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Blue Rock


"If you can hear yourself, you're either too early, too late or too loud.  Get in the pocket and GO!  I got goose bumps playing out there when it grooved.  Clean is loud?  You better believe clean is loud!"

                                                                                                                        Blue Rock Snare Drummer Wally Parks

“I was preparing to use eight snares at Blue Rock for two years.  I taught the tenors the grip.  We worked four measures at a time.  Playing American Salute at practice you could tell from the stick angles.  It was time.  Eight.”

                                                                                                                                                                          Blue Rock Instructor Joe Marrella

"Marrella was like E.F. Hutton back then.  When he talked everyone said "what did he say?."  


                                                                                                                         Blue Rock Snare Drummer Wayne Campbell

1971 Blue Rock Snare Line 100.jpeg

The First 8 Man Junior Snare Line

A very large 8 man snare line came rumbling out of the east, the first juniors to successfully expand to eight snares - Blue Rock of Wilmington, Delaware.  The Joe Marrella headed line - a young pioneer in his mid-twenties - used a lower playing height with a tighter controlled grip to win 30 of 32 contests in 1971.  The Rocky-Knockers snare line were very experienced small corps locals that were into jazz and classical music, all with similar instruction by Connecticut influenced Reilly Raider and Vasella Musketeer staff. The drum solos were some of the best "scat" type rudimental arrangements this author ever heard on the competition field.  Marrella, after all, was a Buddy Rich fan and had assimilated the jazz drum set sound. Unlike the predictable melodic mastery of McCormick and Markovich, Marrella used fast voicing trade-offs and textures with accent patterns that alone created interest. Your ear had to move around the voices quicker. Blue Rock was like listening to a well-trained rudimental drummer behind a drum set that artistically knew what to do.


 Joe Marrella (Blue Rock):  “I get bored easily.  I don’t like long development.  Most things are overdeveloped.  If it’s clean, clear and crisp, I like it.  We didn’t do difficulty for difficulties sake.  I wanted the music to be entertaining and evoke emotion.  There was no boredom. And yes, we played some stuff!” 


The 1956 commander of Vasella Post 277 A.L. was Joe’s father who had friends in drum corps in the early 1940’s.  He became Vasella’s corps director.  “Not knowing what they were doing, they started a drum corps. I had uniform B-1 – Boys-1.  Don Mihok from Archer Epler was our instructor.  We were taught standard rudiments and portions of pieces like Hell On The Wabash.  The Long Roll is very important.  It is the building block.  And you know what happens if the foundation is not solid…


            “Don took us to a certain level.  His Flams were taught too open. John Dowlan took us to the top of the Empire State Building.  He was from the Reilly Raiders and Air Force Corps.  There was nobody better.  He was always positive and challenged you.  He and Bobby Thompson were both gentlemen.  John always had an open mind and would often ask, “What do you think of this?”  Vasella’s quartet beat everyone in the country in ‘61 and ’62, heavy rudimental drumming with Dowlan’s phrasings and structure - more creative.  He worked a drumline for an hour and improved it one or two points. He knew what the judges were looking for and would drop out a passage or change a part.

 “I saw Blue Rock and didn’t think they were too good.  A snare drummer in the line came up to me and asked what I thought.  I could have avoided it but, “What the hell did you do all winter?”  They hired me anyway. I taught Blue Rock from 1966 to 1972.”

John Dowlan: “Four of my guys went to Blue Rock.  Joe taught and wrote a lot like I did.  There was influence there.  I could usually tell if a corps had somebody I taught. My wife would notice it too.”    


To start judging at the age of 21 is notable, but Marrella judged DCA finals as a 22 year old. That takes courage.  Joe has reasons:  “An instructor is limited if he is not a judge.  You look at it from a different perspective.  I always tell an instructor to judge his own units at practice.”  


The 1971 Rocky Knockers book had much rudimental difficulty: ample Flam work, rolls, cold attacks, visuals and voicings that scatter all over the spectrum.  Marrella is an interesting character.  He seems gruff and with a slightly hard edge until you realize after a few minutes that he has a sharp memory, like a good boxer who studied calculus – and he loves drumming.


Wally Parks (Blue Rock): When I marched with Blue Rock in the early 1970’s, I was 16 and 17 years old.  I knew what we were doing was forward thinking but never really comprehended the impact it would have until much later. We practiced at the VFW post in Pennsgrove, New Jersey.  The drumline practiced in the kitchen!  No wonder I can't hear!  I was the youngest drummer; most of the players were college age.  Many had been with Blue Rock for a while; the rest of us came from the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area.

            "Instead of a full arm motion (leading with the elbow) we developed a controlled wrist motion.  Every stroke was dictated and matched across the line.  It was clean, even with that type of tuning and heads. Rudiments were stressed constantly and worked on as a unit.  I came into the line with experienced players who had been hitting high and hard for some time.  Joe broke down the music phrase by phrase for practice with repetition.  We had a fantastic center of pulse.  We did a real controlled style of playing.  Every finger and knuckle was accounted for with a full wrist stroke - no bounce or finger action.  The middle finger on the left hand was extended and rigid.  We pointed the index finger down on the right hand instead of curling it under.  This kept our remaining fingers firmly on the stick.  It took me the longest time to break that habit.”


Joe Marrella (Blue Rock):   “We played low because there were so many different styles.  I was building on peaks and valleys trying to level it off.  Instead of teaching my personal style, I had to smooth out lumpy ground.  I studied Bobby Thompson.  I loved Blessed Sacrament and would go watch them. They held their grace notes very low.  They weren’t moving their grace notes yet drummed twenty inches off the head!” 


Tudor O. Bompa (Soviet Block Olympic Coach, The Theory and Methodology of Training): “When athletes of different backgrounds and experience are assigned to train in the same group, the coach should not underestimate their individual characteristics.”    


            Marrella told Blue Rock they were not 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 that equaled 8. Each was one-eighth and that added up to one.  When the author told him “if you can hear yourself you’re too early, too late or too loud” he said: “That’s got to be one of my guys!  And it worked!  Height differences can cause more problems.  Better drummers tend to overplay to cover for the rest of the line, which causes even more problems and uneven balance.  Blue Rock was balanced.  We would not overplay.  I saw that problem as a judge.  In a line, your feet are your metronome.  You can’t rely on your ears.  You use feet and eyes.  How do you do that?  Stick visuals!  I see it before I hear it.  Visuals opened that door.  It looked naked to me - bare.  It had to be exciting and interesting. The downbeat is a smidge longer if you’re marking time.  You have to lock in your eyes.  The heads and feet will be there.  Most are not aware of this even today.  The next year [1972],  Aneheim Kingsmen had a big line like us and were even more visual than we were.  It became a never ending thing.”  (Author’s note: St. Andrew’s Bridgemen marched 9 snares in 1973.)


Ralph Hardimon (Anaheim Kingsmen): “VISUALS!  We were the visual kings.  We got most of it from Blue Rock and took it to another level.  All of us participated in throwing them in.  They had to be cool though, and we had to execute them with as much clarity as the playing or we didn’t do them. They didn’t change a thing in terms of execution, that’s for sure.”


Jeff Queen (Star of Indiana): “There are four and only four possibilities when making a mistake: too fast, too slow, too loud, too soft.”


Wally Parks (Blue Rock): "The 1970 drum book was written so that the tenors would double the snares in many sections with snares off (similar to wind instruments playing in octaves) and at high impact times the tenors would throw on the snares creating an 8-man snare line. I do remember one of the highlights was in the drum solo. The snares started a soli section for about 16 counts, then the tenors with snares were added finishing out the solo - clean and dramatic!  This led to the full-time 8-man snare line. 

"We tuned the heads as tight as we could back then.  We broke many a drum key.  Both heads were tuned tight and we used gut snares.  The batter heads were a standard 2-ply and the bottom was thin Ambassador weight.”

