Top 12 is a periodic DCI.org series featuring Q&A interviews with individuals making news in the drum corps activity. This inaugural edition features author Nicholas Waerzeggers and DCI Hall of Fame member Steve Vickers who over the last three years have collaborated on a new book titled "Drum Corps International The First Decade: 1972-1981."
Written by Waerzeggers with editing and design by Vickers, the 212-page comprehensive history of Drum Corps International from its founding through 1981 was pieced together through extensive research and interviews with some 250 individuals. Debuted at the DCI World Championships this past August in Indianapolis, the book is now available for order online. View a sample of the book by clicking the cover below.
Steve Vickers & Nicholas Waerzeggers
1. Give us a brief overview of this book. What does this edition cover?
The book is an expansive look at not only the first decade of Drum Corps International's history, but also an interesting view of what led up to the formation of the organization by way of what the activity was like during the 1960s.
2. How did this project get started, and ultimately how long did it take to put together?
Initially I wanted to produce a book on DCI's complete history. When I approached DCI Executive Director Dan Acheson about it in 2006, he quickly suggested that it be two books – one with photos and one with the written history.
The photo book – "Drum Corps International: The First 35 Years in Photos"
– was published by DCI in 2007. It contains 2,147 images of nearly every corps that participated at the DCI Championships between 1972 and 2006, as well as the complete Prelims and Finals scoring results.
The second phase was originally supposed to be a single book, but the amount of information that was accumulated was so extensive that it became apparent that a volume for each decade made more sense.
I didn't feel comfortable being the one to actually write the text, so I asked a young man who worked for me two summers as an intern if he would be interested. He told me he liked to write short stories in his spare time and submit them to magazines for publication. I asked if he had an interest in something non-fiction and more expansive, and he did.
We took a trip down to Chicago for a lunch meeting with Dan and the project was finalized that day. Nic Waerzeggars would compile the history and I would edit and put the book together graphically. From that meeting in 2007 until the book came off the press was three years.
3. Did you expect there to be this much information to write about before you started?
My expectations were considerably smaller than what actually became reality. Several times over the course of the last three years I told Nic that this book might have been all of 50 pages if I was the one writing it. What Nic generated was far beyond anything I ever imagined when the project began.
Thankfully, I was able to provide extensive research opportunities through my collection of drum corps publications that date back to the late 1940s. Nic culled through issues of Drum Corps News
, Drum Corps Digest
, Drum Corps America
, Contest Guild
and Drum Corps World
, then conducted phone and e-mail interviews with 250 individuals who played a part in DCI's first 10 years. Dan Acheson also provided copies of the DCI Board of Directors minutes from the initial meetings in the fall of 1971 through 1981.
Nic borrowed CDs and DVDs from me so he could become familiar with the groups he was going to write about. Since he had no previous knowledge or experience with the drum and bugle corps activity, I wanted him to begin to feel familiar and comfortable with his subject.
I specifically called on Nic because he didn't know anything about drum corps. I didn't want someone who brought a bias or preconceived ideas to the project. I was very careful not to lead him into specific areas. Instead, everything he covered was through his own "discovery" and that's why I'm so incredibly pleased with the final product.
4. Who did you have the opportunity to talk to when doing research for the book?
I had the opportunity (often through some very roundabout, lengthy attempts) to interview nearly everyone whose name popped up in an old drum corps publication, DCI Board of Directors minutes, or in a previous interview. I spoke to a number of individuals from the '40s and '50s Catholic Youth Organization corps to the men and women who carry on the directing and artistic vision of drum corps today.
With about five months left in the project I got on Facebook and that began connecting me to people literally in moments. An example of how that expedited the process: I was researching the 1980 season and trying to discover who Jim Ott was. I logged onto Facebook, searched around and within 10 minutes Roy Perez (I believe a gentleman who stood up at his wedding) shared an audio file of the night the Blue Devils, Freelancers and Vanguard joined brass lines to pay tribute to Ott.
It warrants mentioning that Facebook, compared with phone conversations and a few personal conversations often removed the real connection an interviewer and interviewee can develop. A lot of the people I got the opportunity to speak with on multiple occasions shared their "real memories" with me. Without those moments, I don't think the book would have nearly the human spirit or personal interest level it sometimes attains.
I was particularly pleased that DCI's first executive director, Don Pesceone, was so helpful in putting this history together. Nic made contact with him early-on, and Don helped fill in details and further expand on some of the topics Nic discovered through many of the interviews and e-mail exchanges he conducted over the course of the project. I personally want to publicly thank Don for his assistance.
5. Who were some of your favorite or most interesting interviews?
A completely valid, but totally unfair question because there were so many wonderful and humorous interviews. Gene Monterastelli, perhaps more than all, kept me on task, so to speak. He lives the early morning life. At least 20 times over the three year stretch of the project I had to set my alarm for well before the sun came up to arrange interviews with him. Those were some special mornings, with coffee, my notebook and a very quiet voice not to wake up the wife or kids. Best of all was his ability to recall years, days and even moments. I must have told him a couple dozen times that he should be the one writing the book.
Dave Shaw proved to be an ever-ready, courteous, knowledgeable and insightful resource. I think the analogy in the book of he to Ben Franklin in terms of DCI's development makes a lot of sense. He provided me with almost as many contacts as Steve did.
