You are hereTHE GENESIS OF THE KINGSMEN DRUM AND BUGLE CORPS
THE GENESIS OF THE KINGSMEN DRUM AND BUGLE CORPS
|THE GENESIS OF THE KINGSMEN DRUM AND BUGLE CORPS|
By William Borges, January 2005, Revised June 2005
As the author of the Velvet Knights' history astutely noted at http://members.tripod.com/ DrumCorpsHistory/VelvetKnights.htm
, the histories of the Kingsmen and Velvet Knights are inseparable thanks to their common genesis in the Anaheim Scouts. What follows is my best recollection of how these three drum corps started, some forty years after the fact. Please forgive any errors in fact; the fog of memory is sometimes hard to burn-off.
The Anaheim Scouts Through 1963
Around 1962, in the ancient days of southern California drum corps, Messrs. Zig Kanstul, Joe Lintz and Bill Cadek stumbled across a Boy Scout troop, Anaheim Troop 72. This wasn't just any Boy Scout troop. This one had a primitive drum and bugle corps as a sideline to its knot tying and other camping activities. Of course, this wasn't just any primitive drum and bugle corps, either. Mr. John Walters started it with the organizational support of Mr. Maurice Williams, the troop's scoutmaster. Walters was a former Lakewood Ambassador instructor, whose sons happened to belong to Troop 72.
Wearing standard khaki scout uniforms festooned with war-surplus braids and leggings, the little corps of elementary and middle-school kids had been stomping, beating and blasting its way around southern California's community parade circuit since the very late 1950's. Kanstul, Lintz and Cadek were incredible visionaries – or, perhaps, they were just having an incredible collective hallucination – to have seen any potential in this organization. As we know now, though, they really did know their stuff and history was in the making.
The next year was an amazing transformational time. Proper instruments were purchased. Uniforms were changed to the slightly more attractive Explorer Scout version, a la Madison and Racine Scouts. Zig taught the drummers to drum real rudiments, while Joe taught the horns to play real polyphonic music . . . from sight-read scores no less. And, together with Bill they created an organization that could grow and sustain a competitive drum corps.
With the structure in place, the three set out to recruit new, more experienced members. After all, they couldn't expect a bunch of little elementary and middle school kids to take on the then powerhouse likes of the Japanese Scouts, Hawks, Cathay and Senoritas without some heavy hitters of their own. The easiest recruiting targets were the strong Anaheim High School band and the nearby Lakewood Ambassadors, the well-respected corps founded by a true grand dad of southern California drum corps, Bill Francis. Two of the more notable catches were the Ambassador's former drum major, Don Arnette, and the well-known drill instructor, Joe O'Day. A Girl Scout color guard was added to handle the pageantry chores. Don Arnette's wife, an interesting story in itself, took over as color guard captain. With a name change from the Troop 72 Drum and Bugle Corps to the Anaheim Scouts, the corps was ready to take the competition field for the first time in the spring of 1963.
Although the inaugural season saw no championships, the Anaheim Scouts did gain the solid respect of its competitors and generated buzz of impending success in future seasons. Yes, there would be future successes beyond anything imaginable in 1963, but not the way anyone expected.
Messrs. Kanstul, Lintz and Cadek were flush with excitement from their accomplishments. However, they were even more frustrated by the meddling of the local Boy Scout Council and a group of myopic parents who would not support taking the corps to its next level of development. So, they joined-up with John Walters and left to create the Velvet Knights. In doing so, they took most of the older, accomplished and experienced musicians.
The Anaheim Scouts of 1964
The gutted Anaheim Scouts should have folded. After all, what was left? Although they had the new uniforms and equipment, the best musicians were gone along with the brain-trust instruction and management staff. Indeed, the Scouts would have folded had it not been for the uncompromising determination of one man, Mr. Donald Porter, Sr. It was Mr. Porter who single-handedly picked-up the pieces and methodically reassembled the organization. He wasn't a musician; he was an aerospace engineer of focused, disciplined intelligence, sophisticated tastes, and caring, thoughtful patience. As the father of Don Porter, Jr. – former drummer with the Ambassadors and one of the finest drum corps percussionists of all time – the elder Porter had seen a lot of good corps and he knew what he liked. Although it would be hard to say that Mr. Porter initially had a clear intent to create a nationally competitive drum corps, his professional capabilities, high intelligence, refined taste, and force-of-will set him on that path.
