Don Gardner - Drums -1955-1956 - New Town, ND
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Mardi Gras, February 14th, 1956. I am on the far left.
I graduated from New Town High School, New Town, ND in 1955. I and three other guys all left for an induction center in Fargo, ND about 3 days after graduation and from there straight to Parks AFB, CA. I got to Keesler in late August or early Sept of 1955. I was a little down on drumming at the time. I had attended a recruitment for the Air Force band at Parks AFB while in basic. I had been the hottest snare drummer in the Ryder, ND high school band and the only one. When the recruiter asked me what experience I had, I let him know how great I really was. He said in order to be considered I would have to be able to sit in as a percussionist with the San Francisco symphony. I still didn't get it. I asked just what that involved, after all I could read music for the Souza marches. He started naming chimes, gongs, cymbals, and every other thing that was ever located in the back row of a symphony orchestra.
I gave up and was really bummed about drumming until I marched past the Keesler Corps on my way to and from school. The Corps folks had their own barracks near where I was so I went down and asked a few questions. I found out they were exempt from all squadron duties, participated in some really great parades and competitions, had no daily inspections and could sleep late among other things.
When I applied at the Corps building, I had a totally new and much more humble attitude. Sgt. Dant interviewed me, had me play some, and took me into the Corps. However that did not mean with a Snare Drum. He put me on Tenor drum to begin with and as soon as I could participate with the Corps he had me join the guys playing rudiments and cadents on a long 2X4 that had a shoe sole mounted at a slight tilt ever few feet. It took me many months to get to a snare.
1st is Sgt Dant, behind him is a Bass Drummer, next is a great snare drummer who had experience with corps in the north east, and next is me on tenor. I found a note that says that the photo above is "Marti Gras 1956". It is interesting how the Base Drummers wound up in front. They started out between the drums and horns. We were having 2 problems. One was the crowd was pushing out into the street way too far and the other was when you snapped a stick up to eye level, a hand would come out of the crowd and snatch it. Sgt Dant brought us to a halt and moved the Basses up front and told them to have at their fancy spinning routine and it was magical, I could see the crowd melt back up on the sidewalk as we approached.
After leaving Keesler I went to Malmstrom AFB, Montana. I also played in the corps while there. While at Malmstrom, I was in the service club one evening and checked out a drum, went into a practice room and started to pound out some rudiments. While I was having at it Elvis started to belt out "Hound Dog" over the sound system. I started to try to play along with it and the door opened, a guy stuck his head in and asked how I would like to play in a rock and roll band. I was with his band until I was discharged a couple of years later. We played all around Great Falls and were selected to travel on a tour with the USAF dance band. We were in the show along with singers and dancers from bases around the USA.
I have since heard that we were the first R&R band in Montana. We went through being barred from getting into the hall by picketing parents to preachers and city officials trying to block us from presenting the evil music that would lead their children straight to hell. I would like to say the Air Force commanders that dealt with this problem stood behind us all the way.