t get any sound out of them. Plastic was a revelation. Weather didn’t affect them and they lasted ten times longer. One guy selling plastic heads stood on the drum to show how they could take it. On calfskin he would have gone right through.”
Gary Pagnozzi: "With calfskin, the weather could kill you very quickly. Trap drummers were still using them but outside, damp drums sound bad. Your scores would definitely go down. They judged the way they heard it. They wouldn't change for a disadvantage like that if calfskins were in bad weather.”
Bill Lundy (Blessed Sacrament): “Calfskin used to tear on the field. If that happened, we played off to the side. It never happened to me. We had plastic covers, but you had to be very careful. There was a significant difference from calfskin to plastic. It took me a month to get used to it. None of us liked it at first but they lasted the whole season. We tuned by placing strips of sheets in the drums. We wet them, placed them and let them dry. Bobby did our tuning. He was a master at getting a drum sound. Sometimes he used a whole bed sheet to deaden the sound. He tried to get a whole set of drums to sound similar.”
Jack McGuire: “In humidity and drizzle, you beat your brains out trying to get something out of the drum. It took twice as much effort. Calfskin can be great on a clear day but how many of those days do you get?”
Gus Barbaro: “I was a set drummer in high school and had to deal with calfskin heads. The pros still use them. They put lights inside their drums to make it warmer and evaporate moisture. They like the warm sound of calfskin.”
Mitch Markovich: “Mel Tierney Vanguard had calfskin heads in ’57. In the winter we went to plastic ones that would dent like a ping-pong ball. If you nailed them with an accent you got a dent - a quarter inch circle. We were marching with calfskin and breaking them. They had head covers, a soft vinyl that you tied onto the lugs to keep rain off. I had calfskin on my drum set until about seven years ago. I kept taping them with clear scotch mailing tape. It’s still a mellow sound.”
Ludwig and Slingerland tried to get through the door first for better quality calfskin.
William F. Ludwig II (Ludwig, The Making of a Drum Company, p.53): “Throughout all of the decade of the 1950’s. I was in a foot race with Bud Slingerland to get the best calfskin heads for our increasing drum production. There were only four sources of supply and we would often find ourselves facing one another in the waiting rooms of one of the drum tanneries… Each would call us both as nearly simultaneously as possible with the news that a fresh supply of calfskin and slunk heads was assembled for our picking and approval. When I got the call I would drop whatever I was doing and race through the office, coat tails flying, jump into my car and floor it down to that tannery. Arriving ahead of Bud gave me a feeling of jubilation since I would go through the stacks and of freshly tanned heads picking out the best and leaving the poorest for Bud… Slunk skins had to be carefully selected and if Bud was in the waiting room, I took extra care and time to leave him as many pin-holed slunk skins and salt stained batter heads as possible. He did likewise…”
If cows were less than a year in age, their skins were held up to a light to find discoloring salt stains and small pinholes that could split under tension. Then they searched for cuts and even thickness. The hides were trimmed and the salt washed out. They were placed in a lime vat to loosen any remaining hairs, then washed again, cutting off extra flesh. They were then pounded to remove the lime. Hides were tacked to a frame and placed on steam coils to dry fast, then graded for weight, size and quality (top or bottom head) then trimmed. Thinner transparent heads needed no lime. Slunk skins were leftover from the cow slaughtering process, tanned from unborn calfs, ideal for thin snare heads and outnumbered snare calf batter heads.
Mylar was invented by British scientists to replace celluloid film. Reconnaissance was done by an extra crew member of a bomber after a raid. Their problem was at altidude it was extremely cold. The celluloid film would break. Brittish scientists were told to solve the problem. Their solution was Mylar. Joe Brolleman, a former Ludwig Marketing Director sent Ludwig a head with Mylar stapled to a wood hoop.
William Ludwig II: “We immediately put it on a drum, tensioned it up, played it, and found that it probably had the best chance of any of the substitutes for calfskin heads. But the heads that Brolleman sent were too thin and we pockmarked them. The next step was to get a thicker Mylar, which was available. Then, the staples pulled out so we attempted to glue the heads on with epoxy resin. When this pulled out, we were delighted because then we didn't have to change anything - just keep buying calfskin heads.”