By early 1964 in his role as director, Mr. Porter sold his vision of a new Anaheim Scouts to the remaining membership and their parents. Energized, yet still unsure of themselves, the corps members went out on the stump recruiting fellow school band members, primarily from Savanna and Magnolia High Schools in Anaheim and Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton. This effort paid off with a grand total of six drummers, 18 brass, five color guard, and one drum major – all males.
At the same time, Mr. Porter signed a trio of instructors, Messrs. Kent Larsen, Mr. Donald Palinsky and Robert Schroeder. Larsen, the drill instructor and Palinsky, the horn instructor, were both Chicago Cavaliers alumni from the early to mid-1950s. (It is important to note Mr. Palinsky’s critically important later role with the Kingsmen in the mid 1970s. He was instrumental in developing, implementing and managing the corps’ bingo hall initiative that provided the necessary revenues to support the corps.) Bob Schroeder was the drum instructor, who continued with the corps through and beyond its transition to the Kingsmen. Larsen, Palinsky and Schroeder’s approach to drum corps was spartan, easy-to-play music that could be performed perfectly by young, developing musicians. While Don and Mrs. Palinsky were very good musicians, scoring and sight-reading were not Kent’s forte. Gathered in the Palinsky’s living room, Kent and Don would sing the various parts to songs they had played back in Chicago and Mrs. Palinsky would plink them out on the piano. When it sounded right, she transcribed them on to sheet music. (All of this was done under the watchful eye of little Leroy Palinsky, who later marched with the Kingsmen in the early 1970s.) At the same time, pulling together bits and pieces from their earlier drum corps experience, Kent and Don assembled a rudimentary, highly disciplined drill. Highly disciplined is the key phrase here. As a former marine, Larsen's uncompromising approach to instruction and motivation was boot camp, not academic. Early in the 1964 season this drill sergeant approach was ideal for building competency and confidence into the rag-tag Scouts.
However, as the season wound to a close in the early summer, Kent Larsen's dictatorial style became one of many friction points with the more genteel director. Sensing that things might not work out in the long run between Larsen and himself, Mr. Porter developed a relationship with another instructor, Mr. Thomas Day, who was a Chicago Cavalier alumnus of a later vintage and former marine, too. However, Tom's personality was 180 degrees away from Kent's, yet comparable to Don’s more reserved and thoughtful demeanor. Day was a tall, soft-spoken, dignified young banking professional, whereas Larsen was a short, pushy braggart whose working class roots were always in full view. Mr. Porter brought Tom Day in ostensibly as a horn instructor to support Don. (A little side note: Tom Day was married to one of the most exquisitely beautiful women any of us had – or have – ever seen. Lynn Day worked as a secretary and editorial, i.e., non-nude, model for Playboy in Chicago before they moved to Orange County.)
Bypassing the winter and early spring stand-still competitions, the new Anaheim Scouts first entered field competition at a contest produced by the Albacore in Pacific Beach, CA. Although the Senoritas won the contest that night on their way to a state championship, the more interesting outcome was the fact that the Anaheim Scouts beat the reigning state champions, the Japanese Scouts. While the Japanese Scouts had by far the more sophisticated show, albeit with ragged edges, the Anaheim Scouts put on a simple, yet near flawless performance.
It is my considered opinion that this performance by the Anaheim Scouts was in fact the spiritual moment the Kingsmen Drum and Bugle Corps was born. What a silly assertion! But, wait. Consider this. After the decimation of the original Scouts, the remaining cast-off members were emotionally crushed. They lacked musical and performance skills. Worst of all, they lacked confidence in themselves. What they did have, though, was determination to succeed, to show their older cousins in the Velvet Knights that they could not be taken for granted. That night in Pacific Beach, the Anaheim Scouts used that determination to begin defining the performance elegance that was to become known later throughout drum corps as Kingsmen class.