            “Members of Blue Rock had a real keen interest in jazz and classical music.  We were truly a group of musicians.  It was a significant influence on me to continue as a performer and educator.  Joe also was notorious for changing music.  He changed a drum part just before we were to perform in prelims at VFW Nationals in Dallas [1971].”    


Wayne Campbell (Blue Rock):  "Marrella was a Vasella snare drummer, a John Dowlan instructed line and had Harry Ginther’s Reilly Raider influence.  Ginther was judging a lot in the AL/VFW ranks.  Both those guys - Dowlan and Ginther - used to get together and play all night under a streetlight and pioneer everything. Marella had their influence.  Blue Rock's second solo in '69 with all the backsticking was a tribute to John Dowlan.  Our members came from the Jersey, Penn, Delaware circuit - the Garden State Circuit.  We all came to Blue Rock to beat the big boys - Boston, Blessed Sacrament and Cavies.  Those were the lines back then - real drumming lines. As kids we would go to the Dream contest to see Troop and Cavies.  We dreamed of being on that field.  Roosevelt Stadium was right next door.  We all saw VFW prelims and finals in '69.  It was either go north to Garfield or Sac or to South Jersey and Blue Rock. 

            “Blue Rock had the cream of the crop of all the small local corps in our snare line, the Philly PAL, Blackhawks, Seahorse Lancers, Earls of Bucks.  Almost every VFW had a corps back then.  It might not have been big or real good, but they had one.  It was a Delaware Valley connection.  All of them had 10 or 12 years experience.... 17, 18, 19 years old and had been competing against each other for years - serious drum corps experience.  Blue Rock lost many members due to age out in '69 just as we were rounding the bend.  We all lived within an hour or two of practice.  Marrella fine-tuned us.  We used the Connecticut style elbow/wrist snap - but lower - down four to six inches.   It was 'low and go' with only accents coming up.  We were 2 or 3 inches off the drum most the time.  We didn't use the flailing arm style and maintained 128 to 132 tempos for long periods."           


            Blue Rock’s coordination was perfected via breakdown-trained arm motion drummers, giving them the consistency to expand to eight players with a difficult book. A line taught to play low asked to play high could never make that change.  Campbell tells another Blue Rock secret:  "Our speed came from developing the left hand. You had to have a good left hand.  You could not play in our line without it. We worked hours and hours on the left.  To do this we would play 9-flam-9 and switch to the left.  Nine-a-diddles were used a lot such as 9-Paradiddle 9-Paradiddle / 5 Paradiddle 5-Paradiddle Paradiddle. We also would do soft Paradiddles at pp or Triple Paradiddles with no accents then accent high FF.”


Wayne Campbell:  "The center of the line was not the lead.  We went by height, the tallest in the center so the drums were level when we marched.  It was an illusion to stack the line for visuals.  We were the first to do large visuals down the line both ways and from end to center and out.  There were stick to stick visuals no one had seen before.  We did the 'wave' before there WAS a wave - what they do at stadiums now.  We had the angle bars back then but the drums still moved a bit.  Clean was not good enough.  It had to be visual as well."

            "The judges were blown away.  Kaufman of Archer Epler was out there, Perrillouix, Goodhardt.... they knew what it took to be clean.  We would get two or three ticks an entire show sometimes.  At '71 World Open Goodhardt simply threw up his hands after concert cause he couldn't get anything.  We won 30 of 32 shows in drums that year - got beat by Boston by a tenth and Anaheim on their east coast swing.  We were beating four man snare lines.  Boston had some great players.  Shellmer was there with his odd tempos - a great line.  

            "Next year in 1972, everyone had 8 snares.  Tenor lines were already playing snare parts with rolls and five's.  It was easy to switch to eight.  The talent was already there.

            "We had ten snares all winter but cut it to eight by spring of '71.  The cut people went into the double tenor line.  I was one of the ones cut and learned the double tenor parts in a week and a half.  Everyone knew it was going to be a good year. There was still a month to go before the season and one of the guys bailed - girlfriend, car and military problems. I was asked back into the snare line. Do you think I was going to argue?"

            "One of the things you had to do was groove.  Blue Rock could play marches and then swing with a groove.  We did Blood, Sweat and Tears numbers - a Midnight Cowboy concert.  Lines were not 'grooving' back then.  We turned that page.  What we did was unheard of.  The Pink Panther drum solo in '71 was syncopation and swing. But I will tell something else that was unheard of.....

            "NOT ONE NOTE OF OUR MUSIC WAS EVER WRITTEN DOWN. Yet, we were up to then the cleanest, most dynamic and most visual drum line that had ever been.  We could play PP or FFF.  Old time drum corps. That part in American Salute was on the sticks like Buddy Rich used to do.  When have eight guys ever done a stick-to-stick visual like that out in the open.... and clean?  We would practice in some town and always draw 25 or 30 people that were not even corps people.  They could tell it was good.  It had that sound.”

            "We were doing Inverted Flam Taps and Swiss. In one part of the show we had right hand Swiss Sixes then left handed Swiss.  The left one was tough.  We were always cleaning.  That did get taken out after a while.  The judges would just gape at the 12th note triplet flams - hand to hand - at the end of 'Salute'.  There weren't many singles in the show - lots of Rolls - Flam Stutters, Flam Ruffs and Inverts."


The "numbers explosion"  began with Rochester Crusaders 8 snares and 6 tenors in 1966 and Blessed Sacraments 5 and 5 line in 1969.   Many corps practiced more than four and four in the early 1970's.  Wintertime 5 and 5 went down to 4 and 4 for cleanliness. Cavies tried six one year then cut later.  Cadets Lasalle from Canada marched a 6 snare - 6 single tenor line at the 1970 Shriners International in Toronto, accompanied by Blue Rock’s well-tuned 5 and 5, tenors flipping to snare on occasion, most notably, the end of the second drum solo and the exit number Requim For the Masses. The 1971 Blue Rock eight-man line was actually a reduction from 5 and 5 in 1970, but they added double tenors. Most everyone else had 3 or 4 snares. 


Bill Searson (Cadets LaSalle): "We were 6 - 6 at the 1970 Shrine show but finished the season 5 - 5 after a snare and tenor player got cut.  I aged out in 1973 - the last of the big traditional lines - 6 snares and 5 straight tenors.  We couldn't compete financially – we were still using single tenors - and were isolated from the formation of DCI.  We went to the World Open in Boston rather than Whitewater - money again!  The corps folded after that season.  The activity in Canada really died after Seneca Optimists merger corps - Toronto Optimists and De La Salle Oaklands – folded."    


Surprisingly, Blue Rock’s mastery might not have happened if their drummers didn't stand up to their 'drill designer'.  Ralph Pace, who would later have the 27th Lancers running (and falling) all over wet fields in the mid 1970’s trying to reach assigned spots in extended sets, wanted Blue Rock drummers for himself.  Fortunately, Pace's misplaced artistic ego was checked by an angry drumline.

Wayne Campbell  (Blue Rock): "Ralph [Pace] wanted us to use harnesses in the 1970 season.  He was told the players would never go for it.  To us it was "band high step stuff", and you remember what we thought of bands back then.  He thought he could move us differently in the drill.  We would NEVER have tolerated that..... ever!  FORGET ABOUT IT!"       


Olympic routines are never changed hours before important competitions. It disturbs concentration and memorized physical habits – coordination patterns.  Corps instructors bet experienced players with high levels of concentration and confidence could do it.  They did, but didn’t like it. The five or six changes removed (watered) from Blue Rock’s repertoire hours before a national championship was enough to worry good players. Many instructors decided the risk worth it; judges couldn’t differentiate last minute changes.  A good instructor writes music to a demand level that students will be at in eight to ten months, which happens to be the normal training macro-cycle for Olympic athletes whose coaches disagree with drum corps last minute habits:  


Tudor O. Bompa (Soviet Block Olympic Coach, The Theory and Methodology of Training): “Only under special circumstances, like the invention of a new element or the discovery of a new skill that does not pose a learning problem or place stress upon the athlete, should the coach consider introducing a new skill to his/her athlete close to a major competition… “Unfamiliar elements stimulate the CNS (central nervous system) more, forcing the muscles to do more work and consume more energy which taxes the cardio-respiratory functions.”  


