THE PRICE OF GOLD - BSGK
“Bobby Thompson was a horn player first. He played a straight ‘G’ bugle before he was a drummer in the New York Daily News Corps. His first instructor was Vince Mott, the 1936 American Legion champ. I lived two blocks away from Bobby. We’d use his car to go to practice as I didn’t have one.” Ed Olsen (Charles T. Kirk, The Company of Fifers & Drummers)
“Blessed Sac was scary good! It was not until DCI that I saw that kind of precision again. Other corps had a similar style – they looked good - but it was not exact. Bobby was exact! They wanted to be the best in the world and they were. Nobody I ever saw as contemporaries were even close! Rich Nardelli was as good as Billy Cobham. He was a freak - a monster drummer. Marty Hurley and his brother came from there. Sac had monster chop guys. A drummer’s drumline. They were scary clean!” Paul Mosley (Toronto Optimists)
“I judged through the 60’s and 70’s. I must have seen the Hurley brothers a thousand times. Blessed Sac had a specific style. They all looked the same. Others didn’t look as close. Parks had a definite style but he didn’t enforce it. Sac was on the line and you just look at them and they would come on out and dare you to tick them. “If you can find something - go ahead – but you ain’t going to get anything.” You could see it in their faces. Shoulder high attacks and WHAM! They would blow you away! Bobby was the first one to be that uniform. Sac looked like a machine. No one else did that. “ Bill Kaufmann
“I judged Sac with Walter Mullins, a good drummer from a Long Island ancient corps; he was a well educated gentleman. We had the same tolerance - almost identical. At Boston prelims of the World Open, we had five or six ticks on Sac at prelims. I didn’t even have to look at them but uniformity was a big thing then. They had unbelievable dynamic work, great hands – so even! Their parts really fit the horn music.”
“I judged Sac many times. The line with Jimmy and Marty Hurley was immaculate. They would go off the field all the time with only 8 or 9 ticks yet they played everything you could think of. Bobby Thompson had them doing dynamics and expression that was awesome. Sac did a 16-count roll at double forte height down to nothing [pp] without changing their stick height – 14 inches off the drum yet soft. Today they hide technique.”
“I liked to be behind the snare line. If eight excellent lines were out there you do what you have to do to get it right. You go behind where it was easier to hear. I would pinpoint who made the errors for the instructors from back there.
"It was like heaven out there judging those lines! In ‘58 or ‘59, Blessed Sacrament had five snares on the line. Ginther and me judged that one. What we didn’t see was a row of drums in back. They had ten. At the end of the show I walked over to Harry [Ginther] and said, “Hey Harry, I think I screwed up. I only got six ticks!. “ “No you didn’t screw up. I only got seven!” Geez, we were around and underneath them and everything! Just flawless!” Jack Cassidy
“Blessed Sac had three ticks in prelims one year - played extremely well. Pretty hard stuff too.” Bobby Redican
“Sac was becoming a powerhouse in 1953, ’54, ‘55. I drummed with their drummers. After shows it was always “who could play the hardest stuff.” Liberty Bell had a good horn line. Our horn players would march with Sac in some of their parades. We would all go back to the Legion post after shows and play all the standard solos…. We had standard pieces. It was more fun because everyone knew the same sticking. Everybody knew everybody. That’s what’s missing today. We stayed in corps till 21. Today they stay a few years and quit.”
“There were a lot of Swiss, Inverts and intricate runs coming in at the time of the rudimental bass. We had all the stick flicks in the independence parts. It created a renaissance. Our quartet piece from ’59 and ’60 used them, all original Bobby Thompson arrangements.”
Bill Lundy (Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights)
“Bobby would always do five or six things for GE. He did everything the sheets asked for. Bobby knew how to compete! We would see Bobby a lot because they couldn’t use Mallen to judge as Joe Mallen’s son was in Blessed Sacrament.” Don Mihok
“In Archer Epler there were four snares in 1954. You had John Dowlan, Reamer and Jack Corey, the guy who beat Redican once. They won Philly nationals at the VFW. It was a time when Blessed Sacrament - Bobby Thompson’s line – came out of nowhere in 1954.”
Bill Bernert (Audabon)
The Blessed Sacrament Golden Knight drum line was the envy of competitors. Bobby Thompson’s satin gold and black line came from out of nowhere in 1954 to dominate drum recaps after only two years of competition. Prospects started in fourth grade – the same age Sturtze used – at the Blessed Sacrament Grammar School allowing them to march next to each other for years. Fife and drum corps instructors were competing against each other, spreading good basic form and technique to many drum and bugle corps. When the Sons of Liberty marched in a parade, young drummers met and together watched their instructors perform. As opposed to Les Parks book-under-the-arm method, Thompson used powerful arm motion. He tuned their drums to sound the same, something needed to hear 32nd and flam grace notes in evermore complex writing. There was less risk in time, similar to how a great billiard player sets the cue ball up to make his next shot easier. This allowed maximum difficulty giving Thompson a better risk/reward ratio. Joe Marrella patterned the 1971 Blue Rock eight-man snare line after Bobby’s low grace note technique, but with a much lower accent height.
Thompson used the Sons of Liberty idea of balancing hand bone masses, moving the elbows back for better efficiency in the angle to the head - use of the arms. Blessed Sacrament players assimilated the Son’s smaller stick angles (45º) and massive attack strength while holding down grace notes and the equal positioning and angles of the forearms close to the body - about ten degrees from perpendicular. For the first time, sticks and forearms were symmetrical in a style across the line. The arm bone weight could more effectively propel the sticks, grip strength holding down powerful accents for interior execution between accents, rendering superior articulation. Drummers taught this method keep soft taps and grace notes low even with increased speed. Earlier efforts of J. Burns Moore, George Lawrence Stone, Moeller and even Sturtze did not have this efficiency. Those with different planes of motion chanced more errors; the “around-the–tree” method could no longer compete. Two inch grace notes were at much greater risk than Bobby’s quarter inch wrist flick, allowing better execution and faster playing with reduced energy. Bobby’s secret helped execute difficult flam passages, the competition rudiment.
“If you can play flams, you can play anything else. It separates the men from the boys.” Rob Carson Santa Clara Vanguard
“If there is one rudiment that could get an award for being responsible for more headaches, worry and frustration, than any other, that rudiment is the flam.” Mitch Markovich Cavaliers/Royal Airs
“The Flam is an extinct rudiment yet the Flam defines the rudimental snare drummer. The challenge is to put a bead down right before the accent. If you can’t play Flams, you can’t play rudimentally. My solo in ’77 had the first half filled with them. Chorazy wrote the second half of it.” Terry Shalberg Blue Devils
The Knights started as a small junior co-ed parade corps in 1946, adding a glockenspiel in 1947. The name Golden Knights was adopted to enter 1952 field competitions an all-male corps. Sac practiced in the tough South Ward of Newark, New Jersey, headquartered in a 15 x 40 foot part of a basement near a boiler room - "The Drum Room" - that also stored equipment. Their first national championship came after only 26 months of battle – both VFW and AL titles - knocking off Les Parks at St. Vincent's, Holy Name, St. Joseph's, and Reamer at Audubon. The corps was a powerhouse in ‘55 and ‘56 winning nationals both years just as Arsenault’s Cavalier line was starting to make their mark. The “Golden Robots” won 20 of 21 contests 1958 with new uniforms, a cross-through drill and Thompson parts to National Emblem March. The ‘59 VFW and ’60 AL titles went to the black and gold. The next two seasons saw them in 2nd and 4th at VFW, but BK won the first World Open and another nationals title in 1963, the drumline extending its winning streak into the 1960’s. Sac won prelims at the 1969 American Legion nationals, 2nd in VFW National Prelims, 4th in finals in 1970, winning high drums at the World Open. Their last competition was in 1972. The Knights captured nine national championships, 19 State Championships, 11 of 14 Dream Contests, placed 1st or 2nd in over 82 percent of their contests from 1954 to 1972 and were top 5 in 19 of 21 nationals, winning 9 of 13 nationals entered from '54 through '63. As backsticking was coming into charts, new rudimental bass drum parts and more difficult Flam rudiments, the 1958 to 1963 Knights placed first in 112 out of 135 contests. In all, BSGK won about 246 shows, relying on the corps strongest section – the drumline.
Thompson’s prize student was Richard Nardelli, 3rd in 1957 to winner Rita Macy Bernert of Audabon, 2nd in 1961 and 8th in 1962. Nardelli was considered unbeatable on the east coast, the player early 60's New Jersey drummers idolized.
Bill Lundy: “Nardelli was very talented – a true musician. He played professionally after corps - a drum set guy. In ’63 we had a trap set on the field for him. Ricky sat on Jimmy Raia’s knee. They made a trap set having a tenor and bass in front without a bass pedal. Brian Fallon played the bass drum part. I was 4th at the VFW individuals in ’58. Ricky [Nardelli] missed rehearsal. He wasn’t allowed to compete. That’s the way it was back then. At the end of practice I was told, “Get ready, you’re going into individuals.”
Chew Gernandt: “I grew up with Richard Nardelli. We were all from Newark but with him in Sac we just didn’t talk drum corps! He was an excellent set drummer. He was the best snare of the time. At individuals he would go out and play five minutes for a two minute solo. They’d be flagging him off and he’d still be going!”
Gary Pagnozzi (P.A.L. Cadets): “Blessed Sac was without a doubt they the best junior corps line I ever saw, much better than the Cavaliers. They executed cleanly and took more chances - played more demanding stuff. Sac played low, tight, and crisp. They had backsticking in 1960 with Ratamacues and Paradiddles and were first to use rudimental bass in ’62.”
“Connecticut drummers were arrogant. They wanted every chance to go against Nardelli to prove they still ruled. Nardelli wouldn't travel up to New England for individuals so the Connecticut drummers had to go to New Jersey and Pennsylvania….. In the early 60's Richard Nardelli was the icon of the east coast. He won many contests and was considered unbeatable. People said he was clean and fast. Nardelli was considered a god in New Jersey. I was shocked when Markovich beat Nardelli at nationals in '61. The only time I competed against Nardelli was when I was 13, in Hawthorne NJ and Nardelli won. I won silver. I was "scared as hell" at that contest because it was my first one.”
“I heard going to Nationals in '61 that Nardelli was the one to beat. His reputation traveled from New Jersey all the way to Chicago.”
“Richard Nardelli’s last dying wish was to hear the ’58 Air Force drumline. I talked to the man who was there. Blessed Sac had unbelievably good drummers.” John Flowers
Thompson and the Sons of Liberty used prepatory movements to get energy and therefore power and speed into opening notes to carry through a musical phrase, starting the engine before the car moved, making musical gears switch easier. Blessed Sac became famous for this articulation. Don Freising took the method to the Connecticut Hurricanes.
Bill Kaufmann (Reilly Raiders): “I teach prepatory motion a sixteenth before an attack. It makes more sense. Now kids just drop the stick at the head - no control! Teaching high school band, it sounds like our drums fell off the back of the truck. How do you get through a show with that technique?”
John Bosworth (Air Force): “You have to move before you hit the drum. There is a slight hesitation when you lift for a Seven. The fastest path to the head is a straight line, not an arc.”
Bruce Tiegten (Cavaliers): “The young kids today don’t lift at all.”
Don Freising (Sons of Liberty, Connecticut Hurricanes): “In the era of the Sons of Liberty in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we were teaching almost all the major M&M corps. Bobby was mostly with the juniors like Blessed Sac, St. Catherines of Sienna (Long Island) and was with the Syracuse Brigadiers Senior Corps. I was teaching the Criterions, Newburgh Ambassadors, the Hurricanes, Babylon Islanders, St. Ignatius all girl, and O.L.P.H. Loreto Knights. Les was with St. Vinnies and the Hawthorne Caballeros. He was not as active. Bobby and I taught every night of the week. We all used to talk about it. “We are finally getting them to drum.” The quality was improving in the late 1950’s. There was a drum corps on every corner. I had a full time job as did Les but Bobby was teaching all the time. We kept telling him, “You had better get a day job Bobby. This isn’t going to last.”