The first Mylar attempts were restricted by combining foreign materials – metals and plastic. “The problem was not the Mylar, but attaching it… Remo (Belli) had the good fortune to live next door to an engineer from Lockheed, and they were using epoxy in some of their joints on the airplanes to replace riveting. And so he was working on a gluing process at the same time. Then we came upon the interlocking relationship. My father was sitting in his office one day with a pair of pliers, bending an aluminum hoop with the Mylar in between - clinching it, so to speak - and that’s what we ultimately ended up with.”
For 1960’s timbre, plastic heads were deadened and the ring (ping) taken out with cut up linens – bed sheets were preferable - then wetted down and stretched across the drum until the ends stuck, then allowed to dry taught. A "sharp thud" would describe a well-tuned drum. The decay was missing. This method helped tenor drums gain a distinct piercing sound that when tuned higher, projected and cut through the snare voice, perfect for showing off more complex intersegmental trades.
Blessed Sacrament Golden Knight bass drummers: “We used to buy bed sheets and stretch them across the heads. It took seven guys to stretch that full sheet across that whole head. We used wooden mallets then but it never came loose. But, we went through a [bass] head a week playing 32nd note rolls. We played 32nds underneath the snare parts.”
Ken Norman: “When they started crankin’ those drums the weakest link would break. The lugs and castings would pull. A sixteenth or thirty-second inch metal plate would be inserted to reinforce the shell reinforcing the tension straight up and down. The plastic heads would crack more. They would dry out in the sun and lump out. The plastic was not of a uniform density.”
The controlled diddle separated World War I Army drumming from late 1940’s rudimental applications. In 1954, increased Flam work for difficulty required better articulation. The addition of the plastic head in 1957 increased head tension, giving drummers a better chance at a uniform sound. They could listen within the line better with the shorter, higher sound of plastic, a training advantage. A key to uniformity and “hearing” was sight training; the drummers’ sixth sense told when sticks around you were going to hit. The time used to nurse calfskin could now be used to practice if you owned a drum key. So, all the cows standing in a grassy field somewhere waiting for your owner to say a few encouraging words as you are walked to the gangplank, do not worry. The hides of your offspring are rarely used for drumheads anymore. You have become too expensive. However, rudimental drummers practice hard. We need need strength and energy! Steak for dinner?.
“The Air Force introduced back sticking. The rat-drag figures. Then with a couple of iterations they were doing it with flams. Back in the 60’s if you wanted to get the jump on the others, the rudiments of the day were Swiss, 24th note Double Paradiddles and hand to hand coordination. The 2/4 or 4/4 was not a real challenge anymore. The judiciary system looked at how much you played and how well. It was note saturated. There was a degree of difficulty and you would ascend a score based on it. It forced you to play all this stuff really good - intense competition. In the senior corps, Reilly, Sky and Hawthorne all played. Everybody knew everybody. It was a fraternity of drummers. It wasn’t kill or be killed but an aggressive fraternity.”
“I judged the Air Force Quartet when they were using another name. It was one of the best quartets I even saw. Twenty or thirty would come to a contest. That’s where backsticking started. The Air Force had forty to fifty people trying out for that line.”
“The Air Force was not a junior corps. I was there when they played their famous solo the first time. We watched them play. STUNNING! We thought WE [Blessed Sacrament] were good!”
“Everybody had an idea for the quartet piece. A solo should tell a story and build up to an ending. Each guy took 64 counts of the solo. The backsticking was then the last 64 counts. We had to be between 2 1/2 and 3 minutes. Since it was for exhibition we could elaborate a bit. I liked Krupa and did Sing, Sing. Sing. We came up the line with just the left hand going and put scattered flams in there – ratamacues, single drags – did some single 9’s. We asked Reamer to Judge us up at Wilmington. He stood and looked. “I’ve never seen a drum quartet as hot as this one. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“If you had an idea, you would wake up at night and go knock on doors and say, “Let’s do this or let’s try this. We would get the key from the CO at 2 AM and start practicing. We had ironing boards and practiced all the time on those. It was our barracks. We could do what we wanted. The drum quartet changed a lot of things in drumming. We did things different than use the Seven Stroke roll and were experimenting with fast finger control. We were changing from Connecticut Halftime variations to modern drumming.”
“Back sticking was originally to be a helicopter motion. It was a smooth motion that didn’t need to move the arm. We didn’t go over the top like they do today. People learned the over-the-top way because Nardelli and others copied us wrong. They didn’t do what we did. That’s why the over-the-top method was used.”
