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1974 Resurgence - By Paul Milano

Resurgence – 1974

by Paul Milano


During the fall of ’73, rumors were running wild that Don Warren had brought in someone to appraise the value of all our equipment. By December, there were only two snare drummers and a rag tag collection of other drummers. Other sections were also pretty slim. MANY of the vets from the early 70’s were now long gone. Only a smattering of guys from our last “legitimate” championship year (1969) was left.


Personally, I was pretty bummed after ’73. I certainly hadn’t done anything to make the year more successful for the corps (average snare drummer with foolishly long hair that I refused to cut!). I was off at school in Arizona starting in the fall of ’73. Talking to my friends who were still in the Cavaliers, it seemed highly unlikely that there would be a Cavaliers corps in 1974. I began hitchhiking to rehearsals with the Anaheim Kingsmen (hitchhiking was “different” back then). I was in the snare line from October through December.


I came back to Chicago for Christmas, and naturally went to the corps banquet. There were still very few guys in the corps. There was a new drum instructor, however, by the name of Jim “Frog” Roussell. He was drum sergeant my rookie year (1970). As such, I did not really know him. Always seemed like a nice guy, but he was an older vet back then, and I was just a young rookie. Probably said ten words to him that whole year.


One of my best friends in the corps, Paul Leo, was one of the two snares still practicing with the corps. The other was a kid from the “B” corps, Ralph Poznanski, whom I had spent most of the summer of 1973 trying to keep OUT of the “A” corps snare line (God, would history ever prove what a crappy judge of talent I was!!). It was breaking my heart seeing Paul virtually alone.


He told me that Don McWhorter, a vet who I had marched with in the snare line in 1972 (but didn’t get along with), was thinking of coming back for his age-out year. He asked if I’d consider coming back for my age-out year. That would be tough, I told him. I had a snare spot in Kingsmen, and had also been invited to try out for Santa Clara. Besides, I didn’t get along with McWhorter, I didn’t know anything about “Frog,” and the new corps manager, Danny Heeres, seemed like a bit of a “hard ass” to me (being the “sensitive” hippie that I was!).


A mutual friend, and former snare drummer with all of us in 1972, Skip Swoverland, asked me to spend a few days with him and McWhorter up at his cabin in Michigan, just to see if things might work out. We did, and after the few days were over, Don and I had agreed to bury the hatchet and do what we both knew was the right thing to do – finish up with the Cavaliers, and try to help them make it back into Finals.


I went back to school in Arizona and continued to practice with Kingsmen (in order to keep my hands in shape). I was having second thoughts, however, since Kingsmen were looking good (and would later prove to be one of the best corps of the 70’s that season). I even hitchhiked up to Santa Clara during spring break. They asked me to move into town and said I’d have a good shot at being the eighth snare they were looking for. Now decision time was getting tougher and tougher.


The Cavalier drum major called me up in late February and asked me if I would come to the March camp. They needed to know if I was in or out. I flew in for camp, thinking I would give the whole situation one last try to help with my decision.


When I got there, Frog had somehow put together four decent snare drummers, and a bunch of other hard-working, pretty good drummers. I was pleasantly surprised. The corps also debuted the closer’s music at the camp (Once Upon a Time/Somewhere Over the Rainbow medley, with the beautiful opening solo played by Rich “Blue Rock” Gortowski). Things seemed to be looking good. All I needed to do was “size up” this Frog guy, and Danny Heeres, the new manager, to see if I could continue to “rule the roost” as I had tried to do in 1973. Boy . . . was I in for a surprise.


Within five minutes of my first warm-up session with the drum line, I was complaining about the lousy acoustics in the all-concrete hallway we were playing in. Frog calmly dropped his sticks on the floor, and walked out as he mumbled, “That’s it. Rehearsal is cancelled.” You could have heard a pin drop. All eyes were on me. Paul Leo spoke first, saying “Paul, we don’t run things anymore like we got away with before. Frog is THE man. You do it his way, or not at all. And, we’re all 100% behind Frog. Take it or leave it.” I said I’d be right back, and went to look for Heeres, thinking I’d straighten this all out. Danny met me halfway down the hall.


