I joined the Navy in May 1951 and was sent to the Naval Base at Newport, R.I. for 12 weeks of boot camp training. We arrived at the base about 4 a.m. and thought they would let us sleep in due to our late arrival. We were rousted at 5:30 a.m. for our first taste of what the next three months held in store for us.
After a week of training, a notice came out requesting volunteers for the Base drum and bugle corps. I got permission from Chief Barkley to audition for the unit and went up to try out for the drum line. Being in the corps would exempt me from Saturday morning barracks inspection as they practiced every Saturday morning and participated in the Sunday morning graduation ceremonies.
When I went to see the chief in charge of the corps, he asked about my background. Knowing that I had minimal training and experience, my confidence was at an all-time low. I knew I would be competing against recruits from the Eastern seaboard and really didn’t think I had a chance.
The chief slid a drum pad across his desk, handed me a pair of drumsticks, and said, “Let’s see what you got.” I executed a pretty simple drum routine and noticed his expression changed. When I got done, I stood at attention, nervously waiting for him to respond. He looked at me with a hairy-eyeball stare and simply said, “Hell, boy, you’re the best drummer I’ve got. Report for practice Saturday morning.”
His decision started me on a path in music that lasted 30 years.