The concentration level drum instructors achieved in their students created professionalism Olympic coaches begged for. 


Blue Rock was a fine ensemble, but Marrella’s decision to lower the playing heights and rock the house with “8” did not fit Perrilloux’s requirements of “range” even with rudimentally involved parts.  Fife and drum corps players and various Canadian judges of the 1970’s swear the maximum number of players anyone would ever need on a competition field was four. That Blue Rock was successful in trading more players for a lower height tested off-season winter strategy.  Judges who were not good players were slowly capitulating, awarding the same difficulty marks for different height styles - an inherently different risk.  In Olympic competition, “height” and “amplitude” determine winners. There is more risk.  In drumming, height and amplitude are also dynamics and articulation.  Orchestral judges creeping into the activity equated “height” with “unmusical” comparing outdoor balance and technique with needle-point stick methods used indoors having nothing to do with “line” drumming. In drum corps, it became something you could get away with, causing the proficiency level of drummers in the late 1980’s to waver, then drop in the 1990s. New students copied winners playing low to the drum, never learning proper form or coordination from the high arm motion style. Their ability suffered.  Band directors copied this too. After height, uniformity was next to be attacked,  one of the reasons for “style”. Grand-students of east coast Ancients were all over the country, but once they aged out, part of drum corps technical ability went with them.


Jack Cassidy (Reilly Raiders):  “Blue Rock was three inches of the drum.  They gathered the best kids and lowered the height to three inches because of style differences.  They had two difficult drum solos but in other numbers played as little as possible.  They didn’t get credit all the time for that.  Other lines were beating them in exposure.”

Bill Kaufmann (Reilly Raiders): “Blue Rock was not playing as high. They weren’t getting it off the drum.”


Cavaliers full Arsenault/Sturtze height of "sticks to the eagles" deserved more credit than Blue Rock's 3 inches. This "risk/reward" ratio was what held drum competitions together IF there was competent judging. 


Marrella chose the low style because he did not believe he would come out ahead in the demand/execution trade-off.  Instruction time needed to match eight higher playing styles would be difficult to come by.  The Cavaliers carried Arsenault’s tradition past the formation of DCI as would Marty Hurley with Bleu Raeders, Bellville Black Knights and Phantom Regiment.  Cavies were attacked in 1976 - Phantom not soon after. The risk/reward failed when people who never marched but had a college music degree began judging in the mid 1970s. 


            Rudimental contest integrity was under attack before the formation of DCI due to the risk/reward trade-off.

            Amplitude is considered in all Olympic comparisons. The Cavaliers or anyone similar in height should have been rewarded

            for greater risk and the two inch downstroke penalized. Individual contest placement show a difference in skill.

            Demand is considered in all Olympic comparisons. They flash both an execution and a demand mark with thick rule books.

            You risk execution to add demand (difficulty). 

            Olympic judges all must have a background in their discipline. A music degree doesn't mean you have the ability to judge

            rudimental demands. Many of the music degreed judges hired by DCI to gain "credibility" were poor players, completely                     unreliable when comparing demand or arrangements.

            Formed in 1972, DCI currently markets itself as the “Summer Music Games”, a comparison to Olympic adjudication.

            Demand and amplitude were wiped off DCI score sheets by socialist "Outcome-Based" music educators taught by teachers

            unions that the "social outcome" of a class was more important than learning skills. The result?

            Contests resemble an art circus. Only 30 corps remain and half of those can't draw a crowd.


Bill Bernert (Audabon Bon Bons):  DCI was organized to be beneficial for all the corps.  DCI ran us [Audabon] out of business.  We got a standing ovation at DCI prelims only to be told that we couldemand dn’t win with that type of music, the type of music you whistle while you sweep the garage.  A standing ovation mind you!”     


You could tell post World War I drumlines apart by their uniforms, post World War II drumlines by the number of rudiments they played, mid 1960’s drumlines by their phrasing and flam difficulty and after 1968, by tuning and tonality. Arranger’s pet rudiments now went into these shows – McCormick, Markovich, Meyers and Shellmer all with distinct writing styles. Pitched drums separated them further, producing even more unique sound. Drum corps had built a brand image on music competitions by those few who could play their charts.

Everyone was beginning to add their own mixtures of rudimental, Scottish, Swiss and orchestral buzz rolls, which all came together with an objective tick system in the early 1970’s before the formation of DCI.  St. Patricks Imperials from Milwaukee used a snare soloist in their 1971 opener using pure Scottish pipe band phrasings.  Santa Clara’s Paul Siebert was on the west coast using fast Scottish buzz work for 1971 individual contests. The Racing Kilties and 27th Lancers used these variations to support themes.  Many copied Alex Duthart rhythms.  The author’s instructor, Jay Toumey, taught pipe band variations at his rehearsals; he performed in a local pipe band with very light and hollow sticks.


The Scot champion everyone studied -Alex Duthart - died during the 1986 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A blacksmith by trade, he traveled extensively because of his drumming ability. Duthart attributes his innovative ability to being able to play the drum set.


Frank Zeigler: “The West Chester College marching band drumline had many junior and senior corps snare drummers.  They went to play the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Tom Aungst, Lee Rudnicki and Dan Cortso were there warming up with a pipe band drummer who could almost do a roll with one hand.  They played with him for about a half hour.  He died in that parade.”



Princemen drummer Gerry Shellmer brought Swiss difficulty and teachings of the Fisher brothers from the Lt. Norman Prince Princemen to the Boston Crusaders. Shellmar took lessons from George Lawrence Stone for a year and a half beginning in 1958. There are stories of Gerry playing drum solos on the walls and table-tops of hotel rooms, rhythms you would want to write down.  Like Princemen corps director Chappelle twenty years earlier, Shellmar ducked VFW rules by marching bells and writing odd time signatures, keeping Tony Schletca unhappily busy. The only concern was Boston had more than its share of tacet time.  To cancel such criticism, one had to politic or have judges sympathy with respect to “timing difficulty”, which wasn’t always the case.


 Boston had experienced players like brothers Paul and Dan Pitts and Redican trained Prospect fife and drum corps transfer Charley Poole. According to Michael J. Cahill, Shellmar taught a traditional high Connecticut influenced style having five heights: shoulder high, 18”, 12” 6” and 2 “.   When asked in an interview if there were any drum corps instructors whose material he liked, Shellmer answered, "Bobby Thompson... His writing style was in the traditional rudimental style."  Shellmer’s arranging was anything but traditional.  His Boston Crusader parts crossed accent patters between sections and timed notes; he filled short rests with a different voice.  Solo work was carefully written to end full of Flams, Ratamacues and Drags judges would give credit for; the first two thirds of a solo was Gerry’s and the last third the sheets. Drum solos “Ode to a Giraffe” and “Two Shoes for Tulips” display cut off rudiments, answered by another voice, precursor to Fred Sanford’s writing. 