He took me by my arm (not gently) and led me off to a corner. My thoughts of “straightening these guys out” quickly changed to “Will I live?!” Danny said he had asked around about me, and that he was advised to give me ONE CHANCE, and ONE CHANCE only. He said I had just had my chance. NO MORE. “And,” he said, “go get a haircut right now!”


You know how you’ve heard about seeing your life flash before your eyes when you are in danger of loosing your life? Well, everything I had ever cared about in the Cavaliers was all of a sudden flashing before my eyes. Off I went to get a haircut, and I was back warming up with the drum line within an hour – and being very quiet . . .


Back to school once more. Said goodbye to Kingsmen, and no thanks to Santa Clara. Kept practicing my butt off for the next three months. Ten days before the first show of the summer (Kenosha, Wisconsin, Memorial Day weekend), I returned to MY corps for my age-out year. To my utter horror, most of the music had changed (they had decided they probably couldn’t count on me, and had not sent me most of the changes). Now I had ten days to learn basically all the music, and the entire drill – and I didn’t read music!


Don McWhorter, my new best friend ( ! ), asked me to move in with him at his parent’s house. He already had another new snare living with him, and we could practice all day for the next ten days. Talk about bleeding hands – I never hurt so much in my life. I gave it my best effort at Don’s house, and at each practice, but it was not going well. Finally, the day of the first show arrived. I was near panicked all the way up on the bus. Don and Paul Leo worked with me non-stop, but I could hardly think straight.


But when I put that uniform on once again, a tremendous surge of confidence came over me. We were up to six good snares (if you included me!), a solid overall drum line, and a pretty decent horn line and guard. The show had some very dramatic songs in it, and I was sure we could have a good season, if we just came out strong and washed away the bad taste in everyone’s mouth from last year (the judges and the audience).


But, though Frog would eventually become one of my best friends in the world, he had one last “motivational” speech for me as we were warming up for the show. “Milano,” he said in front of the whole snare line, “you get three breaks in the show. Anymore than that and it’s the last time you march.” So much for feeling confident. It felt like a funeral procession as I marched in single file, in the cold Kenosha lakefront wind, toward the backfield starting line . . .


By the end of the opener, I knew I had already screwed up one drill move, and had blown one drum part (at least). I wasn’t sure what Frog had seen. As the snare line marched forward in a company front, during the intro of the first drum solo, there stood Frog, straddling the fifty-yard line on the front of the field. He was looking right at me – holding up three fingers! I couldn’t help but smile. What else could I do? Don must have seen Frog too. As we’re playing the solo, he calmly looks at me and says “Don’t worry, you’re gonna be fine.” He then turned and glared at Frog. Frog walked away. I don’t remember any of the rest of the show – everything just kind of went “white.” But, later that night, at the Finale, we learned we had WON drums! The corps had started out strong!!


The drum line went on to win our first nine or ten shows. The rest of the corps was doing very respectable, though we weren’t outstanding. Pretty much hanging in there, but clearly improved. The next big test would be at the Racine show, in mid-July. There we would see Kingsmen and Santa Clara for the first time. Then we’d know where we stood.


It proved to be one of the most memorable shows of my 15 years of marching drum corps. Word had gotten out around the country that the Cavies were back – well at least the drum line was back (no offense, horns and guard). In addition to winning all of our drums shows so far, we had “brought back” the old Frank Arsenault “high sticking style” of drumming. We played lots of rudiments (no “orchestral tacit crap”), and lots of extremely difficult parts. But, we were also very musical, due to our “other” drum instructor, Dan Spalding.