“In the Air Force we were drumming all day long and got paid for it. Up at 8am and Crawford would have us till 10 then you had the rest of the day off. If you were serious you went back and drummed. In ’58 the Swiss rudiments were just coming in; inverted flam taps and flam drags. We had the back sticking together in ’58. Archie did it in Dipsy Doodle in ’59. It was a flip back and forth with John Flowers and myself on the field. “
“The Air Force quartet, the most amazing group of the decade!”
“If you didn’t have sticks with you, you were court marshaled!”
The 1958 Air Force Drumline
Its members are the originators of backsticking in America
L to R
The Air Force drumline put a new 1958 engine in the sleek rudimental car. They attracted some of the best rudimentally trained musicians then experimented with different musical genre. Some joined at the request of NCO Truman Crawford. Formal solo structure – glorified versions of Connecticut Halftime with intricately phrased “fillers” – were standard until Air Force drummers added horsepower and a ragtop. Ancient had become modern, the Model-T a Ferrari. John Dowlan’s long forgotten 1938 left wrist stretching exercise quickly became backsticking, a visual rudimental staple. It spread quickly after its 1958 introduction by Dowlan and the Air Force Quartet at the Blue Rock Individual contest. Archer-Epler used it in Dipsy Doodle in 1959, while the juniors saw the 1960 Blessed Sacrament line use it. Dowlan’s self-published 1961 pamphlet on backsticking satisfied curiosity, but it took someone to sidestep Schletca and the VFW competition committee to get noticed, not penalized. Even Earl Sturtze capitulated, his Bridgeport Ct. PAL Cadets and Gary Pagnozzi using backsticking in the mid-1960’s.
There were six players that performed at different times in the quartet: (John Dowlan, John Flowers, Rodney Goodhardt, John Bosworth, Bob Bitner and Dick Filkins). Each wrote a section of the 1958 solo beginning with big band tenor parts and ending with backsticking. Flowers wanted to use Dowlan’s “butt end of the stick idea”. All agreed not to concern themselves with judges. Redican and Sturtze were already causing small earthquakes asking what was happening their Ancient based stoic art, but difficulty had been accelerating for a decade. Swiss rudiments were everywhere. Even Perrilloux was concerned, but he was one of the innovators. They couldn’t complain; breakdowns were good and techniques refined. Drumlines were playing more; solos were difficult and lengthy.
Bill Reamer was first to judge the dragged backstickings, Krupa drumset phrasings, one handed Drags and 16ths, 32nd Paradiddles and Paradiddle-Diddles, Single Nine Stroke Rolls and dotted figures Dowlan and his accomplices conjured up. The vaulted Blessed Sacrament quartet was at that first contest with hotshot Richard Nardelli, a prize Bobby Thompson student. Bobby dragged the Air Force into the dressing room to ask what they were doing. Reamer had a decision to make. Luckily for the Air Force, Reamer had written solos for his students like The Rita Macy Special having rudiments without names. The man who didn’t like “Ziggety-roos” did his job and gave the Air Force boys a deserved nine point spread.
The quartet was warned by Major Howard in 1959 that competing off the base would get the stripes ripped from their sleeves and introduction to the pokey. So they snuck off base.Congress had passed laws stating military musicians could not compete in the marketplace and take civilian jobs in Washington D.C. But, with Truman Crawford providing cover, they snuck off base five or six times a year entering individual contests. Crawford knew but said nothing, his boys happy. They could not compete in their service uniforms, borrowing some, then taping over the Air Force insignia’s on the front of their drums. There were almost weekly winter and spring individual and quartet competitions. Quartets were the precursor to modern marching percussion ensemble where difficulty was tested and segment trade-offs began to mature.
John Dowlan: "Truman Crawford asked me to join the Air Force corps. I was with them from '57 to ‘61 and worked the section. In 1958 we had a good line doing cutting edge stuff - all drum corps guys. It was easy to get them. John Flowers was there. They would rather drum four years than go into the army for two. We did an exhibition at Blessed Sac's individual contest. It was a top notch contest so I had to try it [back sticking]. I had six guys that could do it. Their mouths dropped open. "My God what are you doing?" They came back to the dressing room to learn it. Dick Filkins who taught Archer Epler then did it. Blessed Sac in the early 1960's; Cavies did it. Mitch Markovich and the Royal Airs....."
