The Talladega College Marching Band is actually quite good, and has been a frequent visitor to Memphis over the last several years, appearing in the Southern Heritage Classic Parade, local band battles, and the Whitehaven Christmas Parade last year.
Although I was always interested in music, my interest in marching bands and drumlines has a lot to do with a basketball game that Bartlett played against Fayette-Ware High School back in 1984. It was Fayette-Ware’s basketball homecoming that night, and their young drumline stood against the wall of the old gym in Somerville and played a string of funky cadences for the majorettes, ending with a rousing version of Run DMC’s “It’s Like That and That’s The Way It Is” with its rudimental snare breakdown. (In one of the odder coincidences in my life, I later attended UT-Martin with one of the drummers who played that night, Edward Thompson Jr.) Anyway, over the years I’ve kept up with Fayette-Ware’s bands, which are usually first-rate year after year, and this year’s seems good as always. They drew a considerable amount of cheering and applause as they came down Park Avenue during the parade.
On the Sunday before Labor Day, I decided to drive up to Nashville to see Bethune-Cookman University take on Tennessee State in the annual John Merritt Classic at LP Field. The game is held each year in honor of John Merritt, who for many years was the head football coach at Tennessee A & I/Tennessee State. The weather was perfect for a football game, and the battle between the two bands was definitely worth the drive. I was amazed at Bethune-Cookman’s snare line, all of whom had tambourines and cowbells attached to their snare drums, which was unusual. FOr some reason, the traditional “Fifth Quarter” battle between the bands was limited to 10 minutes per band. After the game, I had intended to go to M. L. Rose Burgers, but although they stay open until 2 AM, I learned that they don’t sell burgers after 1 AM, so I ended up having to go to The Slider House in Midtown Nashville near the Vanderbilt campus, since they stay open until 3 AM every night. Then, after stopping by Cafe Coco for a latte, I hit the road back to Memphis.
Friday night was only the second week of the high school football season in Memphis, and Melrose High School was playing Booker T. Washington High School at BTW’s stadium in South Memphis. Although the weather was extremely hot and sticky, a good crowd showed up for the game, and both schools had brought their marching bands. Melrose’s band is called the Sound of the Mound in honor of the Orange Mound neighborhood where the school is located, and this year’s version shows a considerable amount of talent and potential. Booker T. Washington’s band seems smaller and more youthful this year, but they also have something to work with.
Sadly, the football game continued a trend I’m seeing this year of one-sided blowouts. All three of the North Memphis Classic games last week ended in lopsided scores, and Melrose won last night’s game 64-6. Perhaps out of frustration, a young man, evidently a BTW supporter, threatened to bring a gun to the stadium and shoot the Melrose band, which led to the latter having a sheriff’s escort out of the stadium at the end.
I had heard that Memphis was to have something called a “Zombie Walk” up South Main Street to Beale Street, but I didn’t expect to see it, because I was playing a jazz gig at the Beignet Cafe on G.E. Patterson Avenue, but during a break, I heard something that was the last thing I expected- a funky drumline playing Jackson State University War and Thunder cadences. As it turned out, the “Zombies” hired the Blood Sweat & Tears drumline to provide the beat and motivation for their walk, and were standing in the vacant lot next to Earnestine and Hazel’s playing their cadences while a young woman danced to the beat. It was one of those serendipitous Memphis moments.
As Craigmont High School’s blowout of Douglass was winding down, the Trezevant High School Band came marching into Crump Stadium with their new director, Otis Logan, the outstanding young Memphis drummer and leader of the band 4 Soul. Trezevant was facing Frayser High in the 8 PM contest, but unfortunately, Frayser did not bring their band to the game, and worse, there were intermittent showers during the first two quarters. But Trezevant’s band and drumline sounded good, remarkably so considering that school has only been in a couple of weeks so far.
Because of a late-afternoon rehearsal (and the threat of rain), I decided not to go down to the Othar Turner Picnic at Gravel Springs near Senatobia, so when I saw that there was a high-school football classic going on at Crump Stadium in Midtown, I decided to go and check it out. I had missed the 3 PM game with Manassas, but when I arrived Douglass High School was getting blown out by Craigmont High. I had hoped to see Douglass’ band, but they sadly weren’t there. Craigmont however brought their band, and while their band didn’t perform at halftime, their drumline did.