Dan was an interesting guy. I remember when he tried out for the Cavaliers’ tympani line in 1972. He was a good timpanist, but didn’t have any real rudimental “hands” to speak of. He was from Kansas, and after about a month, must have decided he couldn’t do the “commute” (remember, in those days, an “out of town” guy lived in the suburbs!). Oddly, in 1973, he did his trial judging against us a few times. I remember wondering, at the time, if I had done anything to piss him off in 1972?   : )


Anyway, like the great Larry McCormick before him (Cavaliers’ Hall of Fame drum instructor from the 60s), what Dan lacked in rudimental prowess, he more than made up for in arranging genius. We had a great drum book that year, and Dan would go on to write what I still feel is the finest drum book of all time (rudimental and musicality combined) for the 1976 Cavaliers.   Back to the Racine show . . .


The drum instructors for Kingsmen and Santa Clara, though devotees of the new “low style” of drumming, were both trained (and competed) in the high sticking style that we were trying to prove was the more “legit” method of playing in drum corps (we also had a bit of a “macho death wish” we had adopted from Frog – the ex-Marine and eventual Chicago cop!). So, as we again came forward in the first drum solo, drumming our asses off, there they both stood, right on the fifty, literally jumping up and down, pumping their fists in sincere delight at seeing us play the “old way” once again.


Naturally, we got overly excited. The stick heights were soon higher than the eagles on our shakos. We disintegrated into a mass of flying sticks – and flying ticks (errors)! We wound up loosing our first drum show of the year, by a bunch. We had even placed a sizeable monetary bet with Madison, who we had not lost to in drums all year. We had to pay up – big time (around $300, as I recall).


One of the best memories of that show, however, was hanging around by the bleachers waiting for Finale. Back in those days, we would have a “Greaser’s Day” once each year. All the guys would dress in their finest 50s greaser’s get-ups. Hair slicked back, unshaven, dago-tees, cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves, pants cuffs rolled up, white socks, black pointed-toe shoes. We were a sight to behold.


While waiting for the Finale to begin, McWhorter and I were standing near a concession stand. Two snares from Santa Clara, who remembered me from my time with them during spring break, walked up to say hi to me. They were small guys (weren’t all the SCV guys short back then?), and younger than Don and me. Don, by the way, was prematurely gray. He looked to be in his late 30s! He was also about 6’2’’ tall. With our hair slicked back, and our unshaven faces, we greeted the SCV guys with cool disinterest. The first words out of their mouths – “You guys were great! Wow, we’ve never seen drumming like that before. We’ve always heard about that old style. Can you guys ever play! Amazing! It’s really great seeing the Green Machine coming back!”


I was blown away. I started talking with them, but Don kept his properly aloof distance. They asked Don how long he had been with the corps. His one word reply said it all, “1965.” Somewhat stunned, they began telling him about how they cut off the back ends of their snare sticks, and then added extra tape to the front of the stick, for proper counter balance, blah, blah, blah. Don interrupted them with a confident “Good drummers can play with a broken drum stick and a ruler.” He looked at me, said we had to go, and walked away. The SCV guys just looked at me. “How old is he?” they asked. I said that no one really knew for sure. I told them I had to go. I heard them say as I walked away, “That big guy is scary.”


We were actually the ones who were scared, however, since the corps’ score that night was totally NOT competitive with the “big guys” at the Racine show. We had our work cut out for us . . .


Our grand comeback plans had been somewhat derailed at Racine. The cold slap of reality told us we were still a long, long way from our goal of making Finals. Corps we had been “hanging with” score wise, were now, one by one, starting to pull away. Phantom, Blue Stars, Blue Devils, Black Knights, De LaSalle, Kilties, 27th Lancers, Bridgemen, lots of corps. The big boys, Santa Clara, Muchachos, Troopers, Madison, Anaheim, et al, were now totally out of reach. Heck, even some of the “little” corps were starting to catch up to us, like the Des Plaines Vanguard, Blue Raiders, Purple Lancers, Royal Crusaders, Precisionaires, Squires, Patriots, and on and on and on. There were now a LOT of corps between us and 12th place, and we were starting to feel it.


