Drum Corps International
Spotlight of the Week: 1985 Velvet Knights
1985 Velvet KnightsPhoto by: Drum Corps International

Spotlight of the Week: 1985 Velvet Knights

by Michael Boo

The Drum Corps International World Championships came to Madison, Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium for the first of seven times in 1985.

Garfield Cadets completed DCI’s first three-peat Championship by a World Class corps after tossing out major chunks of the corps’ show earlier in the season. The east coast corps topped Santa Clara Vanguard and the Blue Devils, who won brass and percussion caption awards for the second year in a row.

The Cadets turned up the sophistication level on its Bernstein show, musically and visually, leaving some fans to scratch their heads while grudgingly admiring the corps’ accomplishments on the field. This led to one of the most purchased corps T-shirts of the season, one that read “It looks like art because it IS art."

1985 Velvet Knights
1985 Velvet Knights


In 11th place, Velvet Knights members amused audiences with the laid-back California panache they firmed up in 1984, the first year the corps made the Finals at the DCI World Championships. With their signature red Converse sneakers, pork pie hats, and color guard members attired in yellow pants and beach-style shirts, there was little question as to the seriousness of their relaxed demeanor.

The drum major podium was decorated as a lifeguard station, with a “Lifeguard on Duty” sign and a green flag displayed signaled that waters are safe for swimming with no potential dangers spotted.

The opening of the corps’ production was a minute-long screaming rendition of the theme from “Peter Gunn,” an American private eye television series that ran from 1958 to 1961, created by Blake Edwards, who went on to direct several famous films, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the “Pink Panther” series.

1985 Velvet Knights
1985 Velvet Knights


The theme song was written by Henry Mancini and won him an Emmy and two Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best Arrangement. In his autobiography, “Did They Mention the Music?” Mancini pointed out that the entire piece was comprised of one chord throughout, and the repeating ostinato figure everyone knows was there to create a sinister effect.

The corps brought Tommy Newsom’s “NBC Chimes Festival” back from its previous year’s show. Newsom, well known for his role as a saxophonist in Doc Severinsen’s NBC Orchestra on the “Tonight Show,” wrote for musicians as diverse as jazz bandleader Woody Herman, pop artist John Denver, and opera superstar Beverly Sills.

“NBC Chimes Festival” was written for the band’s 1978 album, “Live from Beautiful Downtown Burbank,” and was based on the three-note NBC chimes that informed local radio and television stations that it was time for a government-mandated station break identification before each hour in the earlier days of network broadcasts.

1985 Velvet Knights
1985 Velvet Knights


The piece opened with the corps in the form of the modernized NBC logo unveiled on New Years Day of 1976 to great fanfare. Velvet Knights’ rendition of the tune included not only the original theme that was based on that three-note motif, but also short snippets from “Hooray for Hollywood,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and the theme to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” composed by pop singer Paul Anka. At the end, color guard members unveiled 11 25-yard long fabric streamers in the form of another NBC logo, the NBC Peacock.

The percussion feature of “Beyond the Storm” was co-written by Brazilian singer Ivan Lins and Brazilian songwriter Victor Martins, performed by jazz pianist Dave Grusin and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour on the 1985 album, “Harlequin.” During this piece, and playing off the idea of multiple colors introduced by the earlier peacock effect, the entire color guard and horn line members manipulated large rectangles that could be flipped to change colors between green, orange, blue, and yellow.

The next selection, “Final Analysis” was written by innovative big band leader, Don Ellis, for his 1970 album, “Don Ellis at Fillmore.” Ellis, fond of unorthodox time signatures, composed the piece in a time signature of 4 plus 5 and included several fake endings. The corps’ contra tubas played sitting in beach chairs, further emphasizing the group’s easygoing manner. For added comedy, the fake endings were conducted by the drum major holding a baton that was at least five-feet long.

1985 Velvet Knights
1985 Velvet Knights


The corps’ closing piece was “Catching the Sun” by Jay Beckenstein, founding bandleader of Spro Gyra. The piece came off the ensemble’s 1980 album of the same name. Spyro Gyra was formed in the mid 1970s as a jazz-fusion group, combining smooth jazz with a variety of other idioms. The name came from the green algae Spyrogyra, which was the subject of a college biology paper written by Beckenstein.

Keeping the comedy going, the corps spelled out “OH NO” on the field as the color guard performers formed the outline of a shark fin rising above the waves. A shark’s fin was towed on the field, chasing after two panicked corps members who were hustling for their lives as the famed shark theme from “Jaws” was heard.

A return of the “Peter Gunn” theme brought the show home to what seemed to be the ending, but which, after a couple seconds of silence, was followed by one more loud chordal outburst from the corps blasted out to help assure the shark was scared away for good.

For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Velvet Knights performance.

1985 Overview

Discount ends Monday, November 21, 2016.



Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than 35 years and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.

As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Indiana.

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