“By now everybody was getting the kitchen sink into the show for the difficulty mark. You had Les Parks, Perilloux, Bobby Thompson, John Flowers over at Reading Bucs and the Yankee Rebels… Lines got small in the late 50’s but there was a credit of half a point for more drummers in the build- up caption. If you added a snare you had an extra half point. There were 5 points build up for difficulty and 15 for execution around 1960 to 1962. Many of the judges were from standstill [fife and drum] drum corps. One of the better ones was from St. Mathias corps, an army officer with a good drum background. He commented very intelligently.
“We had much more syncopation with the Hurricanes. The style was not as high but the grip was the same. You held the stick at the center of gravity. Knuckles were flat and the back of the hand was a little loose.”
Gary Pagnozzi (P.A.L. Cadets): "The Hurricanes of ‘67 ‘68 and ‘69 were fantastic."
Alfred Merritt (Connecticut Yankees): “The Hurcs under Ludee became a jaggernaut.”.
Joeseph Gillotti: "I believe, as do many others, that Don Freising was writing the most complex, rudimental drum parts in the drum and bugle corps world at the time. He was let go as drum arranger mostly because the stuff was too hard and the corps - the Connecticut Hurricanes - could not get good drum scores. There were grace notes on seemingly every beat. Ironically, my later drum instructor, Fran Germinaro, stated that Don's drum parts were ahead of its time. The minimalism that one sees in snare drumming today proves that to be the case!"
( Joe, Ray and older brother Red Ludee were Sturtze St. Francis students.)
John Grogan (Blessed Sacrament): “I was a tenor drummer when the BSGK’s won their first national championship in 1954. We practiced in a classroom on the top floor of the schoolhouse. Unlike today where everyone reads music, Bobby would show us what we were to play and we would remember the rudiments. He had a world of patience and would spend as much time with an individual as necessary. He was more like a friend than a drum instructor. Some of us even went to New York to watch him play with the outfit he was in. If he had a private life - and I'm sure he did - we didn't know it. He was drum corps all the way. He was also quite a mechanic. He got more out of his students than any instructor with reams of sheet music could.”
“Bobby T never told us how much to practice. Our aim was to please him and become the best drum line on the field. Starting in 1954 we were. We started with an eight-man line - four snares and four tenors. In 1954 we went to three and three.”
“The first attempt at rudimental bass drumming was our 1953 drum quartet: Grogan. Wyra, Porta and Carlton. Gary Carlton was the first to try it using Singles, Parradiddles, rolls etc. We even had a contest within the corps itself at the Blessed Sacrament school. I have the medal from that event. At the time Bobby was deciding whether to go to six drums rather than eight. We were losing guys to the service. I went into the Air Force in late 1954. You couldn't play in a senior corps – legally - unless you were a veteran then.”
Bill Lundy helped build Blessed Sacrament’s reputation, an eleven-year member. He was in the 1958 line that helped win two state and two national championships alongside Joe Porta and Richard Nardelli.
Bill Lundy (Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights): “Sticks cost 25 cents. Bobby Thompson instructed at the school from 1952 to 1970. He taught several corps then, a full-time instructor, great drum instructor – always a gentleman. That’s all he did. He never complained – very soft spoken and intuitive. He recognized the unusual gift of talent he had at our corps. I joined in 1954 and made the Squires feeder corps. They marched about forty with 15 drummers. We would practice afternoons after school. At seven o’clock on Thursday nights, the big corps practiced. Bill Hayes did the hornline. Bobby worked well with him - strict disciplinarians. We did four weeks of close order drill, squad obliques and company fronts. We marched and marched and marched – drilled and drilled. That’s how they taught Sunday nights from 7 to 9.
“ I don’t know of a drumline as good as we were between 1958 and ’64. Cavies were great. We were with them a tenth here and there. We did twenty contests a year for seven years, winning the drum caption 130 of 140 times. The judges were right on top of us. If we didn’t get an 18.5 [out of 20] or a 23.5 [out of 25], we didn’t do a good job!”
“Bobby was very strict with technique. You learned to play right. He was very exact with what he did; he never took a short cut. All of the fingers were on the stick! It wasn’t like Perrilloux who let go of the back of the hand. The tip of the stick had to be turned up with the wrist as well as the arm. The wrist and arm both moved. Our attacks were with prepatory motion. Bobby encouraged us to play on pillows. Our warm ups were a Single-Double-Triple Paradiddle, Five Stroke Rolls with 8th note Flams and a few others. They were meant as warm ups, simple to work attacks and releases. We would see if we could go through whole routines without a mistake. TOTAL PERFECTION! We had a good group of kids that had played drums together since 6th grade, on baseball and football teams too..”
“Rick Nardelli and I could play clean forever together. It was Rick, me and Jimmy Raia in ’61, ’62 and ’63.
“Rudimental bass started in 1962. We had 3 snares, 3 tenors, 2 rudimental bass, 2 straight bass and a cymbal. Nobody used rudimental bass in drum corps. It was a new tonal quality. The two players were Brian Fallon and Tom Schefter, former tenor drummers who really worked hard"
“We wore Reilly raider uniforms to compete with the seniors quartets. We were really close to Reilly for some reason. Our guys didn’t march Hawthorne. They went to Reilly if they marched senior corps. We were 14 years old and everyone knew we were from Sac. Some people really got pissed off at us. Our quartet was 2ndin ’58, 1st in ’59, 2nd in ’60 and 1st in ’61."
Blessed Sacrament snare Bobby Craig played from 1965 through 1970 after hearing the corps practicing, starting his rudimental instruction later than most, at age thirteen. He taught the “almost DCI finalist” Polish Falcon Cadets from Elizabeth, New Jersey, (whose drumline finished much higher), from 1969 through 1975. He was taught, and still teaches the “pinky curl”.
Bobby Craig (Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights): “I was involved since I was 12 or 13 in a little corps on Hollis, Long island. I come from the little black corps. We didn’t play rudiments. It was more getting a beat going. We moved to Newark. I was walking down the street when I heard Blessed Sacrament practicing. It took me a few weeks to find them. When I saw Blessed sac, I thought, “WHAT KIND OF DRUMMING IS THIS?” It was unbelievable! I had to catch up. I’ve always been catching up. These were the national champs in ’63. I joined in ’64 and worked really hard. Bobby told be to join another corps and come back next year. I cried. I wanted to be in so bad. I went to Father Garner, pastor of the Blessed Sacrament church. I burst into tears, I was so devastated I didn’t make the corps. My mother even went down to talk to him, but it was too late. Bobby was laid back – very fife and drum. Richard Nardelli, he was THE PLAYER. He taught me. I stood and watched the corps everyday. Nardelli came up and asked me, “What do you like?” I said, “DRUMMING!.” He took the time to show me. When I did make it in, my grades went from B’s to C-minus.”
The Knight bass drum tandem that practiced practice every night of the week, was the duo of Interdonato and Sepe. Don Interdonato was a Golden Knight from 1963 to ‘69 and in 1971 and 72. Tony Sepe could have played snare, but with talented veterans always returning, settled for Thompson’s fast rudimental bass parts between 1962 and 1970.
Don Interdonato: “Monsenior Kiely was in charge of the corps. It was formed in 1947 or so as the Blessed Sacrament Cadets and I’d say ninety percent church financed. Kids were recruited from the 4th grade at the Blessed Sacrament School…
“Bobby would start you with four beats on each hand at eye level. You did that until you got it right. I did it for a year and a half. There were kids who couldn’t get beyond those four beats! We all had friends in it. We would get a cardboard box and a [drum] belt and beat on the box. Joe Porter of the big corps came in to teach us in 1958 and ‘59. I marched tenor drum for a few years - a 3 and 3 line… In ’62 we were winning drums all the time. That was the line with 3 snares, 1 tenor, 2 rudi bass drums and 2 straight basses. In ’63 the sticks came up. Forearms were up there. We won a new set of Rogers drums at World Open that year. In ‘64 and ’65 we marched 3 and 3, two rudi-bass and 2 straight again. The charts were fairly difficult. We would win on difficulty. GE drums was not our strength. In ’64 we won 26 of 28 shows in drums. We had no real set exercises - played a lot of lesson 25’s, 7’s and a tap, Ratamacues… They used to do rudiment breakdowns. St. Lucy’s was our competition, a similar style line with Danny Raymond Sr. instructing….. Our attitude in ’66 was to beat the Cavies. Heck, we didn’t tacet till the exit somewhere."
“I played rudi bass in 1966 to ‘69 and in ‘71. We were doing everything, even Ratamacues. Tony Sepe and I practiced every day of the week. We would go in front of the glass door so we could see ourselves and work for hours. We played so many years together that we looked like one guy. Our drums were tuned the same. We were doing Ancient fife and drum corps bass drum swings with the sticks and twirls too. You name it! Don’t forget that the bass drum parts then were all unison – JUDGABLE - something we did until the corps folded.
"Goodhart would come walking up at nationals. We’d be doing 32nd note rolls. Tony started it then I would drop my stick down so we were actually playing a split part, my left hand - Tony’s right. Goodhart looked at it and walked away!
“In ’96 my son tried out for the Crossmen. Mark Thurston was there and I told him I was taught by Bobby. He said, “I was taught by someone who was taught by Bobby too.”
Tony Sepe (Blessed Sacrament): “Bobby had a house at Apacton New York. His wife was Ginette. He had three daughters and an in-law living with him. He said all these women, at times, drove him nuts. Bobby used to fix oil burners. He had a drum pad made for him by William F. Ludwig. It was a drum with the bottom cut out and cymbal padding in its place. It sounded like a real drum. He carried it with him everywhere.
“Blessed Sac was a tough corps – intense rehearsals. One time, one of our guys went on the Garfield bus and challenged the whole corps ON THEIR BUS. We would have fights on the bus as we pulled into a stadium to intimidate the other corps. It was the front of the bus verses the back of the bus. Hitting a horn player in the mouth was a no-no. Can’t hit ‘em in the lips.
“Sac was a Cinderella corps in ’54. We didn’t win all the shows. I think we won only eight of them, but we won all the important ones and nationals. We were beating St. Vinnies and Garfield. Harry Ginther was judging us. We had 5 and 5 in 1967 and were the first to do it. We were getting beat the first shows. The judges told us to drop the line down to 3 and 3. Bobby asked us what we wanted to do. We said no. We practiced all week – very intense. We tore that field apart. We tore ‘em up - won the show. In the final number, Ginther was walking next to us. He had nothing. He smiled and was going - WOW! Gave us a thumb’s up and put his pad down. Later, at the parade, he was judging and came down two blocks to see us. They had all gone to the bar beforehand; he was blasted. He put his pad down and gave a thumbs up and marched along with us, dancing in the street.”
Marty Hurley (Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights): “It’s true. Blessed Sac had the front of the bus fight the back of the bus. It was a tough corps. For initiation, they would take you downstairs after practice and beat you up. If you were tough enough, you could be a member.”
The Hurley brothers were Golden Knights by 1964 and typify how all of us 'got hooked' on precision drumming. Marty was older, but Jimmy was a monster at playing high and hard, both with Sons of Liberty style. Danny Raymond Sr. was one of their instructors in earlier years. Jimmy Hurley would later teach DCA 1990 and 1991 Snare Champion Danny Raymond Jr. in the Meadowlark's of Secaucus, New Jersey.