Our score had seemed to plateau at about a 75 for what seemed liked three full weeks. We couldn’t seem to go anywhere. We either didn’t have the drill one night, or our horn line was too weak the next, our GE was lacking, we weren’t “sophisticated” one night, the drum line was too “old fashioned” yet another night. And, we had a lot of young kids, and only a handful of savvy veterans. The clock was really, really ticking.


It was now a few days before DCI prelims, and our dream was unraveling. Comparing scores from around the country, we had AT LEAST 15 or 16 corps solidly ahead of us, with another five or six nipping at our heels. One bad show and we were probably doomed. You could see and feel some of the guys starting to crack.


Now we were down to our last show before prelims – North Tonawanda, NY. We would see the Blue Devils at this show. We had not beaten them all year. They were one of the many new “upstart” corps in 1974. We seemed to have picked a bad year for a comeback. If we were to have a chance at making Finals, we needed to make a statement, and make it now. Tonight – we MUST beat the Blue Devils. If we could, we might set the stage for passing the six or seven corps we’d need to beat (most for the first time all year!) if we were going to get into the night show on Saturday.


But it was not to be on that night. Blue Devils soundly defeated us, by over two points. We gained no ground on the other smaller corps behind us either. You could now see it on a lot of faces in the younger guys in the corps – and some of the older guys. You could see what we had held off all year – you could see defeat.


We dragged our sorry souls into the gym at the end of the night. It was pretty quiet. We gathered for our “don’t stay up too late” talk from Danny Heeres (who, by the way, turned out to be a great guy, a great manager, a great leader, and a great inspiration to me when I later became manager of a new start-up corps a few years later). As Danny was finishing up his comments, without any of our usual smart-ass remarks flying fast and furious, as all Cavalier corps have been famous for over the years – a solitary figure then came into the room. It was Frog. And he was not the same person we had ever seen before.


Frog was a chain-smoking, hard-talking, 6’4” stalking, sonofabitch when he wanted to be. And boy, he apparently wanted to be all that and more that night. He lit into us like we had never heard before. He was red-faced, foul-mouthed, spitting, biting mad. He was old-time Cavaliers. He was a street kid from the word go. He never saw a fight he couldn’t win. But he was looking at a roomful of losers and he was mad!


He told us why we were good enough to be in Finals. He told us about who we represented. He told us that he had been willing to go to war with us all year long, but now he wondered if we were still willing to go to war with him. And then he uttered the saying that is still repeated and still resounds throughout the ranks of each new Cavalier corps every year. “There are more than a hundred of you swinging dicks out there, and you can do anything you want to do. Do you plan on finishing this job or not!!”


With the same passion he “spat” his challenge at us, we spat it back at him with a roar and a standing ovation. We were BACK. We were NOT done. We could do it! We couldn’t wait for prelims . . .


Now we simply had to find the last bits of drive in our hearts, and finish this job. Despite all our renewed enthusiasm, a few of us older vets still had a knot in our collective stomach. Some of the members of the Management team had ashen expressions on their faces we had not seen before. Remember, in these early days of DCI, if you did not make Finals two years in a row you lost the opportunity for guaranteed shows the next year, along with prize money. The corps really was not in a position, financially, to make it without being a DCI corps. If the Cavaliers didn’t make Finals this year, the corps might still remain hopeful and try to come back again in 1975, but the reality was – no Finals in 1974, probably no Cavaliers in 1975.


And that is what was likely on the minds of many members that afternoon as we strode on to the field for prelims in Ithaca. It was likely on the minds of some of the judges that afternoon as well. By a pure stroke of “Providence” (luck would not have been enough!) many of the prelim judges were fond of our show that year. Somehow the planets had seemed to align pretty nicely for us. All we had to do was perform our best show of the year. All we had to do was save the Cavaliers from folding. No problem. After all, there were a hundred of us swinging . . .