Shellmer started drumming in the Most Precious Blood Crusaders of Hyde Park, Massachusetts in 1947 at 10 years old.  He played horn for two months was too young for snare; you had to be 15 to be in the drumline.  Bobby Fisher - also instructor for the Lt. Norman Prince senior corps - told him to practice a few months.  “I practiced a lot; sometimes up to eight hours a day! I tried out for snare and made it.  It wasn’t long before Fisher started bringing me to the local senior corps rehearsals who were the Princemen, and whom he was teaching.  He had me sitting in with them!  I was ten years old….”   David R. Vose,  Gerry Shellmer  The Rudimental Percussionist Vol.4 No.2  pp.3-9


In 1956, Shellmer played with the Old Dorchester drum corps with Cliff Fisher, Bob’s brother. Shellmer marched the Princemen from 1957 to 1961 with Authur Kirwin instructing 


“I studied with George Lawrence Stone for a year and a half starting in 1958… My lesson was at six o’clock. He had a drum pad on the top of a radiator and the steam would steam up the window.  There was a burlesque theatre across the street called the Old Howard Burlesque Theatre.  The Marque on the Old Howard would blink and Stone would use that as a metronome. (Shellmer, p.4)

He taught Troopers, Sunrisers, St. Francis Sanicians, Cambridge Caballeros, Toronto Optimists, Blue Rock, Garfield Cadets, Ct. Yankees and Beverly Cardinals, gaining his most fame with the Boston Crusaders. Shellmer marched the Princemen from 1957 to 1961 with Authur Kirwin instructing.  Gerry met Louie Bellson around 1958 and showed him the left hand roll with 3S sticks.  Bellson had 7A’s and couldn’t keep up asking, “Where in the hell have you been?”  (Shellmer, p.4)


 Shellmer was also influenced by the drum set tonality of Joe Morrello, Louie Belllson, and Buddy Rich. 


“In 1967, I constructed what was called the double bass.  You see, at rehearsal we were working on with 4 tuned bass drums.  Then one day one of the drum heads broke so I took the head off and didn’t replace it.  I took one head off the other drum and had one of the drummers, Tony Smith, strap two drums together and play two of the tuned bass parts.  Suddenly it took a life of its own.  It provided me an opportunity for me to write some new kind of parts.  It could be used to make phrases sound melodic.  It also had a different projection style which made that kind of voice really stand out.  In 1967, we won the American Legion High Drum award.  The double bass led to the timpani which were first used in 1968.”  (Shellmer, p.5)


Shellmer used timps for Boston’s solo rendition of Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance in 7/4.  “I also liked to use the timps like a fender bass.   I was very particular about my timpani writing.  I was shocked to hear some timpani lines playing paradiddles, ratamacues and flamacues.  What were they thinking?”   

“In 1969 I got a hold of a set of vibe keys from jack’s Drum Shop where I was teaching private lessons.  The set of gold vibe keys was sitting in a box in the store and the owner, who was a good friend of mine, simply let me have them.  I made a holder for the bars.  There were two and a half octaves and ‘walla’ the first set of vibes in drum corps". 


Gerry's “Pop Goes The Weasel” had meter and style changes. Unsquare Dance had vibes playing the melody.  Tambourines were used upbeats.  However, both the tambourines and vibes were against VFW rules.  Boston had to learn two different music books but he wrote the parts so that without the vibes, it still worked when compared to traditional competition writing. 

His 1970 piece called Ballad for Giraffes incorporated a huge amount of intersegmental difficulty, the first year Boston used double tenors.  The 1970 drum line won drums at the Miami V.F.W. nationals.


Michael J.Cahill: “Shellmar was the Beethoven of our time.  He was a lunatic!  A very creative guy though. He wrote idiomatically correct parts.  It started about 1963, but in ’64, the one handed extended left 16th notes was the first time anyone did that.  The Sac guys were trying to do it so we knew we had them beat. He took Ballad for Giraffe from an obscure Boston Philharmonic piece. Two Shoes for Tulips was written heavy like shoes at the beginning and light like Tulips towards the end. The ’68-’69 lines from Boston were the “four T’s”: Tony Smith, Ted Nicolaris, Paul Busch, nicknamed “Twice” and Rich Tardinco, nicknamed “Tardy.”


Charley Poole (Boston Crusaders):  “Redican asked me to go with him to the Bridgeport show in 1967 as he was judging GE that Saturday night.  He picked me up.  I saw the Boston Crusaders and a door opened up.  They were so powerful and exciting!  They played the open style doing some wacky stuff.  THAT IS THE DRUMLINE FOR ME!”

“Shellmer would show up for rehearsals at Dorchester and tell us to go downstairs and get him the music score, a pencil and make him a tape of the horns. Shellmer said, “Get me some paper.” He had a bottle of Beefeaters Gin and fried grasshoppers.  When I arrange, I carefully orchestrate a chart, planning out everything I want and rethink it to get it right. He wrote our charts right there in an hour WITH bells and timpani included.  Boston practiced at a Dorchester fire station. Shellmer had written Captain from Castile for us. I didn’t know how to read music.  I broke. I told Gerry I could read stickings like we did it in fife and drum.  “I don’t do hieroglyphics!”  He started them playing the opener.  He jumped over a row of timpani and through the tenors to get to me shouting, “Again.  Do it again for the national champion!  Learn the music or get out of here!”  Like most of us in fife and drum, we could listen to a part and play a whole song after an hour or so.  I traded snare lessons with Danny and Paul Pitts from the CYO band that played tenor that year.  They taught me how to read.  The Crusader drum line used to hop the fence of the field the night before a show and go through our show three or four times alone - just the drums.”


“After my 27th Lancer line won DCI East in Allentown in drums, I felt a hand on my shoulder, “Good job kid.  I am proud of you.”  It was Shellmer.  I was taught by two of the best – one in technique and the other in arranging – Redican and Shellmer."


Paul Pitts (Boston Crusaders):  “Shellmer was an unbelievably crazy person. Lots of fun - very intense.  We didn’t practice on the march.  We were a musical ensemble.  We had levels of 5, 9, 12 and 2 inches for grace notes.  Bob Devlin from the Hellcats cleaned the line.  Most of our rehearsals were ensemble.  We tried to get expression.  Did a lot of winter exercises till April.  First show was May 22nd.  Heck, in ’70 we learned the concert number the night before the first show.  We had parts written on our drums.  The drumming was becoming more sophisticated.”


Chet Doboe (Sunrisers, Hip Pickles): “Shellmer was a trip.  I was in awe - phenomenal.  He was a sharp dresser and used lots of beatnik type lingo. He made melodic things make more sense - a jazz drummer. He knew what he wanted to hear. You had to play at a high level to pull the music he wanted out of a book. Shellmer was extremely demanding and not very tolerant."

Wes Meyers: “Shellmar was a maniac!  I was warming up my line – we had around 38 percussion that year, 14 snares, 2 rudi bass, 4 quads, 6 or 7 cymbals, 3 or 4 keyboard and 4 timps – and Shellmer was watching over by the side of our semi-circle. We were practicing LaCrucia McEvil. I walked to one side to fix a part and Gerry is standing in front of one of the snares telling the guy his grip on the stick is all wrong.  “Gerry , WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”  “Fixing the grip of this drummer.” “Gerry, get the hell out of here!”  “He is going to cost you!”  He was a great arranger though.”  


            The precursor to the explosion of percussion voices in 1968 was twofold: Jerry Shellmer’s use of horizontal bass drums without bottom heads for the Boston Crusaders to create a timpani effect in 1967 and Cavaliers McCormick 'marching timpani', horizontal with large green and white tiger striped bowls. Since this sneaked past A.L. and V.F.W. scrutiny, everyone started thinking, "If they can, why not I?"

Tony Sepe (Blessed Sacrament): “At practice in ‘67, Boston was missing a bass drummer.  Shellmar told one guy to put the basses on their sides on a table to play the missing part.  That was the start of biggedy-bongs.”

Wayne Campbell (Blue Rock): "We used to call them biggety-bongs.  People were pioneering their own stuff, cutting a bass drum in two to get the pitches and mounting them four inches on one side, six inches on the other.  Blue Rock had a small drum set on a guy chest high." 

Jack Cassidy: “Shellmer came in one time and was trying to sell his snare, tenor and bass drums were tuned to a G7 chord. We said so what?  Many of the corps people were taught by rote.” 