Dennis DeLucia was a constant source for information and inspiration. Daniel Buteau was one of the figures that reminded me and encouraged me to consider how important the project was, and thus it was people like him who made me want to check every possible source for accuracy. He was also an important fan who read long chunks of material and cheerleaded me along on certain topics and invited me to consider new thoughts on others.
I felt privileged every time I got to speak with Wayne Downey, Pete Emmons, Ralph Pace and the early innovators. Of course, some of their predecessors fell too early in the history for me to properly write of their contributions.
Jodeen Popp, who had the next nearest thing to a comprehensive drum corps history, invited me into her home and we watched old videos together while having cookies.
Don Warren, Hugh Mahon and Bill Howard all became "my friends" on several occasions.
Jerry Kaiser, one of the entertaining drum major front men of the era provided many anecdotes about the Associate-level corps (those finishing between 13-25) during the period covered.
All of the judges proved so helpful in being able to put my observations of performances into words. It was obvious to see their analytical minds at work while dissecting some of the material I sent them.
6. Is there anything you learned putting this together that you didn't know about the drum corps activity before or were surprised to learn?
As mentioned in the foreword, all I really knew about the activity beforehand was that something intangible made kids and adults passionate about this activity.
I learned a great deal I wasn't previously aware of, including details the vast majority of fans and participants will find fascinating. I certainly did. I began the project thinking I had a very broad and extensive awareness of drum corps and DCI's history, and I definitely found that to not be the case. I discovered much about that first decade I had no idea took place.
7. Are there any anecdotes in particular you liked writing about?
Too many to mention. One of the transcendent times I was honored to cover was the Spirit of Atlanta staff van accident that injured Lloyd Pesola and took the life of Jim Ott. From everyone I spoke with, the history of drum corps would have been completely different had Ott not been killed. It was amazing to learn how the entire activity rallied around his memory the rest of the season, particularly those corps he had little direct affiliation with.
The 27th Lancers' trip to Lake Placid for the Olympics that same year (1980) was a fun topic to cover. The Lancer fraternity from George Bonfiglio to Charlie Poole to its seemingly hundreds of creative visual and guard staff members proved a delight to get to know over the course of the project.
The many bus breakdowns that befell nearly every corps never cease to amaze me. It's no doubt how solidarity and fraternity developed among corps members.
8. Were there any you had to leave on the "cutting room floor" or any you thought twice about including?
Dan Acheson gave Nic and I a lot of latitude in putting together the history. He told us it wasn't necessary to shy away from controversial material and to basically tell the story as it happened. I think readers will be surprised by the scope of information and the detail that is revealed through Nic's narrative.
Of course, no doubt there will be people who remember some things a bit differently, but after nearly four decades, not everyone's memory is crystal clear. Because Nic made a point of speaking with as many people as possible, I think he did an incredible job culling out the real information and presented it in a very interesting way.
Dan did in fact provide a lot of latitude. Pretty much everything that was left out of the book was a conscious decision on my part related to length. Readers will notice the length of the 1980 chapter in particular. Yes, it was a crossroads year for drum corps, but it also happened to be the period where I was able to contact so many people. The chapter could easily have been three times its length but then it would have perhaps detracted, by degrees, from other years.
And yes, it was almost physically painful, every time someone shared an anecdote or story and qualified it by saying, "This is off the record." The amount of times that was said to me should reveal how this or any history on the topic will create contrasting opinions. It also shows how colorful DCI's history is.
9. What do you suppose might be the reaction of readers who experienced drum corps in the 1970s?
Hopefully there is an element of escape, nostalgia and a subsequent dialogue. I also hope those in some of the smaller corps who I often struggled to contact will find a voice to supplement the history. That will be of great importance if the project moves forward. The Santa Clara Vanguard alumni section on its website, for example, meant I could easily contact someone from any section of the corps from any year within minutes. For some of the smaller corps and even for a few corps that crept into Finals for a couple seasons, all the Google searches in the world might not stir up any contacts. Ultimately, I hope the book finds its way into some living rooms and rouses up some old memories.
10. Why should people who are newer to drum corps read this book?
Knowing where the activity came from is very important to put into context what is currently going on in the activity. There have been many changes, improvements and some disappointments over the years, but having a broad view helps participants, staff and parents understand what they are involved in currently.
In addition, I think this book offers a very important lesson in how an activity affects the lives of everyone who come into contact, whether as a marching member, a staff member, a parent or a fan.
11. Have you started any research for or are there any plans for a follow up 1982-1991 edition?
Dan and I haven't had an opportunity to discuss the future of the project. I designed this book as a companion to the photo book published in 2007, with the cover design carrying on the visual theme.
I certainly hope Nic and I are able to continue the history of DCI to the next volume and beyond, but that's up to Dan and his staff. Right now the importance of getting the two books into many people's hands is the first priority. If sales are sufficient to warrant going on to the next decade, both Nic and I are available and interested in continuing the series.
12. Where can people find this book or any of the other drum corps history books that have been published over the years?
"The First Decade" is currently available from DCI online or by phone at 317.275.1212. Special to it's release, it's also currently available as a set
with "The First 35 Years in Photos" edition I mentioned at the beginning of the interview.
Both volumes of "A History of Drum and Bugle Corps" can be found at DrumCorpsWorld.com or by calling 800.554.9630. Another new book "The Art of Drum Corps World," which is a 370-page collection of more than 750 pieces of line art, cartoons and illustrations that have appeared on the pages of Drum Corps World over the last 38 years, is also currently available.
View all books available through Drum Corps International.
View all books available through Drum Corps World.