Blue Devils : The Dream
It’s 1996, and I’m in high school. DCI finals is in my town, Orlando, FL and THE Blue Devils are rehearsing at MY high school every day.
It’s my first time to see DCI live.
All I have to do is go to school, walk to the bleachers, and there is the top seated drum corps running show chunks, sectionals, repping and cleaning.
Instructors are encouraging them, tons of instructive comments are flying down from the box. It’s minute details time and the air is absolutely electric. They are hungry for the title and it’s palpable.
This is the moment I know, I’m going to be a Blue Devil. I’m not going anywhere else while this corps is in rehearsal, and nothing exists but me in this moment, all week long, mesmerized by the finest the activity has to offer.
The staff is the cream of the crop, and I get a behind the scenes look and feel of what they are teaching the members, but more importantly, HOW they are approaching things.
I fell head over heals for the sound of the brass as Gino Cipriani ran them, and Wayne called down directions. Guru Todd Ryan, dropped nuggets of life wisdom like gold. Jeff Lee and the power of the pit, Scott Johnson and the battery, and the battery techs… man, the techs were already larger than life, having spent a few years watching them marching on VHS. All these cats could really play, and it was the first time I felt what a cohesive line at the top was.
Through this period, I did my best to develop my skills under the super vets and hall of famers in DCA. I was marching with the Heatwave of Orlando Senior Corps with/under percussion greats, Vic Kulinski, Darrell Wahlberg, Lynn Capraun, and guys like Danny Raymond and Dennis Delucia were in the mix.
After years, I was set to go tryout at 19 for BD,
but suddenly got the call to go play in Tokyo with the Jammitors.
It was a 6 month winter contract, and the opportunity of a lifetime. I was green, but I took it and headed to Tokyo to play with 2 badass Blue Devil vets, Pete Sapadin and Dave Haskell.
For a few years leading up to Tokyo, Dave had been throwing all the real-deal, old school Tom Float and Hannum beats at me. I was sluggish picking things up, but I was a hard worker. Hungry for more, but slightly behind the elite curve, I thought.
My day gig, drumming at Universal Studios FL, from age 17 was a blessing at this time thanks to my teacher, Vic; also having 91s alum Joe Southard and 87 Devs vet, Tony Aleguas around was a major bonus. Tony shared the original sheets from Float’s Enchindas Arf with me, and man those parts were smokin.
Fast forward to Tokyo and Pete started taking me to school. He knew Float well, and had me working through the grid, as well as his own original pieces, plus staples like Racer X and Susie.
I drummed/performed and grew with them for 6 months at Tokyo Disney Land, then it was time to head back state-side.
The 01 season auditions were here. My VHS audition granted me a call back. I was focused and determined that no matter what, I’m making the line. Period.
I was running a few miles a day, shedding for 6-8 hours, and in prime shape, even running box drill in my back yard with my drum on.
With my music, sticks and pad, and barely any money for food, I flew out to auditions in Concord.
I didn’t know anyone, not that it mattered.
There were 3 snare spots open, 40+ auditioning.
For my in person solo audition, I played Sapadin’s Strong Beach, (now a staple for the west coast), Ram 90, and various other exercises from the audition packet.
I was nervous as hell when I played. This was for all the marbles after all.
The 3-4 percussion staff sat at the table and asked, what was that you just played? I told them my story, just got back from Tokyo, Pete’s Strong Beach, etc.
Seemed like a nod. I hoped it was looking good for me.
They asked why I’d go backwards, having already done the Jammitors gig, to which I replied, it’s my dream to be here.
My feet were a little slow in the block, but my quality of sound, especially at lower heights was beefy. I seemed to be keeping up as Roger worked his magic and tested our abilities. All that time grinding and shedding 27th Lancer exercises, Bridgemen parts, and the Heatwave beats on plastic heads with old school Delucia’s thanks to my teacher, Vic, was really paying off. Old school, baby!
Quickly in the coming weekends,
the list whittled down to 4 of us. Every camp weekend, we’d fly in and continue the process, and each time the staff said they couldn’t decide. We had the show music and were just starting to clean the book. They hoped we could just march 10 snares.
What a hype!
I was severely low on cash at this point.
The last camp, I was shifted next to center and man, what a hype. Dream fulfilled. I could have stayed in that spot all season. Pure elation.
Sadly it was decided there were only 9 going out. Drill was about to start and they’re going to have to make the call but were still conflicted.
They met with us individually again, as had happened at the end of each weekend, and asked who wants to move over?
The last time we spoke about it, probably 4 or 5 camps in, I decided to mull it over. One of us has to move… I was going to be the only rook-out and felt I had proved what I came to do. Plus it’s obviously better for the corps to have more vets the next year.
I chose to be the guy.
And from that moment on I carved a new path.
Move-ins happened, I was lucky enough to have housing with my ex-girlfriends distant aunt in Concord. I was so broke that I took 3 jobs to pay my tour fees. BD let me borrow some congas, and I started shedding like crazy in a whole different direction. Some big band drum set type parts came in and since I had a jazz background, the pieces were falling into place.
Everydays kicked off and I was elated. Still working part time at 3 places, basically not sleeping much. Our super vet tympanist asked me one day why I seemed so tired, and I just told her the truth… this moment is etched into my brain… she said “oh no,” spun on her heals and went off to some how solve the issue. I soon heard that the parents of our pit tech, Ed Cloyd were going to sponsor me to March.
I cried, then quit my jobs.
They were SO kind, and even sent me a care package on the road, for which I most remember the new socks. No more socks with holes!
What. A. Blessing.
As the show music was developed I learned so much from Jeff Lee, or Jeffe as I came to know him, and Ed. The greatest lessons on the road were about life, and I still implement them to this day. Including right before finals week where I was kicked out of the corps by the corps director, only to learn the importance of others perceptions, and thankfully allowed back in just in time for finals week to finish proudly as a member.
I’m not just thankful, I’m grateful.
“In 2nd place with a score of 97.6, The Blue Devils and The Cadets”.
A few months after I aged out, I was contacted to come be a part of Blast 2 : Shockwave.
That’s a story for another day.