Michael J. Cahill:  “Ted Nicholaris was a good player but not athletically inclined.  His mother and two sisters had flown down to Miami to see him perform with the Cambridge Cabs at nationals.  Ted was the kind of guy who would work a part with Shellmer, then completely space out, playing something from another year not even related. We were around a pool practicing and Ted pulled one of these.  Shellmer threw a barrel at him.  He tried to jump, but all three – drum, barrel and Ted, came crashing down.”


Ken Norman (Arranger for numerous corps, Kilties):  “The mounted double bass tuned up had better definition than timpani.  Any shell size would give you a minor third range for each shell resonance.  Old shells were good for just one note.  A large trio might get a G-C-E or A-D-F#.  Marching timpani would give you chromatics not available on bass pitches.  In ’69 they were using 20”, 23”, 26”, and 29”. In ’67 Shellmer with Boston was doing the double bass thing; G-D tonic to the key of C in Man of LaMancha.  By the time we got home everyone wanted to cut bass drums up.  They didn’t understand tonality and would ask what fits to the music.  There were a lot of chords where it would interfere badly.   They would ask, “OK, What notes fit the MOST!”


Johnny Oddo was Eric Perrilloux’s early 1970’s prize student at St. Rita’s Brassmen.  He typifies Eric’s quest for dynamic range.  Oddo was with the Connecticut Hurricanes in ’94, ‘95 and ’96, then Sunrisers in ’98 and judged one year. He was often taken by Perrilloux to meet  judges and discuss scores at critique. Perrilloux was readying the next batch of instructors and judges.


Johnny Oddo: “Eric was teaching St. Rocco’s, Selden Cadets, Reilly and others. In 1968, it was St. Joseph’s parish out of Brooklyn.  The church didn’t have the money and we had bad equipment.  In 1969, St. Rita’s parish put us back on the map. Eric started in 1969.  I was a cocky kid.  Eric kicked my ass!  He called me an orchestra drummer.  He would get on me all the time.  I impressed him but he pushed me harder and harder.  As a 15 year old, he told me to work up the Flam Paradiddle-Diddle alternated.  He showed it to me at 32nd note roll speed.  He wanted it that way next week.  I thought, “I am going to master this then quit!  So, for two weeks, I practiced eight to ten hours a day. I went to the bathroom and drummed on the hand bar!   I came an hour before rehearsal ready to rock!  Friday night I broke it down and nailed it.  I didn’t quit. I hugged him.  There was so much respect. He was trying to teach us a quality of sound with speed using the arms for perfect execution. He taught us more that day than the entire season.


“Eric would show us Swiss and write them out. We were doing Double Drags and Swiss Sixes phrased musically.  [Dan] Spalding loved Perrilloux’s writing.  He invited Perrilloux to teach Cavies when they were on tour in Pennsylvania.” 


“Eric placed his hands slightly below the drum.  The sticks were at a slightly up angle to the heads.  This was to follow through and hit with the flat part of the beads – more surface area on the head - a larger volume.  As soon as you strike the drum you’re canceling the rebound of the stick. You’re tightening the grip but letting the arms work for you.  You were a half-inch off the rim parallel to the ground.  He played it, you played it – exact shaping - speed interp of all the notes.  You never had to go back and rethink parts. You played it exactly the way it was interpreted at slow speeds.”


“To Eric, degree of excellence was a 2 to 16 inch range. We already had experienced players but he wanted better hand positions, arm motion and grip.  Play strong – nothing was a guess.  Eric was an awesome arranger.  We had the best timp line in the country if you listen to what he wrote during those years with Hy Dreitzer at St. Rita’s – very effect conscious…. We had the best snare line in 1971 with myself, Frank Nash and Mark Holub… unbeatable!  We had speed, dynamics, everything, and shaped every phrase.  Recently Blue Devils were doing metric modulations and changing speeds in the phrase.  Eric was doing this in the 1960’s.”


            “In 1981, I ended up at the Jaybird muster with all the older drummers - a hundred drummers in a circle.  I met Hugh Quigley, Bobby Redican, Bobby Thompson, Eric was there…  When Frank Arsenault came around one time he said. “ If anyone in the world could give you a run for your money, this kid could do it.”  Hy Dreitzer comes up to me and says, “Do you know what Eric just did?  Don’t you know what kind of compliment you just got? He just compared you to the world’s best drummer!”


Frank "Fast Frankie" Nash was a member of the 1969 St. Rita’s line with Johnny Oddo and Kalvin Haskins and the  ‘71 line of Nash, Oddo and Holub.  Frank marched 30 years, from 1963 to 1993 (Skyliners 1972 to 1984, then 85-93 for Bushwackers and taught Hawthorne in some of the 90s. Bushwackers earned the DCA drum title six straight years (1986-1991.) “Fast Frankie” earned three national titles:  DCA snare individuals 3rd 90, 1st 91, 2nd (to Ron Keck) ’92, 1st ’93, 1st ’95, 3rd 2002.


Fast Frankie: “I was a 13 year old in local individual contests against Jimmy Hurley. He is my idol!  I didn’t think he could be beat.  Blessed Sac was my favorite snare line.  I saw them at the ’66 dream contest… JUST AWESOME! SHEER EXECUTION!  THAT WAS THE LINE!  I made a bee-line to watch them warm up. There was an individual contest every week.  In one contest in ’68, Jimmy Mallen won with Bobby Craig second – I’m in third.  That was my breakout show!  I used a lot of Double Flam Paradiddles and Flams on one and three of a phrase – lots of backsticking,

“What I learned there was extremely valuable. Eric wanted 110 percent; expect nothing less from yourself.  Eric would not put a guy in the line unless he could match the quality.  A lot of guys tried out….. Heck, I know a guy that used to play on a bottle cap.  John Marino, a former Bridgemen snare from ’74 to ’80, could play a pretty good roll on top of water.


“Brassmen didn’t have many exercises.  Four loud and soft Paradiddles, Nine’s and Parradiddles with Five’s.  Our warm-ups were brief. The rest of the time we cleaned the show. Longer warm ups evolved.  Roll and Tap Timing wasn’t coming on till about 1976. We would breakdown rolls and rudiments in front of Eric on Friday nights before rehearsal in front of the entire line.  We didn’t take offense at the criticism, just get it right!  If you’re not on your game, go home and practice!  After going through that, doing individuals was cake."


Cliff Wesley worked at a New York drum shop on 46th Street, drum teched for Shila E and many other national road bands.  Cliff played with the ‘84  Long Island Grenadiers, ‘85 Garfield Cadets, ‘85 Caballeros, ‘87  Bridgemen and  ‘95 Skyliners.


Cliff Wesley: “I was with Johnny Oddo at the Grenadiers. He was the guy who taught the ‘87 Bridgemen. Dave Rutherford wrote the book but Oddo did the tech work. Oddo taught to play through the head - much more aggressive. He would play low to the drum and use forearms for accents - finger and wrist for everything else. He really helped my confidence. He can play anything!  With Oddo, if you missed an attack it was 25 push-ups!  Your excuse didn’t matter.  Miss it again and do more.  It helped us to think. He was out there with us at 7am like it was noon.  If we complained that a part was too hard, Oddo would backstick it to show us we really didn’t have a problem.  If we couldn’t play something, he would backstick it- faster.  CHOPS!  Complete control!  Every note!”


West Coast

“We were in the dark in the 1960’s out here.  All the great drumlines were from the east: St. Joe’s, Blessed Sac, Boston, Reilly Raiders, Skyliners, Connecticut Yankees and Hurricanes.  They were so far ahead of us playing a wide open, high style of drumming."      