Marty Hurly is best known for Bleu Raeders, Bellville Black Knights and Phantom Regiment drumlines. The Phantom Regiment of Rockford, Illinois hired Marty Hurley after an 11th place finish in 1975 and low drumline placement. Hurley would stay some 15 years. Like Bobby T, Marty challenged students, winning perfect 5.0 demand marks from Danny Raymond Senior at the 1972 World Open and the 1978 Phantom Regiment at DCI finals. After the 1972 DCI prelim recaps were read, Gerry Shellmer gasped, “Who the hell are the Bleu Raeders?” They were Bobby Thompson grand-students… Earl Sturtz’e great-grandstudents.
"My father was in the Jersey Rangers in the late 1940's and early 50's from the Asbury Park VFW post. He was taught by Bill Bowden of Brooklyn, New York and marched with the Jersey Joes. He would take us to practice when I was about five or six. Loved it! Later I marched with O'Brien's Major Police Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps in Neptune New Jersey. We had wooden drums and calfskin heads. I was in six different corps before joining Blessed Sac in the fall of 1964 and stayed through 1967.
"Bobby taught us to turn our left hand over and keep the elbow in. I had developed an "around the tree" style before Thompson, prevalent from Pennsylvania instructors. Bobby was very relaxed with excellent technique. Both me and my brother could sight read - that helped. Nobody screwed around when Bobby taught. He was teaching you so much.... The world opened up when Bobby taught. He was laidback but demanded a lot.
"The rudimental bass we had were heavily muffled to produce a flat sound. It gave the parts a more solid sound - like there was something behind you. I liked having them back there. Two of them played the same part. We had two straight bass drummers also. There were some trade off in the voicings with snare and tenors.
"Our parts were very difficult. At the end of National Emblem March, there were Pada-fla-flas and Inverts. We did a lot of Swiss rudiments as well… Many of the judges didn't know what we were playing..….. Later with the Bleu Raeders  I used the difficult stuff we used to do in quartet competition to see if a line could play it. They did."
Jimmy Hurley was into individual competitions, going head to head with Gary Pagnozzi. The black, gold and white 1968 snares were: Bob Messineo, Pete Jackson, Bobby Craig, Jimmy Hurley and Jimmy Mallen.
“My father started the Neptune Shoreliners. I was seven and Marty nine. It was a small corps. The drum instruction wasn’t the best but there were lots of good ones around, mostly Cabs: Les Parks, Danny Raymond, Doug Klienhans and George Lopez. Lots of kids learned that style. There was a big circuit then with New York-Penn-Jersey corps….. Jersey Cyclones, Springfield Marksmen, Pittston Cavaliers, Magnificent Yankees, Monarchs, Woodsiders ….. We never switched corps unless it folded. Danny Raymond was over at St. Lucy’s. It was like playing little league baseball; there was a drum corps in about every town. Half the kids were in baseball and the other half in drum corps. There was a big demand for Thompson. He could really play.
“There was about 2 1/2 months till the season and I tried out for Sac. Bobby said we would be gentleman about it. I should work hard and if I didn’t make the snare spot I would play where he needed me. I bumped out one of the kids and they moved him to tenor. He beat me up one day. Marty was a tenor that year in ‘65. We both played ’66, ’67, and ‘68 in the snare line.
“Bobby used to say,“you should take from every teacher and refine it.” He was the one who refined Les Parks’ style. He had a wonderful ear. His parts complimented real well. McCormick used to listen to his stuff to get ideas. Bobby understood phrasing. There were mixed triplets, rudimental bass and 7’s against rolls all the time. People said “you can’t do that”, but it was not clutter, it was a voice. He still stands alone.
“Bobby knew how to teach fundamentals. He held his arms further back which gave a better playing angle to the center of the head. Drummers used to “play around the tree“, their arms out and forward. Bobby refined this. He also had the left hand index finger over the stick and exact movement of the palm. The thumb was there only for support. His left hand technique was outstanding. The bead was always down to the drum. He held down accents. You only needed three inches to turn the wrist. The wrist turned up first and the forearm moved second. There was forearm in the style, not mechanical like it is now. The bead always moved up first.
“There was always a twinkle in his eye. He brought out the best in people. A real gentleman. If we lost he would just work us. We would work all day learning technique. As an example…. I was from a national champion drumline, now becoming a judge. I thought I was a hot shot! At my first contest I zeroed out three lines. Bobby comes to the critique and says, “You were really workin’ hard out there. By the way, which of these three zeros were better?” Even at critique he was teaching. I felt like I had egg on my face.
“The good teachers have a way. Bobby would let kids in the line write parts. If overwritten, he would change them to work. Other corps drumlines passing by would laugh at us breaking down rolls at practice. Those that knew what was going on would stay, watch and learn. After 1970, teachers in drum corps didn’t want to compete with technique. They wouldn’t do it because it took them too long.
“Eric [Perrilloux] couldn’t compete with Bobby by the end of the season. Those lines had hands below the rim using different angles and playing arcs. At Sac, the left hand was the same. Those that weren’t never hit the drum at the same time. The style is cleaner. It has no wasted motion and is controllable at triple forte. Eric interrupted me numerous times at a clinic once. He said “I have my sticks here.” I said “So do I Eric. All right, come on up here. Let’s be gentlemen about this.” We played and I showed him how his arcs had changed. His hands were moving below the rim. The audience agreed with me. He bought me a beer afterwards.
“In ’66 VFW individuals were held under a tree outside Roosevelt Stadium. I won the Flam Paradiddle and Long Roll, solo execution and repertoire. I lost saluting! Rodney Goodhardt was the judge. He gave me a 7.5 out of 10! Can you believe that? Pagnozzi from PAL was going to Nam in the airborne. He was chewing gum and talking! He drummed well though. But they threw the contest! It devastated Blessed Sac.
“We (Marty and I) both had dark sunglasses on. Marty was on one side of the line and I on the other. Goodhart thought it was me and says to Marty “Sorry about what happened yesterday.” Marty told him, “That was my brother you ******* screwed yesterday!” I never competed in individuals again.”
This explains the walking-on-eggshell atmosphere of critiques having Marty, the author and Goodhart after he judged the Phantom Regiment in the late 1970’s. What Hurley says is partly true. Pagnozzi recieved a 9.5 in Military Bearing to Jimmy’s 7.5. However, he didn’t win the Flam Paradiddle as Pagnozzi received no errors. He only could have tied. Military Bearing is no way to decide a drum contest.)
Gary Pagnozzi (P.A.L. Cadets): "Bobby Thompson's line played close to the drum. CRISP! Their accent height was 12 to 14 inches off the head. The rest was lower and executed very beautifully!" I saw them when I was 7 or 8 years old. They were good even back then."
Danny Raymond Jr.: “My introduction to the music of Blessed Sacrament happened around the age of five through my father around 1969 and 1970. I grew up listening to and learning to play such corps tunes as “El Cid”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Great Gate At Kiev”, and my favorite “Free Again.” What really sparked my interest in the corps, however, were those drum solos, especially the first one in the 1969 show, which is a great example of various single and double-stroke combinations that flow from beginning to end…. Their use of Drags, Flam Drags and double- and single- stroke roll variations is still relevant today, and in some cases, their approach is being rediscovered and applied by current players and lines.” (Percussive Notes February 26, 2004. p.26)
All drummers from the Sons of Liberty lineage are flam drummers and write for them. Blessed Sac quickly learned Air Force backsticking, implementing rudimental bass drumming sometimes having snare drum difficulty. Grace notes of Flam Ratamacue-Drag-Swiss combinations and accent rebound control now separated execution scores, the technical catalyst for competitive rudimental writing of the 1970’s. The field of good drumlines and individual players was getting crowded.
Lorne Ferrazzutti (Toronto Optimists): “Sac was about execution and the skill of drumming. You couldn’t tick ‘em. They did rudiments put into combinations."
Ken Norman: “In ’65 the Royal Airs, Cavies and Kilts found places in their music for backsticking. “We have to do this - LOOK!” But you might end up doing it marching to the back of the field!”
Tony Sepe (Blessed Sacrament): “We had our first drum solo playing all this hard stuff going to the back of the field.”
Paul Mosley (Toronto Optimists): “Bobby hid their rudimental basses behind the line until the second number. Suddenly you had tenor drum parts on bass. Right after the opener they freaked everybody out! Everyone gave them a standing - O! A bass with two sticks – nobody expected that. The fife and drum influence was detectable. Sac looked clean and sounded clean. Boston had an incredible book but wasn’t clean like that. Sac had texture. They were still playing Seven Stroke Rolls! It was Sousa that said the most important members of a band were the bass drummers….. Thompson and Parks were leaving the airstrip writing a lot of tough drumming.”
Joe Wormworth gained reputation as performer, instructor and rather terse judge. A Syracuse Brigadier from 1973 till 1994, he was with the first line to march eight snares and six tenors in 1966, and taught the Magnificent Yankees till 1967.
“I learned the pinky out method from Bobby Thompson in the Brigs in the early 1960’s. I taught the same way and would tape kids hands to get the fingers right. We used Popsicle sticks to do that. I used balls of paper placed inside the palm of the hand to make sure the hand couldn’t collapse. We used to practice on pillows. It was just a three-three-two line back then, but soon, more wanted to drum. In 1966, Brigs marched the first eight-man snare line, six tenors and four bass. John Flowers at Reading Buccaneers saw it. Some big lines were coming out. I did not change the heights at all. I never tuned anyone out. You could lower the bottom head sound but could also choke it off too much. You know you’re a pioneer when you don’t get much credit for it. By the end of the season, we were up there with Hawthorne.”
“Bobby Thompson was very professional. All serious drummers are. We respected him so much. We couldn’t wait for him to come into town. He was in one or two times a month and wrote the book. Steve Gadd was over at the [Rochester] Crusaders. We drummed a bit together after shows!”
Steven Ventre (Bayonne Bridgemen): “Bobby would teach the feeder corps at Bridgemen. He would have us play on pillows and one time asked for a pail of water. He said to keep the technique while just hitting the top and not break into the water; get as little a ripple as possible but still hit it. It is a very physical technique with a 3S stick and elbow motion. Bobby always taught his players this and the old fife and drum music to teach technique. That’s how Swiss drumming was taught to us.
“He would clean the line by having us do breakdowns to his tempo alone and as a line. He would start with one of us and go to 126 or 128 bpm then add a person till there were 4 or 5. Musically, he would take everything apart slow. If you can’t play it slow, you can’t play it….. At slow speed he told you to “grab and concentrate”.
“DeLucia loosened Bobby’s Thompson’s grip. Dennis was a set drummer who could play 4 different time signatures at once. He would be talking to me and be playing 3/8, 5/8, 5/4 at the same time - a phenomenal set player. He had us 4 to 5 inches off the head and the middle finger was wrapped around the stick a bit. The right hand was a ride type of hold. DeLucia lost the feel and look of Bobby Thompson instruction. Dennis had no use for it. Dennis was Hollywood. Bobby was a humble soul. Our height of rise under Thompson was 5 to 7 to 9 inches. With DeLucia it was 2 to 4 to 6 at most.
Frank Zeigler: “Mark Thurston had Joe Wormworth come in a few times during the winter at Crossmen. I would always ask him questions after rehearsal. I told him I was having trouble with my left hand opening up. He told me to fill a bathtub of water and play on top of it. He told me to really think about the inside notes and my movements by playing rolls – breaking them down – with an accent on the second beat. I would lean over the tub and learned better control that way. It worked. I used to do the same thing in a sink at Crossmen practices.”
Frank Nash (St. Rita’s Brassmen, Skyliners, Bushwackers): “John Marino, a former Bridgemen snare from ’74 to ’80, could play a pretty good roll on top of water.”
The Sons of Liberty were doing Drag-a-diddles and Swiss Triplets by 1962. They had Paradiddle variations and could smartly rattle off left-handed 7’s. The 1962 solo by Thompson is a reflection technical prowess transferring to field M&M corps drumlines.