“Sturtze wouldn't go for backsticking. "If you do I will disqualify you." Redican was known for "rippin that backsticking stuff up”. He told me in 1960 he never really cared for back sticking. He didn't think it was good rudimental drumming. It drifted from the Connecticut style. We met and talked about it once, "Now that I met you and know who you are, I'm liking backsticking better now." “
Alfred Merritt: “Sturtze was the one who taught me backsticking!”
Gary Pagnozzi (Bridgeport P.A.L. Cadets): “Backsticking was very popular in early 1960’s quartets. Our quartet from Bridgeport PAL used it in 1961. Reilly Raiders were using it in 1958, one year before Archer-Epler in a short 2-4 bar simple triplet lead-in to a song. The Buccaneers quartet with John Flowers was playing nice backsticking parts in 1960. It didn’t take long for the added difficulty and flair to catch everyone’s fancy just as it does today.”
John Bosworth was an original Air Force quartet member, with the Air Force band for 30 years, retiring in 1985 after the Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps disbanded. After flying 23 days a month in the Air Force Band, he decided to stay and played with the Pipe Band’s 3 snares, bass and 9 pipers. John later would teach American techniques to the famous Swiss drumline “Top Secret” for the Edinbourough Tatoo, later living in Oman, contracted to teach their military drummers modern techniques.
“Before 1958, solos were just a glorified version of Connecticut Halftime. There were no Swiss rudiments in those days. There was Downfall and Hell on the Wabash - all Seven Stroke Rolls and all fife and drum. In the Air Force Quartet, we would sit on our bunks wondering what we could do different. We knew what the set drummers were doing; Krupa, Bellson, Cozzie Cole, Ronnie Versall with Ted Heath. I had been in Manhattan for lessons. They were doing Swiss and accenting triplets. Krupa was using Six Stroke Rolls and Pada-Fla-Fla’s. His sticking wasn’t as clean and they didn’t come up off the drum more than an inch, but they were rudimental drummers. Krupa could play anything, just not as clean. Louie Bellson was very articulate in his playing, way ahead of Krupa. By 15, I could already play. He took me backstage and asked if I could play a Paradiddle. I threw my sticks up in position and played a few. “Where did you learn that? I’ll take a rudiment in its strict form. I’ll take it around the drums.” He played Flamacues and Pada-Fla-Fla’s. “
“In D.C., it was “What would be neat to do?” We tried some one-handed things and Dowlan, Flowers and Filkins were backsticking. We’d do the backsticking thing and laughing that it was kind of neat. In 1958, it was so different! Anything you could think of we would do. The idea for the opening came from the Ted Heath band. Ronnie Verrell was the drummer. He was doing one-hand stuff and I thought we could do that. He was the guy who played a drum battle as “Animal” the muppet with Buddy Rich. Buddy would play something and Ronnie would answer. He did good but said he was nervous playing with Rich. Buddy was surprised having the stuff come back at him like that.
“The first time we competed was in Pennsquare New Jersey. Bill Reamer was there judging Blessed Sac. There were a lot of New Jersey guys in the Air Force corps so we asked them if we could use their drums. The Sac drummers could wipe you out but people were telling them to be careful of the Air Force, these guys can play. “Hey can we borrow your drums?” We were answered in a heavy Jersey accent. We beat them by nine points. We had a problem with Audabon and had to go against Liberty Bell. There was a question if we could compete in junior individuals. A priest at Audabon said, “If you compete, I’ll turn you in. Those girls can play.”
“We were out of Bolling Air Force Base in D.C. Colonel Howard told us, “If I ever catch you competing , I’ll bust you on the spot!” He would have court-marshaled us. He never caught us. Colonel Gabriel was in Syracuse Brigadiers. His brother was an Air Force horn player. He told us the reason was that no military personnel could compete against a civilian for his job. Since we were getting paid, it was thought that we were putting the hurt on union musicians. The Defense Department released a statement that we could not impede other people. Well, whatever uniform we could find, we used. Tru Crawford was the master sergeant. He knew what we were doing. We did Archer Epler Posts individuals championship in ’59 at Upper Darby. Everybody was there. Some guy from the New York Times was taking our picture once. We yelled, No. NO! The guys didn’t want that pic in the paper! The photographer shook his head and walked away.”
“We used to practice on ironing boards in the Air Force and they don’t bounce. It was like practicing on a pillow.”