                                               Jeff Collins   Capital Freelancers


East Coast techniques migrated to the Midwest, then to Casper Trooper drummers who migrated to California.  Marrella’s former Trooper charges were into timing and interpretation and copied Blue Rock’s lower heights.  If arm motion fife and drum was one style, Gary Kearby, Eddie Boswick, Mike Ellerby and others from the Troopers were creating its antithesis in California sun.  Tom Float would join in to create “correct interpretation”, a system of having notes phrased sharply in 16th-32nd base to the downbeat, not the sing-song open triplet feel of the Ancients.  This is what Pratt and others with fife corps backgrounds were reacting to. Rudimental parts in Fife and drum are interchangeable with other songs.  This new sound was foreign to Ancient repertoire.  At first, it was a different sound but when the low technique began sounding like exercises on the field, the music sounded generic.


Bobby Redican: "One corps played beautiful horn work.  The drum line walked across the field and didn't play.  I cut the difficulty score down. How do you rate a percussion section if they walk 32 or 64 beats and don't play anything?....  Two inches doesn’t sound like eight inches.  You need a range.

Redican’s judging resume includes 127 contests in many states, the C.Y.O. Championships and AL Nationals in 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1967.

John Pratt: "I saw into the Anaheim Kingsmen right away.  I judged a few shows with them.   They wanted to get me out. Anaheim had an orchestral style."     


Fred Sanford originally was hired by the Porters at Anaheim.  


Fred Sanford (Santa Clara Vanguard): "I was just starting to write for Santa Clara, and I was writing much more of a timing-oriented show.  I remember saying, "Eric [Perrilloux], I don't think I understand what you're saying. I mean, there are so many other aspects to playing.  For me, a flam was probably the root of distinguishing between a certain goodness or greatness in a player. Trying to talk him about the timing aspect of it always ended up in huge arguments.  At that time, things like "difficulty " and "demand " were on the sheets.  So we had to go through all the turmoil of how to deal with that, and what really is "demand" and "difficulty"?  In many of my cases, playing a rest was more difficult than playing a note...... Eric definitely always stuck to the old rudiment - the roll - that's what makes the drummer."  (MFPPD pp.7,8)

Dennis DeLucia (Bridgemen): "Eric definitely believed in playing from the eyeballs..... he admired what you [Sanford] were writing but hated the way you were playing it."  (MFPPD, p.7)

Terry Shalberg (Blue Devils): “Fred was a great writer, not a good technician.”   

Steve Chorazy (Santa Clara Vanguard, Troopers):  “Sanford could write but he was not a good player.  Fred was a bass and tenor cat. He could play to show you but was not a strong individualist.”

Dennis Mancini (Santa Clara Vanguard):  "Sanford didn't care about style.  He was into rhythm changes.   He had an apartment across from Santa Clara's practice field. Fred would sometimes come in with a tape recorder and play something from Billy Cobham and then have us set down our drums and have us play some cool diddle groove on the carpet for about a half an hour."

Bob Kalkofen was in California, responsible for Santa Clara Vanguard’s technical ability. Without it, Fred Sanford’s short intersegmental phrasings never would have gained competitive validity.  Kalkofen's 1975 book, Snare Drum Method, groups rhythms more than rudiments and declares a style that “should move wrist, arm, arm, wrist.” For speed, Kalkofen taught the forearm moved up and down but not in and out, similar to Les Parks who flew out to teach Troopers when Bob marched there. It also explains Rob Carson’s and Steve Chorazy’s forearm pumping technique in the early 1970's where wrist motion was reduced for speed in individual competition. 


Steve Chorazy (1974 1975 DCI World Champion): “Kalkofen 1970 through 1975.  He is the guy - the technician. When we studied at San Jose State, it was more “interpretation…. Paul Siebert and Rob Carson were Bobs’ students. You could hear sections of Kalkofens’ solo in both their solos.  He played a snare solo so he made them play tenor.  I think Siebert won and Carson second with Robert Bullard from New Hampshire third.  Seibert’s solo got better credit. Siebert was the California State Open Champ around that time so I think he was beating Carson then.  By 1971, that changed. Poole won that year with Kalkofen second.  I was 3rd in ’70. I was in 10th grade and got 3rd my first try so I was celebrating.

"Poole told me about Soistman drum sticks since he was using a pair. This was my first run in with Carson and I`m glad he played a tenor solo that day since he was pretty decent then. Poole’s solo was real good - Shellmer’s Boston drumline solo stuff.  It wasn`t the old style solo like he played in ‘71. I liked his solo better than Bob's that day and could understand why he won. Bob didn`t seem to play as well that day. James Plaut was the best of the Connecticut Drummers, 4th and in ‘71 and 3rd, after Poole and Carson.  I got 4th but Sturtze told me I should have won!  Sturtze was a definite inspiration, the teacher of Frank Arsenault!


            The Santa Clara Vanguard toured the Midwest in 1970, competing in eight contests, winning five, scoring victories over all the Midwest powers including all three reigning National Champions. Troopers ventured east as well. 

Jeff Collins (Capitol Freelancers): “The west had to learn how to tour, taking lessons from Jim Jones and the Casper Troopers.  It was three days from the coast to Casper then another week to get to Boston’s Manning Bowl. Necessity is the mother of invention.  California corps developed rolling kitchens with 12 burner stoves and knew how to attack the road while saving time and being efficient. Hygiene is important when you’re on a bus for 25 days.  Jim Jones invented trooping, the first to own a set of Golden Eagle busses, paving the way for 2000 mile bus trips to the other coast.”       


Cavalier Paul Milano describes Santa Clara’s 1970 Midwest arrival:  

"We had finished our performance and were all seated in the back stands as Santa Clara come onto the field.  They had a red stripe down their green satin blouses versus our white stripe and Aussie hats versus our shakos.  They looked very young, and we pretty much were ignoring them as they began their opener of Procession of the Nobles. It did not take long, however, to sense that their horns were playing a rather sophisticated arrangement, the drum tuning was like nothing we had heard before.  The next thing we knew, they were doing drill maneuvers that were as crisp as our own.

            “Our instructors were sitting near us and a bunch of us started to gather around them as they watched. One of our older members started to ask the instructors a question, only to receive a wave of the hand (as in "Quiet, I'm watching this!").  Santa Clara continued their show almost flawlessly for that time of the season.  I especially remember seeing "little" Robbie Carson playing snare. He was a full head and shoulders shorter than the rest of the snare line, but never missed a beat.

            “At the end of the performance, virtually our entire corps huddled around our instructors, legendary guys like Sal Ferrera, Larry McCormick, and Paul Litteau.  Paul, our drill instructor, looked at all of us staring at him and said quote: "Gentlemen, you have just seen the future of drum corps. We stood on the field for retreat, wondering what might happen.  Second place is what happened!  We would have tied, but a judge incorrectly "ticked" our drum major for adjusting his shako; drum majors were "tick proof" back then. It didn't really matter. Santa Clara beat us pretty soundly the next night as well." 


            Compare Milano's comment: "drum tuning was like nothing we had ever heard before." with John Pratt's: "The great drum lines peaked in the late 1960's, maybe the early 1970's."  Sanford gave space for new voices, resulting in fewer snare accent patterns, but more intersegmental trades that fit more genre, in this case semi-classical music.  Melodic tenor and bass drum interplay became Sanford’s specialty.  For about another decade, judges considered rudimental snare difficulty having extended 32nd note rolls and Flam coordination more demanding than Sanford's timing parts. The snare drum was also more exposed, having superior projection with short, piercing sound duration, heard far more easily than other percussion instruments outdoors except bass drums if turned the right way. 


Allan Murray (Anaheim Kingsmen):  “Drum tuning was going up.  A tighter head gives you more bounce.  At Kingsmen, Donny Porter would go around with a little Ludwig drum key and crank them.  He had forearms bigger then my thighs.  We would have to use our sticks to turn them.  The timbres of the lines changed.  Single tenors and rudimental bass now were double and triple tenors and 5 bass pitches.  They were using smaller tenor sizes with smaller separation between drums. Voice were getting lost: 3 tenor voices, 5 bass voices and timpani. Porter couldn’t hear the snare voice if the upper tenors were on the same part.  It caused a lot of problems.” 