John Neurhor (OLPH Ridgemen 1964-1968/Skyliner Alumni, DCA snare champion 1988,1996 and 2004):
“I was eight years old when I walked into my first rehearsal and "Mr. T." put a pair of snare sticks in my hand. Bobby Thompson also taught their feeder corps. I soaked it up and was told I was a "natural"….. Mr. T - my hero - kept me off the streets and gave me what I have today. He was a great, great man.
“Teaching technique is a lifetime commitment. Bobby was so adamant about the fingers being in the right place. At the time I hated him for it but now I know - stay with the basics and you never have to go back to them….. Mr. T. was cool - laid back - hip and jazzy was the impression. He harped and harped on finger position on the left hand; the right hand had to be flat and parallel to the ground. He isolated all the rudiments - one at a time - over and over. There is no other way.
“Bobby’s favorite line was "practice man, practice. That's the only way to Carnegie Hall". He said it constantly. He would call us "percussionists" when he was pissed at us. He would say it with disdainful. He would say, "All right you PERCUSSIONISTS" line up!"
“Mr. T. didn't talk about winning and losing... just be the best you could be."
Brian Pentony: “Mr. Thompson was the best teacher I ever worked with. He said:, "Drumming is 99 percent mental." He would point to his head as he said mental. The other one percent is playing. A great drummer devotes 99 percent of his time to proper technique and approach. The other one percent will take care of itself. That's why it's so easy to tell a Thompson student, as they have all been a part of the same great rudimental family.”
Bobby made comments to the author during private instruction: "Play a one handed paradiddle. Now put them back to back stopping after each one. RLRR RLRR RLRR RLRR. Now, put the right hand on the cymbal. R, RR R, RR R, RR R, RR. There! Jazz coordination - just like that!”
Fife and drum and drum and bugle split apart again after twenty years of bliss. Thompson would not make the transition to the uncompetitive political nature of Drum Corps International’s “orchestral field percussion”. DCI moved to stop judging contests by technique and execution – what the performer did – and allow a staff’s arrangements to decide contests. This was not Bobby’s way.
Ken Norman (Kilties, Famous Corps Arranger): “We were at a rules congress at the time. DCI had brought in a timpanist to talk about pitched percussion. Some of these people had no perspective of drum corps - or what we were doing. I was talking to Bobby Thompson. He was cross-legged on the floor in the hall, showing stick tricks and rudiments to some 14-year old kid. I looked at that and saw right there you had a tremendous gap.”
The transfer of fife and drum knowledge was so strong, Duke Terrari and Bobby Thompson are in the drum and bugle and fife and drum hall of fame. You have to wonder what price Bobby paid to make time for all his students. He had three daughters. Later in life, Bobby still drove an oil truck, an oil-burner repairman lugging heavy equipment to earn a living. As long as he was drumming, it didn’t matter. Every student of Thompson swears by his knowledge, temperament and utmost commitment, used to his rolled up shirtsleeves and coffee cup in his left hand. Bobby’s fatherly way of reaching into his pocket and sending someone to get candy or bringing coffee for the entire line before the start of an early rehearsal was his way. He would criticize intelligently, always looking for an opportunity to improve his students. Bobby didn’t leave this earth a rich man. He remains imbedded in the hearts and minds of all his student’s, something he probably knew is worth more than the price of gold.
The 1955 junior VFW National’s at Flamingo Park, Miami Beach, Florida.
1) 92.683 - Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights (Post #302), Newark, NJ (Bobby Thompson)
2) 91.833 - St. Vincent's (Post #52), Jersey City, NJ (Les Parks)
3) 91.283 - Garfield Memorial Post #255, Garfield, NJ (Les Parks)
4) 89.050 - Little Flower (Post #81), Baltimore, MD
5) 87.766 - Chicago Cavaliers, Chicago, IL (Frank Arsenault)
6) 87.516 - Belmont Grenadiers (Post #597), Chicago, IL
7) 86.983 - Norwood Park Imperials (Post #740), Chicago, IL
8) 84.250 - Grantley Post #156, Baltimore, MD
9) 82.316 - Paterson Cadets, Paterson, NJ
10) 81.150 - McKenzie Cadets, Bayonne, NJ
11) 80.116 - Vanguards of Mel Tierney, Park Ridge, IL
12) 76.500 - Argonne Rebels (Great Bend Post #190), Great Bend, KS
13) 76.216 - Ardennes Post #895, Chicago, IL
14) 72.983 - Lozar-Mrache-Loushn Post #248, Ely, MN
15) 72.683 - Legion Cadets, Bath, ME
16) 65.883 - The Greater Miami Boy's D&B Corps, Miami, FL
“Hawthorne and Les Parks were a radical change for traditional drumming. He introduced multi-parts where there was nothing but unison. Tremendous breakthrough! So many rhythms! Hawthorne was winning from the early 60’s through the early 70’s. The multi-parts confused the judges. They didn’t know how to judge it.”
“Our guys [Hawthorne] had been at it so long we didn’t need much of a warm up. You played the book at rehearsals and that’s about it. We would walk up to the starting line and talk baseball. When called to attention, it was all business.”
Arranging and instrument technology were catching up with fife and drum technical ability between 1961 and 1967. Fife and drum technical prowess produced difficulty for effect: The 1958 Reilly Raider “Grey Ghost” solo, The Air Force 1958 quartet, Blessed Sacraments textural rudimental bass drumming in 1962, the articulation of a high playing arm motion line, a plethora of Swiss rudiments in the early 1960’s, the ’64 one handed Shellmer Ode to a Giraffe parts, Markovich’s Royal Air one handed Flam difficulty and Rat-Drag backsticking in ’65 and McCormicks “120” solo in ’66. New tonal writing produced sounds from Cavaliers 1967 “pancake” marching timpani; tonal flat one-sided double bass drums, timp-tom and tenor trios in ’67 via Shellmer and the addition of tunable marching timpani in ’68. Fife and drum technique became marketable entertainment in another genre.
People not familiar with military field competition were buying tickets to drum and bugle competitions. Instructors with natural arranging talent had a good ear for patterns and Swiss interpretations with accents not always in their traditional place using backsticking and twirls. The formal eight count “roll-off horns-up” reminder became drum solos moving the ear around five different sections. New stickings were being invented for phrasing and difficulty, jazz charts assimilated four-way coordination, adding more complex intersegmental timing to the rudimental arsenal.
Les Parks joined the Hawthorne Caballeros staff in 1958. He heard the Latin big band jazz of the Desi Arnez TV Show that had New York buzzing. Les was around Julliard at that time. The 1961 season brought non-traditional timbale and conga drums to the field. Before departing after the 1964 season, Parks had to "prove' bongos were drums to avoid American Legion penalties, accomplished with a reference from Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians. They bongos were played by Bobby Hoffman, who later became a drill designer and director of the Bayonne Bridgemen.
Doug Kleinhans (Hawthorne Caballeros): “Les allowed me to write the solos for the two congas in ’61 – a bass and tenor conga. We played it at Carnegie Hall. There were phrasings with 32nd note rests – two 32nds then a triplet. Sometimes they held back a fraction.”
“Hawthorne was hated! Our parts were not that hard. We only had eight different rudiments at best. In 1962, the corps and drumline was undefeated. At that time, our music was not that syncopated and there was no difficulty caption. The ensemble caption was usually left white with no marks. We were very musical. We didn’t do Double Drags like Skyliners. They played the hard stuff. Sky used to say, “If we don’t beat you pretty soon, we’ll fold the corps!” Hawthorne didn’t join DCA for a while. DCA brought the second notch corps up a level.”
“In 1964, I hooked two tenor drums together which gave us a more refined tone than a timbale. At that time we received credit for each drum over the usual 3,3 and 2. When one of my corps would take the starting line, the judge had to give extra points for the three or four additional tenors. The rules stated DRUMS NOT PLAYERS. That was changed next year (1965). In 1965, I toyed with two “horizontal tonal bass” and with a few of the corps, did away with the straight bass altogether. There were tuned and one drummer could handle the more difficult passages by standing close to the other bass and play both drums. Of course, by ’66 we were hooking “horizontal bass drums” together and playing “tunes” in drum solos.”
Park’s 1962 Hawthorne senior line went undefeated with its Latin percussion quartet. Fleetwood recording of the 1962 nationals has a distinct sounding line with a conga timbre that projected well - much better than tenor drums - setting them apart. He used sticks, not hand methods. The parts Les wrote overlapped normal drum voicings, producing a true Latin feel, surprisingly well balanced and listenable. There were 16th and 24th phrasings for the listener. The album cover shows the corps to be an older one, full of serious, experienced veterans. They used two congas, one set of bongos and one of timbales. “The congas were originally introduced by the corps to be played by hand and the Rules Congress of the American Legion stated that the drum must be struck with an implement or a beater of some kind.” Right about '64 or '65. a few of the east coast corps started to get into some good-sounding big band music with a large drum line. They scared everybody to death. They marched wall to wall snare drums."
Arrangers could now write about anything they pleased, noted by many difficulty laden drum solos in ’67 and ’68 in both junior and senior ranks. Alongside interesting accent patterns were repetitive pitched bass parts. The musical effect was akin to listening to a popular ’45 rpm record. Every measure didn’t have to change as in today’s hectic writing.
“There was no drum instructor. We didn’t go to critiques. There was nothing left to talk about – sort of a slam-dunk! We were that good. If we beat someone by only six ticks we asked what was wrong. They couldn’t tick us. We were doing clean shows in rehearsal. If you could get Frank to not say anything, you knew you were doing well. If we saw the judges they would say, “I had to take SOMETHING off!” One show Curry took three tenths off for me not hitting in the center of the drum. He said, “I gotta take something off.” The line went undefeated. We were free spirited, self-disciplined and made sure we took care of business.”
Ben Mical Undefeated ‘61 Cavaliers drumline
“The undefeated year – ’61 – the judges wouldn’t give you a perfect score. They had to hit you on something! We thought we did a perfect show. There would be two ticks off. They couldn’t get anything and they were right on us. We were cocky - very proud of that.”
Ron Marcqueski Undefeated ’61 Cavaliers drumline
“The three M’s drummed all the time. I had to go back on the bus and kill those G** D***** drummers! They would watch each other and refine their styles to look the same.”
Sal Ferrera Cavalier Horn Instructor
The Chicago Cavaliers continued Arsenault’s legacy with 1960’s and ‘70’s victories using the Sturtze-St. Francis style and contemporary writing by Larry McCormick. Experienced Cavaliers like Jim Roussell returned to teach, the entire line practicing in winter with heavy metal sticks, molding the ability to perform shoulder high arm motion rolls at triple forte in the Connecticut tradition, even with accelerated 140 bpm tempos. An active bell and baton circuit funneled talent to Cavaliers, the first Midwest junior corps to travel east, losing a close one in 1960 to Blessed Sacrament.
Joe Balzer (Cavaliers): “Many of the Cavalier drummers came from bell, baton and drum corps. I was a national champ drummer in the AYOB in 1973 for the Velvet Vikings. There were a lot of them in the early 70’s.”
Sal Ferrera (Cavaliers): “In ‘56 we were first in prelims, ‘57 first, 58 second, ’59 first, ‘60 second, ’61 first, ‘62 first ‘63 first, ‘64 third, ‘65 second, ‘66 first, ‘67 first, ‘68 second…. In ’70 we asked to do our show over because a plane flew over. The judges got pissed and dumped us. The ‘66 and ‘67 shows were our best. You couldn’t touch us.”
Ron Marcquenski considered himself a hotshot until his first Cavaliers practice. He was from the Mel Tierney corps, like Markovich, under Larry Lavita. The 1957 Cavalier “Rookie of the Year” flew a C-119 after joining the Air Force in 1963. Ron changed tires for extra cash and ended up dropping out of high school his senior year to buy a gas station. He ended up with many full service stations and ran a tollway truck service in Illinois. He retired at age fifty, using his drum corps attitude to day trade against Wall Street.