So, what went on down there on the field? After months of Kent Larsen's hard-assed drill instruction and Don Palinsky and Bob Shroeder’s musical polishing, running through the show would be second nature. Since arriving at the stadium we had been silent and purposeful preparing for the pre-show inspection, just like Kent taught us. Yes, we were scared a little. Yet, we were pumped full of adrenaline and more than a bit of Larsen's braggadocio. With this volatile mixture, there would be no flight for the Scouts, only fight . . . whatever the odds.
While waiting for the announcer after sailing through the inspection, it happened. In the mid-1960s there was no name for runner's high, but that's what hit us. One-by-one, the fright, adrenaline and cockiness in us combusted into endorphins. While each of us filled with calm elation, clear-minded control and strength, we also sensed it surging through the entire corps. The four-count . . . the starter's gun . . . the show was on. There weren't 30 boys on the field. There was only one magnificent, perfect beast striding in the twilight across the fragrant fresh-cut grass, singing its simple, powerful songs.
The audience was thrilled, but stunned. "Weren't those guys supposed to be the imposter Scouts? The goofy little brothers? The third-chair thirds?" While the audience sorted it out, we marched single-file into the stands to stoically watch our new peers, wait for the judges' verdict, and ponder the opioid enriched rite-of-passage we had just collectively experienced.
By the time of the retreat, the significance of our performance had still not set in. But, it soon would. As the results were announced we suspected something might be wrong. Eighth place . . . nope, not the Scouts. Seventh place . . . still not Anaheim. And, so it went. Third place . . . Japanese Scouts! What? Did they forget us? Second place . . . Anaheim Scouts! Whoa! Did the judges get it right? They're joking, right? We beat the state champs? Well, yes, that night the Anaheim Scouts did beat the state champs, the formidable Japanese Scouts . . . and, as a footnote, the accomplished big boys from J-Town did not take kindly to it, either.
Later that night, Don Porter Jr., Bill McGaffey, Steve Wraight and Ricky Rieke, the Anaheim Scout's outstanding drum quartette, performed on a young Regis Philbin's local late night talk show in San Diego. Still on their endorphin high, the quartette spectacularly presaged what was to come out of Anaheim.
The Anaheim Scouts competed a few weeks later in Sacramento at the American Legion state championship contest. Despite the corps' newfound confidence, the handicaps of its small size, overly simplistic repertoire, and old-style drill were too much to overcome. The Scouts didn't win, but they didn't lose, either. What the corps came home with was a clear idea of where it was developmentally, especially against the Velvet Knights, Hawks, Cathay, and Senoritas. With that awareness, the staff and members knew what they needed to become.
Shortly after returning home from Sacramento, Mr. Porter announced that Kent Larsen would no longer be with the corps. The personality, philosophic and stylistic rifts between the director and the instructor had been finally breached. Most members realized after the Sacramento performance that Kent Larsen had taken the corps as far as he could. We learned much from him, especially the virtues of ironclad self and corps discipline. And, despite his many flaws, we truly respected him. However, the corps needed more to succeed. Mr. Porter set to work to provide it. Tom Day would take his place as drill instructor, Don Palinsky would remain as the horn instructor, and Bob Schroeder would remain as the drum instructor. Rather than creating morale problems for the corps, Tom's appointment was taken rather matter of factly. We knew Tom well and were mindful of his experience, intelligence and sound judgment. Plus, Don and Bob’s calm, stable presence provided continuity.
After Sacramento, there was one event left in the short West Coast season, a parade and field show at Point Mugu Naval Air Station on the Fourth of July. The Scout's main competition was the Lakewood Ambassadors. Tom and Don checked out the judging area before the parade. Noting how much space was available for a concert formation in front of the reviewing stand and the rather loose competition rules, they quickly improvised and taught a street drill that would allow the corps to put on a real show for the base's commanding officer. When the Scouts pulled it off, the C.O. was elated and so were the judges! Inspired in the Pacific Beach sense of the word, the Scouts outclassed a much larger and more musically impressive Ambassador corps later in the day during the field competition.