Downstroking was a California invention from the Capitol Freelancers Don Silva. It was copied by Tom Float and had success for the Etobicoke-Oakland Crusaders of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Downstroking was for an experienced line that did not want to take the time to teach uniform technique or a high style. Experienced players can more readily adjust to a no arm motion style. Many instructors switched when inexperienced judges who had never marched before did not give higher amplitude more demand credit.  Beginners did not just appear and play snare in finalist corps.  Marching band members could not play back then. The drawbacks of this decision are still with us.  Many low playing lines began playing with heavily taped sticks to get sound out of the drum in the 1970’s, weighing down the muscle system and  - as Wayne Campbell of Blue Rock states – was not geared for 24th note accented singles.  The fast 24th note triplet was the first difficulty eliminated from modern marching percussion scoring in the 1980’s. Tom Float stated they “stripped” muscles, hard to control and bounce on a tight head with unnecessarily weighted sticks.  


The downstroker was at a disadvantage to the upstroker in individual contests.  For instance, a Paradiddle sets position of the second note with a low to high movement, the bead now in position to attack. That second note stayed low for a downstroker, making the stick move up and down after the fourth note.  The upstroker simply moves “down” already in position.  While Joe Downstroke was going up, Bill Upstroke was already going down. With speed, that is a lot of wasted time and explains the high placement of fife and drum style individual competitors in DCI 1970’s and 1980’s contests.  It explains Sturtze era rudimental judges calling the early 1970's the peak of the great drum lines.  Fred Sanford was talking about rhythms, not physical style. As long as there was an experienced “tech” around, Fred could talk all he wanted.  The friction between “performer” and “arranger” was just beginning. Fife and drum players from the previous generation considered Anaheim of the early 1970s “orchestral”, not a raging compliment.  Besides, fife and drum was not affected by “fancy stick tricks”, something Blue Rock and Anaheim prided itself on.

Many incidents helped form "The Combine" – precursor to Drum Corps International in 1971.  The VFW and American Legion were hoarding gate money; rules interpretations were addressed by non-musician committees thwarting corps potential and pet favorites might be flown in to judge that had not seen a field in years.  The National Dream Contest was started by St. Vincent Cadets in 1949 as a major contest without any service organization allegiance. It sold tickets, almost gaining enough reputation to be a national championship; corps used it as a credential. This economic success was not lost on directors who sought to break the service stranglehold.

Eric Perrilloux: “There were people writing the rules in VFW who had never played an instrument.”

Bill Bernert (Audabon Bon Bons): “The judges changed when you got to the American Legion or VFW finals.  It was like they were from another time. Prize money was nil.  They were making money.  Those shows were packed with people.”

Jackie Luyre (Royal Airs alumni director, Daughter of Sir Luyre RA Corps Director) - "Rick Moss, Jim Jones, Don Warren and Sie Lurye were friends that built the "Combine". The American Legion and VFW made money off the gate and gave nothing back to the corps.  It was financial rape." 

Drum corps would never be going back to the VFW's "Million Dollar Pageant of Drums".

In 1971, the Midwest Combine was formed by the Blue Stars, Cavaliers, Madison Scouts, Santa Clara Vanguard, and the Troopers. The Boston Crusaders, 27th Lancers, Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights, Blue Rock, and Garfield Cadets formed the United Organization of Junior Corps (also known as the "Alliance"). The corps sold themselves as a package deal believing they had the "product" to make money in the entertainment business. Until socialist Outcome-Based educators at DCI began selecting judges panels and destroyed the tick system in 1984 - they did. The high talent level of drum corps sold tickets at many major competitions such as the U.S Open in Marion, Ohio, truly billed as a championship contest, The World Open, The Danny Thomas Invitational,, The American Open, Key To The Sea and regional shows. The 1990s saw drum corps revert to marching band halftime status and lose this "product", changed by educators to resemble a money flow from the marching members to the staff instead of from paying customers into corps bank accounts.


Tony Schletcha was a World War I veteran on full VFW salary who picked their judging slates for all competitions and parades. His only credit was administrative bandmaster of the Chicago Fire and Police Band, not noted as a musician.  He announced their finals show until 1961, still involved as V.F.W. influence waned in the early 1970's, He made sure hairnets were used for Haight-Ashbury styles. 


Those VFW & AL competitions seemed to be part of a late bar tab after state and national conventions.  Army regulations meant nothing to us. Both generations saw the competition field differently. We wanted to play a tough book in a clean line - superior music instruction for a small fee; they wanted our salutes and one night of reliving the past. This conflict met at the inspection line - drudgery and wasted time to us – past military experience to them. Most music was arranged from the instructor’s generation, not the performers.  New music rattled them, especially Des Plains Vanguard’s “Aquarius” off-the-line - the antithesis of “military” complete with mellophone police siren rips. One hears many dated favorites on Fleetwood recordings of the 1960’s but Garfield's "White Rabbit" done with a "peace" sign on the 50 yard line was more than they would take.


Charles Schiacvone: “Sometimes they wanted a popular corps in finals.  There were more corps added to some of the VFW finals. Politics could go both ways they could reduce the number too.  This explains the variance in the VFW and AL earlier years. I know Mickey Petrone had run-ins with Schletca.”        

Mickey Petrone [2]:  “If Schletca didn’t like you, you were in trouble.” 

John Dowlan:  "After winning the individual title in 1949, 1950 and 1951, I had a meeting with Tony Schletcha, head of the V.F.W.  He said I couldn't compete again after my win in '51.

            "Is this in the rule book?," I asked him.

            "It's in my rule book," he said.  He ran it with an iron fist.  "Anytime I see your name, I will rip it up."

            He gave me my medal in 1951.  

            "The medal you have has three gold stars on it.  You take it and be happy." 

"I was out of the service and going into V.F.W. individuals.  What could they say?  Tony Schletcha says, "You can't go in.  You're too young."  I was 20 years old but a legitimate member of the V.F.W.  Bill Hooton, Reilly's drum major argued, "Why are you keeping him from competing?"  "He is not old enough."  "He is old enough to go to war!"  I was disqualified. Tony S ran a dictatorship."


Gary Pagnozzi (P.A.L. Cadets):  “In '66 my individual score was reduced by two points. Rodney Goodhart judged.  Tony thought that some people were winning by too many points and making others look bad. Schletca didn't like that.  I asked Rodney, "Why were you crossing out my numbers?"  Tony always had a sour puss on his face.  My father went to get my trophy and medal in '66 and Tony says, "Hey Gus, getting to see you too much around here.” My dad thought he was kidding."            


Mike Davis (Garfield Cadets):  "We did the peace sign to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" so you can just IMAGINE the flack it generated.  Oh, man, what a mess THAT was!  It was 1970, and the VFW's were in Miami that year. The head of the VFW that year came out in public that Garfield was a disgrace to the USA and veterans, and that we didn't even belong in the show.  We did a great job, but there were a couple of REAL old timers judging who decided that we were indeed a disgrace.  So they burned us.  Our scores ranged from something like 3rd to dead last - and way out of it - from specific judges…. I think we came in next to last at finals. (Last I looked it was an 8th place finish).


Long before the juniors became disgruntled, feisty Senior corps instructors threw bongos at the VFW round table. Scheletca’s attitude was wearing thin, but he had powerful contacts, a personal friend of William F. Ludwig.  Money was at issue.  The VFW sponsored individuals through 1966.  Schlechta then formed the All American Judges Association, which took over the adjudication of individual contests as service organizations lost influence. The All-American was originally dominated by war veterans, extending Tony’s control.  Its national contest filled the time between 1966 and the start of DCI individuals in 1973. A group of drummers who thought it important to continue a national snare contest helped start All-American national contests. 