“We were just kids off the street. I was told it was like a band. I worked after school a lot, had a paper route, delivered groceries and worked at a gas station to earn money. It was a different time….. I worked two years to get into Cavies. I marched in ’57.
“With Arsenault, you had to learn rolls. You have to have basics. We were like a machine. We were cocky then. We were kids. We worked to play together - very precise - very military. The marching was very precise; that’s where we got the name “Green Machine.”
“We’d practice in front of glass or a mirror. We did some pillows, working the stick and arms. Frank wanted the elbows moving. The Midwest style held the elbows close to the side. It was not as clean. It wasn’t a pressed roll but didn’t sound the same. We had a higher style. Other corps copied us…… We were just starting to win in ’59 and were coming closer to Blessed Sac, Vinnies and Garfield. Frank would be hard on us."
“Marching band was one solid tick. We didn’t want to look like them. You could tick them forever. We’d say. “Totally, they’re garbage.” They didn’t like us. We were smart asses of course. It was band versus corps all the time. They could hear it and knew what we were doing. They just couldn’t do it. You’re going to tell me you’re better than this? Give me a break!”
Ben Mical applied his undefeated ’61 drumming season to martial arts. He became a master teacher and judge in a very tough sport using prerequisite basic forms to achieve advanced method.
“I had two music scholarships and flipped them off to do drum corps. I had been playing seven years and didn’t know how to play rudiments. You need a challenge right? I was from the west side of Chicago. I went to the show and said they [Cavies] just couldn’t be that clean. So, I went to watch their warm up. Well, it sure wasn’t the drumheads or anything. They could really play. In October of 1958, I joined. If you wanted to be in the drum line, you had you play in front of them. After a while I figured out they were laughing at me. I thought I was good. I had work to do.
“We didn’t have an instructor in ’61. (Author’s note: Arsenault left to tour for Ludwig Drum Company and made practice when he could.) Frank would come around and we would go into the alley to get away from the horns. He never glowed about our playing. Then he’d say, “Maybe there was one tick.” In the show, we changed one roll, some itty-bitty part in two beats no one would notice. Frank heard it, “What in the hell did you do? Don’t be changing music!”
“Frank Arsenault is like Maynard Ferguson to percussion. He would say, “Just keep those elbows moving. If you want to roll faster, move your elbows and your hands will follow. Frank expected you to come back next week and do it….. It took a hell of a lot of work. We peaked in May of ’61. We did 17 count rolls - Three Camps all the time in the winter in Marcquenski’s basement with Markovich. When we were on the field, we knew by concert we we’re gonna kick ass. The judges would be around. They never brought their clipboards up. We did a lot of Rolls, Drags, Ratamacues and Singles. There was no back sticking - no showboating. Our main competition was Blessed Sac and Garfield. Reilly Raiders were good. Man, that was a wild bunch!”
Cavaliers are most proud of great line drummers. Paul Milano was one of the finest. As a ten year old, his instructor was twelve year old Mike Lorenz - a Cavalier snare in 1964 at age 11, 7th at VFW individuals in 1965 at age 13.
"Our Cavalier style, sound, and teaching methods were handed down verbatim through 1976 from Frank Arsenault to Larry McCormick, a 1950’s Cavie snare. Frank came to the Cavies in 1954 from the east coast. Larry received a Master's in Music, thus becoming one of the first "educated" drum arrangers in the activity when he took over the line in the mid-60's. I was taught by Larry and later by Frank, as well as several other former Cavie snares. By the time I was in (70-'74), Frank's role was "yoda", mentoring the snares individually for an hour or so every few weeks. We'd each get our turn with the "master."
“We termed 'Frank's style "high" when folks like Santa Clara started lowering the stick heights. It was predicated on several sub-theories. We were taught to strike "one inch below the actual drum head", and then "draw" the stick back out, bringing the sound with it. Our arm movements were to replicate a waterfall - graceful, always moving, but always fully in control. Grace note height was one-inch off the head. Taps were six inches, and accents came up to the "eagles on the shakos". More specifically, our hands were even with the top of our shoulders when we would begin an accent attack, just like the record cover of Frank on his old recordings.
"Our fingers were never to leave the sticks. The softer we played, the tighter we gripped, not the opposite as one might imagine. From behind, we were supposed to show a row of elbows swaying in unison. We always practiced in front of mirrors, usually looking at the reflection next to you - NOT your own - and feel our partner’s sound.
"Another practice method we always used was ambidexterity. We never knew which hand we would be asked to begin an exercise on. It didn't matter - Flam Drags, Seven Stroke Rolls, or even Swiss rudiments."
Jim Rousell (Cavaliers): “Both Larry and Frank were very easy going instructors. I don't remember them being strict - only disappointed - which had a greater effect. The drum lines of the 60ís were mostly three and four man snare lines - very tough to get a spot. Most corps had one hot snare but not an entire drum line. The exceptions were the Boston Crusaders and St. Joes of Batavia. Boston was our greatest rival. Get some recordings from 66-67 to hear some superb drumming. The rest of the Corps was interested in the Royal Airs, Troopers, Kilties, etc. All the drum line cared about was beating Boston.”
Ralph Poznanski (Cavaliers): “We were playing on sheets of plastic with metal sticks. Blue Stars and someone else were staying with us. We played with taped densi-wood sticks at full height because we had practiced with the heavy metal ones. A guy from Blue Star asked us for our sticks and his hand literally dropped off. They couldn’t believe it.”
Greg Pacer (Cavaliers): was Cavaliers drum sergeant during their dominating 1966 and ‘67 seasons. He marched from ‘63 to ‘67.
“My friends were all in drum corps. If I had to go to a high school reunion, I wouldn’t know anybody….. I was drum sergeant and would run rehearsals. Corps back then were neighborhood kids. A lot of kids from Logan Square were there. Wednesday was music and Friday night was drill. In summer it was a weekend trip or maybe a ten or twelve day tour. The corps hall had little rooms. We’d somehow get the whole drumline into it - did sectionals a lot.”
“We were 18 years old. We were always playing on soft bus seats, pillows and pads – all the way to the show, all the way to the city, all the way non-stop to Seattle. We were always together or at someone’s house. We’d play all day long.
“We really didn’t get better as the year went on - from first show to nationals. We were already clean at the start of the season. We’d been together so long…. I marched with Markovich, Kurt Johnson and Carlovich. Not every song changed year to year. The Cavaliers were professional with a winning tradition. We were the only guys doing 32nd Paradiddles.in 1966. The “120” solo had stick flips while doing one hand parts and backsticking. McCormick was writing buzz roll parts in 1968. We’d get 19.0 to 19.5. Snares maybe 3 or 4 ticks. We used to admire Boston. We respected their players. Blessed Sacrament was second best then and St. Kevins was good in the early ‘60’s. If we lost, it was in bugles or general effect.
“Judges were in front, behind and always on top of you….. One judge, Sam Gaitley, was an old Cavalier. I’d talk to him on the starting line. We were always on last, so I asked him how the others did, “How was RA?” “You got to be pretty good tonight.”
“The ’66 Rogers Dynasonics were a beefier drum with big lugs and better snare mechanism. The Ludwig snare attachment was to the side of the drum with a control knob. It would pull up against the rim on both sides. The Rogers drums had a better fitting snare bed. You could lift the snares on the bottom head. We didn’t like them at first – couldn’t get them crisp. McCormick might have wanted it that way to hide errors.”
After the Cavaliers 1966 off-the-line signature piece "Bully", there came a minute long drum solo called “120” having simple, yet highly musical structure, expertly executed with voice trades, tonality and accent pattern counterpoint. Half the solo was a holdover from 1965. The addition of deep and resonant tonal bass and wooden tenor mallets added timbre. Complex sticking substituted 32nd Paradiddles for rolls and well placed backsticking for flash. It is one of the best solos the author has ever observed. Without mallet instruments, the solo bends and twists the listener to the finish with subtle dynamics, intersegmental phrasing, note base changes and segment features. Play it today and it would sell tickets. It is timeless and has risk - a great piece of competitive art.
This was the work of Larry McCormick. He used formal understandable structure, having difficulty interspersed through sticking coordination – using some hybrids - to allow for accent poetry and well-placed dynamics. McCormick struck just the right balance, just at the right time in field percussion with an extended feature drum solo called the "120" with 32nd note Paradiddles, all the stick flips, backsticking etc.
McCormick's book Precision Drumming (1965), is more a study of lessons from Sturtze masters, repeating well-tested theories on daily breakdown practice for mastering drumming "in the same exacting style and manner” of Arsenault. The book has new sticking variations, short introductive theories on score sheets and judging and Ancient wisdom: “Uniformity determines the strength of a drum section…. All too often the student is willing to sacrifice accuracy for speed." (Precision Drumming, McCormick, p.24)
It is ironic to compare McCormick’s words from 1965 to today’s drum tuning: "Yes, drumheads should be tight, but not to the extent that rods snap off the drums…. A drum that is tightened to extremes and has all of the ring eliminated. It sounds like a board… [and] will not produce half the volume or have the carrying power that a sensibly tuned instrument supplies." (Precision Drumming, McCormick)
McCormick shows the expansion of rudimental technical ability with 22 new variations, changing Flam placement, accents and sewing rudiment bits together, typical 1960’s war material. Twelve of these hybrids involve Flams, still the competition rudiment. Troublemakers - The Six Stroke Roll - is listed as “new innovation.” (It still didn't get respect.) McCormick saw musical advantages in Bill Reamer’s “Troublemakers” - 32nd notes filling space and a favorable accent pattern, an “easier than it sounds” rudiment that combined well with other sticking. McCormick flams the ratamacue (Ratamaflam), drag and double flams the paradiddle. Like the Six Stroke Roll, the Paradiddle-Diddle sounds harder than it is - easier than the double paradiddle - a good arrangement tool.
McCormick adds triplets to standard rudiments to get a two -piece hybrid that requires two thoughts to execute as the note base changes between duple and triplet. (Triplet Diddle Triplet Paradiddle Triplet Flamadiddle Drag Triplet Triple Flamadiddle)
The unaccented “Four Stroke Roll” was taught to the author by Ed Ostrowski in 1969, visiting Detroit from the United States Air Force drum line. It is a 5 Stroke Roll without a release used in many different dotted figures or accent first - a backwards Five Stroke Roll – accent first and 32nd notes last.
An entire page is devoted to Swiss rudiments. "Mill" strokes are mentioned, highly effective played as 32nd notes, always taught by Sons of Liberty drummers. He introduces Flam Rolls (5’s 9’s), The Single Windmill and Double Windmill
Closing the "innovation" pages is a pipe band derivative combining two and three stroke ruffs with a Paradiddle diddle played hand to hand - difficult to keep even 16th notes with. (Two Stroke Ruff Paradiddle Diddle/Three Stroke Ruff Paradiddle Diddle)
Accent and Swiss variations increased corps arrangement flexibility – McCormick’s forte, putting more distance between drum corps and the bands McCormick would eventually try to market to. Curious corps drummers shed more wood. Most bandos dismissed this leap of coordination skill as unmusical.
McCormick’s book shows right thumb pressure on the side of the stick, between the “thumb and index finger”, as opposed to Sturtze’s “thumb and middle finger.” It is another method of “point and aim”. The left grip is extended on the ring finger just behind the fingernail between the tip and first joint, not the second. Larry uses the Strube training method of accenting the second note of the double stroke roll.
Pictures in the book show McCormick with a sticks arcing far away from the body, not perpendicular to it; almost “around the tree”, more of a 1940's New York approach. He used more bounce using grace notes "almost entirely done with the fingers..... let the fingers release the stick to fall on the head." This is much less controlled than a wrist turn with fingers on the stick. It uses different sets of muscle compared to Sons of Liberty technique.
