Friday, February 21, 2003 - 8:47 PM
Resurgence . . . 1974
Okay, you’ve heard a few stories about the slow slide toward death (1973), now a few stories about the remarkable year of resurgence.
During the fall of ’73, rumors were running wild that Don Warren had brought in someone to appraise the value of all our equipment. By December, there were two snares, and a rag tag collection of other drummers. Other sections were also pretty slim. MANY of the vets from the early 70’s were now long gone. Only a smattering of guys from our last “legitimate” championship year (1969) was left.
Personally, I was pretty bummed after ’73. I certainly hadn’t done anything to make the year more successful for the corps (average snare drummer with foolishly long hair). I was off at school in Arizona starting the fall of ’73. Talking to my friends still in the corps, it seemed highly unlikely that there would be a Cavaliers corps in 1974. I began hitchhiking to rehearsals with the Anaheim Kingsmen (hitchhiking was “different” back then). I was in the snare line from October through December.
I came back to Chicago for Christmas, and naturally went to the corps banquet. There were still very few guys in the corps. There was a new drum instructor, however, by the name of Jim “Frog” Roussell. He was drum sergeant my rookie year (1970). As such, I did not really know him. Always seemed like a nice guy, but he was an older vet back then, and I was just a young rookie. Probably said ten words to him that whole year.
One of my best friends in the corps, Paul Leo, was one of the two snares still practicing with the corps. The other was a kid from the “B” corps, Ralph Poznanski, whom I had spent most of the summer of 1973 trying to keep OUT of the “A” corps snare line (God, would history ever prove what a crappy judge of talent I was!!). It was breaking my heart seeing Paul virtually alone.
He told me that Don McWhorter, a vet who I had marched with in the snare line in 1972 (but didn’t get along with), was thinking of coming back for his age-out year. He asked if I’d consider coming back for my age-out year. That would be tough, I told him. I had a snare spot in Kingsmen, and had also been invited to try out for Santa Clara. Besides, I didn’t get along with McWhorter, I didn’t know anything about “Frog,” and the new corps manager, Danny Heeres, seemed like a bit of a “hard ass” to me (being the “sensitive” hippie that I was!).
A mutual friend, and former snare drummer with all of us in 1972, Skip Swoverland, asked me to spend a few days with he and McWhorter up at his cabin in Michigan, just to see if things might work out. We did, and after the few days were over, Don and I had agreed to bury the hatchet and do what we both knew was the right thing to do – finish up with the Cavaliers, and try to help them make it back into Finals.
I went back to school in Arizona, continued to practice with Kingsmen (in order to keep my hands in shape). I was having second thoughts, however, since Kingsmen were looking good (and would later prove to be one of the best corps of the 70’s that season). I even hitchhiked up to Santa Clara during spring break. They asked me to move into town and said I’d have a good shot a being the eighth snare they were looking for. Now decision time was getting tougher and tougher.
The Cavalier drum major called me up in late February and asked me if I would come to the March camp. They needed to know if I was in or out. I flew in for camp, thinking I would give the whole situation one last try to help with my decision.
When I got there, Frog had somehow put together four decent snare drummers, and a bunch of other hard-working, pretty good drummers. I was pleasantly surprised. The corps also debuted the closer’s music at the camp (Once Upon a Time/Somewhere Over the Rainbow medley, with the beautiful opening solo played by “Blue Rock”). Things seemed to be looking good. All I needed to do was “size up” this Frog guy, and Danny Heeres, the new manager, to see if I could continue to “rule the roost” as I had tried to do in 1973. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
Within five minutes of my first warm-up session with the drum line, I was complaining about the lousy acoustics in the all-concrete hallway we were playing in. Frog calmly dropped his sticks on the floor, and walked out as he mumbled, “That’s it. Rehearsal is cancelled.” You could have heard a pin drop. All eyes were on me. Paul Leo spoke first, saying “Paul, we don’t run things anymore like we got away with before. Frog is THE man. You do it his way, or not at all. And, we’re all 100% behind Frog. Take it or leave it.” I said I’d be right back, and went to look for Heeres, thinking I’d straighten this all out. Danny met me halfway down the hall.
He took me by my arm (not gently) and led me off to a corner. My thoughts of “straightening these guys out” quickly changed to “Will I live?!” Danny said he had asked around about me, and that he was advised to give me ONE CHANCE, and ONE CHANCE only. He said I had just had my chance. NO MORE. “And,” he said, “go get a haircut right now!”
You know how you’ve heard about seeing your life flash before your eyes when you are in danger of loosing your life? Well, everything I had ever cared about in the Cavaliers was all of a sudden flashing before my eyes. Off I went to get a haircut, and I was back warming up with the drum line within an hour – and being very quiet . . .
Back to school once more. Said goodbye to Kingsmen, and no thanks to Santa Clara. Kept practicing my butt off for the next three months. Ten days before the first show of the summer, Kenosha, Memorial Day weekend, I returned to MY corps for my age-out year. To my utter horror, most of the music had changed (they had decided they probably couldn’t count on me, and had not sent me most of the changes). Now I had ten days to learn basically all the music, and the entire drill – and I didn’t read music!
Don McWhorter, my new best friend ( ! ), asked me to move in with him at his parent’s house. He already had another new snare living with him, and we could practice all day for the next ten days. Talk about bleeding hands, I never hurt so much in my life. I gave it my best effort at Don’s house, and at each practice, but it was not going well. Finally, the day of the first show arrived. I was near panicked all the way up on the bus. Don and Paul Leo worked with me non-stop, but I could hardly think straight.
But when I put that uniform on once again, a tremendous surge of confidence came over me. We were up to six good snares (if you included me!), a solid overall drum line, and a pretty decent horn line and guard. The show had some very dramatic songs in it, and I was sure we could have a good season, if we just came out strong and washed away the bad taste in everyone’s mouth from last year (the judges and the audience).
But, though Frog would eventually become one of my best friends in the world, he had one last “motivational” speech for me as we were warming up for the show. “Milano,” he said in front of the whole snare line, “you get three breaks in the show. Anymore than that, and it’s the last time you march.” So much for feeling confident. It felt like a funeral procession as I marched in single file, in the cold Kenosha lakefront wind, toward the backfield starting line . . .
(to be continued)