            To receive your “judges card”, you had to pass written and oral examination, take field trials and compare scores with others in your caption. Like today’s DCI and WGI judging royalty of kings and queens, the All-American was like a union brotherhood, producing younger clones. If not part of the clique, you judged in Moose Jaw, Alaska or Alpha Centauri, someplace no one would ever hear from you again.  Schletca couldn’t stop an established brain-trust of percussion instructors with world class technical skills. Some of the better judges, like Danny Raymond Sr., handled the All-American. Although the All-American manual didn’t deem music a high priority, drummer’s took care it themselves and formed their own “brotherhood”.  


Two small but volatile 1969 incidents exemplify the trend.  Inspection at VFW prelims in Philadelphia used two sets of judges who failed to meet at the units’ center.  One side had a lower tolerance and was writing up a storm.  Corps managers saw this judge go well past center many times with their drum major.  Other times they met in the middle.  While waiting for them to finish, many corps members passed out on the simmering blacktop in 100-plus degrees heat. The authors' father helped numerous Norwood Park Imperials off the ground after feinting.  After a fifth Cavalier went face first into the sweltering blacktop, other corps about-faced to their busses.  The author heard heated exchanges all the way across the parking lot. Someone shouted, “Inspection scores are thrown out!”  The VFW had been challenged.  That night at finals the stadium buzzed over which corps “got murdered” on the inspection line.  Also, Boston’s Shellmer featured a bell player via Dave Brubeck's 7/4 "Unsquare Dance" having many voice trades and "cold attacks."  Without the bells at VFW finals, tonality was still achieved with horizontal “biggedy-bongs” tuned to A and E, the tonic and dominant of the "D"  bugle key. The best “pancakes” were 14” Scotch bass drums cut in half, lightweight and resonant at a seven inch depth.  (Slingerland triple-basses of the early 1970’s were very heavy with poorly designed connecting brackets.) Two different versions of the solo existed so that if the VFW gave the keyboard player the evening off, the solo would maintain continuity.  Shellmers’ second drum solo had much timing exposure, throwing different voices rapidly around the ensemble to create a melodic line. The Sunrisers senior corps of 1969, also taught by Shellmer, used a bell-xylophone duo with similar voicing and timing effects. 


Performer and arranger balance now teetered.  Shellmer and McCormick were determined see what they could get away with.  Judges such as Perrilloux and Pratt had running battles with old Wyoming corps drummer Jim Jones and Fred Sanford about weak exposures and tacet time. Would judges get the comparisons necessary to score the competitions intelligently or would politics “adjust” outcomes?  


John Flowers: "Several instructors found that due to increasing difficulty of their repertoire and faster marching cadence, execution had become difficult in the open style manner.  Therefore, various styles of drumming began to appear throughout the east, for example a "Pennsylvania" versus a "New Jersey" style.  The open style had still prevailed in the Pennsylvania area, whereas the New Jersey style stressed playing closer to the drum utilizing more wrist control, all around uniformity of hand position and arm movement.”

Jimmy Hurley (Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights):  “After 1970, corps didn’t want to compete with technique.”


            Thus begins the sacrifice of individual technique for more players having less skill playing simpler parts. Technique takes time. Amplitude has always been an Olympic comparison. To achieve "mass production factory" uniformity, Perilloux’s “range” would be more than halved.  Small, well-trained units were now at a disadvantage to a larger line without training, opposite the 1950’s and early ‘60’s, especially when general effect became 30 points from 10 with DCI’s first score sheets.  


Friction now peaked between corps drummer and college band director. The directors eleven-week “percussion” class hinted at rudiments, but competitive rudimental arranging was a foreign language.  They knew little or nothing about rudimental style.  Many bands were high stepping with drums that bounced wildly on the leg playing turn of the century Sousa parts, except in upper New York state where corps instructors already taught military marching corps style repertoire. The high step carrier was a monstrosity - embarrassing.  As teenagers, we thought college bands were silly looking and hunted any chance to stand beside them and rip.  We didn't respect them. Marching band existed to help cheer kickoffs and make goofy mascots drool, complete with tacky halftime show, degrading props and homecoming parade (similar to what WGI and DCI have become today.) Their music had a circus-like ring that corps trained drummers scoffed at.  Corps music was not yet published much, at least not the competitive solutions of Ken Norman and his peers, but Hy Drietzer, McCormick and others saw a market.

Larry McCormick: “I had always wanted to improve the marching bands. They were horrible, if you remember.  I thought I could make a difference. I was teaching seven or eight drum corps at one time and running the business.” 


Marching band was an epithet. Corps drummers wanted knowledge and – like those before us - would go where we could get it.  Bandos wanted a warm hotdog and shower after a game they were not part of.  We wanted blood. The hell with the shower, let’s practice!  Corps drummers knew each other by name or sight and shared their disrespect of public school marching band – comparing and noting which band directors were kicking corps drummers out just for being members.  They were perplexed by our skills and hoped we would just go away. Most band directors were and still are incapable of teaching rudimental technique. They knew we knew they didn't know. Changes would not occur till drum corps age–outs started rewriting band repertoire, returning with championships or music degrees to teach high schools in the mid 1970's, using a disciplined military step, rudimental drumming and objective contest rules. They hired us.  


Band circuits then formed dismissing the state band festivals non-competitive “division 1,2,3,” fare. Naive to competitive discipline, they never before handled staff having abilities in multiple areas (percussion, brass and marching) that were “ranked and rated” (State and local band festivals were judged by peers who tried not to make anyone look bad. They reacted with horror at a “three” and the bottom “five” was never given, a slap to their peers reputation and competency.)  Drum corps could be written off the sheet. Someone could actually lose!   We were better trained, could arrange and used a long-tested judging tolerance. This knowledge was now in demand. This gave rise to a small percussion economy.


            Corps audiences were already educated. To give an idea of "what the audience knew", Casper Troopers met disaster in at the 1971 American Nationals in Northbrook, Illinois, before an overflowing crowd.  Their trademark company front missed locking in by a full seven yards going off the field.  The crowd groaned and shuffled their feet.  That's it for Troop.  Guard pick points knew enough to shorten their step size and slow the two outer segments, allowing the middle one to catch up. When three perfectly straight lines met at the ten yard line to form a perfect "one", you could not hear the fanfare music or see over the tumultuous standing ovation as the corps turned to face the crowd past the finish line.  The difference in show maturity and “educated audiences” had reached its widest difference between drum corps and marching bandos - two completely different worlds. Drum corps had marketed itself into standing room only crowds before DCI ever existed.  


The 1970 World Open set a new attendance record. “Over 23,000 packed the Lynn, Mass. Manning Bowl. The two-day affair attracted 69 junior corps… from 11 states and Ontario. Casper's famous Troopers gave lesson number two on how the East Was Won... Troopers bested the GKs by 84.15 to 82.25 for the title. The 27th Lancers reversed prelim positions with Boston Crusaders for finals 3rd place for more excitement (78.10 to 77.75). NYC's CMCC Warriors (72.05) were 5th.  (Drum Corps News, August, 3, 1977)  The Marion, Ohio "U.S. Open" was sold out, standing room only with 60 to 100 corps, All-Girl, Class A and Open prelims and finals – a full week of entertainment. There was the C.Y.O. Nationals, American Open in Butler Pa.  Drum corps had earned an audience.


 With more rudimental precision came stick manufacturing quality control, especially when visual flips switched sticks to the other hand.  We gained the ire of music store proprietors taking pairs out of their plastic wraps to match pitch, critique the wood grain, then roll them on the countertop to expose warping.  Store owners hated this, especially when acceptable pairs were not found, or if they were, pieced together from different packages. Small weight and grain variations now affected a competition drummers’ execution. With what we were playing, half a gram or less now made a difference.

©  All Rights Reserved  "The Perfectionists - A History of Competitive Rudimental Snare Drumming"

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