Jim Roussell: “Frank’s two primary students in the Midwest were Larry McCormick and Dick Brown who taught the [Skokie] Vanguard and marched with Skokie Indians. When Don Warren was looking for a replacement instructor for Frank he asked him who he recommended. Frank stated Larry was the better instructor and Dick Brown the better composer. I was taught by both and found it to be the complete reverse. Dick had the gift of teaching a kid how to play while Larry was by far the best percussion composer of the 60’s.”
It had many 32nd note Paradiddles, the difficulty rave at the time.
McCormick pieced together the most difficult parts of the famous 60's Cavalier repertoire into an ensemble piece called the "Black Light Quartet", using black light with glowing neon sticks. During the 60's there were a series of winter exhibition shows at the Civic Opera House in Chicago. It was performed in the spring of 1967 at the Chicago Opera House drum corps “Preview” show. There was a great deal of backsticking, stick tosses and 32nd paradiddles the difficulty of that time.. The solo was never defeated in competition even though used several times - the last being 1972. The snares were Greg Pacer, Ron Herman, and Jim Rousell with Doug Lindt on bass.
All four players in the new Black Light Quartet video came to the Cavaliers from drum and baton twirling corps.
Paul Leo bass drum - (1968-1976, mainly snare and drum section leader)
Paul Milano - snare (1970-1974)
Paul Swoverland - snare (1970-1972 and the Marine D&B Corps in Wash. D.C.)
Don McWhorter – snare (1965-1974 mostly snare).
Jim Roussell: “Larry McCormick was always the innovator. There are always risks when attempting new things in a competitive arena. The '66 drum solo was intended to 'wow' the audience along with the entire show. I have always felt that should be the goal rather than playing it safe in order to be merely 'clean'. The silliest arguments during the transition years from 60's to 70's had to do with illegal instruments.
“We had a 20-year reunion of the '76 drum line. Almost everyone showed up and with their sticks! They were playing on everything, tables, chairs, for hours to re-experience that unique drum corps sound….. Precise, complex, and powerful drumming is the soul of Drum Corps.
Paul Milano: "Larry originally saw the niche for innovative products, though Blue Stars Terry Therion was equally innovative (first triple toms, first black dot drum heads, great tenor mallets, etc.) - he just didn't have Larry's marketing savvy."
"Of course, some of his stuff was hilarious flops. He had us playing on pure black snare drum heads one year. The first parade we did in the spring was on a hot day. By the end of the parade we were playing on pudding. We packed them away in their cases. Back at the hall, they'd all cooled off and shattered to pieces. He also invented the nastiest tenor mallet ever made. It had a red rubber grip which dyed your hand when you sweated and an oversized mallet on the tip that had ZERO bounce in it - like playing with rolled up newspaper. Ugh!
“He was the first to add counterbalance weights - very thin, interchangeable rings - to the butt end of snare sticks. The snare bead was oblong and flatter to put more surface area on the head, without having to play louder to get more contact."
Jackie Luyre: "The Royal Airs were formed when kids quit one corps and said they wanted to compete. My dad [director Sie Luyre] was a member of the 82nd Airborne. He was a boxing champion. Don Warren [Cavalier director] finally called me aside and told me the story of my father. The Cavies needed brass. He said, "I bet you don't know this….."
Don Warren (Cavalier Corps Director): “Everyone thought Sie and I were enemies. He was like a bull in a drugstore. We would see each other downtown two or three times a week. My business and his parking lots were there. We would have dinner every Monday together. One time he said, “You know what? I live to beat the Cavaliers.” We always would talk about how our corps were doing. One year we really needed new horns. Ours were shot. After I said this, Sie pulled out $700 placing the bills on the table – he always had money from his business with him – and said, “You can pay me back.” I looked at him and said, “You’re not serious. I can’t take that Sie.” “You can pay me back.” I finally did pay him back. He was a tough guy on the outside if you didn’t know him, but inside…..”
THE BIG BLUE
“We Flammed anything. We backsticked anything. We Flam backsticked anything.” Mitch Markovich (Instructor, Royal Airs)
“The 1965 Royal Air pitched bass drums shocked everybody! We had not seen RA but were hearing about them win all the time. Bobby Thompson was asking, “What in the world is going on here?” Well, we found out!” Dick Filkins
“The Royal Airs 1965 show was solely bass reinforcement of the snare parts, especially the drum features; 1966 had some really nice unison parts, plus a brief melodic transition section; 1967 actually had its own independent melodies and 1968 incorporates bass melodies, plus timpani, single tenors and timbales, creating really nice intersegmental parts.” James Christian (7 Times DCA tenor Champion)
With Truman Crawford arrangements, squealing horn soloists and a young Mitch Markovich almost still eligible to compete, the 1965 Royal Airs stepped ahead of time. Markovich threw new difficulty and pitched rudimental bass drumming at the stands, successfully combining drum set and rudimental patterns. Crawford finished his Air Force Academy employment in 1964, establishing a music shop in Chicago, soon teaching the corps. The '65 Royals started modern drum corps, teenagers who acquired a professional jazz sound, about as unmilitary a genre there is. Markovich combined new tonality with rudimental coordination, something drum set players could not duplicate - marketable originality. When asked who the best corps he ever saw was, band director turned Santa Clara Vanguard director, Gail Royer, said after judging them, "the 1965 Royal Airs".
Markovich introduced individual solo difficulty with Flam Drags and Ratamacues, six, seven and eight continuous notes from one hand and major backsticking passages that members of the line said were “really clean once” - at finals. He also had 7/8 passages in one of the 1968 drum solos. They earned high difficulty marks. Judges at CYO Nationals granted special Cartesian mathematics awarding them 4.5 and 4.2 out of 4.0. Not only did he use different bass pitches, but his drum set phrasings set a higher mark to blend and balance brass. Other instructors quickly added distinct bass drum pitches. The Latin drum set counter rhythms in the ‘65 and '66 Royal Airs version of "Watermelon Man", established an implied melodic bass line that changed the entire tonality of marching percussion.
Mitch Markovich: “I have the 1960 album of the Skyliners written by Eric Perrilloux. He was a phenomenal influence on my writing. There was a long solo on the album. I knew how to play that whole show. It was so cool with the fun little drum solos, the most fun drumming I’ve ever done. Perrilloux did some things writers usually never do. Most will go from simple to complex when using theme and variation. He did it complex to simple, Single Drags to Paradiddles with accents in a fill. It changed the way I looked at arranging. In ’67 and ’68, the Royal Air “Panic”drum solo – a panic to play – had 3/8 and 5/8 measures. The corps couldn’t march to it. Dick Brown had done some 4/4 stuff that sounded odd meter with accents off the beat, a random change of accents.”
Tenor and bass voices now received more arrangement and score sheet attention. The bass drum section no longer was just a time-keeper; it tactfully held the sound power of a corps with melodic contrast and dynamics. Combined with upper battery superiority, drum corps lines further separated from marching bands, a train engine that unhitched all the cars. New phrasing complexities went beyond fife and drum, whose music stood upon the same technical ability. Arrangers now creatively explored accent patterns, dynamics and voice trade-offs. Rudimental drumming now had a distinct musical identity to frame its technical one.
Heavy rainstorms pelted the 54 corps at 1965 VFW Prelims, flooding Hanson Park and Soldiers Field. Finals were moved indoors to McCormick Place.
Carl Desens (Mighty St. Joe's): "The 1965 Nationals. Wow… Chicago. It rained for 2 days straight. Most of the prelims and all of the finals were held indoors at the old McCormick Place. Our corps [St. Joeseph's Batavia], placed 5th in prelims, after the Royal Airs, Cavaliers, Troopers, and Skokie Vanguard. Boston Crusaders were 6th. Kilties, as defending champs, did not have to compete in prelims, and took the field, or, in this case, the floor, last. The rain and the move indoors threw everything off schedule. Also, that year there were 15 finalists rather than the traditional 12. We went on at some ungodly late hour. Let's call it midnight. We did our usual fine job, but Blessed Sacrament was there, St. Kevin's, Madison, Garfield...
"After a few years in the top ranks, you see everybody. You can tell a flawless show or when things are a little off, sum up the placings and come close to the actual point spreads. I was standing on makeshift seating, some steel risers set up for spectators and the judges to watch the Royals, a corps I loved, a corps we had beaten once the previous summer. Tension was in the air. From the first note, it was clear who was going to be crowned champions. No
one else was even close. Forget about the scores. When the Royal Airs performed that August night, it was as if no other corps existed. They were flawless. And beautiful. And in the hands of destiny. They raised the bar for all subsequent drum corps shows. My jaw dropped at the first note, and I have never seen anything so wonderful since. You were seeing a miracle. The memory of that miracle has stayed with me all my life. Nothing could be like that show. Ever."
Ralph Orlandella: "The first time I saw RA perform was at the preliminary show. My corps was in the inspection line when the Royal Airs took the field. We were right next to them, so I couldn't have had a closer vantage point. To say I was amazed was an understatement. RA just floated off the line… Big Blue set the new standard for drum corps that year. They were awesome in all captions drums, horns, guard and of course marching. In my opinion, modern drum corps was born in 1965 with the Royal Airs. Just seeing the performance that weekend left a life-long impression on me."
1965 VFW Nationals VFW Finals 1965
Prelims 17 August 1965 Top 30
1. 89.75 Chicago Royal Airs 1. 89.20 Chicago Royal Airs (Mitch Markovich)
2. 87.97 Chicago Cavaliers 2. 87.80 Chicago Cavaliers (McCormick/Arsenault)
3. 86.45 Skokie Vanguard 3. 84.20 Racine Kilties (Tom Sorenson)
4. 85.80 Casper Troopers 4. 82.70 Casper Troopers
5. 85.50 St Josephs of Batavia 5. 82.50 Skokie Vanguard (Dick Brown)
6. 85.20 Racine Kilties 6. 81.50 Boston Crusaders (Gerry Shellmer)
7. 84.90 Boston Crusaders 7. 81.45 Blessed Sacrament (Bobby Thompson)
8. 84.78 Blessed Sacrament 8. 80.45 St Josephs of Batavia (Larry Darch)
9. 84.53 Garfield Cadets 9. 79.75 Garfield Cadets (Les Parks)
10. 84.00 St Kevins Emerald Knights 10. 77.25 Norwood Park Imperials
11. 83.42 Norwood Park Imperials 11. 77.10 St Kevins Emerald Knights
12.. 83.40 Magnificent Yankees 12. 75.45 St Marys Cardinals
13. 82.10 St Marys Cardinals 13. 73.85 Magnificent Yankees (Joe Wormworth)
14. 81.00 Madison Scouts 14. 69.70 Madison Scouts
15. 80.80 Bridgeport PAL Cadets 15. 68.50 Bridgeport PAL Cadets (Earl Sturtze)
16. 80.65 Vasella Musketeers
17. 80.10 Racine Scouts
18. 79.65 St Paul Scouts
19. 78.33 Hutchinson Sky Ryders
20. 78.20 Milwaukee Mariners
21. 77.25 I.C. Reveries
22. 76.15 Bellville Black Knights
23. 74.90 Blue Rock
24. 73.65 Nisei Ambassadors
25. 73.00 Miami Vanguard
26. 71.80 Marion Cadets
27. 70.10 Haddonfield Royaleers
28. 69.95 St Mathias Cadets
29. 69.20 Ishpeming Blue Notes
30. 69.05 Ottowa Crusaders
Ken Norman (Kilties, Famous Corps Arranger): “RA was an Italian corps - some Polish. Like Cavies and Norwood Park, you had your turf. Local rivals really kept everyone on their toes. The Royal Airs were a coed corps. Girl guards meant more members. It improved the talent pool of musical sections.”
Bob Schreffler (Cavaliers): "There were a lot of marriages between Royal Air guard and Cavies members. The Royal Airs didn't like the Cavies but they sure dated our guys a lot."