It was a fitting end to an incredible season of personal and collective growth for the young men of the new Anaheim Scouts. It was also a fitting end – and beginning – of an era in the development of drum corps in southern California.
The Birth of the Kingsmen
During the 1964 summer West Coast drum corps hiatus, the Porters went east to the American Legion and VFW national championships. The family saw the finest amateur musical organizations in the country: Garfield Cadets, Boston Crusaders, Blessed Sacrament, Cavaliers, Royalaires, Madison and Racine Scouts, and the old men of the game, the Caballeros. Watching the best-of-the-best, Mr. Porter had an epiphany: the Anaheim Scouts could be a major force in drum corps. Only they couldn't do it as Boy Scouts.
Helping Mr. Porter in his decision to drop the Scouting affiliation was another load of dictates from the Boy Scout Council upon his arrival home. All he had to do now was convince the very same bunch of parents who had driven-off Kanstul, Lintz and Cadek that the inevitable decision was long overdue. As with so many challenges, he needed to do it, so he did.
Naming the new corps was easy. The members were really into drum corps' sense of cool, and the coolest name they knew was the Kingsmen, as in the Kenosha Kingsmen, who happened to have the coolest uniforms in all of drum corps at that time. There wasn't much debate, just an almost immediate and unprompted consensus that the name of the corps had to be the Kingsmen. Something else was significant about the naming of the corps. The name would not include a city. It was not the Anaheim Kingsmen. No, it was just the Kingsmen. The members were adamant that if some municipality wanted advertising, it could send a sizable check. But, there would be no freebee promotions just because the corps practiced in a particular town. Further, the members and management knew that it would have to recruit from all over the region to succeed. The Kingsmen couldn't limit itself to one town in northern Orange County.
With the name out of the way, the really tough work started. There was a little money in the corps bank account from the annual fireworks stand sales. It is important to note that there really wasn't enough money to finance the transition, nor was there any strong sponsor support. Although he never said a thing about it and I have no proof, I believe Mr. Porter financed a sizable part of the Kingsmen's start-up out of his own pocket. Thanks to the generosity and dedication of Mr. Porter, the transformation of the Scouts to the Kingsmen cost our financially struggling working class parents nothing.
Mr. Porter knew exactly what the new Kingsmen uniforms would look like. The trick would be to find a supplier that could provide them at a price he and the corps could afford. With considerable searching, much of it on Autonetics' time, Mr. Porter found one in west Los Angeles.
The pants would be black with two very thin white stripes up the legs. While the shoes and shakos would be black, too, the ostrich plumes and cummerbunds would be white. Setting off this monochrome motif would be satin shirts in a unique, rich shade of teal. (Note: Yes, Mr. Porter really did borrow a Velvet Knights shirt for the uniform supplier to copy. Such was the back-channel cordiality between Mr. Porter and Messrs. Kanstul, Lintz and Cadek.) The design was simple and strikingly distinctive. Most of all, it had Kingsmen class.
The Scouts horns were lacquered brass and that dated look had to go. The color simply didn't complement the new teal, black and white uniforms. So, Mr. Porter had a few at a time chromed at a local plating shop. Changing out the Scouts ruby metal-flake drums would have to wait, even though they clashed with the new color scheme.