Another Air Force member instructed the famous Reading Buccaneers senior corps line from 1960 to 1974. A Temple Cadet as a youngster and West Reading Police Cadet drummer from 1953 to 1957, John Flowers played in the Air Force line from 1958 to 1963, also teaching the Yankee Rebels in 1963 and helping Bobby Thompson with the Bridgemen in 1973 and 1974. His 1961 use of a drummer playing rolls on three bass drums was to get a timpani sound, something that came to fruition in 1968.
John Flowers: “There was a variety of styles in the Air Force. Some played pinky out. It became more uniform as time went on. I looked at Dowlan’s style. Man, we had some oddball styles. I liked the Connecticut style as I knew Bobby Thompson. I met him in the early 60’s. I had studied with Les Parks too in the mid 50’s. Les was teaching the Cab’s. At the time the Hurcs, Sky, Cabs, Reading and the Yankee Rebels were all good. By ‘67 and ‘68 the Hurcs were coming on. Ludee was over there. It was very competitive the day of a show. Afterwards, we all would go out and have a beer.
“We practiced a lot of left hand leads. Warm ups were with 16th taps, Drags and Rolls. There wasn’t a lot of one-handed stuff. We did Swiss Flam Rolls and Ruff-a-diddles.
“At Reading we did a uniform style….. There was more concentration on execution back then. We would drum continuously in shows. Today that’s not so. It went out the window. I saw DCI East this year . Most everything sounded the same. A stupid ten points for drumming! Ten points and a tenth apart! The DCI turnover is about two or three years. At Reading, I had the same people seven or eight years!
“Our quartet couldn’t compete as the Air Force. We couldn’t wear Air Force uniforms. For Archer Epler’s individuals we borrowed the Chevalry Post uniforms and went in with white satin shirts. Filkins and I would go into individuals. We went against Jerry Shelmar – wiped his socks off. Ray Ludee was with the Connecticut corps. Beat him too. I don’t know how. My god, I wanted to beat that guy! A rudiment was usually picked out of a hat. Of course, you did the roll. I’d practice the breakdowns more than the solo. They would practice the solo and flub the rudiment.”
“I saw Alfons Greider when he came over in the early 60’s. It was the Swiss rudimental style with the right thumb hanging down under the stick and the first finger wrapped around. They held far back on the stick. They were doing stick tosses – from 1 to 12 – to each other and carrying a quiver of six sticks with them. They were backsticking.
"John Bosworth was working with Top Secret. They had 12 snares and 6 tuned bass. They played on flag poles of the guard. I’d say they were closer to professional as they picked their drummers from the best Cliques in Basel [Switzerland]. There are 1500 registered snare drummers there. A hundred guys come down the street and it sounds like one guy playing! The Ratabangs were formed in the late 1940’s. They did a thing were one guy played the right hand and the other guy the left. They were actually splitting the rudiments because they had a tray of beer and would drink with the other hand. I saw Napoleon’s drummers, a French band with twelve snares do it. They swung their drums away and played on each other’s drum in six pairs. They used to do battle calls with two drummers. The story they told me was that one drummer got shot in his right arm and the other in his left. So they still played with each hand.”
A graduate of the Kenhurst Fire Department Cadets in Reading Pennsylvannia, Rodney Goodhart marched the West Reading Police Cadets from 1953 through 1956 and the Air Force from 1957 to 1961with John Flowers. Goodhart is well known for his Yankee Rebel days.
Rodney Goodhart: “There was a very heavy fife and drum influence. We used the right hand flat with the thumb up on the left, common for that part of the country at the time. Lines were extremely clean back then - much more open. It was Bobby Thompson who brought the heights down. The 1960’s was the initial breakout towards getting out of the rudimental structure of ancient fife and drum.
“We borrowed uniforms for our quartet competitions - really busted our chops on that puppy 45 years ago! We had the chance to practice eight hours a day. We didn’t have to do KP or guard duty. It was a professional drum corps. I took over from 1961 to till ‘64 after Dowlan ran it. We would go on the road thirty to sixty days at a time. Truman Crawford had us doing some hard charts. When we went to Europe, they were aghast! Everything was Swiss over there. Rudiments were maybe only used ten percent of the time.
Dick Filkins was with Liberty Bell in 1954-57, the Air Force in 1956-60, and instructed the Archer Epler Musketeers from 1959-62. After moving to Florida, he taught the Miami Vanguard for 18 years.
"We did breakdowns. It made all of us good rudimental drummers. It got you in shape. We used to play on anything that wouldn’t give you a bounce. You had to let yourself control it. It wasn’t like today where you bring the stick down and it plays for you.