Bonnie Baker (Royal Airs): "I belonged to the Aurora Vaqueros from eight years old till they folded after the 1963 season. I was proud of them, but my dream was to be a Royal Air. Why? Maybe the music, maybe their smooth gliding marching, maybe because of the color blue. The Royal Airs were taught to be humble by Sie - and they were. I will never be able to explain how it feels to be part of something you always dreamed of and to succeed. Members of RA took us in as one of their own immediately - such a good feeling; everyone was family. Most of the members were from the neighborhood - lots of Italians and Poles. I remember the guys singing Italian songs.
"Sie believed drum corps was the best way to keep kids off the street - the only chance many had to leave the city. Some parents had no idea what their kids were doing. Some would ride the “L” or bus from southside with their horn case. Sie was always reaching in his pocket to help one kid or another. He paid for the trips somehow. We sold ads for the annual book. We needed to come up with 55 dollars to go to nationals in 1965. Sometimes I think his own family suffered from having to share him. I know they are proud of him and the Big Blue. I had heard of the Our Lady of Angels fire in ‘58 but not until I joined the RA did I learn that several members of the corps died in that fire. The corps carried a memorial flag.
“I will never forget how the guys were taught to treat the girls in the guard. When we went to eat, the girls were always first in line. The boys learned to be gentlemen and humble and no matter what – when you were in the Royal Air uniform you never disgraced it in any way.
"I was always involved with drum corps. We had our own parties. We played drum corps music. I went to school and was involved in girl’s intramurals, pep club and on the poms squad. After halftime of the home games, I left and went to practice in Chicago. Even our letterman’s dance was on a camp weekend. Most people had no idea what a drum corps was. They made fun of it sometimes. I was involved from eight years old till twenty. RA also had a feeder corps the Little Blue. Others from many areas joined. There were about ten from Minnesota in 1965. In 1967, the corps was really big - more members than jackets and shakos. That was my last year."
"Sie found the best instructors. THE BEST! Truman Crawford, Mitch Markovich, and M&M intructor, Larry Kazmarik. We practiced the 1965 company front off the line with eyes closed to feel the elbow of the guy next to you. It was lots of fun. [I] Have no idea if the line was straight or not. I can hear Larry now. “Glide! Roll it!"
“Music practice started about October and at the Corps Hall a couple days a week. Drill practice was on Sunday - seemed like all day! - at a National Guard Armory down the street. All new members were not card carrying till they passed initiations and won their first show. They were Pledgies and all card members were Masters. Silly, huh! On Mother's Day weekend we would go to camp to finish the drill and have initiations. Then we practiced almost every night of the week at a stadium field from 6:30 to 11:30 pm…. We were always, it seems, together. The drum line road the same bus as the girls. In ‘65 Mitch had a long saw horse standing in the isle with drum pads and the guys would play the whole show over and over and over ... seemed like all the way to Portland, Oregon.” (Author’s Note: Drum corps were attracting members from great distances by the mid 1960’s.)
Mitch Markovich was a child prodigy who asked questions, listened to experience but demanded answers. Where there were none, he created his own. Mitch is the 1961, ’62 and ’63 VFW National Snare Champion.
Mitch Markovich (Cavaliers, Royal Airs): “My dad was a coast guard drummer. We moved to Illinois on Chicago’s north side where he joined the Commonwealth Edison American Legion Post. His first teacher was Andrew V. Scott who worked for Ludwig Drum Company. Edison had unlimited funds! In ’51, they sent the whole corps to Miami Legion on their own train! Everyone had sleepers and they would stop the train to take a tour and wait for us! We stopped in North Carolina and Florida on the way. When getting off the train they had orange juice waiting for us, meals – everything! First Class!”
“I followed my dad around. In ’57 or so, the corps had a new drum instructor. Back then they would not correct mistakes; it could be pretty sloppy. There might be multiple buzz and their diddles were not too good. Commonwealth Edison from Chicago always said they got rooked all the time, but that wasn’t the case. Then a guy by the name of Larry LaVita came to teach drums from the eastern standstill corps. I first met LaVita in 1957. He played a new, open, eastern style. My dad raved about the guy. He ran rolls down, but was even more extreme than the east with his arm straight out and parallel to the floor; sticks way up - arms and elbows out. Frank Arsenault was much more relaxed than this. I would run down the double stroke roll higher than Arsenault but be lower at fast speed.”
“My dad had been bugging me to come down and play for the Mel Tierney Vanguard where LaVita was instructing. For six months I didn’t want to do it; he dragged me down. I’d ride my bike to rehearsals. I was twelve years old and didn’t want to be embarrassed if I put the drum on. LaVita had me play for about an hour. After that, you couldn’t get that drum off me! Ron Marquinski was there in ’57 with me. They changed the name of the corps to Skokie Vanguard in ’58. I was there in ’59 and ’60. St. Kevin’s was one of the first corps to do 4 [snares] and 4 [tenors]. What a corps! They had a lot of 20 and 21 year olds. Just a beautiful show."
“At the Reefs Park [individual] competition in ’59 there were 19 or 20 year olds in there. I was only 13. I had no choice and really practiced hard. Frank Pamper from Norwood Park and Sam Giotti were in. I beat Pamper and took 3rd I think. There were prelims and finals for individuals – a roll, one rudiment and your solo. In ’59 I did the seed for what later became the solo “Stamina”. My dad had a close friend – Tommy Thomas - who was a pro drummer for CBS. I was on this talent show on radio and he told this guy to listen to his kid. After he heard me he called up my dad and says. “Boy, he really played! Is there a name for that? He should call it Stamina!” I started writing “Stamina” in the eighth grade. It got me hooked because I beat a lot of people. My solos evolved and that one evolved into Stamina II which then became “Dynamite”. Tornado was a little more demanding than Stamina, a different type of “hard”.
Markovich Stamina 1963: rolls <> , flam triplets, 24th flam triplets, terrace dynamics
In 1959 and 1960, Markovich won Illinois VFW State Individuals. The Mel Tierney Vanguard drumline beat Cavaliers once and were sure to challenge in ’61, but management refused to give instructor Dick Brown a raise; He was writing for many corps in the Midwest. The new instructor was not accepted.
“We could have been so good! I’m a loyal person and it was agonizing to leave the corps, but I wanted to get better and went to the Cavies. I only had two lessons with Arsenault at Cavies. He was leaving to tour for Ludwig. Frank came up to me and said I didn’t know how to hold my sticks! Here I was this hotshot snare drummer and I said what!? Frank took my stick heights down. He was right…. I joined Cavies in the winter and really didn’t know how to hold the stick my left hand. LaVita held the right stick in his last two fingers at the back of the right hand. Arsenault changed me to the front – the thumb and first finger. I was taken off my pedestal by Frank…. I was about 15 or 16 and started from scratch.”
Markovich was part of the “Three M” Cavalier line with Ron Marquenski and Ben Mical that went undefeated in 1961, the same year he played the solo “Stamina” as published. Mitch won in '61, ’62 and ’63 totaling three national and five Illinois State individual championships.
“I was putting Flams on Ratamacues and using Six Stroke Rolls – 24th note Flam Triplets at 132 ; 32ndParadiddles with a strong accent. Things were a little faster and there was more dynamics. I actually never saw anyone else in individuals. I always asked myself, “All right, what ‘s impossible to play? What is cutting edge?”
“Before nationals my world came to a stop. It was from 2 to 4 to 6 and 8 hours a day practice. Two to four weeks ahead of the contest, I would work different rudiments to be cleaner and faster. The Double Stroke Roll was my strong point. I didn’t always win the Flam Paradiddle, which I did a little slower in competitions. The idea was to win execution and there was no build up for the breakdowns. At that time, they only asked for the Roll, Flam Paradiddle and your solo. I’d make up points in repertoire all the time.
“At 19, The Cavaliers said I was too young to teach. Tru Crawford then calls me up to teach the Men of Brass, a senior corps taught by John Therion who had quit for some reason. I worked well with Tru and I loved his music. At the end of ’64 he asked me to go to nationals with the Royal Airs. An ex-Cavalier with the Royal Airs? That was over the wall! Dick Brown couldn’t go so this clean cut suburban kid with a crew cut shows up to teach these inner city Royal Airs - kids that if not in corps would probably be in jail – really rough. They wore those tank top T-shirts that Italian and Polish kids thought were cool and rough. They were greasers! They were skeptical; I was younger than some of them. It went well."
“The Coffin drum solo was named because it came before John Browns Body. It had the fast backsticking Sac was doing but much harder in the last four measures. The Seed was the solo before Watermelon Man with one handed 16th notes and 32nd note singles at the end. No one else was doing that. It was individual solo material expanded for the field. I expected them to do it! In ’65, it was cutting edge.
"We won all three nationals that year. Our drum show was so HARD! My solos had an “in your face” explosion – a fast change of pace. We hadn’t been winning drums all year but the guys said we were saving it for the big ones. We won all three drum shows. At CYO in Boston, the drum judges gave us a 4.5 and a 4.2 out of 4.0 in difficulty. This was so the winner won. I never expected that! It’s a rare thing to have happen. It was a Cinderella year with awful busses and a good corps.”
The gap between individual and line players was widening. The end of RA’s 1965 drum solo “The Seed”, was called impossible by people who saw the manuscript in Ludwig publications. Its cascading 24thnote singles part added a snare then a tenor till all six entered using preliminary motion for the attacks.
Standard military pieces no longer won individuals. Competitors needed difficulties a whole line could not execute including fast Swiss rudiments, extended 16th notes from one hand, 32nd notes in the Paradiddle family and intense hand to hand flams.
Markovich: “I’d say from 1960 onward, a drumine couldn’t do the difficulty of an individual solo on the field.”
1962 VFW Nationals Minneapolis, Minnesota
1. Mitch Markovich Post 3579 87.60
2. James Middleton Post 8677 84.00 (1960 VFW Champion)
3. Wayne Williams Post 1391 81.30
4. Jack Rosner Post 3580 79.00
5. Philip Russ Post 2193 79.00
6. Dennis Flynn Post 3421 78.5
7. Roger Willis Post 1308 77.8
8. Richard Nardelli Post 9393 76.2
9. Wayne Duesterbeck Post 305 76.0
10. Delbert Blake Post 2713 74.7
11. Joel West Post 1117 74.1
12. Tom Sorenson Post 2823 74.0
13. Bernard Boho Post 5149 73.7
14. Robert Churchill Post 3639 73.4
15 James Wisniewski Post 7181 73.0
16. James Donnelly Post 9975 72.8
17. Douglas Crain Post 1608 72.0
18. Bob Wolfersberger Post 3279 71.6
19. Dave Ringel Post 1739 71.5
20. Tommy Stubbs Post 1361 70.9
21. A. Chauldier Post 3897 70.7
22. Vincent Herrick Post 1216 69.8
23. Don Clark Post 279 68.5
24. Lorin Grinolds Post 2967 67.7
25. Michael Lorenz Post 9378 67.5
26. Richard Riley Post 2534 67.2
27. Toni Paul Post 1435 66.8
28. Bob Buck Post 2967 66.5
29. Larry Ebel Post 1130 65.5
30. Blair Flegal Post 3971 55.5
Robert Manire (Miami Vanguard): "We had 140 members in our corps. Our instructor was a guy from Hawthorne who flew down to Miami on weekends. He arranged the parts. I saw Markovich play in V.F.W. Individuals in ‘62 or ‘63. He was innovative with impeccable style. Back then everyone played tight and powerful - very military. Individual competitions had a breakdown of the Double Stroke Roll of three minutes exact. Then you had to play a second rudiment that was told to you before the contest - Paradiddles one year, Ratamacues the next. You had to perform a two-minute solo. A tick was a tenth of a point."