Standing on the back sideline, preparing to march into history – or infamy, I saw Paul Wotejna, the on-field drums execution, judge walking toward us. Most judges kept their distance from you before the show actually started. Paul was making a beeline for us. He got in front of us and just stood there for a moment. He was probably looking at the two 15-year old snare drummers in our line, along with some even younger kids in the tenor line and bass drum line. He may have been looking into the eyes of great Cavalier drummers of the past. Mitch Markovich, Greg Pacer, Jim “Frog” Roussell.  But there were a handful of us drummers still left from 1973 who weren’t all that thrilled to see him.  That year at DCI prelims, Wotejna judged us then too.  I hate to try to see inside a man’s soul, but that previous year he had absolutely ripped us apart when he judged us.  We were not a very good snare line that year (only three of us), but we had at least gotten to the point that we were “only” making about 20 ticks (mistakes) per show.  Despite our best snare show of the year, he “found” 44 ticks.  We missed Finals by only a few tenths of a point.  Maybe that’s just the way he heard us that day.  Maybe the Cavaliers had repeatedly beaten him when he marched or some corps that he instructed, and he was out for revenge.  Again, I try not to judge a man’s soul.  But, as he still stood there staring at us a year later in the same situation, we’ll never really know what he was thinking, but we’ll never forget what he then said.


“I’ll give you my best, boys. You give me yours – and you’ll be fine.” I swear we all grew five inches taller at that very moment. I glanced at Don and had never seen someone so focused. I looked at Bob Shreffler, the rookie next to me, and one of the two 15-year old “whiz kids” in the snare line. He gave me a big smile. No worries here, he seemed to say. And all at once it began.


Scott Wagner, our drum major, saluted the crowd, spun around and pointed to the triple tenors. They miraculously began their flourish of flying, drum-to-drum singles flawlessly. The new fanfare that Bob Rada had written for the horn line literally screamed out of the bells of the bugles. It was absolutely electric. The large prelims crowd, not particularly concerned about this “has been” corps on the field, began to pay attention. The horn line and guard then began the opening strains of Carmen with such force and assuredness, that the on-field horn judge, Dave Richards, threw his clipboard into the air and applauded as it dropped to the Astroturf at his feet. Now the crowd was watching. Something special seemed to be happening. It was us. The Cavaliers were back!


Once again, as we came forward in the opening phrases of the first drum solo, up in the GE box was our favorite drum judge of all time, Gus “Cosmo” Barbaro. He was a huge man, with the most animated Italian hand movements you ever saw. You could actually hear him yelling up in the box. He was pointing at us and cheering. Later, listening to his GE tape, we would find that he was saying “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, America and apple pie! Unbelievable!!”


The show only got better from there. Thirteen minutes went by in a heartbeat. It was our best. Frog would be proud. Management would be proud. We were proud. All Cavaliers, past and future, would be proud. Oddly, walking off the field wasn’t a scene of jubilation or high-fiving. There was an eerie quite among the guys. We now had to wait 20 minutes to hear our score. Our last score had been another mid-seventy. We would probably need a 79 to make Finals. We’d have to pass a half-dozen corps to sneak in to the last precious spot. 12th place was our dream. Had we done it?


The corps after us finished their show. Now it was time for the announcer. We waited to hear “We have another score to announce.” When those words came, most of us were assembled together in the back stands. Most of the crowd was looking right at us. Word seemed to have filtered out that this score might mean more than just a score. It might mean everything to the Cavaliers.


“We have another score to announce. For the Cavaliers. Eighty-one point six five. 81.65.” Pandemonium!  Pandemonium! Absolute joy! We did it! We had added five points to our best score – in only two days. We ultimately would leapfrog all six or seven corps we needed to – and then some. We took 9th in prelims. We beat the Blue Devils by a full point. The 27th Lancers had been 3/10 of a point behind us two days earlier. They would end up 8 full points behind us in 20th place. Others were left in our wake as well. It had been a comeback performance for the ages. Miraculously, with a somewhat lackluster Finals performance the next night, we moved up to 8th place – ending all doubt about the corps’ future.