“Some individuals of ours had done some back sticking and it went around that we were professional drummers hired by the Air Force. We were disqualified from the contest because they said we were professional since we got paid for playing. We wanted to be judged so we asked if we could go in as an exhibition. Bobby Thompson, who we all new very well, saw us rehearsing and insisted that we put on an exhibition. We entered the contest as the Liberty Bell Cadets Jr. Corps. This was the first time any Northeastern corps ever saw backsticking. I went in to the individuals and then we went in exhibition as a quartet. We asked to be judged and they agreed. Joe Mallen was the judge. When he saw us he leaned back and put his pad down. He stopped judging due to the excitement of the crowd and put his pen down and just watched. Remember no one had ever seen anything like this. The judges didn’t know what we were playing. “I don’t know how to judge that! I’ve never seen anything like that!” Bobby Thomson came up afterwards and asked, “What is that? Let’s go in the basement and you show me that.” Soon everybody was doing backsticking. The next year, 1959, I was instructor of the Archer Epler Corps and still in the Air Force. I got John Flowers to join the drum line. We played a song called Dipsey Doodle and John and myself came out front to show off backsticking. And the rest is history.”
The fife and drum answer to the Air Force was the New York Regimentals who carried out “execution quality control” like Charles T. Kirk and Sons of Liberty. Ken Lemley, Vic Conti, Bill Pace and Freddy Zoeller were playing difficulties so far ahead of their time that Javier Morales and Fred Wasserman of the New York Skyliners Alumni corps won the 2003 DCA duet competition playing a Regimental drum solo written 40 years earlier. The Regimental’s were competitive from ’55 to ’65, disbanded in 1970. They added backsticking to keep up with the Air Force in 1961. The snares were Ken Lemley, Bill Pace, Tommy Knarr, Walter Sprance and Freddy Zoeller. Bass drum was handled by arranger Bill Westhall, Jack Pendergrass and Otto Neibler. Jim McDunna wrote the fife parts. He would pick a number from 1 to 14 and that tune would be played in parade.
Ken Greene: “The New York Regimentals were the status quo in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s."
Jim Clark: “There was staff coordination going on. Someone’s got to be in charge! McDonaugh would want 16 counts of rest here and a solo there - a step forward for fife and drum. New York played a tighter style to the drum with the arms closer to the body. Their Ruffs were much tighter than someone like Sons of Liberty, faster than 32nd notes. Their phrasing was “hoppier”, different and more lively.”
The New York Regimental Quartet competed against the Air Force playing the Bill Westall drum solo "Regimental Drum"s at the St. Catherine individual contest in 1961. Judges Joe Mallen and Walter Mullen, experienced but “standstill” trained, saw it 98 to 95 in the Regimental’s favor.
Walter Sprance: “The Air Force went overtime by four seconds. The time limit was three to four minutes. I saw the judges sheets and there were no marks on them. They said, “well we can hit them for overtime.” It was a two-point penalty. The Air Force guys were dressed in Reading Buccaneer uniforms. What they did was totally unexpected to the judges. They started with a one hand. I think they got a 95. The judges had been standstill judges for years and were not used to what they saw.”
Changes occurred rapidly in the late 1950’s. Backsticking spread nationwide, paralleling first attempts at extended solo work: Reilly’s “Ghost”(1958), Fred Johnson’s “Magoo” (1959) and Hawthorne’s “The Bomb”(1960). Technical rudimental demands further separated corps from public school and college education, widening the gap rapidly through the 1960’s. Les Parks used timbales with the Caballeros in 1961, allowed after a dictionary definition proved they were "drums”. The rules criteria offered no further explanation. Parks added congas and bongos for 1962. The VFW quickly cancelled senior corps competitions and Drum Corps Associates senior corps circuit formed a year later, 10 years before DCI. Ticket sales were now in the hands of corps managers, not a panel of non-musicians handling the yearly convention bar tab. (Bookkeeping of VFW and AL yearly conventions includes everything but the drum and bugle championships.) Changes were happening so fast that John Dowlan was penalized in 1961 for NOT playing Swiss rudiments.
That could only have been Pratt judging. It HAD to be Pratt.
Below is the winning 1960 VFW Snare solo by Jim Middleton (Belleville Black Knights) and "The Bomb" by Les Parks.
This marks a time when consecutive are now needed to win in competition just after Reilly Raiders "Gray Ghost" and The Air Force Quartet backstitching its way into history.
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