Adam Szlagowski (Royal Airs): "Royal Airs in '65 was a tough neighborhood corps. They were all tough.... Cavies, Royal Airs, Kilts, Norwood..."
From a Ludwig 1968 publication, “Preparing for the Rudimental Contest”, Mitch brings up a current 21st century sore spot, ”There are some directors who are opposed to individual competition…. there is a correlation between top individuals and top percussion sections."
Thus, the score sheet demand/execution trade-off caused Markovich using Six Stroke Rolls, Swiss Army Triplets, Four Stroke Ruffs and Diddley’diddles (a Paradiddle with two 32nd notes for the accent). The last drum solo in the 1966 Royal Air book, (before Watermelon Man) has the tenor line playing all of them.
Individual competition solos were becoming tactical. More than the “Standard 26” was now needed. Markovich: “The selection should have (if the rules permit), tempo changes, crescendos, decresendos, and as many other devices as possible… The solo should have flash and unusual effects. Backsticking is probably one of the most effective devices that can be used in a competitive solo.”
It still is. Individual solo difficulty and execution has always preceded that of a drumline (until they began dancing and wearing funny costumes).
With more complex rudimental repertoire, the ability to hear in the line increased but also allowed judges to hear better. For clarity using more complex rudiments, most corps drumheads were tightened then deadened with a strip of bed sheet stretched wet diagonally across the drum away from the center of the head. When dry, the head was replaced creating muffling and clarity for snare, tenor and bass drums. Markovich coated individual gut snare strands with a couple of coats of clear lacquer, careful to keep them separated while drying. Lacquer makes gut harder, gives a sharper sound and keeps sound dampening moisture out.
I attend a Royal Airs Reunion Corps practice. Markovich backsticking as demonstrated by original Royal Air members is almost horizontal, producing a wider playing angle so stick movement could be seen better. The thumb comes off the stick and is held underneath like the Swiss. The angle is almost 90 degrees “around the tree.” It looks like a helicopter, not "over the top". Markovich states gives more visual impact and a louder sound, better matching the volume of non-backsticked notes.
The 1957 Basic individual solo structure - A (repeat) B (repeat) - did not change from military field code till 1961. More “chops” were necessary. The result of Truman Crawford brass arrangements, solid marching and Markovich technical and arranging ability in 1965, put the Big Blue - and rudimental drummers - firmly in the entertainment business.
Three time VFW National Champ Markovich presents Gary Pagozzi his first National Championship Trophy in 1964, also the first of three.
Royal Airs didn't always play it clean but did at the major contests.
Called an "impossible" solo by some at the time, it brings individual competition difficulty to the drumline contest field. A 10 man snare line today would have trouble with it.
The Fife & Drum Corps
Redican student Charley Poole reached championship potential from 1968 to 1971. Already having the 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969 Connecticut State and Northeastern titles to his credit in fife and drum, Poole won the All-American Championship in 1968, 1970 and 1971. From Prospect fife and drum corps, he joined the Boston Crusaders. Redican gave individual lessons to Prospect players while Poole worked line execution. At age 13, Poole took 7th representing Bridgeport’s P.A.L. corps at V.F.W. Nationals. Charley was one of the last pure arm motion drummers to win a national title instructed by depression era masters. California’s young Rob Carson would take 6th place to an impressed Poole at the 1971 All American individuals (the other child prodigy). Although the "Connecticut" style still would be seen in similar forms, instructors were trying to find technique short-cuts to the high arm motion style. There are none. Different style solutions now clashed in late 1960's individual contests.
Michael Jedd (Prospect Fife and Drum Corps): "A story goes that Charley easily cut the line [at Boston Crusaders], but everything he played was twice as high as the other members! Gerry Shellmer had to work with him to get his sticks down…… Charley is the best drummer I have seen when it comes to a pure rudimental interpretation. Technically he is without a doubt the best. Another drummer who is a close friend of Charley's is Paul Cormier. Paul is from the old school. I worked with Paul for many years. Both Charlie and Paul played together in the Yanks. Paul Cormier in my estimation is the only drummer that can make the instrument sing. I have never heard anyone else accomplish this. I don't know how to explain it - relaxed yet precise.”
Bobby Redican (Prospect Fife & Drum Corps): "I taught Poole in corps lessons and privately. He would breakdown the single stroke roll, the double - three minutes. We would work 32nd notes, flam grace notes...... Charley practiced like mad - very successful - an extremely good player. He won the Connecticut State Championship five years in a row. The solos changed. There was a separation from rudimental patterns. People were putting different parts of rudiments together. "
Poole represented Prospect, Ct. at the Northeastern Championship and was with Redican at the Kensington Ct. fife and drum corps.
Charley Poole: “My father played fife in Plainville. He wished he could have been a rudimental drummer. My fathers’ version of fife and drum was the New York Regimentals. They were outrageous! Paul Cormier taught me as a senior in high school. I was a six or seven year old mascot for the corps. The Regimentals had a nine-year run as champions in fife and drum, dominating in the late 1950’s through to 1963. They were ahead of their time doing a history of the United States theme. John McDonough invented a chromatic fife. He had flute players from the New York Philharmonic in there. They did parades and musters but the old timers didn’t want to compete so in 1960, they formed the Connecticut Yanks. The first rehearsals were in our basement. The Connecticut Yanks were an extension of the Regimentals. They started in 1966 and went against Lancraft. We didn’t lose a show for 7 or 8 years. I taught from 1970 till 1976. We were younger and could practice more than Lancraft. Quigley, Tenza, and Eldrick Arsenault were there.”
“Once Redican left the Yanks, I started teaching, driving back to rehearsals from Boston College. It was an all-star cast of Ancient traditional drummers – a great line. We brought the heights down a bit, but it was still the open high Connecticut style. Paul Cormier played next to me. We had six or seven snares and five good bass drummers. Donny Mason was there and my brother. We did some timing things like Boston was doing in the writing. The big difference is that no one marched 2 or 3 years then. We were home based in 1970-71 and could practice all the time. We lived together – we drummed! Everybody could play. We lived to drum!
"It didn't matter what rudiment they asked for in individuals. I was ready. Kids today would not be able to handle Redican. I went for lessons at Redicans house. Downstairs was a medal case with a 1939 World's Fair medal in the middle of his collection. I spent one entire year on the long roll. You had to get a 24 out of 25 before Bobby would let you move on to the next rudiment.
“In 1969, I was at the Deep River muster and people were coming up and telling me someone wanted to see me play. The Ratabangs from Switzerland were there. I walked over to play for Alfonz Greider and the entire Ludwig family. Greider talked to me through an interpreter. “How do you play so loud?” I asked him how he played with such dynamics. There were a lot of Swiss drummers there.”
Jim Clark (Connecticut Yankees): "Redican started the Connecticut Yankees. They were SO GOOD. Redican was a real perfectionist. Charley Poole wrote the music, mostly watered down Boston Crusader parts. When Redican left, Poole took over. The drumming changed. We were playing contemporary, modern stuff on 17 by 21 inch Soistman rope drums. Paul Cormier was the senior statesman of the Yanks after joining in 1972. I joined them in January of “73 and stated through 1976. The Yanks were the first ancients to do contemporary arrangements with syncopated parts. It was much more sophisticated arranging.”
Connecticut was the center of rudimental technique for almost 90 years, through to the last VFW winner Gary Pagnozzi in ’64, ’65, ’66, the last national snare champion directly taught by Sturtze. Poole won All American in '68, ’70 and ‘71 a product of Strutze indirectly through Redican. It continued through this author winning DCI in 1976 via Tuomey, Thompson and Hurley instruction as well as Keenan Pituch in 1981 from the Phantom Regiment and Pete Castellano from Bridgemen via Bobby Thompson in 1984. Mark Thurston took the 1990’s Crossmen into line competition a Joe Wormworth product, he of Bobby Thompson tutelage.
Poole had another influence. Alex Duthart of Pipe Band fame met Charley while both were champions. This would have him writing Scottish drum parts a decade later for the 27th Lancers drum and bugle corps bridging North American Drum and Bugle Corps, Fife and Drum and Pipe Band. Charley said he was amazed at Duthart's coordination skills and Duthart had never seen someone with Charley's power. Duthart’s (Pipe Band) and Alfons Greider’s (Swiss Cliques) rhythmic interpretation and coordinative abilities were now in American arrangements.
Mike Cahill: "I always liked what Poole did by injecting the Scot style into 27th's [27th Lancers] books. Interesting story about Dutheart… Buddy Rich was on the Carson show. Johnny asked him who was the best drummer he ever saw. Buddy said "You wouldn't know him." Johnny pressed Buddy for an answer, Buddy said "A little guy over in Britain, goes by the name of Alex Dutheart."
St. Joesephs of Batavia (Mighty St. Joes)
From Sturtze/Thompson lineage comes Larry Darch, the teacher of Mighty St. Joseph’s of Batavia, New York, in their prime just before large percussion sections appeared. An eight time New York AL champion, the corps won the 1971 Canadian Open title, often with high drums in 1968. Larry judged many DCI shows between 1974-1979, continuing on the field till the early 1980’s. He was a 4th grade fife player that switched to drums his third year at the St Joseph’s school.
“I was St. Joe’s of Batavia’s drum instructor from 1968 –1971 with the Bobby Thompson style. He had been at the Syracuse Brigadiers. It was a very high style. Blessed Sac had Nardelli and the Hurley brothers. They were more controlled than other high style lines. We used to get ‘skinned’ because we were much more exposed and couldn’t get credit for the difference even with a 3.0 exposure score. We had to change the book. St. Joe’s was never famous for marching. Troopers couldn’t play like us but had better overall GE. It was fun and frustrating at the same time. We only practiced twice a week - Sundays and Tuesdays, exhibitions and parades. That’s it. In the wintertime we would do old exercises in front of glass windows a lot - 5’s and 9’s hand to hand. We worked style uniformity and had talented people - a lot of naturals. The majority of the talent was home grown. Batavia is just a small town, a bunch of farms between Buffalo and Rochester. We couldn’t travel much - too expensive. We would go to Canada a lot as it was ninety miles away. De La Salle, La Salle and the Toronto Optimists were there. The Canadian judges were more open to the Bobby Thompson style. They wanted you to drum!”
Someone who saw a lot of St. Joe’s was Allan Murray. Starting at the age of six in Toronto with the Stratford, Ontario Boys Band, he marched with the Toronto Optimists from 1967 to 1973. Murray and Sammy Kays were the first Canadians to cross the border seeking American drum corps after financial difficulties ended the Optimists. St. Joe’s busses had a much shorter road to Toronto than other parts of the eastern U.S. and their style of drumming fit the “show me” Canadian attitude.
Allan Murray: “There were lots of good drummers in Toronto. We had fifty corps there as a kid with all the suburbs. Ron Kaiser judged a lot. In Canada, “a tick was a tick”. We might get a 14.5 in Toronto and a 16 at Marion, Ohio. There was this judge from upstate New York, an old Syracuse Brigadier - Joe Wormsworth. If we had an 18.5 back home, in Buffalo we’d get an 8! 18.5 to 8! If you had a hangnail on your pinky he hit it. He wrote unit penalties galore - must have had three or four magic markers tied together!”
Corps lowered their playing heights to hide physical differences between players - a better chance at attacking together without technique work. For most, it did not work, because the most likely place for any error is the first left hand diddle after an attack. California was in the early stages of forming solutions that would eliminate arm motion entirely, trying to bypass basics to execute field music in less time. Because of this influence – and college degreed judges with no historical ot technical knowledge - 1990s corps arrangements sounded like parking lot exercises.
Steven Ventre (Bridgemen): “By 1972 there were a lot of political things happening. Don’t forget, a lot of money was now changing hands in equipment purchases.”
© All Rights Reserved "The Perfectionists - A History of Competitive Rudimental Snare Drumming"