None of us from the 1974 really know if we “saved” the corps. We did what Frog had told us we could do, however, and we left nothing on the field that afternoon in Ithaca. Personally, I finally won that “championship” I had thought I might get by marching in Kingsmen or Santa Clara. My “trophy,” however, was life-long friendships with Don McWhorter, Paul Leo, and a hundred other “swinging dicks”, along with my age-out buckle – and these memories.    SPLOOIE!



Bob Rada – music director/arranger


Color Guard







Cavalier Alumni Association Board of Directors


Drum Majors:

Scott Wagner

Guard Sergeants:

Wayne Bandelin

Horn Sergeants:

Drum Sergeants:

Color Guard






Xylophone – Sam Flores
Bells – Mark Bradke
Kurt Groh
Peter Stoltman
Bob Cook
Bob Brecja
Bass Drum
Roger Rinaldi
Mike Costello
Brian Both
Don Jordan
Ralph Poznanski
Paul Leo
Bob Shreffler
Paul Milano
Don McWhorter
Ted Berg
John (Bob) Webster
Steven Schmid
Greg Bonjakowski
John Leo
Jim Snyder
Tom Kelly
John Hood
Jim Warren

Cavalier of the Year :

Wayne Bandelin

Rookie of the Year :

Richard Dvorak

Music Selections

March of the Toreadors (from Carmen) * Victory at Sea * Tommy * All for the Best (from Godspell) * Once Upon A Time * Somewhere (from West Side Story) * Over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz)


Schedule and Scores

June 9, 1974, 14th Annual Pageantry of Drums, Park Ridge IL
June 14, 1974, Midwest Preview, Milwaukee WI
June 15, 1974, Concourse Of Champions, Kenosha WI
June 16, 1974, Geneseo IL
June 22, 1974, Illinois VFW State Finals, Elk Grove Village IL
June 22, 1974, Illinois VFW State Prelims, Elk Grove Village IL
June 23, 1974, Geneva IL
July 3, 1974, Rockford IL
July 3, 1974, Music in Motion, Des Plaines IL
July 4, 1974, Evanston IL
July 5, 1974, 4th Annual Parade of Champions, Wheeling IL
July 6, 1974, Michigan City IN
July 8, 1974, Big V Invitational, Milwaukee WI
July 14, 1974, McHenry IL
July 20, 1974, Illinois A.L. State Finals, Elk Grove Village IL
July 20, 1974, IL American Legion State (prelims), Elk Grove Village IL
July 26, 1974, South Milwaukee WI
July 28, 1974, Capital of Corps Championship, Racine WI
August 4, 1974, Key To The Sea – Class A Finals, Toledo OH
August 4, 1974, Key to the Sea, Toledo OH
August 4, 1974, Key to the Sea – Class A Prelims, Toledo OH
August 5, 1974, Altoona PA
August 7, 1974, American International Championship – Finals, Butler PA
August 11, 1974, DCI North, Toronto ONT Canada
August 13, 1974, N. Tonawanda NY
August 16, 1974, DCI World Championships – Prelims, Ithaca NY
August 17, 1974, DCI World Championships, Ithaca NY
August 21, 1974, VFW Nationals, Chicago IL
August 24, 1974, Loves Park IL

DCI World Championships
Ithaca NY
1 Santa Clara Vanguard 89.500
2 Madison Scouts 88.850
3 Kingsmen 88.550
4 Muchachos 86.950
5 Troopers 85.650
6 Kilties 85.250
7 DeLaSalle Oaklands 79.950
8 Cavaliers 79.550
9 Blue Devils 79.150
10 Purple Lancers 77.150
11 Phantom Regiment 76.250
12 Blue Stars 75.700

1974 Photos

Audio and Video