So, now the Kingsmen would be looking good. But, we were a drum corps and we needed to sound good, too. Since returning from nationals, Mr. Porter had met a rather talented gentleman named Sam Hamilton. Sam grew-up in drum corps back east and worked as a disk jockey for a while before joining the staff of the Anaheim Bulletin newspaper. More importantly, Sam was a music arranger with finely honed drum corps sensibilities. Whereas, Kanstul and Lintz at the Velvet Knights were outstanding arrangers, too, their musical sensibilities lead them to relatively old fashion big band standards and show tunes, as well as ancient Sousa marches. Hamilton, on the other hand, leaned toward the powerful sounds of the big sword-and-sandal and western movie themes of the period, pieces like Parade of the Charioteers, March of the Olympians, King of Kings, Magnificent Seven and Big Country. For Sam it was a given that the new Kingsmen needed a huge show-stopping piece to make its introduction. He chose the theme from a relatively obscure television western called Black Saddle. It was easy enough to play, yet it was big and brash . . . and most importantly, it was cool. Sam also arranged Drummer Boy for the upcoming Christmas season and a few months later arranged that Kingmen staple of the mid-1960s, Downtown.
Starting up again in the late summer/early fall of 1964, the corps membership came together with a clear vision, identity and purpose. Despite the still small size of about 35 members, the Kingsmen knew they were going to be the drum and bugle corps in southern California. Through the fall Sam and Don developed and polished the musicians in the 18-piece horn line, Bob Shroeder and Don Porter, Jr. worked the 8-man drum line, and Tom Day refined the corps' physical performance skills. Kent Larsen's earlier lessons in the value of discipline were paying off. By early December, the Kingsmen were a tight, confident little group. They looked good, they sounded good . . . and, they had now defined Kingsmen class for themselves.
Late on the afternoon of December 5th, we boarded a chartered intercity bus at Brookhurst Junior High School, our rehearsal facility, for the trip to the Huntington Park Christmas Parade. In 1964, Huntington Park was still a rather affluent town with a prosperous, elaborately decorated downtown district. The parade was significant enough that a local television station broadcast It every year. It was a perfect venue to premiere the Kingsmen.
We arrived at the parade staging area after dark, unloaded the instruments, and fell in to warm up. Although the usual pre-parade pandemonium swirled around us in the chilled, damp December night, it didn't matter. We were in our Pacific Beach zone . . . Focused, calm, controlled and ready to announce the arrival of a new era in drum corps.
DRUM CORPS . . . TEN-HUPP! BLACK SADDLE.
FOUR-FOR-NOTHING . . . MARK-TIME, MARCH!
As we grow older, we realize that the teachers, mentors, friends and, yes, even the rivals in our youth are some of the most important people in our lives. I would like to thank all of the incredibly generous and dedicated people I met and grew with in drum corps. You are still major influences in my life. This is particularly true for the late Don Porter, Sr., and his kind wife, Bernice.
Many, many thanks to Bob Schroeder, Leroy Palinsky, Steve Laird, Jerry Topper, Chris and Charlie Groh, and all the other Scouts, Kingsmen and Velvet Knights who have written since January to add important information to this history.
The following are just a few of the very first Kingsmen
Pete Aguayo, soprano
Ed Balluch, drums
Jim Becker, soprano
Scott Birdsall, soprano
Gary Blair, baritone
Bill Borges, drum major
Brad Borman, color guard
Bob Britton, baritone
Kenny Burkhardt, color guard
Jerry Bramwell, soprano
Tom Chorbagian, color guard captain
John Granier, french horn
Glen Gray, baritone
Ted Gray, baritone
Larry Kligerman, drums
Steve Laird, soprano
Steve Maitland, color guard
Billy McGaffey, drums
Steve Morales, soprano
Bill Peters, drums
Donnie Porter, drums
Charlie Prater, soprano
Ricky Rieke, drums
Richard Robles, soprano
John Santy, soprano
Ted Trueblood, baritone
Tom Thompson, baritone
Jerry Topper, color guard
Doug Wilson, drums
Mike Wraight, french horn
Steve Wraight, drums
About the Author
Bill Borges was fortunate enough to have been the drum major for the Anaheim Scouts, the Kingsmen, and the Velvet Knights. He currently lives with his wife, Rosalind, and two sons in Reno, NV. Bill is an internal management consultant for northern Nevada's largest healthcare system, and is an adjunct faculty member at the Reno campus of the University of Phoenix. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org